Connect with us

National

Ram Dass, important gay New Age guru, dies at 88

Published

on

Portrait of Ram Dass taken by the late Mark Thompson 

Baba Ram Dass, aka Richard Alpert, the gay author of the important New Age bible “Be Here Now,” died on Sunday at his home on Maui, Hawaii. He was 88, the New York Times reported.

Alpert, a Ph.D teacher at Stanford, is perhaps best known for his association with Timothy Leary, whom he met teaching psychology and education at Harvard. Leary had researched the mind-altering psilocybin in some mushrooms at the University of California and continued his research at Harvard. Psychiatrists were clinically interested in psychedelic drugs such as LSD as aids for mental illnesses such as schizophrenia while the Pentagon was interested in weaponizing the hallucinogen to incapacitate the enemy.

Leary was interested in mind-expansion and, The Times reported, “invited some friends — including Mr. Alpert and the poet Allen Ginsberg — to his house in Newton, Mass., on March 5, 1961, a Saturday. In his kitchen, he distributed 10-milligram doses of psilocybin. After taking his, Mr. Alpert recalled, he felt supreme calm, then panic, then exaltation. He believed he had met his own soul. He said he realized then that ‘it was O.K. to be me.’”

Two years later, in May 1963, Leary and Alpert were fired — Alpert for giving drugs to an undergraduate and Leary for abandoning his classes, per The Times. The two subsequently moved into a 64-room mansion on a 2,500-acre, provided by Gulf Oil heiress Peggy Mellon Hitchcock, a volunteer LSD research subject, which became a psychedelic commune.

But tensions surface between Leary and Alpert over the latter’s expressed bisexuality.

From the New York Times:

“Mr. Leary accused Mr. Alpert of trying to seduce his 15-year-old son, Jack, whom Mr. Alpert often took care of while Mr. Leary, a single parent, traveled.

“Uncle Dick is evil,” Mr. Leary told Jack, according to [Don Lattin’s book “The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America.”]

“Oh, come on, Dad,” Jack replied. “Uncle Dick may be a jerk, but he’s not evil.””

In 1967, Alpert left for India where he met Neem Karoli Baba, known as Maharajji to his followers. A spiritual encounter resulted in Alpert taking Maharajji as his guru and Maharajji dubbing Alpert “Ram Dass,” which means servant of God. Dass also was gifted with the prefix “Baba,” which respectfully means “father.”

Maharajji sent Ram Dass home in 1968, where he subsequently moved into a cabin on a New Hampshire estate owned by his father. Hundreds of people showed up to follow him and he soon went on tour, espousing wisdom such as: “Treat everyone you meet like God in drag.” he said in one talk.

In 1971, Ram Dass published “Be Here Now,” a reflection on his own personal journey and a “how-to” on how to create a spiritual life: “Cookbook for a Sacred Life: A Manual for Conscious Being.” It was the must-read book for the countercultural movement and New Age aspirants. The rest of his life was devoted to helping people, especially shifting the fear of dying into a spiritual journey.

Ram Dass also continued to evolve, shaving his guru beard in the 1980s, and conceding that his “400 LSD trips had not been nearly as enlightening as his drugless spiritual epiphanies,” The Times reported, though he took a drug trip or two once a year “for old time’s sake.”

Ram Dass officially came out the 1990s. Here’s an excerpt from his interview (hat tip to The Bach Book) with the late Mark Thompson, former editor at The Advocate and author of several books, including the 1995 anthology Gay Soul: Finding the Heart of Gay Spirit and Nature.Thompson also photographed a portrait of Ram Dass, which he took on tour with other notable souls.

From Mark Thompson:

“If eyes are the windows to one’s soul, then Ram Dass’ are shatterproof. At first, they are all you notice, suspended in space, lambent and unflinching, a world unto themselves, until slowly the surrounding features assemble. It’s like watching a portrait by a sidewalk artist take shape: first the eyes, and then, in a few deft strokes, the rest of the face is drawn.

 

The face itself is generous and kind, inset with permanent lines of amusement. But it’s the liquescent, penetrating gaze of the man that so clearly impresses, momentarily jolting me out of superficial pleasantry. We finish our handshake, and I renew my introduction. Ram Dass nods jovially. I try to feel reassured despite my nervousness.

 

It’s this quality of being stripped so clean, so zero to the bone—a vast but potent emptiness that Ram Dass reveals with one effortless look—that leaves me unnerved. I’ve come to his front door armed with questions and theories, a lifetime of assumptions left intact. With uncanny ability, he absorbs my projections and hands them back to me. The interviewer, in the end, must answer to himself.

 

I’ve long considered Ram Dass a wise gay elder, a conferral that comes as a surprise not only to Ram Dass but to others as well. While the author, speaker, and spiritual activist has made no attempt to hide his homosexual past — it is discussed at random, usually in passing, among the pages of his seven books — the fact that he is gay is not commonly known. And while he counts among his followers many who are gay, he has left little imprint on the gay community itself.

 

“Gay sexual autobiography,” he quietly muses to himself after we’ve settled down to talk. We’re sitting in a high-ceilinged room that has one wall covered with shelves holding hundreds of tapes of his lectures. A bowl of figs and other fruit sits on a small table between us. He continues to reflect while fingering his mala beads; the raucous laughter of children in a nearby schoolyard fills the silence. It’s almost as if he’s flipping through the various tapes in his head containing past life experience. Finally, he looks up smiling. “It’s interesting,” says Ram Dass. “I’ve never been interviewed about this topic, so this is fun for me.”

 

I’m surprised to hear this but, of course, allow its truth. After all, much of Ram Dass’ life for the past thirty years has been about unloading the weight of personal history, chucking away and burning in the bright, pure flame of spiritual enlightenment all that is not needed. Sexual identity has undoubtedly been part of that consumed baggage. Judging from the spartan, business-like trappings of his home Ram Dass seems to need or want very little these days other than the opportunity to perform compassionate service in the world.

 

When asked anything about his personal life, he casually mentions a longtime male relationship: “We’ve had a very close and dear friendship for fifteen years,” he says. “We don ’t define it, and its extremely satisfying to me as a fellow human being.

….

The human fate of suffering — on both the physical and spiritual planes – is the one universal condition that Ram Dass seems most apt to address. Suffering is “grist for the mill” (to borrow the title of his classic 1977 work), the propellant of conscious awakening if one only employs it as such. Sexual needs of whatever persuasion and material wants, such as fame and fortune, are fueled by the personality-possessed “me” part of our minds. Desire creates suffering and keeps our innermost selves from finding life’s ultimate fulfillment: the state of being at one with God. Given this quintessential Eastern view of life, I can understand Ram Dass’ objections to labeling people based on their sexual predilections. Gay or straight—what’s the difference if we are meant to transcend attachment?

 

Still, as appealing as this philosophy may sound, we live in a Western world deeply entrenched in its prejudices and roles, a you-are-what-you-own attitude. Modern gay identity has been spun out of those elements, but some of us cling to the belief that there remains an inexplicable mystery about our being that exists far beneath the constructed surfaces. According to Ram Dass, the answer lies in examining the clinging itself.

….

In Compassion in Action you freely relate past homosexual experiences, something you have not often done. Have you been uncomfortable in talking about being gay? When did you first know?

 

I had a late latency, and not until I was fifteen years old did I start to really become sexually awakened. Up until then I hadn’t differentiated, I had no labels; I was just so floored by sex. By the time I was seventeen, I started to have relations with boys and realized I enjoyed that. But it was still within the category of teenage folly. You see, I grew up at a time when homosexuality was far deeper in the closet than it is now. I became engaged to be married when I was in college in Boston, but then I started to go out cruising. I’d picked up people or get into sexual encounters with men in parks and bathrooms. So I was confused. Later, when I moved to California to do postgraduate work at Stanford, I started to get more involved in gay life in San Francisco. I’ve only roughly estimated, sometimes to just blow people’s minds, but I’m sure I’ve had thousands of sexual encounters. It was often two a night. Then I returned east to be a professor at Harvard and continued to have this incredible sexual activity. But I always had a woman as a front to go to faculty dinners and things like that.

 

As many did, and continue to do, you were leading a double life.

 

My life was completely duplicitous for thirty years. I had an apartment and would have guys in overnight, but I didn’t live with anybody and didn’t make any real liaisons. I gained a reputation at the health service for how sensitive I was to people with gay problems. The psychiatrists kept referring all the homosexual cases to me, but they had no conception of who I really was. This was 1958 until 1963, the year I got thrown out of Harvard.

 

That’s a famous incident. What really happened?

 

Tim Leary and I and a lot of friends had one of these big community houses. We got into a situation where Harvard started to get so freaked about the drugs we were using that they asked us to stop doing our research using any undergraduates. We could use graduate students, or outside populace, but we couldn’t use undergraduates because it was too risky. But I had all these relationships with young men whom I really wanted to turn on with. And it had nothing to do with our research; it was my personal life, so I went ahead. It turned out there was another student who was very jealous of this, an editor of the campus newspaper, and he created a huge expose.

 

So it was gay eros and not LSD that got you thrown out of Harvard.

 

It was a combination of all those things. In a way, LSD had given me the license to be what I am. It looked at me inside and out and said what you are is okay. And that gave me a license to start to say I didn’t want to hide anymore. The American Association of University Professors wanted to defend me, but I realized that that would just be such a mess–the hell with it! I wasn’t interested in going back to Harvard anyway; I was too far on the drugs. I wanted to go on that trip much, much more.

 

Most gay men, particularly of that time, have had to deal with overwhelming emotions of guilt and shame. How did you cope with your feelings of internalized homophobia?

 

The guilt was toward all sex in life. There was no differentiation because nobody even thought about homosexuality in my upbringing. So after that, I didn’t feel called upon to define myself in any way at all. I mean, why define myself? I can fill many roles in life. So I didn’t join “being gay,” I didn’t become a clubbie within the gay community–I just wasn’t drawn to it. Instead, I became very involved in consciousness and spiritual work.

 

There was a moment when there were four of us making this pilgrimage around southern India in a Volkswagen microbus. One of the fellows in the car was an extremely attractive young man, and one night he and I ended up having a sexual affair together. The next day we sat down in front of my guru, whom I knew knew everything, even though I’d never discussed this kind of thing with him. He looked at me and he looked at this guy, and then he said to me, “You’re giving him your best teaching,” I thought, OK, if you say so. I’ll buy that. But then he said we shouldn’t have any more sex and we didn’t.

 

There was a long period which I really saw my homosexuality as deeply pathological. I was growing up in the zeitgeist of Western psychology. I had been trained as a Freudian therapist in the analytical institute—and that’s the way it looked. Men and women were made to go together; and everything else seemed like something had gotten fucked up somewhere along the way. I saw my mother as a prime contender of that because she had taken my power. She was such a deep love for me. The reason my puberty was so late was because I kept trying to stay a child to stay in intimate relationship with her. It was clear that if I became a man, she’d reject me. And so I got fatter and fatter, eating everything. she gave me as my form of intimacy with her. At one point in prep school, where I was horny all the time, I hugged her and got an erection. She pushed me away and said there’s milk and cookies downstairs.

 

This is a more common dynamic between gay men and their moms than would be supposed.

 

Oh, I understand! So, I ended up having a hard time in my relations with women, in getting my own pleasure. The women that I ended up having sex with were women who were quite aggressive, who really demanded it of me. I mean, they were just scratchers and yellers. I got to the point where I would take huge amounts of acid and look at these slide pictures of women to try to see where my fear was because I saw that there was a block where I just turned off women.

 

As you were growing up, what was your relationship with your father like?

 

I was sort of an appreciator of him. He was a very successful and upwardly mobile person, so he didn’t have too much time for the family. He was a somewhat remote figure. When he was around, we did a lot of things together but I never felt he heard me.

 

In Compassion in Action you state: “As the result of being a Jew, I felt that I had been imbued with three things: first, the sense that behind and within the multiplicity of forms there is One, seamless and radiant, and that loving that One, with all my being, is a path. Second, a love and respect for knowledge as a path to wisdom. And the third great gift I felt I had received was an awareness of suffering and the compassion that arises with that awareness.” I’d like to know how being gay has also shaped your spiritual journey. What gifts have been endowed to you from that?

 

As a result of being caught with another fellow in prep school, I was completely ostracized – nobody would speak to me for about a year. I’d walk into a room and all the kids would stop speaking. I couldn’t tell my parents, so it cast me way back inside myself; it drove me inward.

That deepened, first of all, the quality of my compassion toward other human beings who are ostracized. But I also think it served me in good stead later on when I started experimenting with psychedelics. I have always felt like I was an outsider.

 

The added burden was that I had small genitals, and in this society that is a major crime. I was ostracized a lot for that, too. I was laughed at, and I’m sure it affected my behavior a great deal because it was the double whammy of not only being gay but having this feeling of deficiency. But–after I had done a lot of deep work with psychedelics, genital sexuality wasn’t a dominant issue. The areas of my gratification had shifted. It didn’t matter to me that much. 

….

 

Rather than discuss ideas and theories let’s talk about something that is very real in the lives of gay men–the issue of being wounded. I have talked with hundreds of gay men over the years, and not one has escaped being ostracized, or being called a “sissy” or a “faggot, ” or having some other kind of deeply wounding experience.

 

I would say that’s true. But being “wounded” refers to the personality–not to the soul. I’d say I’ve been deeply wounded in my personality. Absolutely, deeply wounded. And I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over it. I still feel wounded by it. I still feel unwelcome in this culture. Because I live among so many straight populations, I’ve started to talk more about being bisexual, being involved with men as well as women. Most of the audiences with whom I do that are people who already love me so much they couldn’t care if I turned into a frog. Allen Ginsberg, who’s an old friend, goes and confronts people with his gayness. I don’t see any reason to do that—it’s not my trip. I never deny it, but I don’t push it because it’s not part of my active identity.

 

You’ve been more open in recent years. Why the candor now?

 

I trust myself more. Before, the candor would have been a bid to try to seduce people, to get young men to come near me. Like as an initiation or something like that—come up and see my holy pictures! I don’t think I trusted myself because I think my desires were so strong.

…. 

Like many gay men, I’ve been caught up in thinking about death alot these days because of AIDS. But that aside, it seems to me there’s still an enormous amount of suffering around being gay in such an intensely homophobic culture.

 

I think there is, too. But for gay men, the work is to work on their own minds. They may be doing social protest, or be part of the Radical Faeries, or whatever, but let them do it from a place where they understand that it’s all work on themselves. Because as long as their minds are the way they are, they’re going to keep suffering. Ostracism and the judgment of the culture feed on very deep inadequacies in the individual that they’re still clinging to in the mind, and these judgments play upon them. They resonate with those thoughts that are not quite excoriated, extirpated, expiated.

 

Do you think gay men have a special role to play in society today, a role that would encompass special aptitudes for compassion, empathy, and insight? And, if you do, then what is your advice for actualizing that potential in the world?

 

When you read the obituaries, you become aware that an extraordinarily disproportionate amount of beauty brought into the culture was created by gay people. But how to interpret that? I would be hard-pressed to say that those qualities aren’t available in everybody, but the cultural roles everybody found themselves in made it easier for gay men to express themselves in this way. It’s like, the Jews became moneylenders because they weren’t allowed to do anything else. People who have identified either androgynously or in a way not as male in the cultural sense of maleness have accessible to them qualities of creativity and sensitivity and appreciation that they would be well to capitalize upon and use. You’ve got to stand back far enough to see the stages of transformation in a culture. If you watch the women’s movement, for instance, you see it go through many stages: from a kind of militant, male identification in which women want what the man has, to then finding themselves having lost something that they wanted because they were so busy getting something else, until finally you start to see women who are not imitating outward strength but are really developing inner strength as beings. At that point, they’re more willing to accept differences and celebrate them rather than to deny them.

….

 

There are many spiritual seekers to be found within the gay community, of course.

 

Oh, many. The predicament is that the deeper your spiritual practice, the more you are aware that everybody is androgynous. That’s why when you say “gay soul” there’s something in me that grabs, since I don’t think of souls as either male or female. I think souls have karma that determines the way they manifest, gay or straight, female or male. But I don’t think souls themselves have any sexual identity at all.

 

I agree that AIDS has opened a lot of hearts and minds. Still, gay men have built a culture based largely on desire–the commercialization of sex and physical attractiveness. The gay sensibility is very Dionysian. So how do we learn to strike a new balance Is pursuit of sexual fulfillment really antithetical to spiritual enlightenment? Can both exist harmoniously?

 

There’s a sequence: You grow up very invested in the physical and the psychological. Then you feel the finiteness of those things. And then you awaken through some process only to realize you’ve been trapped. After that, there’s a tendency to go into a kind of renunciative fervor to get into the place where you feel at one with the universe and spirit. That often creates what are called horny celibates—it’s a certain kind of rejection of the physical/psychological plane.

 

But in a still later stage you realize that the aversion is keeping you from being free—and you want to be free, not just high. So you start to come back into who you are, passionate and nonattached. You are fully in life, joyfully participating — sex is a celebration. It’s all wonderful, and at the same moment, it’s all empty. That’s a very evolved stage of spiritual maturation. I don’t find the gay community as a group very spiritually ripe or eager to go beyond. I think they’re too caught up enjoying the power and the desire systems. In some ways it feels like a certain kind of hell realm to me because it’s not going to be enough.

 

How do we move out of that? How can being gay be used as “grist for the mill” of inner development?

 

Only when you have gone through your rebellion against the culture for cutting you out of the juice, then getting the juice, having what you want, and seeing that that is just another state. Once you get a partner, a bed without hiding, and freedom to walk down the street holding hands, then what are you going to do? But you can’t shortcut the process. If somebody wants a Cadillac, you can’t say, “Don’t have it,” because they’ll be busy not having the Cadillac, and they’re not gonna get free. They’ll be somebody without a Cadillac.

 

One of the deepest issues plaguing gay men is inner-directed hate. People can go out and march in gay pride parades all they want, but that still doesn’t mean they’ve dealt with low self-esteem or their own internalized homophobia.

 

There are corrupting psychological correlates to being gay in our society—I’m not necessarily saying of being gay, but of being gay in our society. There’s tremendous frustration, self-hatred, and fear that’s rooted in power issues—a good coating of masochism. Those things color the way a movement proceeds. You can make those things into icons to be worshipped. I mean, there’s a lot of masochism expressed in the gay community. There are clubs for it.

…. 

In your own life, what fears and areas of resistance are you particularly aware of right now?

 

Gee, that’s tricky. There are some bizarre ones, like trying to be at peace with the emptiness of it all. I would say trying to continually let go of models about existence into the richness of the moment. I still cling to somebody doing something, going somewhere. But I don’t cling very much to it. I can see this correlated with gayness at some level. I have a tremendous perfectionistic streak in me about myself. And because I don’t live up to it, I have a tremendous judgment of others as being not perfect enough. I find that a very unappealing quality, and I have to work with it. I’m horrified by my imperfections because I so want to be free. But I think that’s a cop-out. I’m very fierce, at times, and the fierceness isn’t coming necessarily out of love; it’s coming out of judgment, out of my own pain.

 

How does your perfectionism correlate with your being gay?

That perfectionistic quality is very deep in many gay people I know. I think it comes from unworthiness and inadequacy, a sense of wanting to be perfect so that you can be loved enough. If I do something perfectly, I can love myself. I get the gold star. And that’s hard when you’re a human: you just can’t do things perfectly enough.

 

You know, this conversation has brought to the surface in me a lot of uncooked stuff that I haven’t fully integrated into my being—things I’ve just put into little compartments in my head.

 

Like what, for instance?

 

Different stages of life, different attitudes toward the gay community. Talking about these issues with someone who has given them as much thought as you gives me something to work on. I mean, what have I got to learn here? What have I got to learn about my own prejudices? I just took a course last year on hidden racism from a Latino man who was showing me my own oppression, my own subtle racism. I’m probably imprinted so deeply from my generation that I don’t know if I will ever get out of thinking that gayness is a pathology. Even though I’m delighted that other people don’t, and I would like not to, it’s so deep in me.

 

I experience being gay as a wonderful blessing, an opportunity—anything but a pathology. But I’ve come of age during a different time than you. I’m making my assumptions with a different set of cultural references in hand. People who have defined themselves as gay are at a point in their collective journey where they don’t need to throw the definition away, but rather keep evolving it.

 

I would say that if gay people who read this are willing to really sit down and examine their own minds in a systematic way, they may experience the freedom to take more delight in life and in their gay expression of it. And they will see that who they are isn’t gay, and it’s not not-gay, and it’s not anything—it’s just awareness. I really challenge them to make that exploration on their own before they write the script of their lives in stone too much. Because if they have picked up a book that’s called Gay Soul, they’re asking for it. And if they’re asking for it, they should be able to get it. Somebody should say, “Look, don’t get trapped in that. Get on with it.” There’s no need to label yourself at all.”

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Florida

Tampa trans woman qualifies to run for state House seat

LGBTQ activist Ashley Brundage aims to become the first transgender elected official in Florida history as she faces a primary challenge

Published

on

HD 65 Democratic candidate Ashley Brundage at the WMNF studio in Tampa on June 14, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Perry/Florida Phoenix)

By Mitch Perry | TAMPA, Fla. – The Florida Democratic Party boasted as candidate qualifying closed Friday that for the first time since the state Legislature flipped red three decades ago, it has a Democrat running for every state House and Senate district.

That includes Hillsborough County’s 65th House District, where Ashley Brundage hopes to make history by becoming the first transgender person elected to serve in Tallahassee.

“While I’m going to be making history on something like me and my personal life, which really has no impact on anything, but what I think is even more history-making is that I used to be the DEI person for PNC Bank and 60,000 employees as their national president of diversity, equity, inclusion,” she said on Friday, speaking on WMNF 88.5 FM radio in Tampa (on a show which this reporter participated in).

Yes, that’s right. If running as a transgender woman isn’t cutting enough against the established conservative grain in Florida politics in 2024, then touting her credentials as the “DEI candidate” certainly is.

“Florida is where DEI goes to die … ,” Gov. Ron DeSantis wrote on X in March, responding to a report that the University of Florida was eliminating all diversity, equity, and inclusion employee positions to comply with new Florida Board of Governors regulations.

That board defines DEI as “any program, campus activity, or policy that classifies individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation and promotes differential or preferential treatment of individuals on the basis of such classification.”

Brundage says her history as vice president of DEI at PNC Bank as well as her work with her own small business, Empowering Differences, which does diversity, equity, and inclusion training for companies, has shown her the benefits of such programs.

“Inclusion also shouldn’t be scary,” she said.

“Because inclusion is literally the opportunity for us to learn and grow as people. And that’s what every program I’ve ever built that had DEI in mind, was an opportunity for someone to learn about a community, and then go and sell more goods and services to make more money from that community,” Brundage continued.

“And that’s what happened when I became a part-time bank teller at PNC Bank while I was homeless, living in Tampa. I showed up on day one and, ultimately, I started building relationships in my community, and I started bringing those people to bank at PNC Bank. Because it wasn’t people they were literally marketing to immediately. So, by them practicing diversity, I became the number-one revenue producing employee for three straight years out of all of the entire bank around the country.”

Representing Tampa

 Rep. Marilyn Gonzalez Pittman via Florida House

House District 65 encompasses most of South and downtown Tampa, as well as a portion of northwest Hillsborough County, and has been held since 2022 by Republican Marilyn Gonzalez Pittman, who succeeded Republican Jackie Toledo.

It’s a seat that breaks down as 39% Republican, 31% Democratic, and 30% NPA (non-party-affiliated) and other third-party registered voters as of Feb. 20, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Brundage calls those NPA voters “the secret sauce to our win.”

“And the Republicans are scared about that, because they’ve been running on all of these issues that are all about scaring people and hurting our economy long term,” she said, adding that she’s running on issues such as lowering the cost of property insurance, getting the government out of making decisions about people’s bodies, and economic empowerment for small businesses.

Brundage is running in a state not considered friendly to the LGBTQ community, to say the least. Under Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida has been a leader in passing anti-LGBTQ laws. One of those laws, banning minors from receiving gender-affirming health care, was struck down by a federal judge in Tallahassee earlier this week.

The day after that decision, DeSantis predicted in Tampa that the state would win its appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. “This has already been decided by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. They upheld Alabama’s law, which was almost identical to Florida’s law. This will be reversed. There’s no question it will be reversed,” the governor said.

Community award

Brundage received a “Spirit of the Community Award” for her work from the Florida Commission on the Status of Women two years ago. While DeSantis did not attend the awards ceremony in West Palm Beach, he did sign a letter telling her to “keep up the great work!”

Brundage said on Friday that the governor didn’t initially respond to media inquiries about why he had given tribute to a transgendered woman until she announced in April that she was running for a legislative seat and his team responded to the U.K. Daily Mail.

The publication wrote that “a source close to DeSantis told Daily.Mail.com that the commendation was bestowed because the governor’s team was under the impression that Brundage was a biological female. When it was revealed that was not the case, the congratulation letter was removed from the governor’s website.”

Brundage doesn’t believe that. “If he had read the actual nomination before signing the letter, he would have known” about her transgender status, she said.

Brundage is not the Democratic candidate for HD 65 yet, as she faces a primary challenge from Nathan Kuipers in the Aug. 20 primary. Gonzalez Pittman hasn’t drawn an opponent in her primary and will face the winner of the Brundage-Kuipers race on Nov. 5.

Note: Ashley Brundage spoke Friday on WMNF’s “The Skinny” program, for which this reporter is a co-host.

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

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018

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

The preceding article was previously published by The Florida Phoenix and is republished with permission.

The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.

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

Continue Reading

The White House

White House reaffirms commitment to advancing LGBTQ+ rights

Jean-Pierre noted how many of the challenges facing LGBTQ youth have dovetailed with the ongoing mental health crisis in America

Published

on

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaking to reporters on June 17, 2024 from the White House James Brady press briefing room. (Photo Credit: Washington Blade/Christopher Kane)


WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began her briefing with reporters on Monday by honoring Pride Month as a time to “reflect on the progress we have made in pursuit of equality, justice, inclusion” and “recommit ourselves to do more to support LGBTQI+ rights at home and around the world.”

She said that while the Biden-Harris administration has taken “historic action” to expand freedoms and protections for the community “since day one,” state legislatures last year filed more than 600 anti-LGBTQ bills, which disproportionately target transgender youth.

Not only are conservative state lawmakers potentially on track to surpass that number in 2024, but Republican members of Congress along with the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, have pledged their support for at least a dozen anti-LGBTQ policies at the federal level.

Jean-Pierre said this administration “is going to continue to speak out and stand up against these attacks,” adding, “as President Biden says, these young [transgender and queer] people are some of the bravest people he knows, but no one should have to be brave just to be themselves.”

The press secretary concluded her opener by discussing the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which provides a “line dedicated to serving LGBTQI+ young people that can be reached by dialing nine eight and pressing three.”

Afterwards, when fielding questions from reporters, Jean-Pierre noted how many of the challenges facing LGBTQ youth have dovetailed with the ongoing mental health crisis in America.

She also addressed a ruling on Monday that blocked the administration’s newly passed LGBTQ-inclusive Title IX rules, which clarify that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is covered by the statute’s language barring sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal assistance.

A Trump-appointed judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana had issued an injunction against the regulations on Thursday, with a handful of Republican state attorneys general promising more legal challenges.

Declining to address specific legal questions that she noted are best directed to the Justice Department, Jean-Pierre stressed the need for students to feel safe and to be treated equally.

“That is why the protections are all about making sure students have equal rights restored,” she said.

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

LGBTQ Title IX protections blocked in six more states

Chief Judge Danny Reeves of the U.S. District Court blocks Biden Title IX rules, says ‘sex,’ ‘gender identity’ not the same thing

Published

on

Los Angeles Blade graphic

By McKenna Horsley | LEXINGTON, Ky. – A federal judge has blocked new Title IX rules, including those aimed at protecting LGBTQ+ students from discrimination in K-12 schools, and sided with Republican attorneys general in several states — including Kentucky. 

Chief Judge Danny Reeves of the U.S. District Court in Eastern Kentucky on Monday issued a ruling siding with Republican Attorney General Russell Coleman and his counterparts in five other states. The ruling prevents the U.S. Department of Education from “implementing, enacting, enforcing, or taking any action to enforce the Final Rule, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance,” which was set to begin Aug. 1. 

Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman (Kentucky Lantern photo by Mathew Mueller)

Coleman and the GOP attorneys general filed the lawsuit in April. At the time, they argued the Department of Education “used rulemaking power to convert a law designed to equalize opportunities for both sexes into a far broader regime of its own making” with the new Title IX regulations. 

Reeves limited the injunction to the plaintiff-states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia.

The Biden administration introduced the rules to “build on the legacy of Title IX by clarifying that all our nation’s students can access schools that are safe, welcoming, and respect their rights,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. The rules also would have rolled back Trump administration changes that narrowly defined sexual harassment and directed schools to conduct live hearings, allowing those who were accused of sexual harassment or assault to cross-examine their accusers.

President Joe Biden with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

In their complaint, the state attorneys general said that under the Biden rule, “Men who identify as women will, among other things, have the right to compete within programs and activities that Congress made available to women so they can fairly and fully pursue academic and athletic excellence — turning Title IX’s protections on their head. … And anyone who expresses disagreement with this new status quo risks Title IX discipline for prohibited harassment.” 

Established in 1972, Title IX was created to prevent “discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance,” according to the Department of Education.

Reeves wrote in his opinion that “the Department of Education seeks to derail deeply rooted law” created by the implementation of Title IX. 

“At bottom, the Department would turn Title IX on its head by redefining ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity.’ But ‘sex’ and ‘gender identity’ do not mean the same thing,” he wrote. “The Department’s interpretation conflicts with the plain language of Title IX and therefore exceeds its authority to promulgate regulations under that statute.” 

In a press release, Coleman’s office said Monday that schools that would fail to comply with the new rules would risk losing federal funding. Citing the Department of Education, the office said Kentucky’s public and private schools received a total of $1.1 billion in federal funding last year.

related

“As a parent and as Attorney General, I joined this effort to protect our women and girls from harm. Today’s ruling recognized the 50-plus years of educational opportunities Title IX has created for students and athletes,” Coleman said in the press release. “We’re grateful for the court’s ruling, and we will continue to fight the Biden Administration’s attempts to rip away protections to advance its political agenda.”

A spokesperson for the department said it was reviewing the ruling.

“Title IX guarantees that no person experience sex discrimination in a federally-funded educational environment,” the spokesperson added. “The Department crafted the final Title IX regulations following a rigorous process to realize the Title IX statutory guarantee. The Department stands by the final Title IX regulations released in April 2024, and we will continue to fight for every student.”

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

McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.

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

The preceding story was previously published by the Kentucky Lantern and is republished with permission.

The Kentucky Lantern is an independent, nonpartisan, free news service based in Frankfort a short walk from the Capitol, but all of Kentucky is our beat.

We focus on how decisions made in the marble halls of power ripple through the lives of Kentuckians. We bring attention to injustices and hold institutions and officials accountable. We tell the stories of Kentuckians who are making a difference and shine a light on what’s working. Our journalism is aimed at building a fairer, healthier Kentucky for all. 

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

Continue Reading

Maine

Hundreds pack Portland, Maine for annual Pride parade

The city of Portland held it’s annual Pride parade and festival on Saturday, with hundreds turning out to celebrate LGBTQ+ rights

Published

on

Spectators watch the Portland Pride Parade on Congress Street on June 15, 2024. (Jim Neuger/Maine Morning Star)

By Lauren McCauley | PORTLAND, Maine – The city of Portland held it’s annual Pride parade and festival on Saturday, with hundreds turning out to celebrate LGBTQ+ rights.

Pride month is observed throughout June, with parades, festivals, drag shows and other events across much of Maine. Photographer Jim Neuger captured some of the parade’s participants and onlookers as the marchers wove their way down Congress Street, culminating at the festival in Deering Oaks Park.

Marchers carry a 900-foot flag down Congress Street at the end of the Portland Pride Parade. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

Participants in the Portland Pride Parade head down Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

A participant in the Portland Pride Parade on Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

A participant in the Portland Pride Parade on Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

A participant in the Portland Pride Parade on Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

Participants in the Portland Pride Parade head down Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

A Portland school system bus heads down Congress Street during the Portland Pride Parade. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

Participants in the Portland Pride Parade ride a trolly car down Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

Participants in the Portland Pride Parade on Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

A participant in the Portland Pride Parade on Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

Participants in the Portland Pride Parade on Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

A man watches the Portland Pride Parade from a second-story window above Reny’s department store on Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

Participants in the Portland Pride Parade on Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

Spectators watch the Portland Pride Parade on Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

Members of the Portland Dance Collective perform during the Portland Pride Parade on Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

A participant in the Portland Pride Parade on Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

Portland Pride Parade heads down Congress Street. [These may be the grand marshals; need to check names.] June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

A member of the Dykes on Bikes motorcyhcle group leads the Portland Pride Parade down Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

Rylee Knight twirls a flag before marching in the Portland Pride Paradeon Congress Street. June 15, 2024. Photo: Jim Neuger

In a state that led the way in the fight for same-sex marriage — becoming the first to pass a law by statewide referendum in 2012 — many participants this year focused on the need to protect the rights of trans people, who have become the target of a nationwide, right-wing backlash.

On Tuesday, some of the movement’s pioneers held a conversation at the Equality Community Center in Portland, during which they reflected on some of the lessons they learned over the years and discussed how they could help guide future efforts to protect and advance equal rights.

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

Lauren McCauley

Lauren McCauley is the editor of Maine Morning Star. She has covered politics and policy in Maine for more than 10 years and is the former editor of Maine Beacon.

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

The preceding article was previously published by the Maine Morning Star and is republished with permission.

Maine Morning Star is an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan news site covering state policy and politics — and how they impact the lives of Maine people. We aim to hold powerful people and institutions accountable and explain how their actions affect communities from Kennebunk to Caribou.

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

Continue Reading

Maryland

Baltimore Pride event disrupted causing panic & injuries

A possible chemical agent was released in front of the main stage at the Baltimore Pride Parade and Block Party

Published

on

This year’s Pride Parade and Festival was expected to attract 100,000 people. (Photo by Kaitlin Newman/the Baltimore Banner)

By John-John Williams IV and Brenna Smith | BALTIMORE, Md. – A possible chemical agent was released in front of the main stage at the Baltimore Pride Parade and Block Party on Saturday night, causing a stampede.

The incident occurred around 7 p.m. and police did not release the chemical agent, according to a spokesperson. The main stage for the event was located near North Avenue and Charles Street.

“The event was closed. The fire department responded and was tending to several injuries from the mass exodus,” a spokesperson for the police department said Sunday morning. Online social media posts suggest the chemical agent was mace. These posts allege it was sprayed after a fight broke out, prompting panic and the stampede.

Editor’s note: The rest of this article can be found on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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

The preceding article was previously published by The Baltimore Banner, a media partner of The Washington Blade and is republished with permission.

Continue Reading

New York

Pride flags vandalized at Stonewall National Monument – again

The Stonewall National Monument, the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ+ history, was dedicated in 2016

Published

on

A rainbow flag at the Stonewall National Monument, established 2016, with the NPS arrowhead flying in Christopher Park. (Photo Credit: USNPS)

WEST GREENWICH VILLAGE, NY – During Pride month every June, Stonewall National Monument volunteers put up 250 LGBTQ+ Pride Flags on the Black iron decorative picket fence that rings the Christopher Street park.

This year, according to a statement from an New York Police Department spokesperson, 160 of the flags were torn down and damaged between Thursday evening and Friday morning. The NYPD said that no arrests have been made and that the vandals climbed over the Black iron decorative picket fence that rings the Christopher Street park to gain access to the monument.

This is the second year in a row for an vandalism incident on the Stonewall National Monument. In 2023, Park volunteers found at least 70 of those flags torn down and damaged in what the New York Police Department‘s Hate Crimes Task Force investigated as a hate crime and later arrested three men.

Openly gay New York City Councilmember Erik Bottcher, whose district includes West Greenwich Village, posted photos of the snapped flags on Instagram and X on Friday. 

“Last night, bigots vandalized the Stonewall National Monument, snapping flag sticks & stealing 3/4 of the flags around the permitter of the park. Also, someone burned Pride decorations at 22nd St. in Chelsea. Anyone who thinks this will intimidate our community is badly mistaken,” Bottcher wrote.

Reacting to the vandalism at Stonewall, New York City Mayor Eric Adams in a statement said that “hate has no place in our city.” The mayor added “Our administration wants every member of our LGBTQ+ community to know: we are here for you and our administration will always have your back,” Adams said. “We will work in close coordination with the NYPD to identify and hold accountability whoever committed this heinous act.”

The Stonewall National Monument, the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ+ history, was dedicated in 2016. It encompasses a park across the street from the Stonewall Inn, a bar where patrons fought back against a police raid on June 28, 1969, and helped spark the contemporary LGBTQ+ rights movement.

In a graphic published Saturday by NBC News, over twenty acts of hate against LGBTQ+ Pride have occurred so far this month:

Source: News reports. (Graphic: Nigel Chiwaya / NBC News)
CityState
ArvadaColo.
BoiseIdaho
BurienWash.
CarlisleMass.
Cedar ParkTexas
German VillageOhio
KennebunkMaine
Little RockArk.
MadisonN.J.
MandevilleLa.
MercedCalif.
MissoulaMont.
MitchellS.D.
MoretownVt.
New YorkN.Y.
NewbergOre.
PoulsboWash.
SpokaneWash.
WailukuHawaii
WalpoleMass.

Continue Reading

District of Columbia

Fentanyl dealer, distribution charge in deaths of two D.C. gay men

When the cause and manner of death were disclosed by the Medical Examiner, D.C. police said the investigation into the deaths remained open

Published

on

Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Body Cam footage from a non-related incident as a MPD uniformed officer makes an arrest. (Screenshot/YouTube MPD Washington D.C.)

WASHINGTON – The Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. has announced that federal prosecutors on June 13 obtained an indictment against one of two D.C. brothers previously charged with multiple counts of illegal drug distribution that now charges him with “distributing cocaine and fentanyl” on Dec. 26, 2023, that resulted in the deaths of D.C. gay men Brandon Roman and Robert “Robbie” Barletta.

In a June 13 press release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Jevaughn ‘Ledo’ Mark, 32, is charged in a new “secondary superseding indictment” linked to the Roman and Barletta deaths. It says he and his brother, Angelo Mark, 30, “previously were charged on April 9 in a 17-count superseding indictment for participating in a conspiracy that distributed large amounts of fentanyl and cocaine in the metropolitan area.”

The press release says Jevaughn Mark is currently being held without bond on charges that include eight counts of unlawful distribution of fentanyl, cocaine, and heroin and distributing 40 grams or more of fentanyl between Jan. 10, 2024, and March 13, 2024. According to the press release, the charges were based on six illegal drug purchases from Jevaughn Mark by undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and undercover D.C. police officers.

Court records show that Angelo Mark was charged in a criminal complaint on March 22 with multiple counts of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and is also being held without bond.

D.C. police and Fire and Emergency Medical Services reports show that Roman, 38, a prominent D.C. attorney and LGBTQ rights advocate, and Barletta, 28, a historic preservation expert and home renovation business owner, were found unconscious when police and emergency medical personnel responded to a 911 call and arrived at Barletta’s home on Dec. 27. The reports show that Roman was declared deceased at the scene and Barletta was taken to Washington Hospital Center where he died on Dec. 29.

A police spokesperson told the Washington  Blade in February that police were investigating the Roman and Barletta deaths, but investigators had to wait for the D.C. Medical Examiner’s official determination of the cause and manner of death before the investigation could fully proceed.

Both men were patrons at D.C. gay bars and their passing prompted many in the LGBTQ community to call for stepped up prevention services related to drug overdose cases, even though the cause and manner of death for the two men was not officially determined until early April.

In April, the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner disclosed that the cause of death for both men was an accidental consumption of several drugs that created a fatal “toxic” effect. The Medical Examiner’s office said Barletta’s death was linked to the consumption of at least four different drugs and Roman’s death was caused by the “combined toxic effect” of six drugs. The Medical Examiner’s office disclosed that cocaine and fentanyl were among the drugs found in the bodies of both men. And for both men, the manner of death was listed as “Accident/Intoxication.”

When the cause and manner of death were disclosed by the Medical Examiner, D.C. police spokesperson Tom Lynch said the police investigation into the deaths remained open but said, “There are no updates on the investigation that we are ready to release to the public.”

But the Medical Examiner’s findings prompted Johnny Bailey, the community outreach coordinator for HIPS D.C., an LGBTQ supportive organization that provides services and support for those who use recreational drugs, to say he strongly believed that Barletta and Roman did not intentionally consume some of the drugs found in their system.

“I’m going to say I do believe this was a poisoning,” Bailey told the Blade. “I think it is unfair to call some things an overdose because an overdose is when you do too much of a drug and you die from that drug,” he said. “This is like if you have a few glasses of wine every night and someone puts arsenic in your wine, no one would be like, ‘oh, they drank themselves to death.’ They were poisoned. And that’s what I think is happening here,” he said in referring to Barletta and Roman.

In announcing the new charges against Jevaughn Mark that link him to Barletta and Roman’s deaths, the U.S. Attorney’s press release discloses that he supplied fentanyl in the drugs he sold unknowingly to the undercover DEA and D.C. police officers when one of the officers, posing as a drug buyer, did not ask for fentanyl.

“In each instance, the DEA/MPD agents requested to buy ‘Special K’ or Ketamine from Jevaughn Mark,” the press release says. “In every instance, Jevaughn Mark supplied a mixture of fentanyl and other substances, including heroin, but not ketamine,” it says.

The release says that after the earlier indictment against Jevaughn Mark was issued, law enforcement agents conducted a search of his Southeast D.C. home and “recovered two firearms, cocaine, fentanyl, about $38,000 in cash, body armor vests, and drug trafficking paraphernalia.” It says on that same day authorities executed another search for a second residence linked to Jevaughn Mark, where they located a bedroom used by his brother Angelo Mark.

“From Angelo Mark’s bedroom, law enforcement recovered seven firearms, 900 rounds of ammunition, dozens of pills, cocaine, fentanyl, drug trafficking paraphernalia, and about $50,000 in cash,” the press release says, adding, “Based on the evidence, both brothers were indicted in the first superseding indictment.” 

Continue Reading

Michigan

Governor & Michigan lawmakers recognize June as Pride month

House lawmakers passed a resolution Wednesday recognizing June 2024 as Pride month and acknowledging the push for equality for LGBTQ+ people

Published

on

Michigan Pride at the Capitol in Lansing, June 25, 2023 (Photo Credit: Angela Demas/Michigan Advance)

By Lucy Valeski | LANSING, Mich. – It’s Pride month in Michigan, an annual recognition of the LGBTQ+ community marked by parades and celebrations in every corner of the state

In Lansing, House lawmakers passed a resolution Wednesday recognizing June 2024 as Pride month and acknowledging the push for equality for LGBTQ+ people in Michigan, past and present. 

The LGBTQ+ community has celebrated Pride month since June 1970, the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. The month was first recognized in the United States in 1999 by President Bill Clinton. The Michigan legislature did not formally recognize Pride month until 2021. 

“Resolutions like this aren’t policy, obviously,” state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) told the Advance. “But it’s important that we do everything we can to make sure that folks in Michigan, and particularly our LGBTQ residents, know that they’re welcome and that they have a government that recognizes them and appreciates them and respects them.”

Pohutsky, a member of the House LGBTQ+ Caucus, sponsored the resolution. She said the resolution is especially important this year, as GOP lawmakers previously blocked the recognition of Pride month.

In 2022, the then-GOP-controlled Senate blocked a vote on a resolution recognizing Pride month. Republican lawmakers wanted to add language reflecting that not every Michigander “agrees with the lifestyle of the LGBT community.” The resolution passed the previous year in 2021, but not in 2019 or 2020.

“There was such a long time where we couldn’t even get the bare minimum of a Pride resolution passed,” Pohutsky said. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also formally recognized the Pride month with a proclamation on June 1. Whitmer was the first governor to march at the Motor City Pride parade and fly a Pride flag on a state building in 2019. 

“Michigan will always be a place where everyone has the freedom to be who they are and love who they love,” Whitmer said in a release. “Our work is not done, but every year, we make progress to move Michigan forward. Let’s keep getting it done.”

LGBTQ+ legislation in Michigan

During this session, Michigan’s Democratic-controlled Legislature has passed several bills aimed at protecting the LGBTQ+ community in the state. Whitmer, a Democrat, signed legislation expanded Michigan’s anti-discrimination law to include LGBTQ+ people last year and banned conversion therapy for minors.

These bills had languished in the Legislature for years when it was led by Republicans.

Lawmakers are also working on a bill that would ban gay and trans panic defenses. The defense excuses crimes, like assault, of an LGBTQ+ person because it lets the perpetrator blame their identity. 

But Pohutsky said it is important to think about how any bill will impact the LGBTQ+ community. Laws relating to legal name changes or reproductive rights can affect queer Michiganders in unique ways, she said. 

“I think one of the really wonderful things that has happened as a positive consequence of us electing more LGBTQ leaders is that we are more apt to recognize how policies impact the community, and that’s been really important,” Pohutsky said. 

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

Lucy Valeski

Lucy Valeski is a States Newsroom fellow for the Michigan Advance. She is currently a student at the University of Missouri, where she studies journalism and political science. She previously covered local government for the Columbia Missourian, statewide news for Missouri Business Alert and technology policy for MLex in Brussels.

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

The preceding story was previously published by the Michigan Advance and is republished with permission.

Corporate media aren’t cutting it. The Michigan Advance is a nonprofit outlet featuring hard-hitting reporting on politics and policy and the best progressive commentary in the state.

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

Continue Reading

Indiana

‘You will lose access’: Pornhub says as age verification takes effect

Pornhub — joined by other explicit content providers and a free speech group — sued the state in an attempt to block the law

Published

on

Starting July 1, Hoosiers wanting to access adult content websites, like PornHub, will be required to upload age-verification documents online thanks to a new Indiana law aimed at protecting minors. (Screenshot from website)

By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz | MONTREAL, Canada – Pornography video-sharing website Pornhub says it’ll block access to Hoosier users as Indiana prepares to enact a recently approved age verification requirement. Its exit is planned for June 27.

And it’s warning users directly.

“You will lose access to Pornhub in 13 days,” a website pop-up read Thursday.

“Did you know that your government wants you to give your driver’s license before you can access Pornhub?” it continued. “As crazy as that sounds, it’s true.”

It comes days after Pornhub — joined by other explicit content providers and a free speech group — sued the state in an attempt to block the law.

Pornhub parent company Aylo said it has publicly supported age verification for “years” but added, “the way many jurisdictions worldwide have chosen to implement age verification is ineffective, haphazard, and dangerous.”

Senate Bill 17 requires that “adult-oriented websites” hosting explicit materials — such as pornography or other “material harmful to minors” — verify a user’s identity before allowing access. That could be by scanning a driver’s license or registering with a third-party verification service.

 The user notice pop-up on Pornhub. (Screenshot of website)

Lawmakers tussled over the legislation in committee and on the floor. Despite that, they overwhelmingly voted to pass the law, according to the Legislature’s bill action tracker.

“We have children who have seen hardcore content before they have their first kiss,” bill author Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, said in January.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis — the bill’s most outspoken opponent — held that the legislation lacked information privacy “guardrails.” He raised concerns about how securely the proof of age documents will be handled.

That’s an argument Pornhub is making directly to its users.

In its pop-up, Pornhub said it doesn’t want minors accessing its website, but that “putting everybody’s privacy at risk won’t achieve that.”

Rather than attempt to verify Hoosier users’ ages, Pornhub plans to close up shop in Indiana.

Parent company Aylo said Pornhub was “one of the few sites” to comply with Louisiana’s age verification law when it took effect in early 2023.

“Since then, our traffic in Louisiana dropped approximately 80%. These people did not stop looking for porn,” Aylo said. “They just migrated to darker corners of the internet that don’t ask users to verify age, that don’t follow the law, that don’t take user safety seriously, and that often don’t even moderate content.”

“In practice, the laws have just made the internet more dangerous for adults and children,” Aylo continued.

The company has instead advocated for “device-based” age verification, and said it was “happy to collaborate” with government, technology companies and other partners to work on a “solution.”

Critics have said the approach, which uses a device’s built-in features to verify a user’s age, doesn’t protect children who use a parent’s phone or other device. Aylo also suggested people use existing parental control features.

“The safety of our users is our number one concern,” Aylo concluded. “We will always comply with the law, but we hope that governments around the world will implement laws that actually protect the safety and security of users.”

Indiana’s law goes into effect July 1 — unless a judge blocks it.

Pornhub and the other plaintiffs filed suit on Monday, alleging that the law is unconstitutional — violating the First Amendment — and unenforceable. They asked a federal judge in Indianapolis to issue a preliminary injunction against the law.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita defended it Tuesday as a “commonsense” way to protect children.

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

Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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

The preceding article was previously published by the Indiana Capital Chronicle and is republished with permission.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.

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

Continue Reading

Florida

Openly gay Carlos Guillermo Smith elected to Florida State Senate

He is the second gay man elected to the Florida Senate, after Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Miami Gardens Democrat

Published

on

Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-FL10) congratulates Florida state Senator-elect Carlos Guillermo Smith. (Photo Credit: Office of Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Former State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith officially won his race for the Florida State Senate (District 17), becoming the second openly LGBTQ member elected to the chamber in state history.

“He’s making history AGAIN as the 1st LGBTQ+ Latino in the Florida Senate. Together, we’re growing the multi-racial, multi-generational, working-class movement in Central Florida. Let’s go!” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost who represents Central Florida in the House.

In 2022, while seeking reelection to the Florida House, Guillermo Smith was targeted by the Florida State Republican Party, who invested millions campaigning to defeat him. Now less than two years after losing his re-election, Guillermo Smith won election unopposed to succeed Democratic State Senator Linda Stewart.

In a statement to reporters, Senator-elect said:

“My heart is full of gratitude for this community who has entrusted me with the responsibility of serving as their state Senator,” Smith said.

“Since last year, our campaign has knocked on over 10,000 doors in Senate District 17. We know that voters are frustrated with the direction our state has been heading and they’ve had enough. Rents and property insurance premiums are soaring, over a million Floridians have recently lost health care, and Tallahassee has turned our classrooms into political battlefields.”

Florida Politics noted:

Smith served in the House for six years, where he was among the most outspoken progressive activists in the Democratic minority. He was also the first openly gay Latino LGBTQ member of the House, and will soon hold the same distinction in the Senate.

He is the second gay man elected to the Senate, after Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Miami Gardens Democrat.

During his time in the House, Smith developed a reputation both as a progressive champion and a scorn of conservatives. The onetime Orange County Democratic Party Chair represented a University of Central Florida-centric district for three terms, first elected in 2016.

Stratton Pollitzer, Chair of Equality Florida Action PAC, said in a press release:

“We’re thrilled that voters are sending Carlos back to Tallahassee to continue the fight in the Florida Legislature. Carlos is an unflinching progressive and one of the governor’s sharpest critics. He consistently exposes the governor’s lies, hypocrisy, and agenda to strip away our rights and freedoms. When the governor hid public information from voters, Carlos took him to court and won. Carlos is on the front lines, working to ensure the safety and well-being of all Floridians.”

Continue Reading

Popular