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UK election results pave way for Brexit, prompt activists concern

Concerns over loss of EU human rights protections mount

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Boris Johnson, gay news, Washington Blade
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo by Chatham House via Flickr)

The results of Thursday’s elections in the U.K. have all but assured the country will soon leave the European Union.

The BBC reported Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party now has 365 seats in Parliament, compared to the 203 seats that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has. Activists with whom the Los Angeles Blade spoke on Friday said Brexit could prove harmful to LGBTQ Brits because some of the European Union’s human rights standards will no longer apply to the country.

“Brexit will happen and LGBT+ people will lose the legal protection against discrimination that is enshrined in the E.U.’s Charter of Fundamental Rights,” said Peter Tatchell, a prominent British LGBTQ activist who is director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, in an email to the Blade.

Tatchell noted the U.K. will “still have the safeguards of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights” once the country leaves the European Union.

OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern in a statement to the Blade said the Conservative Party under former Prime Minister David Cameron supported marriage rights for same-sex couples. Stern also noted Johnson voted for civil partnerships and had openly gay advisors.

“One hopes this history means that the rights and recognition the LGBTQ community has enjoyed from the government of the U.K. in recent years will remain relatively unchanged,” Stern told the Blade.

“However, the election results bring destabilizing uncertainty,” she added, while noting the U.K’s 2010 Equality Act that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation is based on the European Union’s Equal Treatment Directive that was adopted in 2006.

“How nondiscrimination laws based on E.U. law will fare in the aftermath of Brexit is unknown,” said Stern.

Stern told the Blade there are also concerns “about the future of” efforts to update the country’s 2004 Gender Recognition Act — which allows trans Brits to legally change their gender with the approval of medical and legal professionals — “under a more conservative government in an era of global anti-trans rhetoric.” It remains unclear whether Johnson’s government would support activists’ efforts to allow trans people to legally change their gender in the U.K. without medical or legal intervention.

“There are also questions about this government’s commitment to foreign assistance, which has been a mainstay of support for the global LGBTIQ movement and developing countries around the world,” Stern told the Blade..

Tatchell agreed with Stern’s concerns over trans rights under Johnson’s government. Tatchell also told the Blade that “further advances seem doubtful” on other issues that include universal access to PrEP in the U.K. and compensation for men who were convicted under homophobic laws.

“The ire of Tories is more focused on immigrants, refugees and the E.U.,” he added.

State Department welcomes election results

The Brexit referendum narrowly passed in 2016, with the majority of voters in England and Wales supporting the “leave” campaign. The majority of voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland opposed Brexit.

British politics have remained deeply polarized over the issue. Johnson, along with President Trump, are among those who support Brexit.

“The United States and United Kingdom share a unique partnership and essential alliance, based on a strong foundation of shared values and democratic principles,” said State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus on Friday in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our critical work together with Prime Minister Johnson and his government to further strengthen our enduring special relationship, address mutual challenges, and build on the progress and prosperity we have made on so many fronts.” 

“The United States is committed to the U.S.-U.K. shared global agenda, including expanding our robust economic relationship by reaching a comprehensive free trade agreement with the U.K. once it formally withdraws from the European Union,” she added.

Three advocacy groups in the U.K. — Stonewall U.K., the Equality Network in Scotland and the Rainbow Project in Northern Ireland — have yet to respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the election results.

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Federal Government

Harms of waiving anti-discrimination rules for religious universities

“Once the money stops flowing, they will almost all instantly change their policies and start protecting queer students”

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The Lyndon Baines Johnson Federal Building, Washington D.C., headquarters of the U.S. Department of Education (Photo Credit: GSA/U.S. Dept. of Education)

WASHINGTON – Democratic lawmakers re-introduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act on Friday, which marked the 13th anniversary of the 18-year-old New Jersey college student’s death by suicide after he was targeted with homophobic harassment by his peers.

The bill, which establishes cyberbullying as a form of harassment, directing colleges and universities to share anti-harassment policies to current and prospective students and employees, was introduced by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Patty Murray (Wash.), along with U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (Wis.), Chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

Advocacy groups including the Tyler Clementi Foundation, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and The Trevor Project have endorsed the legislation, which comes as issues concerning anti-LGBTQ+ harassment in institutions of higher education have earned renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Earlier this month, the Washington Blade connected with an expert to discuss these and other subjects: Paul Southwick, a Portland, Oregon-based litigation attorney who leads a legal advocacy group focused on religious institutions of higher education and their treatment of LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities.

On Tuesday, he shared a statement responding to Friday’s reintroduction of the Tyler Clementi bill, stressing the need for equal enforcement of its provisions in light of efforts by conservative Christian schools to avoid oversight and legal liability for certain federal civil rights regulations:

“We are still evaluating the bill regarding how the bill would interact with the religious exemption in Title IX,” Southwick said. “We fully support the expansion of anti-harassment protections for students and corresponding requirements for educational institutions.”

He added, “We also believe that such protections and requirements should extend to students at taxpayer funded, religiously affiliated educational institutions, regardless of whether those institutions claim, or receive, an assurance of religious exemption from Title IX regulations” through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Baylor University’s unprecedented Title IX exemption

In response to a request from Baylor University, a conservative Baptist college located in Waco, Texas, the Education Department in July granted a first of its kind religious-based exemption from federal regulations governing harassment, a form of sex-based discrimination proscribed under Title IX.

Southwick explained that during the Obama administration, the federal government began to understand and recognize discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as forms of sex-based discrimination covered by the statute. The Biden-Harris administration issued a directive for the Education Department to formalize the LGBTQ+ inclusive definitions under Title IX, with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that is now underway at the agency.

Beginning with the Department’s 2010 “dear colleague” letter clarifying the administration’s view that discrimination against LGBTQ+ people constitutes sex-based discrimination under the law, Southwick said the pushback from religious schools was immediate. In the years since, many have successfully petitioned the Education Department for “exemptions so they can discriminate against queer, trans and non-binary people,” but these carveouts were limited “to things like admissions, housing, athletics.”

No one had argued that “federally funded educational institutions [should] have no regulation by the federal government as to whether they’re protecting their students from harassment,” he remarked – at least not until the Baylor case.

Addressing the unprecedented move in a letter to the Department on September 5, U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Greg Casar (D-Texas), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), and Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) urged the agency to “clarify the narrow scope of this exemption and assure students at religious institutions that they continue to have protections against sex-based harassment.”

Southwick told the Blade other members of Congress have expressed an interest in the matter, as have some progressive nonprofit groups.

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Department confirmed receipt of the lawmakers’ letter and said the agency will respond to the members.

The Department’s issuance of the exemption to Baylor came despite an open investigation into the university by its Office of Civil Rights over a Title IX complaint brought in 2021 by Southwick’s organization, the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), on behalf of a queer student who claimed she was subjected to homophobic abuse from other students while university officials to whom she reported the harassment failed to intervene.

It is not yet clear whether the agency will close its investigation as a result of its decision to exempt Baylor from Title IX’s harassment rules.

Veronica Bonifacio Penales, the student behind the complaint against Baylor, is also a plaintiff in REAP’s separate class action lawsuit challenging the Education Department’s practice of waving Title IX rules for faith-based colleges and universities – which, the plaintiffs argue, facilitates anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

The case, Hunter v. U.S. Department of Education, is on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Other religious schools are likely to follow Baylor’s lead

Southwick said the agency’s decision in the Baylor case “puts students at risk of harassment without a civil remedy against their school’s failures to properly address harassment,” adding, “Taxpayer funded educational institutions, whether religious or secular, should never be permitted to escape oversight from OCR in how they handle anti-harassment claims from LGBTQIA+ or other students protected by federal non-discrimination law.”

Buoyed by Baylor’s successful effort, requesting exemptions to Title IX rules for purposes of allowing the harassment of LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff is likely to become routine practice for many of America’s conservative institutions of higher education, Southwick said.

The nonprofit group Campus Pride maintains a list of America’s “absolute worst, most unsafe campuses for LGBTQ+ youth,” schools that “received and/or applied for a Title IX exemption to discriminate against LGBTQ+ youth, and/or demonstrated past history and track record of anti-LGBTQ+ actions, programs and practices.”

193 colleges and universities have met the criteria.

Many of the thousands of LGBTQ+ students enrolled in these institutions often have insufficient support, Southwick said, in part because “a lot of the larger civil rights organizations and queer rights organizations are very occupied, and rightly so, with pushing back against anti-trans legislation in the public sphere.”

Regardless, even in America’s most conservative schools like Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan, Southwick noted that pro-equality students, faculty, and staff have pushed for change.

He added that while there are, no doubt, young people who harbor anti-LGBTQ+ views, “they often become much more progressive the longer they’re in school, because there’s just queer people coming out everywhere, you know, and it’s hard to hate people who are your friends.”

The powerful influence and role of financial incentives  

Southwick said meaningful reform at the institutional level is made more difficult by the reality that “financial incentives from the government and from the market are aligned to favor the continuation of discrimination.”

“Once the money stops flowing, they will almost all instantly change their policies and start protecting queer students,” he said, but added that colleges and universities have little reason to change without the risk that discriminatory policies and practices will incur meaningful consequences, like the loss of government funding and accreditation.

Another challenge, Southwick said, is the tendency of institutions of higher education to often prioritize the wishes and interests of moneyed alumni networks, boards of trustees, and donors, groups that generally skew older and tend to be more conservative.

Southwick said when he and his colleagues at REAP discuss proposed pro-LGBTQ+ reforms with contacts at conservative religious universities, they are warned “over and over again,” that “donors will be angry.”

Following the establishment of nationwide prohibitions against segregation and other forms of racial discrimination with passage of the federal 1964 Civil Rights Act and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which applied to public schools, and Runyon v. McCrary (1976), which covered private schools, Southwick noted that “A lot of Christian schools and college colleges continued to deny admission to black students.”

One by one, however, the so-called “segregation academies” would permanently close their doors or agree to racial integration, Southwick said – buckling under pressure from the U.S. government’s categorical denial of federal funding to these institutions, coupled with other factors like the decision of many professional associations to deny membership to their professors and academics.

Another important distinction, Southwick added: unlike Title IX, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “does not have a religious exemption.”

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California Politics

LGBTQ+ ally Tony Thurmond announces for his bid for governor

Prior to serving as California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Thurmond served in the State Assembly

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Gavin Newsom greets Tony Thurmond during the 2018 statewide political campaigns. (Photo Credit: Tony Thurmond/Facebook)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California State Superintendent of Public Instruction and long-time LGBTQ+ community ally Tony Thurmond, announced Tuesday that he is running to be the next Governor of California. 

He is running to replace incumbent Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, who is term limited by state law to two four-year terms. Newsom assumed office on January 7, 2019 and his current term ends on January 4, 2027.

If elected, Thurmond would make history as California’s first Black Governor and the first Latino Governor since 1875.

Thurmond made the following announcement on X, formerly Twitter, Tuesday morning: “I didn’t come from money, power, or influence. I’m running for Governor to be a voice for those who need one — because California may be working for millionaires and billionaires but for the rest of California — we need real change.”

“California should be a place where everyone has a chance to succeed, no matter who you are or where you’re from, and together, we can make that a reality,” he said in his announcement video. 

In addition to his commitment to improving opportunities for all Californians, stabilizing the housing market, and contributing to ending homelessness, Thurmond has shown his continued support for children in LGBTQ+ community.

With several school districts across California passing mandatory outing policies and rules targeting the safety of LGBTQ+ students, Thurmond told The Blade in an interview last week that he has and will continue to fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ children. 

“My position on these actions is that they are misinformed and misguided. They are a blatant attack on LGBTQ+ kids. These are bigoted efforts to harm a group of students…This is purely a bigoted action by extremists, whose real effort is to bring harm upon LGBTQ plus students, and I will not stand for that,” he said.

Thurmond told the Blade about his involvement in creating policies that allowed for safe and gender-inclusive bathrooms in the Chino Hills school district. He also mentioned two bills that he supports: 

SB 760, sponsored by Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton). The bill would require the all-gender restroom to meet certain requirements, including, among other things, that it has signage identifying the bathroom facility as being open to all genders and is unlocked, unobstructed, and easily accessible by any pupil.

The Superintendent also supported AB 1078, sponsored by Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson (D-Moreno Valley), which bans “book bans” in schools, prohibits censorship of instructional materials, and strengthens California law requiring schools to provide all students access to textbooks that teach about California’s diverse communities.

“From Temecula to Tallahassee, fringe ideologues across the country are attempting to whitewash history and ban books from schools. With this new law, we’re cementing California’s role as the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what’s right for them,” Governor Gavin Newsom said as he signed the bill last Friday.

“We have an opportunity now to say that every person can be treated with love and respect and dignity, regardless of who they are and how they see themselves and who they love,” said Thurmond.  

“Many times, young people are not in a space where they can talk about how they identify in terms of their gender identities. It is our responsibility to get them resources and to help them, not to attack them. I sponsored legislation to provide more resources and training, and teachings to be able to support students and our LGBTQ+ students. The data shows that when we do this work, we support our LGBTQ+ people, they do better at school. They have better self-esteem and better grades. They are less likely to feel suicidal.”

Thurmond has been elected statewide in the nation’s most populous state twice, in 2018 and most recently in 2022, when he earned 63.7% and 5,681,318 votes.

Prior to serving as California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Thurmond served in the State Assembly and before then on the Richmond City Council and the West Contra Costa School Board. Beyond his service in public office, Thurmond is a public school parent, a former social worker, and a public educator.

“I am grateful that my last 15 years of elective service have all centered around some form of education, formally or informally,” said Thurmond. “I do think education is a great equalizer. It has been for me. I want this to be available to all six million students who are interested to our school system in California.”

(Advert) Tony Thurmond for California Governor: It’s About People:

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Florida

Florida’s Charlotte County schools purge LGBTQ+ books

The Florida Department of Education was informed of Charlotte County’s overreaction to the law over 2 weeks ago and has not corrected it

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Charlotte County Schools Superintendent Mark Vianello. (Screenshot/YouTube WFTX Fox 4 News)

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – Charlotte County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Vianello has instructed librarians in all district schools to purge any book that contained LGBTQ+ themes, mentions, or characters.

According to a public records request by the non-profit advocacy group Florida Freedom to Read Project,  district librarians sought guidance regarding how to apply an expansion of the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, to all grades.

“Are we removing books from any school/media center, PreK-12 if a character has, for example, 2 mothers or because there is a gay best friend or a main character is gay?” the librarians asked. Charlotte County Superintendent Mark Vianello answered, “Yes.”

According to journalist Judd Legum, the guidance by Vianello and the school board’s attorney, Michael McKinley, was obtained by the Florida Freedom to Read Project (FFTRP) through a public records request and shared with Popular Information. FFTRP requested “electronic records of district and school decisions regarding classroom and library materials.” In response, FFTRP received a document memorializing a July 24 conversation between Vianello and district librarians, known in Florida as media specialists. 

The guidance made clear that all books with LGBTQ characters are to be removed even if the book contained no sexually explicit content. The librarians asked if they could retain books in school and classroom libraries with LGBTQ characters “as long as they do not have explicit sex scenes or sexual descriptions and are not approaching ‘how to’ manuals for how to be an LGBTQ+ person.” Vianello responded, “No. Books with LBGTQ+ characters are not to be included in classroom libraries or school library media centers.”

Equality Florida reacted in a statement saying:

“The school district superintendent in Charlotte County instructed librarians in public schools to remove all books with LGBTQ characters or themes from school and classroom libraries.

“Our schools have been turned over to book-banning extremists who censor and whitewash history and relentlessly attack LGBTQ students and parents. We cannot let DeSantis’ path of destruction continue.

Banning books does not protect our children, it’s detrimental to their education. Ron DeSantis has launched an all-out assault on the core values of freedom, equality, and democracy. He has ignored the real challenges in our state to sow division and pursue an agenda of government intrusion and control. We must stand up and fight against the harm being done to our students.”

“Every child deserves to have their lives reflected in the books available in their public school classroom or library,” Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the FFTRP told Popular Information. “The Florida Department of Education was informed of Charlotte County’s overreaction to the law and state rule over two weeks ago, and has not acted to correct it. Public school families in Florida deserve better. We cannot tolerate this discriminatory exclusion.”

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Charlotte County Schools told Popular Information that books with LGBTQ characters were removed from libraries because “there are elementary schools that utilize their school library media center as classrooms… [for] elective courses that our students are officially scheduled into and attend on a regular basis.” Therefore, the library “is considered a classroom setting.” As a result, “our school board attorney advises that we do not make books with these themes available in media centers that serve as classrooms since this would be considered ‘classroom instruction’ and such instruction and/or availability of these themes may not occur in PreK- grade 8.”

A spokesperson later issued a clarification Tuesday:

“Books featuring LGBTQ characters are accessible in the media center for grades 9-12. While they may not be utilized for classroom instruction, these books are available for individual study and can be borrowed by students. The document… served as a training resource, and the discussion accompanying it provided further guidance to educators.”

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Africa

Seven men linked to kidnapping of Grindr users in South Africa arrested

Advocacy groups welcomed arrests, urged authorities to investigate other cases

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South African flag (Photo by Rarraroro via Bigstock)

JOHANNESBURG — South African LGBTQ+ organizations have welcomed the arrest of seven suspects linked to a series of kidnappings liked to Grindr.

Several Grindr users in South Africa in recent months have been kidnapped for ransom through the dating app.

The South African Police Service said the seven suspects were arrested following an investigation into the kidnapping of an 18-year-old Wits University student on Sept. 19.

SAPS said suspects demanded $1,500 for the student’s release. Authorities set up a sting operation and a breakthrough came on Sept. 20 when they identified an ATM where one of the suspects was expected to withdraw the ransom money. Officers placed one of the suspects under arrest as soon as he arrived, and he agreed to show them where the victim was being held captive.

“The student was reported missing the same day by his roommate. It is reported that he was lured to the suspects through a dating site called Grindr,” said SAPS spokesperson Brenda Muridili. “Afterwards, the police conducted surveillance and arrested one suspect as soon as he arrived. He then led the authorities to the Denver Men’s Hostel (in Johannesburg), where they discovered the 18-year-old victim bound and unconscious. Six additional suspects were apprehended, and the victim was rushed to the hospital for medical attention.” 

Muridili also said there is a high possibility that the suspects are further linked to 86 similar Grindr-related cases.

“We cannot rule out the possibility because this is not the first case of its kind,” said Muridili. “We have several cases that are being investigated.”

Access Chapter 2 Media Liaison Officer Mpho Buntse said the organization welcomed the arrest, but it still worried about why such incidents continue to take place.

“We congratulate SAPS in Johannesburg for acting swiftly in arresting seven homophobes who have been using Grindr, to terrorize and torture their victims. We believe that this arrest is a firm demonstration of the force’s commitment to confront crimes of this nature. As an organization, we have been vocal in calling for swift action, as many of these cases have been reported to the organization,” said Buntse. “However, we are deeply concerned at the sporadic nature of these syndicates. Not so long ago, we celebrated the arrest of the initial Grindr kidnapping and extortion group in the area of Johannesburg, which gave rise to this newly arrested group. It raises a sharp concern as to why these groups keep emerging.”

Gauteng Police in February arrested four men who they say used Grindr to extort and victimize LGBTQ+ people.

“We continue to call upon members of the community, gay men in particular to limit the use of the application where it poses threats, we further acknowledge the erotic justice due to queer persons and the freedom to associate without fear and prejudice,” said Buntse. “We also commend Grindr for listening to the call to strengthen the safety of the app.”

Out Human Rights Coordinator Sibonelo Ncanana echoed Buntse, but questioned why the police are not actively investigating similar cases in other provinces.

“We are happy that seven suspects have been arrested but we need that same swiftness that happened in Gauteng to also transpire in other provinces because there are other similar cases that have not been solved or investigated that involve Grindr,” said Ncanana. “This worries us a lot but we are grateful and appreciate the swift response of the police hopefully it will extend to other provinces.” 

Ruth Maseko of the Triangle Project said LGBTQ+ people continue to be targeted because of their place in society, even though Grindr and other dating apps have issued warnings to their users.

“Although no dating app is necessarily safe, LGBTIQ persons can be viewed by prospective suspects as easy targets because of the stigma surrounding orientation and identity,” said Maseko. “This means that it may be the thinking of perpetrators that LGBTIQ people will not report these incidents and give in to extortion.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: Texas’ ban on certain drag shows is unconstitutional

Senate Bill 12 would have prohibited performers from dancing suggestively or wearing certain prosthetics in front of children

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Drag queen Scarlett Kiss performs at Long Play Lounge in East Austin on June 12, 2021. (Photo Credit: Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune)

By Alejandro Serrano & William Melhado | AUSTIN, Texas – Texas cannot enforce a new law that restricts some public drag shows, a federal judge said Tuesday in declaring the legislation unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner found Senate Bill 12 “impermissibly infringes on the First Amendment and chills free speech.” The struck-down law prohibited any performers from dancing suggestively or wearing certain prosthetics in front of children.

Hittner ruled that language discriminated based on viewpoint and is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.

“The Court sees no way to read the provisions of SB 12 without concluding that a large amount of constitutionally-protected conduct can and will be wrapped up in the enforcement of SB 12,” the ruling reads. “It is not unreasonable to read SB 12 and conclude that activities such as cheerleading, dancing, live theater, and other common public occurrences could possibly become a civil or criminal violation.”

While SB 12 was originally billed as legislation that would prevent children from seeing drag shows, the final version did not directly reference people dressing as the opposite gender.

However, Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott made it clear that drag shows were the bill’s target — comments and history that Hittner wrote “the court cannot ignore.”

Last month, Hittner temporarily blocked SB 12 from taking effect on Sept. 1 after a two-day hearing for a lawsuit filed against the state by a drag queen and LGBTQ+ groups.

LGBTQ+ Texans, advocates, artists and business groups who sued the state, argued that the law discriminates against the content of performances and restricts equally protected free expression that is protected under the First and 14th Amendments.

“I believe the purpose of SB 12 is to push drag and queer artistry out of public spaces,” said Brigitte Bandit, an Austin-based drag performer, during August arguments. Bandit testified to the political messaging often included in her performances.

Other states have passed similar legislation restricting drag performance, which have also been struck down by federal courts.

In June, a federal judge in Tennessee, appointed by former President Donald Trump, ruled a law there was unconstitutional in its effort to suppress First Amendment-protected speech.

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

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Research/Study

Instagram lets Gays against Groomers spread harmful rhetoric

Many of the group’s posts violate Instagram’s policies against hate speech, harassment, and misinformation, but has gone largely unchecked

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Camden Carter | WASHINGTON – Meta has allowed anti-LGBTQ group Gays Against Groomers — which falsely frames itself as a grassroots coalition that wants to protect children, but is actually composed of experienced right-wing grifters — to push false narratives about LGBTQ people on its platforms, particularly Instagram. 

Facebook, Instagram, and Threads are some of the few mainstream platforms that have not banned Gays Against Groomers, even though the group seems to have repeatedly violated the platforms’ policies, including by repeatedly promoting the anti-LGBTQ “groomer” slur, claiming trans people have mental and moral deficiencies, and spreading misinformation that’s been debunked by third-party fact-checkers. 

Instagram, in particular, has a history of failing to moderate harmful accounts despite Meta’s anti-hate speech and harassment policies. Attacks have often targeted LGBTQ people, whom Meta has repeatedly claimed it is committed to supporting.

Gays Against Groomers maintains Facebook, Instagram, and Threads accounts, but it has been banned or suspended from other platforms:

  • The anti-LGBTQ group falsely frames itself as a “grassroots” coalition that wants to protect children. On June 6, the group claimed on Instagram, “1 year ago today, @thegaywhostrayed had the idea to create this organization to fight back against the sick agenda being pushed on kids from inside the community. … Our team is comprised solely of volunteers, dedicating huge amounts of their time to furthering our mission. No one has pocketed a dime, and we have had zero big donors. Everything we do is purely a grassroots effort.” [Instagram, 6/10/23] 
  • Gays Against Groomers is actually composed of experienced right-wing grifters. The group’s founder Jaimee Michell and former chair and co-founder David Leatherwood both have employment histories with right-wing firms and connections to right-wing figures, as do several of its various staff and members. [Media Matters, 7/6/232/7/23]
  • The organization has already been banned from Venmo and PayPal. PayPal, which is also Venmo’s parent company, stated that the group violated its prohibition of “activities that promote hate, violence, or discriminatory intolerance.” [Media Matters, 9/26/22]
  • Meta’s platforms are seemingly some of the only major social media platforms that hasn’t banned or suspended Gays Against Groomers. The group’s Google account has been banned, and Gays Against Groomers was suspended from Twitter multiple times, at least one of which was reportedly for using the anti-LGBTQ “groomer” slur that was prohibited on Twitter before Elon Musk took over the company. [Instagram, 5/20/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers’ official Instagram account was created on June 6, 2022, and has since gained over 357,000 followers. Since its creation in June 2022, the group’s main Instagram account has promoted a backup account in its bio. According to the backup account’s bio, it is “just here because we know who big tech protects, so our time on Instagram is probably limited.” Gay’s Against Groomers’ Instagram account has remained on the platform for over a year, during which period it has posted over 1,000 times. [Instagram via Media Matters, 6/6/22]
  • On Facebook, Gays Against Groomers had garnered approximately 39,000 followers between its page’s June 6, 2022, creation and publication of this piece. The organization has used this Meta-owned platform to promote its merchandise and accounts on other platforms. According to the Daily Dot, the Facebook account was suspended last week, but has since been reinstated with Meta confirming “the suspension was the result of a platform error.” [Facebook, 8/24/23; Daily Dot, 9/25/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers has also joined Threads, Meta’s version of Twitter that is anchored to a user’s Instagram account. Threads is currently dictated by the same Community Guidelines as Instagram, however several potentially violative accounts quickly migrated to the new platform, including Gays Against Groomers, which has accumulated over 24,000 followers. On Threads, Gays Against Groomers has continued to post hateful and false content about LGBTQ people. [Threads, accessed 8/31/23]

Meta’s policies prohibit users from targeting LGBTQ people with hate speech (including “groomer”) and harassment, and it promises to label misinformation:

  • Instagram’s community guidelines state that the platform wants “to foster a positive, diverse community” and that it will “remove content that contains credible threats or hate speech.” The policy further specifies that “it’s never OK to encourage violence or attack anyone based on their … sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation” and that “overstepping these boundaries may result in deleted content, disabled accounts, or other restrictions.” [Instagram, accessed 8/31/23]
  • Instagram users must also follow policies around hate speech that govern Facebook. Instagram’s community guidelines also link to Facebook’s hate speech policy, which prohibits “content targeting a person or group of people … on the basis of … protected characteristic(s)” with “dehumanizing speech or imagery in the form of comparisons, generalizations, or unqualified behavioral statements.” The policy specifies that it includes targeting protected groups with comparisons to criminals, statements denying existence, harmful stereotypes, and generalizations about physical, mental, and moral deficiencies. [Facebook, accessed 8/31/23]
  • Instagram users are subject to Facebook’s policies against bullying and harassment. Instagram’s community guidelines also link to Facebook’s bullying and harassment policy, which protects “private minors, private adults (who must self-report), and minor involuntary public figures” from claims about sexual orientation or gender identity and “expressions of contempt, disgust, or content rejecting the existence of an individual.” [Facebook, accessed 8/31/23]
  • Meta told the Daily Dot that “baselessly calling LGBTQ people or the community ‘groomers’ or accusing them of ‘grooming’ is governed under their policies prohibiting hate speech.” [Daily Dot, 7/20/22
  • Meta claimed that posts on Instagram that contain information that has been deemed false, misleading, or altered by a third party fact-checker will be labeled as such and deprioritized in feeds. According to Meta, the company is “committed to fighting the spread of misinformation on Facebook and Instagram” and it works “with independent third-party fact-checking organizations who are certified through the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to identify, review and take action on this content.” Until recently, Meta claimed that “each time a fact-checker rates a piece of content as false, we significantly reduce the content’s distribution so that fewer people see it,” and that it applies “a warning label that links to the fact-checker’s article, disproving the claim with original reporting.” Meta also said its “reduced distribution” approach could be applied to content deemed “altered” or “missing context.” [Facebook, accessed 8/31/238/31/23]

Meta’s policies prohibit users from targeting LGBTQ people with hate speech (including “groomer”) and harassment, and it promises to label misinformation:

  • Instagram’s community guidelines state that the platform wants “to foster a positive, diverse community” and that it will “remove content that contains credible threats or hate speech.” The policy further specifies that “it’s never OK to encourage violence or attack anyone based on their … sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation” and that “overstepping these boundaries may result in deleted content, disabled accounts, or other restrictions.” [Instagram, accessed 8/31/23]
  • Instagram users must also follow policies around hate speech that govern Facebook. Instagram’s community guidelines also link to Facebook’s hate speech policy, which prohibits “content targeting a person or group of people … on the basis of … protected characteristic(s)” with “dehumanizing speech or imagery in the form of comparisons, generalizations, or unqualified behavioral statements.” The policy specifies that it includes targeting protected groups with comparisons to criminals, statements denying existence, harmful stereotypes, and generalizations about physical, mental, and moral deficiencies. [Facebook, accessed 8/31/23]
  • Instagram users are subject to Facebook’s policies against bullying and harassment. Instagram’s community guidelines also link to Facebook’s bullying and harassment policy, which protects “private minors, private adults (who must self-report), and minor involuntary public figures” from claims about sexual orientation or gender identity and “expressions of contempt, disgust, or content rejecting the existence of an individual.” [Facebook, accessed 8/31/23]
  • Meta told the Daily Dot that “baselessly calling LGBTQ people or the community ‘groomers’ or accusing them of ‘grooming’ is governed under their policies prohibiting hate speech.” [Daily Dot, 7/20/22
  • Meta claimed that posts on Instagram that contain information that has been deemed false, misleading, or altered by a third party fact-checker will be labeled as such and deprioritized in feeds. According to Meta, the company is “committed to fighting the spread of misinformation on Facebook and Instagram” and it works “with independent third-party fact-checking organizations who are certified through the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to identify, review and take action on this content.” Until recently, Meta claimed that “each time a fact-checker rates a piece of content as false, we significantly reduce the content’s distribution so that fewer people see it,” and that it applies “a warning label that links to the fact-checker’s article, disproving the claim with original reporting.” Meta also said its “reduced distribution” approach could be applied to content deemed “altered” or “missing context.” [Facebook, accessed 8/31/238/31/23]

On Instagram, Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly referred to LGBTQ people as “groomers”:

  • In a post, Gays Against Groomers claimed that LGBTQ people “are actively grooming kids into the Rainbow Cult.” The post cited a report that found “1 in 4 high school students identifies as LGBTQ” and implied that it is a result of the LGBTQ community “grooming” kids. [Instagram, 4/28/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers shared a TikTok that showed a video of children dancing and waving Pride flags, calling it an “indoctrination ceremony.” The caption of the post reads, “Indoctrinated kids are groomed kids.” [Instagram via Media Matters, 6/6/23, Instagram, 6/6/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers shared a clip from Sesame Street celebrating Pride, saying that it is about “grooming children for sexual orientation and sexual preference.” The caption referred to the video as “teaching toddlers about sex” and “grooming, point blank.” [Instagram via Media Matters, 6/5/23, Instagram, 6/5/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers shared a TikTok claiming that being trans is a “social contagion” that is being pushed by “woke teachers.” The post (seemingly made by the organization’s associate director of communications, Carol Hatch) also claims that parents who support their trans children are guilty of “grooming,” and accuses them of “sexualizing children” and making them “low-hanging fruit for predators.” The claim that gender dysphoria is a “social contagion” has been debunked by numerous medical organizations. [Instagram, 5/30/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers attacked Target for “pushing LGBTQ+ clothing and products on children.” In a post noting that the group had called for a boycott of Target, Gays Against Groomers included an image where the Target sign was replaced with the word “groomers.” The caption that the group will “no longer allow these companies to pervert our youth and groom them into the Gender Cult!” [Instagram, 5/25/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers posted a clip of Megyn Kelly discussing the organization and attacking Target, saying that if “you’re marketing this stuff to little kids, you are a groomer.” The caption of the post called for viewers to boycott Target and “not support companies that support sexualizing and indoctrinating children.” [Instagram, 5/18/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers posted a video about a clip from a children’s TV show featuring a Pride celebration and trans characters, captioned “There is a massive agenda currently being pushed to manipulate and groom your children.” [Instagram, 5/16/23]
  • The organization posted a video claiming that if you are against the organization, that’s because you want to “push your agenda because you want to make it alright to be a sexual queer kid in the 21st century. You want full-on access to adult porn for kids, kids have sex with adults.” The caption referred to the people who do not support GAG as “people that want to groom and sexually abuse children.” [Instagram, 4/25/23]
  • In a video posted by Gays Against Groomers, the speaker claims that “the entire point of the Pride events” is to “sexually groom” children. The caption stated: “If you don’t want to be called a groomer, stop acting like one.” [Instagram, 4/24/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers shared a post promoting a recently published article on its blog titled “The Transgender Bill of Rights: Gay Erasure and the End of Childhood Innocence.” The caption of the post claimed that the “The Trans Bill of Rights” is “SPONSORED BY PEDOPHILES,” that “they want to erase us” and “REMOVE gay people from the conversation,” and that progressives are really “groomers.” [Instagram, 4/9/23
  • The caption of a post shared by the group read, “There’s no such thing as ‘trans kids.’ There are only groomed kids.” The video in the post featured the leader of the Illinois chapter of Gays Against Groomers discussing the inclusion of a flag with the words “protect trans kids” in the background of an animated movie and asking: “Why are we highlighting the sexualization of children? Why are we pushing ideologies onto these kids?” [Instagram, 4/6/23]
  • The organization shared a video in which the speaker said every institution that supports age-appropriate gender-affirming care has been “captured by groomers” and that the people involved in them should “never see sunlight again.” [Instagram, 4/4/23]

On Instagram, Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly targeted trans people with claims of mental deficiencies:

  • Gays Against Groomers posted a video featuring the group’s New York chapter leader claiming that “therapists are manipulating parents and the children” and said trans people have a “mental disorder.” The caption quoted the person in the video as saying, “Chopping off body parts will not make you the opposite sex, and will probably not solve your mental disorder.” [Instagram, 5/4/23
  • Gays Against Groomers posted a video claiming that being trans is a “mental illness.” The caption, referencing an image of a trans person in an ad, said that “mental illness should not be celebrated as if it is something to aspire to be like. And that is exactly what this poster is.” [Instagram, 4/21/23
  • Gays Against Groomers posted a screenshot of a tweet it posted saying that “trans is the new emo. Except instead of growing out of that phase with just a bad haircut, these kids will be left sterilized and missing body parts.” The post also promotes a T-shirt and other merchandise for sale. [Instagram, 4/11/23
  • Gays Against Groomers posted screenshots of an article from its blog in response to the Nashville, Tennessee, school shooting. The caption used the tragic event to make the blanket claim that trans people are a “monstrosity of a movement” and that the shooter was one of its “savage footsoldiers” who “openly encourage” “bloodshed.” [Instagram, 3/28/23
  • Gays Against Groomers posted about the Nashville school shooter, speculating that they were on testosterone and suggesting that hormone therapy may have been responsible for their violent actions. The caption also claimed that “we need to have the discussion about the effects these drugs are having on the minds of young, mentally ill people.” [Instagram, 3/27/23
  • The group shared a post claiming the rise in percentage of Gen Zers who identify as LGBTQ is “not organic. It’s a social contagion.” The post also claimed that “being trans is a trend.” [Instagram, 4/27/23
  • Gays Against Groomers shared a video in which the speaker says the “Cartoon Network is literally guilty of trying to indoctrinate children into the gender cult” seemingly because the TV network posted about sharing and respecting people’s pronouns. The speaker also claimed that the “people that push this” are “actively recruiting children” to be trans. [Instagram, 3/31/23]

Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly spread misinformation about gender-affirming care on Instagram, including falsely claiming that it is a form of mutilation or pedophilia:

  • Gays Against Groomers has spread false narratives about gender-affirming care, even though these tropes have been repeatedly debunked by Meta’s third-party fact-checkers:
    • Gays Against Groomers posted an image of a tweet that equated gender-affirming care with mutilation and referred to trans people as part of a “cult.” [Instagram, 6/9/23] 
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a post referring to gender-affirming surgery as “sterilization and mutilation.” [Instagram, 5/18/23
    • Gays Against Groomers again shared a post referring to gender-affirming surgery as “sterilization and mutilation.” [Instagram, 5/26/23
    • The organization posted that “gender ideology” is being “pushed on children, leading them to be chemically castrated and mutilated.” [Instagram, 5/17/23
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a post claiming that “transing youth is the new conversion therapy, only 1000x worse.” It claimed that those supporting people’s gender identity are “erasing us” (meaning gay people). [Instagram, 5/13/23
    • Gays Against Groomers also shared a post that compared gender-affirming care for youth to pedophilia. The post also claimed that providing gender-affirming care constitutes “erasing” lesbians. [Instagram, 5/9/23
    • The group shared a TikTok with a caption claiming that “effeminate boys and masculine girls are being herded like cattle into transition by parents, activists & doctors” and called it “gay erasure.” [Instagram, 4/3/23
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a TikTok with a caption saying that “children are being drowned in trans ideology” and that there is an “indoctrination issue.” The video said it’s “not a gun control issue, and it’s not a mental health issue.” [Instagram, 4/1/23

On Instagram, Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly accused LGBTQ people of having moral deficiencies, including by pushing the right-wing myth that LGBTQ people are embracing pedophilia:

  • Recycled claims that that LGBTQ people are embracing pedophilia have also been thoroughly debunked, yet Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly pushed this narrative on Instagram:
    • The group posted a screenshot of a tweet claiming that a “trans lifestyle” is “being pushed on children” by people “because they are evil.” The second image in the post promotes merchandise being sold by Gays Against Groomers. [Instagram, 5/12/23]
    • The organization posted a video in which the speaker claims that students care about trans rights only because they have been “indoctrinated.” The caption stated: “A child is not capable of being queer. To say a child can be queer is to say a child is a sexual being.” [Instagram, 3/29/23
    • Gays Against Groomers posted a video in which the speaker shared an article from Fox News falsely claiming that the United Nations backed recommendations to “lower the age of consent and decriminalize sex between an adult and a child.” The caption of the post claimed that this shows “they are moving forward with their agenda.” This post was flagged as false by Instagram, but as of publication it remained up with nearly 20,000 likes. [Instagram, 4/18/23
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a post implying that allowing gender-affirming care for children would lead to the removal of protections around sexual consent. The caption stated, “If a child can consent to something as extreme as permanently altering their bodies … what CAN’T they consent to?” and insisted that “that’s where this agenda leads next.” [Instagram, 4/14/23
    • The group posted a video in which the speaker claimed that “the inevitable logical end to this entire conversation” is asking, “If a child at 12 years old can consent to permanently changing their sex, how can they not consent, at that point, to actually engage in sex?” The implication was that the end goal of providing gender-affirming care to minors is to remove the legal protections around the age of sexual consent. [Instagram, 4/16/23
    • The organization posted a video in which the speaker claimed that the representation of fictional characters as gay is not about representation but about “sexual messaging.” [Instagram, 4/5/23
    • In a video shared by Gays Against Groomers, the creator implied that “LGBT rights” are being used as a cover for “people trying to convince you that they should twerk in front of your kids.” [Instagram, 3/30/23
    • In another video posted by the organization, the speaker echoed the false right-wing narrative that the LGBTQ community has progressed from wanting to get married to wanting “gay porn in school libraries.” The caption also claimed that “our children have become the target of a deep, dark agenda.” [Instagram, 3/23/23
    • That same day, the group posted a screenshot of a tweet in which it claimed that “gender ideology is a trojan horse for pedophilia.” It added that “if children can consent to something as extreme and permanently altering their bodies” they will be allowed to consent to anything. [Instagram, 3/23/23
    • Gays Against Groomers also posted a screenshot of a tweet stating that “pornographic or sexually explicit children’s books in schools” are “always LGBTQ+ material.” The caption of the post claimed that “they hide behind the rainbow to avoid criticism.” [Instagram, 3/21/23]
    • Gays Against Groomers posted a video accusing both Q Chat and The Trevor Project of being “a gateway for pedophiles to gain access to children.” Q chat and The Trevor Project are organizations aimed at helping queer youth. [Instagram, 3/4/23

Gays Against Groomers has also targeted LGBTQ people on Meta’s other platforms, Facebook and Threads:

  • Gays Against Groomers posted to Threads that “schools have become nothing more than dysphoria factories that pump out confused children leading them straight to the butcher’s table.” The post also stated that we should “abolish the education system.” [Threads, 7/8/23
  • The group also claimed that “predators and perverts hide being the rainbow.” The post included a meme implying that sex offenders are excused if they are LGBTQ. [Threads, 7/5/23
  • Gays Against Groomers used Threads to promote a giveaway with an image that said “Groomers GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL.” The giveaway included stickers that say “big pharma loves trans kids” (with a dollar sign-emblazoned heart) and a magnet depicting a Monopoly-style policeman dragging a drag queen to prison by the legs. [Threads, 7/5/23
  • On Threads, Gays Against Groomers expressed surprise that its accounts and Moms for Liberty’s accounts have “both made it this long on social media.” This comment came in response to a Moms for Liberty comment saying, “Maybe we’ll finally be cool enough to get banned.” [Threads, 7/5/23
  • On Facebook, the group referred to doctors who provide gender-affirming care as “child butchers.” The caption of the post claimed that doctors and hospitals are “pushing kids to medically transition.” [Facebook, 7/18/23
  • In another Facebook post, Gays Against Groomers called the mothers of trans children “psychotic” and claimed that they are using their children as a “status symbol.” It added that parents who support their trans children have “Transhausen by proxy” and promoted merchandise bearing the phrase. [Facebook, 7/23/23
  • In another post, the organization declared that it does “not say family friendly drag queen” but “groomer clown” and equated LGBTQ books to “pornographic filth” and gender-affirming care to “child sterilization and mutilation.” The post urged followers to do the same. [Facebook, 7/30/23
  • In one post shared to Facebook, Gays Against Groomers claimed that trans rights activists believe that “children should have their body parts removed to define their gender.” The caption of the post also claimed that gender ideology is “rooted in irrationality.” [Facebook, 8/2/23]
  • On Facebook, Gays Against Groomers promoted its new media hub. The caption said the group is “going nuclear on these groomers and child predators.” [Facebook, 8/5/23
  • Gays Against Groomers has also attacked drag queens on Facebook, implying that they are “attracted to” children. [Facebook, 8/6/23
  • Gays Against Groomers used a Facebook post to falsely suggest that surgery is the only form of gender-affirming care and that it is regularly offered as treatment for minors. The caption of the post said the group would “post the pictures here ourselves but it would get us banned.” [Facebook, 7/7/23]

Related:

Grifter Gays: How conspiracy theorists and right-wing operatives created Gays Against Groomers

Instagram is letting accounts promoting hate speech go unchecked

Right-wing LGBTQ influencers switch teams as homophobic video shared by DeSantis campaign draws widespread condemnation

************************************************************************************

The preceding article & research study was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished with permission.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Two men charged with attacking Trans Puerto Rican woman plead guilty to federal hate crimes charges

Alexa Negrón Luciano attacked with paintball gun before her murder

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Jose V. Toledo Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse, San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo Credit: GSA/Library of Congress photographs collection.)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Two men on Monday pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes charges in connection with attacking a Transgender woman in Puerto Rico in 2020.

A Justice Department press release notes Jordany Laboy Garcia, Christian Rivera Otero and Anthony Lobos Ruiz “were out driving together” in Toa Baja, a municipality that is about 15 miles west of San Juan, early on Feb. 24, 2020, “when they saw” Alexa Negrón Luciano “standing under a tent near the side of the road.”

“The defendants recognized A.N.L. from social media posts concerning an incident that had occurred the day prior at a McDonald’s in Toa Baja,” reads the press release. “During that incident, A.N.L. had used a stall in the McDonald’s women’s restroom.”

“Upon recognizing A.N.L., Lobos-Ruiz used his iPhone to record a video of himself yelling, ‘la loca, la loca,’ (‘the crazy woman, the crazy woman’) as well as other disparaging and threatening comments to A.N.L. from inside the car,” it notes. “The defendants then decided to get a paintball gun to shoot A.N.L. and record another iPhone video. Within 30 minutes, they retrieved a paintball gun and returned to the location where they had last seen A.N.L., who was still at that location. Lobos-Ruiz then used his iPhone to record Laboy-Garcia shooting at A.N.L. multiple times with the paintball gun. After the assault ended, Lobos Ruiz shared the iPhone video recordings with others.”

Negrón was later killed in Toa Baja.

Laboy and Rivera pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit a hate crime and obstruction of justice. El Nuevo Día, a Puerto Rican newspaper, notes a federal judge sentenced Lobos to two years and nine months in prison after he pleaded guilty to hate crimes charges last November.

Laboy and Rivera are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 10.

They, along with Lobos, have not been charged with Negrón’s murder.

“To assault an innocent victim who posed no threat to the defendants for no other reason than her gender identity is reprehensible behavior that will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico in the Justice Department’s press release. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend the rights of all people, regardless of their gender identity, to be free from hate-fueled violence. Our community must stand together against acts of violence motivated by hate for any group of people — we remain steadfast in our commitment to prosecute civil rights violations and keep our communities safe and free from fear.”

Pedro Julio Serrano, spokesperson for Puerto Rico Para Todes, a Puerto Rican LGBTQ+ rights group, on Tuesday welcomed the guilty pleas. Serrano also urged authorities to bring those who killed Negrón to justice. 

“The time for total justice for Alexa is now,” said Serrano in a press release. “Her murder was a hate crime. Nobody doubts this. They falsely accused her, persecuted her, hunted her, insulted her with transphobic epithets, uploaded onto social media a video of them accosting her and they killed her. There are already three individuals who will serve time in federal prison for attacking her in a hate crime. That’s some justice, but not complete.” 

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California Politics

California bans book bans & textbook censorship in schools

California provides instruction & support to roughly 5.9 million students in more than 1,000 districts & over 10,000 schools

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Governor Newsom and Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO — Building on his Family Agenda to promote educational freedom and success, Governor Gavin Newsom today signed AB 1078 by Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson (D-Moreno Valley), which bans “book bans” in schools, prohibits censorship of instructional materials, and strengthens California law requiring schools to provide all students access to textbooks that teach about California’s diverse communities.

“From Temecula to Tallahassee, fringe ideologues across the country are attempting to whitewash history and ban books from schools. With this new law, we’re cementing California’s role as the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what’s right for them,” the governor said as he signed the bill.

“When we restrict access to books in school that properly reflect our nation’s history and unique voices, we eliminate the mirror in which young people see themselves reflected, and we eradicate the window in which young people can comprehend the unique experiences of others,” said First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. “In short, book bans harm all children and youth, diminishing communal empathy and serving to further engender intolerance and division across society. We Californians believe all children must have the freedom to learn about the world around them and this new law is a critical step in protecting this right.”

“It is the responsibility of every generation to continue the fight for civil and human rights against those who seek to take them away,” said Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson. “Today, California has met this historical imperative and we will be ready to meet the next one.”

“AB 1078 sends a strong signal to the people of California — but also to every American — that in the Golden State — we don’t ban books — we cherish them,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. “This law will serve as a model for the nation that California recognizes and understands the moment we are in – and while some want to roll back the clock on progress, we are doubling down on forward motion. Rather than limiting access to education and flat out banning books like other states, we are embracing and expanding opportunities for knowledge and education, because that’s the California way.”

AB 1078 provides the Superintendent of Public Instruction the authority to buy textbooks for students in a school district, recoup costs, and assess a financial penalty if a school board willfully chooses to not provide sufficient standards-aligned instructional materials for students. The law also prohibits school boards from banning instructional materials or library books on the basis that they provide inclusive and diverse perspectives in compliance with state law.
 
While other states ban books, California is making tens of billions of dollars in strategic investments to improve education outcomes and literacy. California outperformed most states — including Florida and Texas — in mitigating learning loss during the pandemic, and through historic levels of school funding, the state is building a cohesive structure of support for educators and students that reflects a focus on equity, inclusion, and academic success.
 
As part of the Governor’s Family Agenda, California is ensuring parents and caregivers have the opportunity to actively participate in their children’s education. Parents in California have a seat at the decision-making table for key budget, programmatic, and curricular decisions, including the creation of Local Control and Accountability Plans. In the past two years, in partnership with the Legislature, Governor Newsom has required schools to make it easier for working parents to participate in school decisions, invested $4.1 billion to convert one in four schools into community schools with deeper parent engagement, and invested another $100 million in the Community Engagement Initiative for more proactive collaboration with parents.
 
California provides instruction and support services to roughly 5.9 million students in grades transitional kindergarten through twelve in more than 1,000 districts and over 10,000 schools throughout the state. Education funding in the state is at a record high, totaling $129.2 billion in the 2023-24 budget.

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Politics

HRC ad slams ‘extremist’ GOP’s looming government shutdown

The GOP conference’s most conservative members obstructed votes & have led an open rebellion against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign launched an ad campaign on Monday slamming House Republicans for advancing anti-LGBTQ and other “out of touch demands” rather than working to clear must-pass spending bills before the month’s end to avoid a government shutdown.

In the weeks since Congress returned from the summer recess, opportunities to forestall this outcome narrowed with each passing day as small groups of the GOP conference’s most conservative members obstructed votes, led an open rebellion against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and added anti-LGBTQ and other far-right amendments to all 12 appropriations bills, effectively dooming the prospects of their passage by the Senate.

HRC’s announcement of plans to run the six-figure blitz “across major national outlets, cable networks and digital streaming services” included a 30-second ad titled “Grind to a Halt,” which accuses House Republicans of “trying to limit the health care you and your family can access, ban books and flags, and block enforcement of civil rights laws.”

In a statement, HRC President Kelley Robinson said the conservative lawmakers had “hijacked the appropriations process to attack LGBTQ+ communities rather than doing their jobs,” noting that a shutdown would “interrupt critical government services, hurt working families and endanger our national security.”

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Politics

Books banned in public schools spike upwards 33% in last year

PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida, followed by 625 in Texas, 333 in Missouri, 281 in Utah, & 186 book bans in Penn.

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

NEW YORK — The number of public school book bans across the country increased by 33 percent in the 2022-23 school year compared to the 2021-22 school year, according to a new PEN America report.

Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor highlights the disproportionate number of bans occurring in Florida — where over 40 percent of all book bans took place in the 2022-23 school year — and shows how state legislation and coordinated pressure campaigns from local groups and individuals have driven mass restrictions on access to literature.

Since PEN America started tracking public school book bans in July 2021, the organization has recorded nearly 6,000 instances of banned books. This includes 3,362 book bans affecting 1,557 unique titles during the 2022-23 school year, impacting the work of 1,480 authors, illustrators, and translators.

There are multiple drivers of these trends. Over the past school year, vaguely-worded state legislation and local and national advocacy groups have converged, pressuring districts to remove more books from student access. Fear of penalties, legal liabilities, and criminal punishments are escalating book bans to new heights.

“The toll of the book banning movement is getting worse. More kids are losing access to books, more libraries are taking authors off the shelves, and opponents of free expression are pushing harder than ever to exert their power over students as a whole,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America. “Those who are bent on the suppression of stories and ideas are turning our schools into battlegrounds, compounding post-pandemic learning loss, driving teachers out of the classroom and denying the joy of reading to our kids. By depriving a rising generation of the freedom to read, these bans are eating away at the foundations of our democracy.”

This year Florida surpassed Texas as having the most books pulled from shelves. Laws and tactics that emerged in the Sunshine State are also being replicated elsewhere. The language of the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law that originated in Florida has been mimicked in Iowa, where vagueness and lack of state guidance similarly led school districts to ban books. Book Looks, a website created by a Moms for Liberty member from Florida to encourage book censorship, has been used widely to ban books, from Pennsylvania to Virginia.

The range of efforts to restrict teaching or intimidate educators also continues to expand. The escalation of book bans — combined with the proliferation of legislative efforts to restrict teaching about topics like race, gender, American history, and LGBTQ+ identities, as well as the rise in ‘educational intimidation’ mandates that require intrusive monitoring of teachers and librarians — pose a grave threat to the freedom to read and learn in schools across the country. 

PEN America argues these efforts are part of an ongoing nationwide “Ed Scare” — a campaign to foment anxiety and anger with the ultimate goal of suppressing free expression in public education.

Other major findings include:

  • PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida, followed by 625 bans in Texas, 333 bans in Missouri, 281 bans in Utah, and 186 book bans in Pennsylvania. These cases are instances where books were banned from classrooms or libraries, or both, or were banned pending investigation, as per PEN America’s definitions.
  • Over 75 percent of the books banned are young adult books, middle grade books, chapter books, or picture books — in other words, books specifically written and selected for younger audiences.
  • Of the 3,362 books banned this year, 1,263 were banned from classrooms and school libraries, compared to only 333 books in this category last year. This represents an increase of nearly 400 percent compared to last school year.
  • Nearly half of all book bans (48 percent) during the 2022-23 school year deal with violence or physical abuse, including books that include sexual assault; 30 percent include characters of color and themes of race and racism; 30 percent represent LGBTQ+ identities; and six percent include a transgender character.
  • In the 153 school districts across the country that banned a book during the 2022-23 school year, 124(81 percent) have a chapter or local affiliate nearby of one or more of the three most prominent national groups pushing for book bans — Moms for Liberty, Citizens Defending Freedom, and Parents’ Rights in Education. These districts are where 87percent (2,912) of book bans have occurred.

According to Kasey Meehan, PEN America’s Freedom to Read program director and lead author of the report, “Hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric continues to ignite fear over the types of books in schools. And yet, 75 percent of all banned books are specifically written and selected for young audiences. Florida isn’t an anomaly – it’s providing a playbook for other states to follow suit. Students have been using their voices for months in resisting coordinated efforts to suppress teaching and learning about certain stories, identities, and histories; it’s time we follow their lead.”  

One positive trend highlighted in the report is the continued growth in student pushback against book bans across the country. Youth resistance to book bans in numerous school districts has included protests, speaking out at school board meetings, and the establishment of national organizations dedicated to defending access to literature in schools.

This report expands on PEN America’s work documenting the spread of educational censorship in America’s schools, showing the rapid evolution and intensification of book-banning across the country since the April 2023 Banned in the USA report, which documented 1,477 instances of book bans in the first half of the 2022-23 school year.

Author John Green, whose book, Looking for Alaska, was the third most banned in U.S. schools according to the report, said “While I’m encouraged by PEN America’s work to protect free expression and intellectual freedom, it’s disappointing to see such a steep rise in the banning and restriction of books. We should trust our teachers and librarians to do their jobs. If you have a worldview that can be undone by a book, I would submit that the problem is not with the book.”

PEN America defines a school book ban as any action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parent or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by lawmakers or other governmental officials, that leads to a previously accessible book being either completely removed from availability to students, or where access to a book is restricted or diminished.

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The preceding article was provided to the Los Angeles Blade by PEN America.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Join PEN America in defending the freedom to read by taking action to #FreeTheBooks and making your voice heard.

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