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Survey finds majority of LGBTQ students in Latin America experience bullying

GLSEN and Chilean group conducted study in seven countries

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Chile, gay news, Washington Blade
Chile, gay news, Washington Blade
Chile is among the seven Latin American countries in which the GLSEN Research Institute and Fundación Todo Mejora, a Chilean advocacy group, surveyed students about bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A new survey finds a majority of LGBTQ students in seven Latin American countries have experienced bullying because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The GLSEN Research Institute and Fundación Todo Mejora, a Chilean LGBTQ advocacy group, surveyed 5,318 students between the ages of 13-20 in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.

The survey, which will be formally released on Tuesday, in its executive summary notes “three-quarters or more of LGBTQ students regularly heard homophobic remarks and negative remarks about gender expression from other students.” The executive summary also notes between 58.2-79.1 percent of respondents heard “homophobic remarks from teachers or other school staff.”

Upwards of three-quarters of the students who responded to the survey said they “experienced verbal harassment” that included name-calling and threats. More than 10 percent of respondents said they were physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The report also notes less than half of respondents “ever reported incidents of harassment and assault to teachers and other school staff.”

GLSEN and Todo Mejora worked with a dozen LGBTQ advocacy groups in the seven countries from which the survey respondents come.

“As governments around the world attack their own LGBTQ communities, we seek to ensure that the damage they cause will be vivid and measurable, and that these communities themselves cannot be ignored or erased,” says GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard in the executive summary. “And in those places where governments seek to progress on human rights and LGBTQ inclusion, the data and analysis here and in the country level school climate reports released by our partners provides a roadmap for action, and a baseline to measure the resulting benefits to some of their most vulnerable youth.”

Anti-LGBTQ violence, discrimination overshadows legal advances

Activists across Latin America over the last decade have celebrated LGBTQ rights advances, even though rates of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remain among the highest in the world.

Same-sex couples can legally marry in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and portions of Mexico that include Mexico City. A Chilean law that allows gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions took effect in 2015.

Argentina and Uruguay are among the countries that allow transgender people to legally change their gender without undergoing surgery. Colombian Sen. Claudia López in October became the first woman and first lesbian elected mayor of the country’s capital of Bogotá.

The report notes Argentina does not have a nationwide nondiscrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who activists say has provoked an increase in anti-LGBTQ violence in the country because of his homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, took office in January.

Sergio Urrego, 16, died by suicide in 2014 after administrators of his Bogotá high school bullied him because he was gay. Urrego’s mother, Alba Lucía Reyes Arenas, has become a vocal anti-bullying activist and a law that bares Urrego’s name prohibits Colombian schools from discriminating against students based on their sexual orientation.  

Alba Lucía Reyes Arenas participates in Bogotá Pride in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Fundación Sergio Urrego)

The report specifically cites Urrego’s suicide. It also contains several recommendations that include the implementation of policies that specifically address discrimination and violence in schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity and training teachers to better deal with LGBTQ students.

“Results from this multinational report clearly demonstrate that, for all seven of these countries in Latin American, there is an urgent need for action to create safe and affirming learning environments for LGBTQ students. LGBTQ students across these countries commonly feel unsafe in school, hear anti-LGBTQ remarks, and experience harassment and assault due to their sexual orientation or gender expression,” reads the executive summary. “Further, school personnel do not often intervene when they hear anti-LGBTQ remarks, and often make anti-LGBTQ remarks themselves.”

“Moreover, we found that the victimization faced by many LGBTQ students can lead to poorer well-being, less welcoming schools, and more negative educational outcomes,” it adds. “Positive LGBTQ student supports — including supportive staff, inclusive curricular resources, and inclusive anti-bullying/harassment policies — can improve academic experiences for LGBTQ students.”

The full report can be found here.

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Latin America

Latin America elections challenges, opportunities for LGBTQ people

Activists throughout the region agree the elections offer a crucial opportunity to advance the inclusion and protection of LGBTQ+ rights

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Richelle Briceño was a candidate for the Venezuelan National Assembly in the country's last elections. (Photo courtesy of Richelle Briceño)

By Esteban Rioseco | CARACAS, Venezuela – Activists throughout the region agree the elections offer a crucial opportunity to advance the inclusion and protection of the rights of their community amid far-right advances.

Venezuela’s presidential election will take place on July 28, while Brazil’s municipal elections will happen on Oct. 6. Regional and municipal elections will take place in Chile on Oct. 27. Uruguay’s congressional elections are slated to occur on the same day.

María José Cumplido, executive director of Fundación Iguales in Chile, emphasized the importance of having LGBTQ representation in politics. 

“It is fundamental because LGBTQ+ people tend to support laws or public policies aimed at protecting the community,” Cumplido told the Washington Blade. “In that sense, it is important that the voices of these people are heard because, obviously, they know the reality more closely and many times they have lived it.” 

Cumplido noted “LGBTQ+ representation has grown notoriously in recent years, so much so that today there is an LGBTQ+ caucus in Congress.” 

“That is good news,” said Cumplido.

Ignacia Oyarzún, president of Organizado Trans Diversidades (Organizing Trans Diversities or OTD), also from Chile, highlighted the observation and registration work the Trans Voting Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean has done. Oyarzún also noted the promotion of transgender candidates as a way to combat misinformation a promote respect for the community’s political rights.

“We monitor the situation of the political rights of our communities in the region and establish guidelines through which we encourage respect for the right to elect representatives and to be elected,” said Oyarzún. “We also maintain initiatives that have to do with the dissemination of trans candidacies and news that go against the disinformation established through false news that have begun to circulate through the various social and political media.”

Collette Spinetti, president of the Colectivo Trans del Uruguay, pointed out the challenges faced by LGBTQ people in politics, especially trans people.

“The biggest challenge is to achieve trustworthiness especially towards gender-dissident people in their ability to be able to hold public office,” said Spinetti.

Professor Collete Spinetti has dedicated many years of her life to improving living conditions for LGBTQ people in Uruguay (Photo courtesy of Collete Spinetti)

“In Uruguay politics is still quite macho, especially in the so-called traditional and right-wing parties where there is no political representation of members of the LGBTIQ+ community,” Spinetti further explained. “On the left, although there is, thanks to internal work, female representation, there is still a lack of work.”

“In this sense the scarce LGBTIQ+ representation is present through gay men,” added Spinetti. “There is still no representation of publicly lesbian people and only one representation in the interior of the country of a trans woman.” 

In Brazil, Keila Simpson, president of Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals or ANTRA), highlighted the diversity of LGBTQ representation in the country’s politics. Simpson nevertheless recognized the importance of mandates that go beyond identity and address a wide range of issues that benefit the entire community.

“The challenges for LGBTQIA people when it comes to applying for positions in Brazil are many,” she said. “The first one is the way Brazilian society sees this stigmatized and completely stereotyped population. If we think about the trans population, this violence is even greater, since in addition to being smaller in number, the discrimination is even greater because this population is commonly associated with eroticism and hypersexualization of their bodies, and these are the main problems these people face. they are associated when they run for prominent positions or leaders, even in the partisan political arena.” 

Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (ANTRA) President Keila Simpson at her office in Salvador, Brazil, on March 16, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

In Venezuela, Richelle Briceño, a trans woman and former congressional candidate, on the other hand, lamented the lack of presidential candidacies that explicitly defend LGBTQ rights. She noted the country still faces fundamental challenges that prevent a serious debate on these issues.

“There are candidates who have expressed themselves against non-discrimination, but that’s as far as it goes,” Briceño recounted. “There are no specific candidates that I can tell you who even handle what the definition of the word queer is and how it is understood, let’s say, within LGBTQ+ activism.”

Briceño said María Corina Machado, an opposition leader who President Nicolás Maduro’s government has barred from running for office, has “come out in favor of issues such as equal civil marriage and the issue of recognition of trans identities.” Briceño noted to the Blade that Edmundo González Urrutia, who is running as her surrogate, did not meet with LGBTQ activists until last week.

“These activists exposed their points of view, however, the current candidate leading the polls has not made a public statement regarding his position or what his position will be on the issues of LGBT rights in Venezuela,” said Briceño.

Briceño further stressed that Venezuela “is still in a cave.” 

“Here the country is in the basics, the country is in not losing electricity, in having water and in seeing how people eat daily,” she said. “The political and economic crisis that we have lived through for two decades, and with more depth in the last decade, has not allowed for a serious debate on the issues of the 21st century, including the rights of sexual diversity populations or the LGBT population and women”.

José Rodríguez, a Venezuelan psychologist who, like many of his compatriots had to leave his country, said that “as a young Venezuelan exiled in Chile for eight years, today I feel the tranquility of living in a society where a governmental interest in the welfare of my community is appreciated, expressed by a legal framework that although it could be better; compared to the overwhelming setbacks that have occurred in recent weeks in neighboring countries and the constant lethargy of Venezuela in terms of advancing the LGBTQIA+ agenda, is deeply painful and worrying.”

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Photo Credit: Movilh

Esteban Rioseco is a Chilean digital communicator, LGBT rights activist and politician. He was spokesperson and executive president of the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement (Movilh). He is currently a Latin American correspondent for the Washington Blade.

On Oct. 22, 2015, together with Vicente Medel, he celebrated the first gay civil union in Chile in the province of Concepción.

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Los Angeles County

New survey: “Without LGBTQ people, LA would just be traffic”

In the Lived Experiences in LA County (LELAC) Survey, researchers asked about 500 participants what, if anything, LGBTQ people contribute

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East Los Angeles Library presents Mariachi Arcoiris during Hispanic Heritage Month. On National Coming Out Day, the first LGBT mariachi in the world performs and discusses the sensitive topic that is very taboo in the Hispanic community. (Mayra B. Vasquez/Los Angeles County)

LOS ANGELES – A new survey of LGBTQ adults in Los Angeles County by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds LGBTQ people provide many of the things that give LA County its unique identity and make it an attractive place to live and visit.

In the words of a cisgender gay white man in his 30s: “Without LGBTQ people, LA would just be traffic.”

In the Lived Experiences in Los Angeles County (LELAC) Survey, researchers asked about 500 participants what, if anything, LGBTQ people contribute to the broader LA community and culture. Responses ranged from offering values of acceptance, support, love, and resilience to enriching diversity, helping others, and contributing to all parts of the local economy.

“Despite the challenges they face, LGBTQ Angelenos are proud of the many contributions they make to LA County,” said lead author Brad Sears, Founding Executive Director at the Williams Institute. “LGBTQ contributions make the County unique, a better place to live for everyone, and a model of equality, diversity, and pride for other parts of the United States.”

Positive values and characteristics

More than 40% of LGBTQ respondents identified positive values and characteristics, including acceptance, inclusivity, empathy, love, vibrancy, joy, and support.

As one cisgender bisexual white man in his 60s said, “LGBT people contribute intelligence, strength, passion, generosity of spirit, and courage to the broader community and culture of LA County.”

Enriching diversity

About one-third (31%) of respondents said that LGBTQ people and communities added to LA County’s rich diversity. They mentioned that by living their lives openly and with pride, LGBTQ inspire everyone to accept themselves and live openly as their authentic selves.

A cisgender bisexual Black woman in her 40s said, “The desire and expectation to live their authentic lives openly and honestly is the contribution … [It’s] the reminder to live authentically.”

Culture, arts, and creativity

About one-third (31%) of respondents noted how LGBTQ people’s creativity contributes to the arts, culture, and entertainment in Los Angeles.

One nonbinary white person in their 80s said, “[We have] a different way to experience life and the world. A new approach to problems derived from living a life contrary to what is forced upon us. A vibrant art expressing our different beliefs and lives.”

Community leadership and service

More than one in five (22%) respondents described how LGBTQ people give back to LA County by supporting marginalized communities, volunteering, and participating in the political process.

A cisgender bisexual Latina in her 30s said, “Without queer people, so many societal developments would still be stalled … LA County LGBTQ people have carved out a safe haven for those who need a home and community.”

Economic contributions

About one in ten (11%) LGBTQ respondents emphasized the economic contributions of the LGBTQ community to LA County to industries such as entertainment, hospitality, and education, by being entrepreneurs and promoting tourism.

As one cisgender Asian lesbian in her 20s said, “Gay tourism stimulates the economy due to LA’s reputation as a hotspot for LGBT people.”

“LGBTQ people feel they make significant and unique contributions to the Los Angeles County community,” said co-author Christy Mallory, Legal Director at the Williams Institute. “These contributions are often grounded in how LGBTQ people differ from non-LGBTQ people, including their lived experiences of being closeted, bullied, and discriminated against.”

Read the report

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U.S. Federal Courts

NH federal court strikes down ‘banned concepts’ curriculum law

The “banned concepts” law, violated teachers’ 14th Amendment rights because it’s too vague for them to follow the judge ruled

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The Warren B. Rudman U.S. Courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire. (Photo by Ken Gallager)

By Ethan DeWitt | CONCORD, N.H. – Patrick Keefe says he just wanted to teach Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”

The high school English teacher has long included the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about slavery in his curriculum at Litchfield’s Campbell High School. And in the past, he had questioned students about whether Morrison’s themes about the legacy of slavery applied to the present.

But after a state law passed in 2021 that regulated how teachers may talk about race and other concepts to students, Keefe became more cautious, he testified in a deposition last year. Any student-led discussion about structural racism might lead to a complaint under the new law, and might cause Keefe to lose his teaching license, he feared.

On Tuesday, a federal judge cited Keefe and other teachers’ examples in an order striking down the law, siding with teachers unions and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and ruling that the law is unconstitutionally vague. 

In his decision, Judge Paul Barbadoro held that the law, known by opponents as the “divisive concepts” or “banned concepts” law, violated teachers’ 14th Amendment rights because it is too vague for them to follow. 

“The Amendments are viewpoint-based restrictions on speech that do not provide either fair warning to educators of what they prohibit or sufficient standards for law enforcement to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement,” Barbadoro wrote, referring to the statutory changes passed by the law. 

The law prohibits K-12 public school staff from any instruction that advocates for four concepts: that a person of any race, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristic is inherently “superior” to another; that any individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive against another for any characteristic; that an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment for any characteristic; and that people of one characteristic “cannot and should not attempt to treat others without regard to” one of their characteristics.

The characteristics covered by the law are a person’s “age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, mental or physical disability, religion, or national origin.” 

The law, which was in part modeled after an executive order by President Donald Trump that applied to federal employees and was repealed by President Joe Biden, was presented by Republican lawmakers as an anti-discrimination statute meant to ensure that all students were treated equally. It came as Republican lawmakers raised concerns about diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts implemented in public schools, and argued that teachers were espousing “critical race theory” in classrooms.

The law allowed parents to bring complaints to the state’s Commission for Human Rights against teachers and school staff who they believed violated the new anti-discrimination statute. And it gave the State Board of Education the power to revoke educators’ teaching licenses if they were found by the commission to be in violation. 

But teachers unions and others raised concerns that the prohibited concepts were too unclear to follow and would result in educators self-censoring instruction around certain topics such as race or gender for fear of losing their teaching credentials.

In his order Tuesday, Barbadoro sided with the state’s two teachers unions – the National Education Association of New Hampshire (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers of New Hampshire (AFT) – who had argued that the law violated their 14th Amendment rights because it did not provide clear guidance of what teachers should or shouldn’t teach. 

Barbadoro’s ruling grants “declaratory relief” to plaintiffs, meaning he is ruling that the law is unconstitutional, but it does not grant “injunctive relief” – a stricter ruling that would have stopped the state from carrying out the law. In his order, Barbadoro wrote that he didn’t believe he needed the latter relief because he believed the state would respect the ruling and stop enforcing the law.

The ruling was a setback for the state, which had argued that the Attorney General’s Office had given teachers sufficient guidance in a “Frequently Asked Questions” document released in 2021 that outlined scenarios in which teachers would violate or not violate the law.

There are no known cases of New Hampshire teachers who have been found by the Commission for Human Rights to have violated the law. 

But Barbadoro said there were a number of scenarios that the FAQs did not address. One such unanswered question centered on Keefe’s attempts to teach “Beloved.” 

According to his deposition, Keefe had asked for clarity from his school’s administration but “was told there was none available other than the Attorney General’s Frequently Asked Questions,” Barbadoro noted. 

Barbadoro also noted the example of Jennifer Given, a former high school social studies teacher at the Hollis Brookline High School who “felt the need to significantly modify her teaching methods ‘out of fear that [she] would be accused of’ violating the Amendments, regardless of whether she was actually doing so.”

And he argued that the uncertainty applied to extracurricular activities as well, citing the testimony of Ryan Richman, a high school history teacher at Timberlane Regional High School. Richman said as a faculty adviser for the school’s Model United Nations team, he felt the law hampered his ability to help students for their competition in fear of saying something that might be seen as a violation. 

Barbadoro used the examples to bolster his larger conclusion. 

“The Amendments are vague not because they subject teachers to severe professional sanctions, but because they fail to provide teachers with sufficient notice of what is prohibited and raise the specter of arbitrary and discretionary enforcement,” he ruled.

He also said that the vagueness would allow state officials to apply their own arbitrary interpretations to enforcement. 

“… Because the Amendments fail to establish ‘minimal guidelines to govern [their] enforcement,’ officials are free to ‘pursue their personal predilections’ when applying the law,” Barbadoro wrote.

The decision was hailed by the plaintiffs; Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, called it “a victory for academic freedom and an inclusive education for all New Hampshire students.” 

“New Hampshire’s ‘banned concepts’ law stifled New Hampshire teachers’ efforts to provide a true and honest education,” agreed NEA-NH President Megan Tuttle in a statement. “Students, families, and educators should rejoice over this court ruling which restores the teaching of truth and the right to learn for all Granite State students.”

And it was cheered on by Democrats, including the two lead Democratic candidates for governor. Former Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig praised the plaintiffs who “fought this unconstitutional law.” In her own statement, Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington said, “Teachers should be free to teach – the truth – and students should be free to learn.” 

Republicans said they would redouble efforts to pass the bill. In a statement, former state Senate President Chuck Morse, a Republican candidate for governor who had helped push for the law in the Senate, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the decision but vowed to press on.

“As Governor, I will work tirelessly with lawmakers, educators, and community leaders to draft and pass a stronger bill that addresses the court’s concerns while keeping our fundamental goal intact: to prevent the dissemination of any materials that promote racial superiority or inferiority,” Morse said.

In a post on X, State Rep. Keith Ammon, a New Boston Republican, wrote: “Judge Barbadoro just put stopping Critical Race Theory back on the ballot in November.”

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Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by The New Hampshire Bulletin and is republished with permission.

The independent, nonprofit New Hampshire Bulletin is guided by these words from our state constitution: “Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive.” We will work tirelessly every day to make sure elected officials and state agencies are held to that standard.

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

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National

Target employees flag concerns over Pride merchandise decisions

Ultimately, the number of products offered for Pride was slashed by the time the collection was launched, & then again by nearly 50%

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Target store (Photo by Jonathan Weiss)

MINNEAPOLIS — When Target Corp. was hit with an unprecedented wave of hate over its 2023 LGBTQ Pride month merchandise last summer, plans for the 2024 collection were already underway and team members were looking to leadership for guidance. 

Target employees with knowledge of the matter, who spoke with the Washington Blade on the condition of anonymity, said the process leading up to Target’s announcement a few weeks ago of plans to dramatically cut back its Pride collection was haphazard and reactive from the start. 

They said that the company’s commitment to supporting LGBTQ guests and employees feels hollow, considering leadership’s failure to move toward strategies for selling gender-affirming apparel and merchandise year-round along with decisions to curtail internal Pride month celebrations. 

First introduced in 2013, Target’s Pride collection quickly grew to become a profitable example of the company’s heritage moments offerings, collections that are sold each year to mark observances like Black History Month and National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Even as the COVID pandemic surged in the summer of 2020, demand remained high, the employees noted, “a real indication” of the sales potential for Pride apparel and merchandise irrespective of whether parades, gatherings, and in-store shopping are happening. 

However, Target planned for just $5 million in sales this year for Pride month, about a tenth of that which might be forecast based on precedent.

Amid reports last summer of an online boycott campaign and in-store incidents in which employees were allegedly made to feel unsafe by negative guest reactions to the 2023 Pride collection, Target announced it would move the merchandise to the back of some stores located in the southeastern U.S. 

The employees agreed the move “didn’t feel great,” but the team accepted the company’s decision as a temporary solution to get through the chaos — while communicating the need for “our leaders to be really clear with us [about] what we can and cannot do” in 2024 “so that we can deliver the best profitable strategy possible.” 

Around this time, they said, communication became siloed. Requests for more information about in-store confrontations were denied over privacy and safety concerns, while some employees and other social media users flagged that many of the videos purporting to show guests’ outrage over LGBTQ-themed merchandise were several years old. 

Staff asked for details in the first place, the employees said, because “We were like, ‘OK, well, let us segment around these places that are perceived as dangerous’” to make nuanced and narrowly tailored decisions about when and where to make cuts. 

Ultimately, the number of products offered for Pride in 2023 was slashed by the time the collection was launched, and then again by nearly 50 percent, they said. 

Target organized a town hall event in July. Invited to speak were Executive Vice President and Chief Growth Officer Christina Hennington and Executive Vice President and Chief Food, Essentials and Beauty Officer Rick Gomez, both of whom are LGBTQ. 

One employee said they were left with the impression that staff should make peace with the decisions to cut Pride merchandise because the meeting was led by the company’s senior LGBTQ leadership, who announced “they were going to pull back on all heritage moments.” A second employee who was not in attendance agreed this was the message relayed to them. 

Leading into next year, the employees said teams informed leadership that they would “segment the hell out of this 2024 assortment to get the right things in the right stores, if [the company is saying] that there’s a subset of stores that need to serve a different function or guest need” — just as decisions are made to, for example, feature more swimwear items in Miami than in Seattle. 

Folks were broadly in agreement over this strategy, the employees said, but “cut to 2024, we’re sending [the Pride collection] to half the stores” — a decision that was reached “a couple of months ago when product had to be committed to stores.” 

Target announced that the decision was based on historical sales, in a statement that also reaffirmed the company’s commitments to supporting the LGBTQ community year-round. 

According to the employees, however, the move did not accurately reflect “guest demand” for Pride apparel and merchandise. 

Going back to 2023, one source said, apparel and accessories leaders initially provided direction to reduce the planned sales by approximately 19 percent to reflect what was happening elsewhere in the apparel business.

The team agreed the figure was “really close to where we need to be” and sought to build a strategy to maximize sales, learning from past mistakes that were made “in all of our heritage moments — and we saw this in Black History Month last year — of spreading the goods out too equally everywhere” rather than in the stores where it was selling out.  

The employees said the team responsible for the Black History Month collection introduced the idea of segmenting product between that which is designed for the intended audience versus that which could be worn by everyone, allies included, which feels noticeably absent from the 2024 Pride collection that is available in select stores and online today. 

With respect to the in-store experience, a similar approach would apply, they said. 

For instance, the original idea for this year’s Pride collection was “a four-tier strategy,” which built upon established precedent for heritage moments merchandise. 

On one end of the spectrum is a “full-blown experience, that kind of delivers and addresses all audiences.” And then a more narrowly tailored assortment would be offered for stores that may have space constraints or less foot traffic, along with another that might be “the most ally-friendly, or the most conventional,” and “versions for what we call our small-format stores.” 

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California Politics

Effort to put measure limiting trans youth’s rights on Calif. ballot fails

The group claimed it had gathered more than 400,000 signatures, falling short of the requisite threshold number for inclusion on the ballot

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Protect Kids California CEO & Roseville school board member Jonathan Zachreson, (right) with anti-LGBTQ+ Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and an unnamed delegate at the California GOP convention in Anaheim on Sept. 29, 2023. (Photo Credit: Zachreson/Facebook)

SACRAMENTO – The effort by the anti-LGBTQ+ conservative group Protect Kids California, headed by Roseville school board member Jonathan Zachreson, to collect some 550,000 valid signatures to place a transphobic trans youth proposal on the November 5 ballot has failed.

In a press release on Tuesday, the deadline set by the California secretary of state, the group claimed it had gathered more than 400,000 signatures, falling short of the requisite threshold number for inclusion on the ballot.

Protect Kids California submitted the proposed ballot initiative—presented as the “Protect Kids of California Act of 2024,” last September. The proposed ballot initiative would have:

  • Forced outing of transgender youth to their parents, ensuring that trans kids cannot have safety or privacy in schools if they are not ready to come out to family. Often these policies also include violations of privacy for the student when they discuss their gender identity with school counselors.
  • Banning of transgender youth from sports that match their gender identity, stigmatizing them and often forcing them out of sports altogether. Notably, these provisions typically fail to differentiate between high-stakes elite competitions and casual middle school teams. They also generally don’t provide for pathways to participation like hormone therapy, a method that has been researched and employed to address concerns of potential “unfair advantages” in competitions. California, which allows youth to access gender affirming care, will have youth who never underwent the puberty of their assigned sex at birth who would also be banned under this provision.
  • Banning gender affirming care for trans youth shown to be lifesaving. Gender affirming care is associated with a 73% reduction in suicidality and over 50 studies assembled by Cornell University show its benefits. California is one of several states that has recently moved to protect transgender youth and their medical care, and such a restriction would impact a large number of transgender kids in the state.

“We are relieved that anti-LGBTQ+ extremists have failed to reach the required signature threshold to qualify their anti-transgender ballot initiatives to the November 2024 ballot. Equality California will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ+ youth everywhere, and push back against any and all efforts by extremist groups who seek to discriminate against them,” said Tony Hoang Equality California Executive Director. “To every LGBTQ+ youth in California: know that you are loved and valued.”

The anti-LGBTQ+ group placed partial blame for the failure on California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who the group had sued over the title and summary he assigned to its ballot measure that would strip rights from transgender minors.

The Bay Area Reporter noted the Liberty Justice Center filed a lawsuit February 13 in Sacramento County Superior Court on behalf of Protect Kids California that alleged Bonta’s personal beliefs led to a biased title and summary. Therefore, the center contended the ballot measure proponents should be given 180 additional days for signature gathering without discounting signatures already collected.

“Respondent [Bonta] has demonstrated that he personally, and in his official capacity, is opposed to any kind of notification by a public school to a parent or guardian that his or her child is exhibiting signs of gender dysphoria when the child asks the school to publicly treat him or her as the opposite sex with a new name or pronouns, and to allow the child to use the sex-segregated facilities of the opposite sex,” claimed the groups in their lawsuit.

But a Sacramento Superior Court judge sided with Bonta in a ruling that was first issued tentatively April 19 and was made final April 22. Judge Stephen Acquisto ruled that Bonta’s title and summary are accurate.

“Under current law, minor students have express statutory rights with respect to their gender identity,” Acquisto stated. “A substantial portion of the proposed measure is dedicated to eliminating or restricting these statutory rights. … The proposed measure would eliminate express statutory rights and place a condition of parental consent on accommodations that are currently available without such condition.

“The proposed measure objectively ‘restricts rights’ of transgender youth by preventing the exercise of their existing rights. ‘Restricts rights of transgender youth’ is an accurate and impartial description of the proposed measure,” Acquisto added.

The attorney general’s office has some leeway when it comes to determining ballot titles, the judge noted.

In a statement provided to the B.A.R. on April 24, after news that the decision had been made permanent, Protect Kids California attorney Nicole Pearson stated, “The mental gymnastics used to justify this prejudicial title and summary are not only an egregious abuse of discretion that entitles our clients to an appeal, but a chilling interpretation of law that jeopardizes the very foundation of our constitutional republic. We are reviewing our options for an appeal of these clear errors and will announce a decision shortly.”

Additional reporting by The Bay Area Reporter.

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Missouri

Missouri AG targets health care professionals over trans care

Health care professionals and parents of transgender youth are raising concerns about use of private medical records in the statewide probe

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A group of over 200 protesting MU Health's cancelation of transgender minors' prescriptions approaches Columbia City Hall Sept. 15. MU Health backed out of gender-affirming care for minors after the passage of a new state law including broad medical malpractice provisions (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

By Annelise Hanshaw | ST. LOUIS, Mo. – A state investigation of the Washington University Transgender Center in St. Louis expanded to include therapists and social workers across the state who work with minors seeking gender-affirming care.

Documents made public as part of various lawsuits show that Attorney General Andrew Bailey has obtained a collection of unredacted and loosely redacted records of transgender children, including a list of patients that received care at the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. 

 Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey speaks Jan. 20 to the Missouri chapter of the Federalist Society on the Missouri House of Representatives dais (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

He is also seeking untethered access to the university’s digital medical records system.

The attorney general’s use of private medical records, and the targeting of therapists and counselors, has interrupted the health care of LGBTQ Missourians and has families worrying about their children’s privacy.

Katy Erker-Lynch, executive director for Missouri LGBTQ advocacy organization PROMO, told The Independent she fears that the pressure will drive health care providers out of the state, especially impacting rural Missourians.

“The attorney general has created a hostile environment for medical providers where they are afraid to stay and practice medicine,” she said. 

The saga began last year when Bailey launched an investigation based on an affidavit from Washington University whistleblower Jamie Reed. Bailey is using the affidavit to question other gender-affirming-care providers like Planned Parenthood, which he has said he hopes to “eradicate.”

The probe involves the Missouri Division of Professional Registration, which oversees medical licensing in the state. According to records obtained by The Independent, the agency interviewed 57 health professionals as part of the inquiry and had 16 cases open as of early May.

While Bailey announced the division would assist in the investigation when he first announced it, therapists did not expect to be included — or have their license to practice put at risk. 

The division’s chief legal counsel, Sarah Ledgerwood, told The Independent that the division and its boards can’t join other officials’ investigations. When asked about Bailey’s investigation, she said the boards “can only complete investigations based on receipt of a complaint.”

Division Director Sheila Solon said last year that she anticipated complaints as part of the attorney general’s investigation.

Kelly Storck, a licensed clinical social worker with a focus on LGBTQ-positive therapy, was interviewed last year and expressed grave concerns about unredacted medical records of minors being in the hands of a state official who has repeatedly opposed gender-affirming care.

When the division contacted Storck for an interview, she hired a lawyer before meeting with the investigator.

During the meeting, she says the investigator had a small stack of unredacted letters Storck had sent the Transgender Center to recommend clients for gender-affirming care.

Storck recalled senior investigator Nick McBroom telling her he wasn’t fully sure what he was doing, saying she was taking the interview more seriously than it was. He questioned why she had a lawyer.

McBroom asked about the process of writing letters of support, Storck said, opening a file with just a portion of the letters she had sent to the Transgender Center. She said she noticed the documents had green underlines added and asked McBroom if they were his edits. He didn’t seem to know the source of the underlines.

After a 30-45 minute interview, McBroom asked her to write up her process. Through her attorney, she declined, and her case was closed soon after.

McBroom declined to speak to The Independent about the case.

“I still have a lot of distrust about who initiated it,” Storck said, “and who was in my documents.” 

Parents of transgender children told The Independent they have heard whispers of other therapists facing investigation.

Multiple providers declined to be interviewed about the investigation out of fear of retaliation. Storck, though, had already faced the attorney general as one of the plaintiffs attempting to block an emergency rule targeting transgender care filed by Bailey last year.

A fight for patient privacy

 The Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital has received national attention since a whistleblower’s affidavit went public last year (Rebecca Rivas/Missouri Independent).

A legal battle between Washington University and the attorney general’s office shows the records used in the interviews may have directly come from the university itself.

In the attorney general’s office’s response to the litigation, a timeline is laid out of the university turning over three sets of documents. In its second document production, Washington University gave the attorney general a list of patients in a spreadsheet.

“The supplemental production included a spreadsheet titled ‘Transgender Patient data,’” the attorney general’s office wrote. “Which included various workbooks chronicling patient names, encounters and medications, among other information.”

The attorney general’s office has declined to comment about the scope of the investigation and the source of investigative documents. Washington University also declined comment. 

People who have received care at the Transgender Center have asked to be notified if their health records are accessed, but many assume some of their information is already in the attorney general’s hands.

The Independent asked Reed if she provided any of the documents to the attorney general. 

“I cannot definitively say what the therapists are being handed (or) where it came from,” she said. “We just don’t really know where those things directly came from. The one thing I will add is that any documents that were provided to the attorney general’s office from me were redacted.”

Reed said she did not give any documents that would be stored in the electronic health records software Epic. When asked where else the records could come from, she said, “email or shared drive.”

The records investigators had of Storck’s patients included names, something Reed said she redacted before providing to the attorney general.

Becky Hormuth and her 17-year-old son Levi, who was a patient at the Transgender Center, have been hearing about the scope of Bailey’s investigation for months.

They learned that the attorney general’s office had been looking into Levi’s psychologist’s records and heard about other providers that had interviews related to their support for gender-affirming care.

Levi said the attorney general’s work seemed like “complete government overreach.”

Bailey’s actions, like a tip line about gender-affirming care and an emergency rule that sought to limit access to certain procedures and prescriptions, prompted Hormuth to prepare to move out of state.

“It is very invasive, what he’s doing,” she told The Independent. “The state has already basically disrupted our lives. They’ve disrupted our families, our children’s lives with the legislation that has passed. Then for him to continue going on is even more invasive and damaging.”

When lawmakers passed a ban on gender-affirming care for minors that included a provision that allowed broad medical malpractice claims, the Transgender Center stopped providing Levi’s medication.

Hormuth learned from other parents to make her son’s medication stretch, just in case it would be a long time before a refill.

She had requested an appointment with a provider in Illinois prior to the law’s passage, and Levi was on a waiting list. The center told her at the time that they weren’t taking new out-of-state patients because there was already a large influx from multiple states.

But eventually, Hormuth got a call that they were ready to take out-of-state patients. So, she and Levi make periodic trips to Chicago to go to the doctor.

Levi is old enough to receive hormone-replacement therapy at the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region’s clinics, which accept transgender patients 16 and up for gender-affirming care.

But Hormuth wanted to take her son someplace outside of Bailey’s reach.

“I was absolutely dead set against going to Planned Parenthood locally because I knew that as soon as we would establish ourselves at Planned Parenthood… that (Bailey) was going to come there and start digging through those papers and those personal records,” she said. “I absolutely was not going to give him the chance at any other aspect of our family’s life.”

Both branches of Planned Parenthood in Missouri are also subjects of Bailey’s investigation, according to court filings, despite the attorney general’s office only publicly announcing an investigation into the Transgender Center.

The attorney general is not allowed to investigate medical malpractice claims, but it can look into false advertising under the state’s consumer protection law, known as the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act. 

Bailey used that law to file an emergency rule, which he later rescinded before a court case could decide its bounds, and he is utilizing it again to dig into gender-affirming-care providers.

In a case in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Bailey’s office admits the investigation into the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital has multiple subjects.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains filed a lawsuit to avoid the attorney general’s civil investigative demands which it argued sought sweeping information about its practice and patients.

In court documents, Solicitor General Josh Divine wrote that the civil investigative demand was looking into the organization and others in addition to the Transgender Center.

“The attorney general is investigating (the Transgender Center) and ‘others in the state’ who ‘may have used deception, fraud, false promises, misrepresentation, unfair practices, and/or the concealment, suppression, or omission of material facts within the scope of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act,’” Divine wrote. “The attorney general has already made unequivocally clear that (Planned Parenthood) is under investigation.”

Similar arguments are on display in a case between the Planned Parenthood affiliate in St. Louis and the attorney general’s office.

“(Bailey’s) request encompasses hundreds, if not thousands, of patient records concerning treatment decisions, discussions with physicians, mental health assessments and prescription information, among other areas,” Planned Parenthood’s attorney wrote in its lawsuit.

Judges ruled in favor of the attorney general’s office in both cases, which have been recently appealed.

A case filed by Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City against Bailey’s investigative demands also went in favor of the attorney general.

Washington University’s case against the attorney general’s office is yet to be decided.

This fall, the attorney general’s office will defend the state in a case that seeks to reverse a ban on gender-affirming care for minors passed last legislative session.

Storck said the inquiry has compounded anxieties about access to gender-affirming care that patients have following the passage of the ban.

“I really was so afraid that some of my clients were going to be in absolute emergent situations and really struggle to get access to health care,” she said. “My patients have connected with what they need, but it is now an all-day or multiple-day event to get medical care. Previously, they could have gotten it (within two hours).”

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Annelise Hanshaw

Annelise Hanshaw writes about education — a beat she has covered on both the West and East Coast while working for daily newspapers in Santa Barbara, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Missouri Independent and is republished with permission.

The Missouri Independent is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to relentless investigative journalism and daily reporting that sheds light on state government and its impact on the lives of Missourians. This service is free to readers and other news outlets.

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

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Libertarian Party nominates gay presidential candidate for 2024

At the Libertarian National Convention Saturday, former President Trump was booed by the crowd after asking for the third party’s endorsement

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Libertarian Party nominees Mike ter Maat for Vice-President & for President Chase Oliver. (Chase Oliver Libertarian Party Campaign/Facebook)

WASHINGTON – After a contentious seven rounds of voting on Sunday, the Libertarian Party nominated Chase Oliver, a gay sales account executive and former U.S. Senate candidate, to run in the 2024 presidential election.

Oliver will represent America’s third largest political party, whose endorsement had been solicited by the leading Republican and Independent candidates, Donald Trump and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Libertarian candidates typically earn about one percent of the national vote share during presidential elections, though Gary Johnson earned three percent in 2016, and Jo Jorgensen secured more votes than comprised the margin of victory in some 2020 battleground states.

Oliver’s third-party candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Georgia in 2022 helped force a runoff election that was won by U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).

Both Trump and Kennedy spoke at the Libertarian convention over the weekend, but they only earned a respective 0.65 percent and two percent of the votes from the party’s 900 delegates. (Trump, a write-in candidate, would likely have been ineligible to receive the nomination since he is the presumptive GOP nominee.)

Taking aim at Trump as well as the Democratic nominee, President Joe Biden, Oliver said during his acceptance speech, “We know that the lesser of two evils continues to give us more evil. But we’re done with that, and so are the voters.”

At the Libertarian National Convention in Washington, D.C. on Saturday night, former President Donald Trump was booed by the crowd after asking for the third party’s endorsement. The reception was far less friendly than the ones Trump receives at his own rallies, with some libertarian voters appearing hesitant to support him. NBC News’ Julie Tsirkin reported:

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India

Indian government committee to study rights for same-sex couples

Country’s Supreme Court last October ruled against marriage equality

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Indian flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

NEW DELHI — The Indian Supreme Court seven months ago declined to grant legal status to same-sex marriages. 

At the time of the verdict, however, the Supreme Court instructed the federal government to establish a committee to address the myriad issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community in India. These include matters such as pensions, joint property ownership, healthcare access, and child custody.

In compliance with the Supreme Court’s directive, the Indian government on April 16 established a committee with Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba appointed as its chair. The committee, consisting of six members, will include secretaries from the Home Affairs, Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, Social Justice and Empowerment, and the Law Ministries.

“The Hon’ble Supreme Court vide its judgment dated 17.10.2023, in Writ Petition No. 1011/2022 Supriyo@Supriya vs. Union of India, has directed the central government to constitute a committee to be chaired by the Cabinet secretary to examine the various issues relating to queer community,” said the gazette notification.

A 5-judge constitutional bench led by Chief Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud refused to recognize the right to marry as a fundamental right for same-sex couples. The country’s top court stated, while delivering the verdict last year, that parliament must decide whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court acknowledged it cannot make laws but can only interpret them. It also recognized queer people cannot be discriminated against. The court had said that the material benefits and services given to heterosexual couples and denied to queer couples violate their fundamental rights. 

Chandrachud and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul in their dissenting opinion advocated for civil unions instead of marriage, arguing this approach would grant legal rights to same-sex couples without extending full marriage rights. They emphasized that while marriage may not inherently confer rights, it offers certain “intangible benefits in the form of expressive advantages” and provides a “bouquet of rights” for couples to exercise.

“For the right to have real meaning, the State must recognize a bouquet of entitlements which flow from an abiding relationship of this kind. A failure to recognize such entitlements would result in systemic discrimination against queer couples,” said Chandrachud. 

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, the country’s second-highest law officer, at the time had stated a committee chaired by the Cabinet secretary would be formed to delineate the rights that should be available to LGBTQ+ couples in a union.

The Supreme Court had outlined several entitlements for the LGBTQ+ community that include the right for queer partners to be treated as part of the same family for ration card purposes, the ability to set up a joint bank account, jail visitation rights, recognition as “next of kin” by medical practitioners, and the right to access the body of a deceased partner to arrange the last rites.

“The committee shall set out the scope of the benefits which accrue to such couples,” stated the Supreme Court in its 2023 ruling. 

In last year’s judgment, the Supreme Court said “legal consequences such as succession rights, maintenance, financial benefits such as under the Income Tax Act 1961, rights flowing from employment such as gratuity and family pension and insurance.” 

The Income Tax Act 1961, provides some benefits to married couple in India, such as a maximum deduction of 199,654.44 ($2,400) that can be claimed in a financial year. Married couples can opt for a joint home loan with tax benefits on interest paid and principal repaid, and also get a higher loan amount. These financial benefits, however, are not available for LGBTQ+ couples in the country. Similarly, as per the rule of family pension in India, if a deceased government servant or pensioner is survived by a spouse, they will be the first to receive a family pension. Children and other family members become eligible for it only after the spouse of the decedent or pensioner become ineligible for a family pension or dies.

Activists say the establishment of a committee chaired by the Cabinet secretary to address the issues faced by LGBTQ+ couples in a union is a promising step forward. 

“The Supreme Court’s verdict on October 17 last year marked a significant milestone in recognizing the rights of LGBTQ individuals, and this committee could play a crucial role in translating legal recognition into practical and effective policy changes,” said Souvik Saha, an LGBTQ activist and founder of People for Change. “The formation of this committee is particularly important in a state like Jharkhand, where LGBTQ individuals face unique challenges. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), LGBTQ people in India, especially in rural areas, continue to face significant stigma and discrimination. In Jharkhand, these challenges are compounded by socio-economic factors and a lack of awareness and acceptance among the general population.”

He also said this committee’s effectiveness will depend on its ability to engage with LGBTQ+ communities, understand their needs, and implement policies that are both inclusive and practical. 

“As someone working on the ground, I would emphasize the importance of including voices from all parts of the LGBTQ spectrum, particularly those from marginalized communities,” Saha said.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India, and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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2024 Texas GOP convention: Republicans call for spiritual warfare

Delegates moved further right, preaching Christian nationalism & approving rules that would give them unprecedented control of elections

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Attendees at the Texas GOP Convention in San Antonio on May 24, 2024. (Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune)

By Robert Downen | SAN ANTONIO — From his booth in the exhibit hall of the Texas GOP’s 2024 convention, Steve Hotze saw an army of God assembled before him.

For four decades, Hotze, an indicted election fraud conspiracy theorist, has helmed hardline anti-abortion movements and virulently homophobic campaigns against LGBTQ+ rights, comparing gay people to Nazis and helping popularize the “groomer” slur that paints them as pedophiles. Once on the fringes, Hotze said Saturday that he was pleased by the party’s growing embrace of his calls for spiritual warfare with “demonic, Satanic forces” on the left.

From left: Conservative activists Steven Hotze and Jared Woodfill enter the Senate gallery during the afternoon session of Day 1 of the Ken Paxton impeachment trial in the Texas Senate on Sept. 5, 2023.
From left: Conservative activists Steven Hotze and Jared Woodfill enter the Senate gallery during the afternoon session of Day 1 of the Ken Paxton impeachment trial in the Texas Senate on Sept. 5, 2023. Credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

“People that aren’t in Christ have wicked, evil hearts,” he said. “We are in a battle, and you have to take a side.”

Those beliefs were common at the party’s three-day biennial convention last week, at which delegates adopted a series of new policies that would give the party unprecedented control over the electoral process and further infuse Christianity into public life.

Delegates approved rules that ban Republican candidates — as well as judges — who are censured by the party from appearing on primary ballots for two years, a move that would give a small group of Republicans the ability to block people from running for office, should it survive expected legal challenges. The party’s proposed platform also included planks that would effectively lock Democrats out of statewide office by requiring candidates to win a majority of Texas’ 254 counties, many of which are dark-red but sparsely populated, and called for laws requiring the Bible to be taught in public schools.

Those moves, delegates and leaders agreed, were necessary amid what they say is an existential fight with a host of perceived enemies, be it liberals trying to indoctrinate their children through “gender ideology” and Critical Race Theory, or globalists waging a war on Christianity through migration.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick speaks during the Texas GOP Convention Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during the Texas GOP Convention on Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

Those fears were stoked by elected officials in almost every speech given over the week. “They want to take God out of the country, and they want the government to be God,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Thursday morning.

“Our battle is not against flesh and blood,” Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, said Friday. “It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

”Look at what the Democrats have done,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Saturday. “If you were actively trying to destroy America, what would you do differently?”

Controlling elections

The Texas GOP’s conventions have traditionally amplified the party’s most hardline activists and views. In 2022, for instance, delegates approved a platform that included calls for a referendum on Texas secession; resistance to the “Great Reset,” a conspiracy theory that claims global elites are using environmental and social policies to enslave the world’s population; proclamations that homosexuality is an “abnormal lifestyle choice”; and a declaration that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.

The 2024 convention went a step further.

It was the first Texas GOP convention set against the backdrop of a civil war that was sparked by the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton and inflamed by scandals over white supremacists and antisemites working for the party’s top funders, West Texas oil billionaires Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks. This year’s convention was also sparsely attended compared to past years, which some longtime party members said helped the Dunn and Wilks faction further consolidate their power and elect their candidate, Abraham George, for party chair.

“What we’re seeing right now is a shift toward more populism,” said Summer Wise, a former member of the party’s executive committee who has attended most conventions since 2008, including last week’s. “And the [party’s] infrastructure, leadership, decision-making process, power and influence are being controlled by a small group of people.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his wife Senator Angela Paxton wave to conventioneers during the Texas GOP Convention Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, wave to attendees during the Republican Party of Texas convention in San Antonio on Thursday, May 23, 2024. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

That shift was most evident, she said, in a series of changes to the party’s rules that further empower its leaders to punish dissent. The party approved changes that would dramatically increase the consequences of censures — which were used most recently to punish House Speaker Dade Phelan for his role in impeaching Paxton, and against U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales for voting for gun safety legislation.

Under the changes, any person who is censured by the party would be banned for two years from appearing on GOP primary ballots — including judges, who are elected in partisan races but expected to be politically neutral once on the bench. The party also voted to unilaterally close its primaries, bypassing the Legislature, in a move intended to keep Democrats from voting in Republican primaries.

“It’s pretty hypocritical,” Wise said of the changes, which legal experts and some party members expect will face legal challenges. “Republicans have always opposed activist judges, and this seems to be obligating judges to observe and prioritize party over law — which is straight-up judicial activism.”

The convention came amid a broader embrace of Christian nationalism on the right, which falsely claims that the United States’ founding was God-ordained and that its institutions and laws should reflect their conservative, Christian views. Experts have found strong correlations between Christian nationalist beliefs and opposition to migration, religious pluralism and the democratic process.

Wise said she has seen parts of the party similarly shift toward dogmatic political and religious views that have been used “to justify or rationalize corrupting the institution and stripping away its integrity, traditions, fundamental and established principles” — as if “‘God wants it, so we can rewrite the rules.’”

“Being Republican and being Christian have become the same thing,” she said. “If you’re accused of being a (Republican in Name Only), you’re essentially not as Christian as someone else. … God help you if you’re Jewish.”

The “rabbit hole”

Bob Harvey is a proud member of the “Grumpy Old Men’s Club,” a group in Montgomery County that he said pushes back against Fox News and other outlets that he claims have been infiltrated by RINOs.

“People trust Fox News, and they need to get outside of that and find alternative news and like-minded people,” Harvey, 71, said on Friday, as he waited in a long line to meet Kyle Rittenhouse, who has ramped up his engagement in Texas politics since he was acquitted of homicide after fatally shooting two Black Lives Matter protesters.

Rather, Harvey’s group recommends places such as the Gateway Pundit, Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News or the Epoch Times, a far-right website that also had a booth at this year’s convention and is directly linked to the Falun Gong, a hardline anti-communist group.

Such outlets, Harvey said, are crucial to getting people “further down the rabbit hole,” after which they can begin to connect the dots between the deep-state that has spent years attacking former President Donald Trump, and the agenda of the left to indoctrinate kids through the Boy Scouts of America, public schools and the Democratic Party.

Harvey’s views were widely-held by his fellow delegates, many of whom were certain that broader transgender acceptance, Critical Race Theory or “diversity, equity and inclusion” initiatives were parts of a sinister plot to destroy the country and take over its churches.

The culprits behind the ploy differed — Democrats, socialists or “globalists,” to name a few. But their nefarious end goals loomed over the convention. Fearing a transgender takeover of the Republican Party of Texas, delegates pushed to explicitly stipulate that the party’s chair and vice chair must be “biological” men or women.

At events to recruit pastors and congregations to ramp up their political activism, elected leaders argued that churches were the only thing standing between evil and children. And the party’s proposed platform included planks that claim gender-transition care is child abuse, or urge new legislation in Texas that’s “even more comprehensive” than Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits the teaching of sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.

Kyle Rittenhouse shakes hands with conventioneers at a meet and greet during the Texas GOP Convention Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio.
Kyle Rittenhouse shakes hands with conventioneers at a meet and greet during the Texas GOP convention on Thursday in San Antonio. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

“Our next generation is being co-opted and indoctrinated where they should have been educated,” Rep. Nate Schatzline, R-Fort Worth, said at a Friday luncheon for pastors and churches. “We are in a spiritual battle. This isn’t a political one.”

For at least a half-century, conservative Christian movements have been fueled by notions of a shadowy and coordinated conspiracy to destroy America, said Mark Chancey, a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University who focuses on movements to put the Bible in public schools.

“It’s like the boogeyman that won’t go away, that gets summoned whenever a justification is needed for these types of agendas,” he said. “They say that somebody is threatening quintessential American freedoms, and that these threats are posed by some sort of global conspiracy — rather than just recognizing that we’re a pluralistic democracy.”

In the 1950s, such claims were the driving force behind the emergence of groups such as the John Birch Society, a hardline anti-communist group whose early members included the fathers of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Trump. After decades of dwindling influence, the society has seen a revival since Trump’s 2016 election. And in the exhibit hall last week, so-called Birchers passed out literature and pamphlets that detailed the New World Order’s secret plans for “world domination.”

Steve Oglesby, field director for the Birch Society’s North Texas chapter, said interest and membership in the group has been on the rise in recent years — particularly, as COVID-19 lockdowns and international climate change initiatives have spurred right-wing fears of an international cabal working against the United States.

“COVID really helped,” he said, adding that the pandemic proved the existence of a global elite that has merely shifted its tactics since the 1950s. “It’s not just communism — it’s the people pulling the strings.”

Throughout the week, prominent Republicans invoked similar claims of a coordinated conspiracy against the United States. On Friday, Patrick argued that a decadeslong decline in American religion was part of a broader, “Marxist socialist left” agenda to “create chaos,” including through migration — despite studies showing that migrants are overwhelmingly Christian. Attorney General Ken Paxton echoed those claims in his own speech minutes later, saying migration was part of a plan to “steal another election.”

“The Biden Administration wants the illegals here to vote,” he said.

Ella Maulding and Konner Earnest watch as Lt. Governor Dan Patrick speaks during the Texas GOP Convention Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio.
Ella Maulding and Konner Earnest watch as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during the Republican Party of Texas convention in San Antonio on Thursday, the first day of the gathering. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

As Paxton continued, Ella Maulding and Konner Earnest held hands and nodded their approval from the convention hall’s front row. Last year, the two were spotted outside of a Tarrant County office building where Nick Fuentes, a prominent white nationalist and Adolf Hitler fan, was hosted for nearly seven hours by Jonathan Stickland, then the leader of Dunn and Wilks’ most powerful political action committee. They eventually lost their jobs after The Texas Tribune reported on their ties to Fuentes or white nationalist groups.

Maulding has been particularly vocal about her support for Great Replacement Theory, a conspiracy theory that claims there is an intentional, often Jewish-driven, effort to replace white people through migration, LGBTQ+ acceptance or interracial marriage. Once a fringe, white nationalist worldview, experts say that Great Replacement Theory has been increasingly mainstreamed as Republican leaders, including some who spoke last week, continue to claim that migration is part of a coordinated effort to aid Democrats. The theory has also been cited by numerous mass shooters, including the gunman who murdered 22 Hispanic people at an El Paso WalMart in 2019.

Five hours after Paxton and Patrick spoke, Maulding took to social media, posting a cartoon of a rabbi with the following text: “I make porn using your children and then make money distributing it under the banner of women’s rights while flooding your nation with demented lunatics who then rape your children.”

David Barton

Kason Huddleston has spent the last few years helping elect Christians and push back against what he believes is indoctrination of children in Rowlett, near Dallas. Far too often, he said, churches and pastors have become complacent, or have been scared away from political engagement by federal rules that prohibit churches from overt political activity.

Through trainings from groups like Christians Engaged, which advocates for church political activity and had a booth at this year’s convention, he said he has been able show more local Christians that they can be “a part of the solution” to intractable societal ills such as fatherlessness, crime or teen drug use. And while he thinks that some of his peers’ existential rhetoric can be overwrought, he agreed that there is an ongoing effort to “tear down the family unit” and shroud America’s true, Christian roots.

“If you look at our government and our laws, all of it goes back to a Judeo-Christian basis,” he said. “Most people don’t know our true history because it’s slowly just been removed.”

He then asked: “Have you ever read David Barton?”

Since the late 1980s, Barton has barnstormed the state and country claiming that church-state separation is a “myth” meant to shroud America’s true founding as a Christian nation. Barton, a self-styled “amateur historian” who served as Texas GOP vice chair from 1997 to 2006, has been thoroughly debunked by an array of historians and scholars — many of them also conservative Christians.

David Barton, left, of WallBuilders talks with a delegate as he poses for photos at a Texas Eagle Forum reception at the Texas Republican Convention in Fort Worth on June 7, 2012.
David Barton, left, of WallBuilders, at a Texas Eagle Forum reception at the Republican Party of Texas convention in Fort Worth on June 7, 2012. Credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Despite that, Barton’s views have become widespread among Republicans, including Patrick, Texas Supreme Court Justice John Devine and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson. And his influence over the party was clear at last week’s convention, where his group, WallBuilders, maintained a booth and delegates frequently cited him.

This year’s platform, the votes for which are expected to be released later this week, included planks that urged lawmakers and the State Board of Education to “require instruction on the Bible, servant leadership and Christian self-governance,” and supports the use of religious chaplains in schools — which was made legal under a law passed by the state Legislature last year.

Warren Throckmorton, a former Grove City College professor and prominent conservative, Christian critic of Barton, told the Tribune that the platform emblematized Barton’s growing influence, and his movement’s conflicting calls to preserve “religious liberty” while attempting to elevate their faith over others. The platform, he noted, simultaneously demands that students’ religious rights be protected, and for schools to be forced to teach the Bible.

“What about the other students who aren’t Christians and who don’t believe in the Bible?” he said. “This is not religious liberty — it’s Christian dominance.

As Zach Maxwell watched his fellow Republicans debate and vote last week, he said he was struck by the frequency and intensity with which Christianity was invoked. Maxwell previously served as chief of staff for former Rep. Mike Lang, then the leader of the ultraconservative Texas House Freedom Caucus, and he later worked for Empower Texans, a political group that was funded primarily by Dunn and Wilks.

He eventually became disillusioned with the party’s right wing, which he said has increasingly been driven by purity tests and opposition to religious or political diversity. This year’s convention, he said, was the culmination of those trends.

“God was not only used as a tool at this convention, but if you didn’t mention God in some way, fake or genuine, I did feel it was seen as distasteful,” he said. “There is a growing group of people who want to turn this nation into a straight-up theocracy. I believe they are doing it on the backs of people who are easily manipulated.”

Disclosure: Southern Methodist University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Robert Downen’s staff photo

Robert Downen is a reporter covering democracy and the threats to it, including extremism, disinformation and conspiracies. Before joining the Tribune in 2022, he worked for five years at the Houston Chronicle. As a Hearst Media fellow, he developed what would become “Abuse of Faith,” a landmark investigation into child sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention that prompted a Department of Justice investigation.

Before coming to Texas, Robert was a business reporter in New York’s capital region, and the managing editor of six newspapers in his home state of Illinois. He is a 2014 graduate of Eastern Illinois University.

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

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Minnesota

Minnesota bans Gay & Trans Panic Defense

“Gay and trans panic defenses are based on irrational fears and prejudice and they imply that violence against LGBTQ+ people is acceptable”

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Minnesota Governor Tim Walz speaking at Twin-Cities Pride in 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor/Facebook)

By Erin Reed | St. PAUL, Minn. – On Friday, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed into law HF5216, a judiciary, public safety, and corrections supplemental budget bill that includes a ban on the gay and trans panic defense.

The law, which narrowly passed the Senate on a party-line 34-33 vote, prohibits individuals who commit violence against gay or trans people from using their surprise at the victim’s identity as a justifiable reason for their actions. This defense has been used at least 351 times in homicide trials, according to researchers, and has often led to reduced sentences. Now, Minnesota becomes the 19th state to bar such defenses.

The bill states that the use of force against a person in reaction to their sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited. It also specifies that it is not a defense to any crime that the defendant acted “based on the discovery of, knowledge about, or disclosure of” a victim’s LGBTQ+ status. Such defenses have been used previously to justify violence against transgender people who do not disclose their gender identity to an intimate partner, romantic partner, or even during mere flirtation.

You can see the applicable provisions in the new law here:

The transgender panic defense, according to one study, has been used at least 351 times. W. Carsten Andresen, a professor who has tracked instances where the gay and trans panic defenses have been used, states that the defense has been effective. In 32% of cases, murder charges have been reduced in sentence when the defense is used, and 5% of people who use the defense are acquitted entirely. Andresen notes that this is notable given that these murders often “involve incredible violence.”

The defense has been implicated in high-profile cases. In 2013, James Dixon killed Islan Nettles, a Black transgender woman, in Harlem after his friends mocked him for flirting with her. He informed police that he had “flown into a fury” after discovering her gender identity. Ultimately, he received only 12 years in prison, with activists and family members saying that the sentence was made more lenient due to justifications that implicate the transgender panic defense.

In recent years, there has been a push to outlaw such defenses. New Hampshire and Delaware outlawed the defense in 2023, and New Mexico banned it in 2022. Efforts to outlaw the defense have failed, however, in more conservative states such as Montana, where transgender legislator Rep. Zooey Zephyr’s bill was defeated 11-8, with Republicans voting against the bill while Democrats voted in favor. Similar bills failed in Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin this year, with Michigan’s bill pending action but not yet passed.

You can see a map of the legal status of panic defenses here:

Movement Advancement Project. “Equality Maps: Panic Defense Bans.” https://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/panic_defense_bans.

In the Minnesota Senate, the bill passed 34-33 on party lines. “Gay and trans Minnesotans deserve the same protections under the law as all our neighbors receive,” said Demcoratic Senator Westlin after the bill’s passage, adding, “Gay and trans panic defenses are based on irrational fears and prejudice toward LGBTQ+ people, and they imply that violence against LGBTQ+ people is acceptable under certain conditions. I am proud to see our state continue to protect LGBTQ+ Minnesotans, especially when they are victims of violent crime.”

The new law will go into effect August 1st, 2024.

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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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