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Foreign policy gets renewed focus in Democratic debate

Candidates spar on Iraq war, but repudiate Trump’s approach

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Foreign policy got a renewed focus on the Democratic debate in Des Moines. (Photo courtesy of CNN and the Des Moins Register)

In the aftermath of President Trump’s controversial order to kill Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, foreign policy got a renewed focus Tuesday night in the Democratic presidential primary debate — the last before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3. Out of the gate at the start with a question from moderator Wolf Blitzer on why they’d be the best commander-in-chief, candidates were critical not only of Trump, but also their fellow Democrats. Drawing a contrast between himself and Joseph Biden, Bernie Sanders said he voted “no” on going into conflict in Iraq in 2002 and said “it would lead to unprecedented levels of chaos in the region,” which was not the vote Biden has taken. “I understood right away, in terms of the war in Iraq, the difference here is that the war in Iraq turned out to be the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country,” Sanders said. “As Joe well knows, we lost 4,500 brave troops. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. We have spent trillions of dollars on that endless war, money which should go into health care and education and infrastructure in this country.” Following the death of Soleimani, Sanders warned Trump may be leading the United States into a war “even worse than the war in Iraq.” Biden admitted his vote to authorize the Iraq war was a “mistake,” but pointed out former President Obama chose him to be his running mate in the 2008 election and “turned to me and asked me to end that war.” “We should not send anyone anywhere unless the overwhelming vital interests of the United States are at stake,” Biden said. “They were not at stake there. They were not at stake in Iraq. And it was a mistaken vote.” But when the issue of the Afghanistan war, Blitzer pointed out Sanders had voted for the use of military force. Sanders replied there was a “little bit of a difference” because with the Iraq war the Bush administration was lying about the pretext for war, but that wasn’t the case for Afghanistan. Biden pointed out he had opposed during the Obama administration the idea of a surge in Afghanistan. When the issue came to whether candidates would remove U.S. troops in the Middle East, Amy Klobuchar had an itemized reaction to each of the moves undertaken in the Trump administration. “I would leave some troops there, but not in the level that Donald Trump is taking us right now,” Klobuchar said. “Afghanistan, I have long wanted to bring our troops home. I would do that. Some would remain for counterterrorism and training. In Syria, I would not have removed the 150 troops from the border with Turkey. I think that was a mistake. I think it made our allies and many others much more vulnerable to ISIS. And then when it comes to Iraq, right now, I would leave our troops there, despite the mess that has been created by Donald Trump.” South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, an Afghanistan war veteran, took the opportunity to criticize Trump for sending more troops to the Middle East when he campaigned on a promise of stopping endless war. “And whenever I see that happen, I think about the day we shipped out and the time that was set aside for saying goodbye to family members,” Buttigieg said. “I remember walking with a friend of mine, another lieutenant I trained with, as we walked away, and his one-and-a-half-year-old boy was toddling after him, not understanding why his father wasn’t turning back to scoop him up. And it took all the strength he had not to turn around and look at his boy one more time.” Things got interesting when the issue of meeting with foreign dictators without preconditions came up. In contrast Trump, who met with Kim Jung Un without preconditions, Biden said he wouldn’t meet with the North Korean leader, marking a departure with Obama, who once said he’d meet with the leader without preconditions. “Absent preconditions, I would not meet with the, quote, ‘Supreme Leader,’ who said Joe Biden is a rabid dog, he should be beaten to death with a stick,” Biden said. Much of the debate, especially on the issue of health care, was a rehash of previous debates in which candidates sparred over the differences in their plan. Moderates like Biden and Klobuchar said Medicare for All was unrealistic, but socialists like Warren and Sanders said the plans other proposed didn’t do enough to reduce costs. On the issue of health care, Tom Steyer aptly described the situation when he said, “We’ve had this conversation on this stage so many times.” “Everybody on this stage believes that affordable health care is a right for every single American,” Steyer said. “Everybody on this stage knows that Americans are paying twice as much for health care as any other advanced country in the world. And it makes no sense and the government has to step in.” LGBTQ issues were barely brought up in the debate. Biden mentioned gay people in passing when he said he wanted to assemble “all elements of the party, African-American, brown, black, women, men, gay, straight,” and Warren lamented at the end of the debate no attention was paid to the risk of violence to “trans women, particularly trans women of color.” Kasey Suffredini, CEO and national campaign director for Freedom for All Americans, criticized the lack of attention paid on stage in Des Moines to the need for LGBTQ non-discrimination protections. “At tonight’s Democratic debate, moderators and candidates once again failed to discuss the importance of passing nondiscrimination protections for the millions of LGBTQ Americans who will vote in this year’s presidential election,” Suffredini said. “With a looming Supreme Court decision that could decide whether employers have a right to discriminate against LGBTQ people and fire them simply for being who they are, all candidates — regardless of party — must proactively champion the need for non-discrimination protections.”
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Louisiana

Louisiana Legislature passes ‘Don’t Say Gay or trans’ bill  

Horton’s bill also prohibits “covering the topics of sexual orientation or gender identity” during any extracurricular and athletics events

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State Rep. Dodie Horton, (R-Haughton), debates her bill on the House floor. (Photo credit: Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Piper Hutchinson | BATON ROUGE, La. – Discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in Louisiana’s K-12 public schools could soon be restricted after the state Senate approved a far-reaching anti-LGBTQ+ bill Thursday. 

Senators sent House Bill 122 by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haugton, which limits discussion of gender and sexuality in public schools, to Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, who is expected to sign it into law. It passed on a 28-7 vote, with Democratic Sens. Katrina Jackson-Andrews of Monroe and Regina Barrow of Baton Rouge joining Republicans in support of the bill.

The Legislature approved the same bill last year. Then-Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, vetoed it, and Republicans were unable to overturn his action 

Horton’s bill restricts discussion of gender and sexuality in schools, except for topics in approved curricula. This would allow discussion of a romantic relationship in a book but not mentions of a teacher’s family, for example. Horton said in committee her bill would also block discussion of heterosexuality and cisgender identity. Cisgender refers to anyone whose gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth. 

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

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

Horton said she didn’t believe teachers should discuss their “lifestyle choices” with students. 

“Having sexualized personal discussions between educators and students in our classrooms are not appropriate, and they can rob our children of their innocence while imposing suggested influence over their developing young minds,” Horton said when her bill came up in committee. 

When asked whether the bill would have a negative impact on LGBTQ+ students, Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, who was tasked with carrying the bill in the Senate, said that was not the intent of the proposal. 

“It’s good to have a safe place where parents can have some confidence, for instance, if there is an LGBTQ employee, I think letting parents know ‘OK, I’m fine with that person, because I know they can’t talk to my child about their sexual orientation, no more than I would want a promiscuous male or female teacher to talk to my child about their sexual partners,’” Mizell said. 

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

The Senate rejected a series of amendments Sen. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, proposed that would have restricted the bill’s limitations to only K-8 grades, defined the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” excluded extracurricular activities, and limited the effect to only classroom instruction rather than discussion between teachers and students. Jackson-Andrews also sided with Republicans in rejecting the amendments. 

A separate proposal, House Bill 121 by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, is slated to be discussed by the Senate next week. It prohibits the use of transgender and nonbinary youth’s chosen names and pronouns in public K-12 schools without parental permission. 

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

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

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

Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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The White House

Biden hosts Kenyan president, unclear whether anti-LGBTQ+ bill raised

Jake Sullivan reiterated administration’s opposition to Family Protection Bill

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Kenyan President William Ruto and U.S. President Joe Biden speak at joint press conference at the White House on May 23, 2024.

WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration has not publicly said whether it raised LGBTQ+ rights with Kenyan President William Ruto during his visit to the White House.

Kenya is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma last year introduced the Family Protection Bill. The measure, among other things, would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” and would ban Pride marches and other LGBTQ+-specific events in the country. Advocates have told the Washington Blade the bill would also expel LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers who have sought refuge in Kenya.

A senior administration official on Wednesday did not directly respond to the Blade’s question about whether President Joe Biden would speak to Ruto about the Family Protection Bill — neither he, nor Ruto discussed it on Thursday during a joint press conference at the White House. The official, however, did reiterate the administration’s opposition to the bill and other laws around the world that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A reporter on Wednesday asked National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during the daily press briefing about whether Biden would discuss with Ruto any concerns over “some authoritarian moves” in Kenya. (The International Criminal Court in 2011 charged Ruto and five others with crimes against humanity in relation to violence that surrounded Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. The ICC dismissed the case against Ruto in 2016, although the prosecutor said widespread witness tampering had taken place.)

“We’ve seen robust and vigorous democracy in Kenya in recent years,” Sullivan said. “But, of course, we will continue to express our view about the ongoing need to nurture democratic institutions across the board: an independent judiciary; a non-corrupt economy; credible, free, and fair elections.”

Sullivan added “these kinds of principles are things the president will share, but he’s not here to lecture President Ruto.”

“President Ruto, in fact, is somebody who just was in Atlanta speaking about these issues,” he said. “We will invest in Kenya’s democratic institutions, in its civil society, in all walks of Kenyan life to help make sure that the basic foundations of Kenyan democracy remain strong.”

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman in March 2023 sparked criticism when she told reporters in Kenya’s Kajiado County that “every country has to make their own decisions about LGBTQ rights.”

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. A State Department spokesperson in response to Whitman’s comments told the Blade that “our position on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is clear.”

“A person’s ability to exercise their rights should never be limited based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics,” said the spokesperson. “Governments should protect and promote respect for human rights for each and every human being, without discrimination, and they should abide by their human rights obligations and commitments.”

The White House on Thursday released a “Kenya State Visit to the United States” fact sheet that broadly notes the promotion of human rights and efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

• Promoting Human Rights: The United States and Kenya affirm their commitment to upholding the human rights of all. Together they stand with people around the world defending their rights against the forces of autocracy. Kenya and the United States commit to bilateral dialogues that reinforce commitments to human rights, as well as a series of security and human rights technical engagements with counterparts in the Kenyan military, police, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at strengthening collaboration on security sector governance, atrocity prevention, and women, peace and security in Kenya and regionally.

• Continuing the Fight against HIV/AIDS: The United States and Kenya are developing a “Sustainability Roadmap” to integrate HIV service delivery into primary health care, ensuring quality and impact are retained. With more than $7 billion in support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) spanning two decades, Kenya has successfully responded to the HIV epidemic and strives to end HIV as a public health threat in Kenya by 2027. These efforts improve holistic health services for the 1.3 million Kenyans currently receiving antiretroviral therapy and millions more benefiting from HIV prevention programs, while allowing for greater domestic resources to be put toward the HIV response, allowing PEFPAR support to decrease over time.

Biden and Ruto on Thursday also issued a joint statement that, among other things, affirms the two countries’ “commitment to upholding the human rights of all.”

“Our partnership is anchored in democracy and driven by people,” reads the statement. “Together we share the belief that democracy requires ongoing work, and thrives when we commit to continually strengthen our democratic institutions.”

“This historic state visit is about the Kenyan and American people and their hopes for an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous future for all,” it adds.

The White House said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Democratic National Committee Deputy National Finance Chair Claire Lucas and her partner, Judy Dlugacz, are among those who attended Thursday’s state dinner at the White House. Ruto on Friday is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.

Ugandan officials sanctioned after Anti-Homosexuality Act signed

The U.S. has sanctioned officials in Uganda, which borders Kenya, after the country’s president in May 2023 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The White House also issued a business advisory against Uganda and removed the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.

Sullivan, Whitman and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo are among the officials who joined Biden and Ruto at a meeting with CEOs that took place at the White House on Wednesday. Ruto earlier this week visited Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The company announced it will invest $175 million in Kenya.

Coca-Cola on its website notes it has received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index each year since 2006. The company also highlights it has supported the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Trevor Project, and other “LGBTQI-focused organizations and programs in our communities.”

“Coca Cola is proud of its history of supporting and including the LGBTQI community in the workplace, in its advertising and in communities throughout the world,” says Coca-Cola. “From supporting LGBTQI pride parades to running rainbow-colored billboards, Coca Cola has demonstrated its commitment to protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell in a statement to the Blade said Ruto “is choosing to align with anti-gender extremists and is allowing queer Kenyans to be put at extreme risk.” She also criticized Biden for welcoming Ruto to the White House.

“Biden is campaigning as an LGBTQ+ champion, but he is ruling out the red carpet for someone who is explicitly siding with the extremists,” said Russell. “It’s doublespeak on the part of the White House.”

Brody Levesque, Christopher Kane, and Sam Kisika contributed to this story.

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Ohio

Ohio Supreme Court allows hold to continue on trans care ban

“The state’s claim that this was an ‘emergency’ because it could not enforce an unconstitutional statute was utterly absurd”

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An advocate for the trans community protests outside the Senate Chamber while inside lawmakers debated and passed HB 68 that bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth and bars transgender kids from participating on sports teams, December 13, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)

By Megan Henry | COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Supreme Court of Ohio rejected a request by the state to narrow a temporary restraining order against Ohio’s gender-affirming care ban for trans youth.      

Wednesday’s decision allows the case to continue in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, where a trial is scheduled for July 15. 

“This decision was correct,” Freda Levenson, ACLU of Ohio’s legal director, said in a statement.

“The state’s request was egregious. The scope of the temporary restraining order was necessary and appropriate to prevent the constitutional violations and other irreparable harm that would immediately occur if HB 68 were permitted to take effect. Our legal battle will continue until this cruel restriction is permanently overturned.”

The ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on March 26 against the portion of House Bill 68 that prohibits gender-affirming care for transgender youth. The lawsuit said HB 68 violates four sections of the Ohio Constitution — the single-subject rule, the Health Care provision, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Due Course of Law provision.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two families whose 12-year-old transgender daughters would lose access to gender-affirming health care. 

Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael Holbrook issued the temporary restraining order on all of HB 68 on April 16. In addition to preventing transgender youth from starting hormone therapy and puberty blockers, the bill also prevents trans athletes from playing middle and high school sports. 

On April 22, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed an emergency motion with the Ohio Supreme Court to try to stop the restraining order — arguing Holbrook “acted beyond the scope of his powers.” He also said the injunction is illegal since it applies to all of Ohio, not just the two plaintiffs. 

“The state’s claim that this was an ‘emergency’ because it could not enforce an unconstitutional statute was utterly absurd,” Harper Seldin, American Civil Liberties Union’s senior staff attorney, said in a statement.

“Far from creating an emergency, the challenged temporary injunction merely maintains the status quo in Ohio – that trans youth be permitted to access life-saving medical care with support from parents and doctors.”

HB 68 was supposed to take effect April 24. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed HB 68, but lawmakers voted to override his veto. 

In two separate concurring opinions, Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine and Democratic Ohio Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Brunner took shots at one another.

“Although we deny the relief requested today, this case raises an important issue: Is it appropriate for one judge in a single county to issue a statewide injunction that goes beyond what is necessary to provide interim relief to the parties in the case,” Justice DeWine questioned.

“The other concurring opinion in this case offers a full-throated defense of universal injunctions and fulminates against this court ever taking up the issue. Unlike the other concurring justice, I will reserve judgment until we are presented with a case that properly presents the issue and we have had the benefit of adversarial briefing. … This court should address the propriety of the issuance of universal injunctions for the purpose of granting interim relief in an appropriate case.”

Justice DeWine was joined by Justices Patrick Fischer and Joseph Deters in his concurrence.

In her own concurrence, Justice Brunner took issue with Justice DeWine’s citation of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“A stay is not an injunction. The Ohio Constitution, unlike the federal Constitution, has a single-subject rule for legislation that results in multi-subject legislative acts being facially unconstitutional,” Brunner wrote. “The very nature of a facial constitutional violation is that the offending law violates the Constitution in every circumstance.”

Brunner wrote that if a law that is facially unconstitutional may not be applied to an individual, then it may not be applied to anyone else.

“Similarly, a temporary restraining order based on a substantial likelihood that a law is facially unconstitutional may not be limited to just the parties in the case. Moreover, when the court hearing such a challenge has jurisdiction over the state as a party-defendant, it has the power to enjoin the state from applying the law, regardless of the law’s subject matter.”

Brunner then explained why she chose to write her own concurrence in the first place.

“My colleague’s concurring opinion is more akin to a political statement than a legal one, which is why I have written this opinion,” Brunner concluded.

Gender-affirming care is supported by every major medical organization in the United States. Children’s hospitals across Ohio, the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, and the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians all opposed HB 68.

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Megan Henry

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

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on X.

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

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

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

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New Hampshire

New Hampshire lawmakers roll back existing trans protections

New Hampshire’s Senate passed HB396, repealing some discrimination protections for transgender people that the state passed in 2018

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New Hampshire State House in Concord. (Photo Credit: State of New Hampshire)

By Erin Reed | CONCORD, N.H. – In 2018, New Hampshire passed a non-discrimination law that included transgender people through an all-Republican legislature. On Wednesday, the state legislature repealed some of those protections, clarifying that such protections do not apply to bathrooms, sports, locker rooms, corrections centers, and mental health treatment centers.

The state is one of the first to roll back existing protections for transgender people and now allows for private bans of transgender people in bathrooms, locker rooms, sports, and more. The bill now heads to Governor Sununu’s desk and is the fourth anti-LGBTQ+ bill passed this year in New Hampshire.

The bill repealing protections is House Bill 396, and it was the subject of a contentious 192-184 vote earlier this year before passing the Senate yesterday. It states that though transgender people are still part of the “law against discrimination,” those protections are removed in “limited circumstances in which classification of persons based on biological sex is proper because such classification serves the compelling state interests of protecting the privacy rights and physical safety of such persons and others,” seemingly arguing that transgender people are inherently unsafe. It then outlines the specific places where discrimination against transgender people is now legal in New Hampshire:

  • Bathrooms
  • Locker rooms
  • Athletic or sporting events
  • Prisons, houses of correction, and juvenile detention centers
  • Mental health hospitals
  • Treatment centers

You can see the full bill here:

Importantly, the bill legalizes this kind of discrimination by private entities, meaning that all bathrooms in New Hampshire, including those run by private businesses, may exclude transgender people at the discretion of whoever is in charge of those bathrooms.

This could create a very confusing landscape for transgender people, who will have to research the policies of every private entity each time they wish to use a bathroom. Other similar bathroom bans have typically only applied to schools or public buildings. While the bill does not mandate that private entities exclude transgender people from bathrooms, it explicitly allows them to do so.

The State of New Hampshire added transgender people to its nondiscrimination law in 2018. Governor Sununu, who signed that law, stated, “Discrimination – in any form – is unacceptable and runs contrary to New Hampshire’s Live Free or Die spirit. If we really want to be the Live Free or Die state, we must ensure that New Hampshire is a place where every person, regardless of their background, has an equal and full opportunity to pursue their dreams and to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

At the time, Christian organizations criticized him for “failing to stand by Christian principles.” Shanon McGinley of the state conservative think tank Cornerstone Action said in response to the protections in 2018, “We MUST strengthen the Christian base of the NH legislature to improve our chance of winning critical votes in the next legislative session.”

It would appear that those strategies were successful. Whereas the nondiscrimination protections passed with large majorities in 2018, many of those protections were successfully reversed yesterday. Though it is unclear if Governor Sununu will sign the bill on his desk, he has recently supported anti-trans measures, such as signing a letter opposing President Biden’s Title IX protections.

New Hampshire has been a particularly rough state for transgender people this year when it comes to legislation. Just last week, the state passed three anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ laws, including a “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill, a sports ban that includes provisions for potential genital inspections, and a ban on surgery and referrals for transgender youth. Likewise, a Medicaid ban on some transgender care is currently pending a final vote in the Senate. Should all four bills be signed into law by the governor, New Hampshire will become one of the riskiest states in the Northeast for transgender people of any age.

Courtney Reed, Policy Advocate at the ACLU of New Hampshire, said of the bill’s passage, “Today is another grim day in New Hampshire. Nobody wins when we try to make discrimination law. HB 396 undermines the right to equal protection under the law for transgender people – and we urge Governor Sununu to veto this dangerous bill once it reaches his desk, keeping in tradition that the Granite State respects the rights of LGBTQ+ people.” 

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

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

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Southern California

Triple A: Memorial Day travelers get a break at the pump

The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $5.15, which is nine cents lower than a week ago

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Triple A Auto Club/Los Angeles Blade

LOS ANGELES – Gas prices continued downward for a fifth straight week, giving some Southern California Memorial Day travelers the chance to fill up for about $4.50 a gallon or even less in a few areas, according to the Auto Club’s Weekend Gas Watch. The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $5.15, which is nine cents lower than a week ago. The average national price is $3.61, which is one cent higher than a week ago.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $5.11 per gallon, which is ten cents less than last week, 27 cents less than last month, and 25 cents higher than last year. In San Diego, the average price is $5.13, which is ten cents lower than last week, 23 cents lower than last month, and 29 cents higher than this time last year.

On the Central Coast, the average price is $5.16, which is five cents lower than last week, 17 cents lower than last month, and 30 cents higher than last year. In Riverside, the average per-gallon price is $5.02, which is ten cents lower than last week, 28 cents lower than last month and 25 cents higher than a year ago. In Bakersfield, the $5.17 average price is five cents less than last week, 15 cents less than last month, and 36 cents higher than a year ago today.

“With an all-time record number of Southern California travelers expected for this Memorial Day getaway weekend, the gas price drops are providing some welcome relief,” said Auto Club Spokesperson Doug Shupe. “Those travelers who are planning out-of-state trips should expect to pay even less when they fuel up for their return, since California continues to be the only U.S. state with a gas price average above $5 a gallon.”

The Weekend Gas Watch monitors the average price of gasoline. As of 9 a.m. on May 23, averages are:

052324 FINAL CHART CA

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Los Angeles County

New on the LA County Channel

You can watch on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

New on the County Channel

Meet Fabian, an artist, an advocate and Founder/Executive Director of the Homeboy Art Academy. Fabian and his team are bringing hope and healing through art thanks to the support of LA County’s Creative Recovery Grant, which is funded by the American Rescue Plan.

LA County is using $1.9 billion in American Rescue Plan funding to address LA County’s most urgent inequities. Visit LACountyandYou.com to see more stories from people who have received support to help themselves, their families and business get equitably back on their feet.

You can watch more stories like this on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here.

In Case You Missed It

LA County Rent Relief Program is Now Open 

Following a successful initial launch, the Los Angeles County Rent Relief Program is set to open for a second round of applications. Landlords affected by the COVID-19 pandemic can apply to receive up to $30,000 per rental unit to cover past-due rent and other eligible expenses incurred since April 1, 2022.

The application window is open through Tuesday, June 4, 2024, at 4:59 p.m. To learn more about the eligibility criteria, and to receive a direct link to the application when it goes live, visit the LA County Rent Relief Program website at lacountyrentrelief.com.

At Your Service

Supporting Young Learners

LA County Library is excited to introduce the new Summer Stars tutoring program, which offers free in-person tutoring for students in grades 1-6. This initiative aims to provide extra support in reading and math to help young learners excel.

The Summer Stars tutoring program features two 4-week sessions:

  • Session 1: Reading, June 18 – July 11, 2024
  • Session 2: Math, July 16 – August 8, 2024

Sessions run from Tuesday to Thursday each week. Appointments are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and space is limited.

For more information and to complete an interest form, visit LACountyLibrary.org/summer-stars.

Out and About

Tribute to Veterans and Military Families

Join Los Angeles County this weekend for a special day in support of those who’ve served. The event includes a ceremony honoring veterans, resource fair, equipment displays, food trucks, live music, and lots of family fun!

Admission and parking are FREE.

Saturday, May 25, 2024 | 10 A.M. to 1 P.M.

Arcadia County Park
405 S Santa Anita Ave, Arcadia, California 91006

Photo Finish

(Photo Credit: Los Angeles County/Mayra Beltran Vasquez)

Join in on all the fun at the LA County Fair. Don’t miss out – this is the final weekend of the 2024 season!

Click here to access more photos of LA County in action.

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Political commentary & analysis

Urgent concerns arise when congressional staff face ethics investigations

Ultimately, how can we hold elected representatives to a higher standard such that they model good behavior for their employees

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has a long established public record of vitriol and hate speech directed at LGBTQ+ people.(File photo Washington Blade/Michael Key)


WASHINGTON -Congressional staff tend to avoid engaging in conduct that could reflect poorly on the members they represent or that which would otherwise bring them out from behind the scenes and into the spotlight.

Last week, however, was the second time in which I broke a story about a chief of staff on Capitol Hill who found himself the subject of a complaint to the U.S. House Ethics Committee, the body whose primary responsibility is investigating reports of unethical and unlawful conduct by America’s elected representatives.

In the first, Marjorie Taylor Greene filed a report against Democratic Rep. Jake Auchincloss’s top aide because he had placed stickers over a transphobic sign that the far-right Georgia congresswoman had displayed outside her office. 

The second complaint came from an official with the Biden-Harris administration over an especially combative and anti-trans email that was sent by the highest-ranking deputy in a West Virginia Republican’s Congressional office.

The two cases are not otherwise analogous. As the emissaries of lawmakers who are responsible to their constituents, staff should be held accountable for out-of-bounds behavior like sending offensive emails to harass colleagues on Capitol Hill or in the federal government. 

By contrast, decorating a poster in the Longworth House Office Building without permission is hardly a crime that should be escalated to the Ethics Committee, particularly not when the poster is offensive to members of a marginalized community and was hung in the first place to provoke a colleague across the hall who has a trans daughter.

If a monthslong probe exploring whether a career Hill staffer had brought discredit upon the House of Representatives with his stickers was not absurd enough, it was kicked off by none other than Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has been guilty of that charge virtually every day since she was elected. (Recall, for instance, that she has called for violence against her political opponents, including by publishing a video on social media in which she said then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deserves the death penalty.)

A member of Congress wields a tremendous amount of power relative to even the seniormost Capitol Hill staff, a fact that was brought into sharp relief for Auchincloss’s chief of staff as he sought to defend himself against not just the committee’s investigation but also an affidavit by the Capitol Police in support of an arrest warrant along with threats and harassment so severe that his home was monitored by law enforcement.

The House Ethics Committee declined to comment when I reached out last week to confirm receipt of the complaint filed against the GOP staffer, just as they had refused to provide information about the status of the case initiated by Greene’s report.

The committee’s Senate counterpart is even more of a black box.

An article by the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan government accountability group, notes that in the recent indictment of New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, “the shocking details revealed by the allegations seemingly had no end.”

The evidence against him was sufficiently flagrant and longstanding, the article argues, to “beg the question: Is the Senate incapable of finding and rooting out potential corruption before it becomes a crime?”

Part of the problem, according to CLC, is that the Upper Chamber’s ethics committee provides no means by which a complaint can be seen through to its investigation and resolution. The public knows very little about what the committee does, perhaps because the committee does very little: a study in 2023 found that none of the 1,523 reports that were filed over a period of 15 years resulted in any formal disciplinary sanctions.

Obviously, full transparency is impossible when sensitive information must be kept confidential to protect the integrity of an investigation. However, and especially if we are going to continue seeing complaints against Congressional staff rather than the lawmakers they serve, the committees should provide more insight into their processes and decision making.

Measures could include safeguards designed to mitigate the risk of unfair outcomes when investigations are brought by members of Congress and target those who have far less power. A mechanism requiring the investigators to share more information about cases under their review, to the extent possible, would also be wise — because even when the alleged conduct by a staffer may warrant a complaint, time and resources might be better spent rooting out misconduct by members of Congress, which is almost always far more consequential. 

We should also contend with the question of whether ethics committees are ever the appropriate place to explore and adjudicate allegations against staffers, since members are fully capable of enforcing the rules in their offices. 

As demonstrated by the long and tortured process through which George Santos was finally booted from Congress, getting rid of an elected lawmaker is far more difficult than, say, firing a chief of staff. 

Ultimately, perhaps the right question is: how can we hold elected representatives to a higher standard such that they model good behavior for their employees as well as for their constituents and Congressional colleagues?

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Christopher Kane is the White House Correspondent and Capitol Hill reporter for the Washington and Los Angeles Blade newspapers.

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California Politics

Assemblyman Ward introduces AB 1955 to outlaw forced outing

“Across the country and here in California, LGBTQ+ young people are under attack from extremist politicians and school boards”

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Members of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, with Assemblymember Chris Ward speaking, at Equality California Advocacy Day 2023. (Photo Credit: Equality California)

SACRAMENTO – On Wednesday, the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, chair Sen. Susan Eggman, (D- San Joaquin County), and co-sponsor Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) introduced AB 1955: Support Academic Futures and Educators for Today’s Youth Act (SAFETY Act) to ensure all of the state’s students have a safe and supportive environment to learn, regardless of their gender identity.

The legislation introduced coincided with Harvey Milk Day, honoring the slain LGBTQ+ rights activist and politician. In 2009, the State of California established Milk’s birthday, May 22 as Harvey Milk Day. On this day, Californian’s remember his life, accomplishments, and the LGBTQ+ community’s continuing fight for recognition and equality under the law.

More than a dozen school districts in California have proposed and/or passed forced outing policies to require teachers to notify parents if their child identifies as transgender. 

Transgender, nonbinary, and other LGBTQ+ youth are at risk due to this recent growing trend of forced outing policies. These efforts have led to a measurable impact on the mental health of California’s LGBTQ+ students, and can lead to a rise in bullying, harassment, discrimination, and more.

Since July 2023, when the Chino Valley Unified School District school board passed their first forced outing policy, over 700 calls were made to the Rainbow Youth Project Crisis hotline by LGBTQ+ youth from the Chino area alone. Rainbow Youth CEO Lance Preston told the Blade in an interview last Fall: “That is how toxic even discussing these issues [forced outing] makes the environment for queer kids who live there.”

Among those opposed to the implementation of the forced outing policies is the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond and the State Attorney General Rob Bonta.

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond addressing the Chino Valley Unified School District school board, July 20, 2023.
(Photo by Kristi Hirst for the LA Blade)

Last summer the State Superintendent had traveled to Chino to state his opposition to the policy. Addressing the board, Thurmond cautioned the policy may “not only fall outside of the laws that respect privacy and safety for our students, but may put our students at risk because they may not be in homes where they can be safe.”

His words echoed a warning issued by California Attorney General Rob Bonta in a letter sent to Chino Valley Unified School’s Superintendent Norman Enfield and the Board. Bonta expressed serious concern over the proposed Parental Notification policy, emphasizing the potential infringements on students’ privacy rights and educational opportunities.

“By allowing for the disclosure of a student’s gender identity without their consent, Chino Valley Unified School District’s suggested Parental Notification policy would strip them of their freedom, violate their autonomy, and potentially put them in a harmful situation,” Bonta wrote. “Our schools should be protecting the rights of all students, especially those who are most vulnerable, and should be safeguarding students’ rights to fully participate in all educational and extracurricular opportunities.”

In October of 2023, San Bernardino California Superior Court Judge Michael Sachs issued a preliminary oral injunction against the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education’s mandatory gender identity disclosure policy, further halting the enforcement of the policy.

Chino Valley Unified joined several other Southern California school districts which passed similar policies. A Riverside County Superior Court judge denied a motion on Friday morning, Feb. 23, to issue an injunction seeking to stop the Temecula Valley Unified School District from enforcement of two controversial polices on transgender notification to parents or guardians and a ban on teaching of critical race theory.

Attorney General Rob Bonta listens intently to a member of the LGBTQ+ community in a August 2023 presentation. (Photo Credit: Office of the Attorney General)

School districts in San Diego County and Orange Counties have also passed similar policies.

The SAFETY Act will do three things one passed by the legislature and if signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, which is likely: Prohibit school districts from implementing forced outing policies, provide resources for parents and students to navigate conversations around gender and identity on their own terms, and ensure teachers or school staff are not retaliated against for refusing to forcibly out a student. 

Assemblymember Chris Ward who spoke with the Blade prior to the bill’s introduction stressed that the primary goal of AB 1955 is to take politics out of the classroom, have teachers teach not act as the gender police. “Nothing should ever prohibit the child-parent relationship nor dictate policies that are politically motivated,” he told the Blade.

“Had I not had a single supportive adult in my life, I never would have been able to find the strength to come out to my family, or to teach them what I had learned about who I am on my own,” said Kai, a Northern California-area LGBTQ+ youth. “Please don’t let another child endure the consequences of that support system being taken away due to forced outing policies. That’s why I support AB 1955.”

Equality California’s Executive Director Tony Hoang noted in response to the introduction of AB 1955:

“Across the country and here in California, LGBTQ+ young people are under attack from extremist politicians and school boards seeking to ban books, terrorize teachers, and make transgender youth afraid to be themselves at school. 

This critical legislation will provide resources for parents and families of LGBTQ+ students to support them as they have conversations on their own terms, protect LGBTQ+ students from isolation and bullying, and provide critical safeguards to prevent retaliation against teachers and school staff who foster a safe and supportive school environment for all students. 

Forced outing policies remove opportunities for LGBTQ+ students to build trust and seek out resources that best fit their coming out experience. LGBTQ+ youth and their families deserve to have these conversations at home and in a way that makes sure that students are safe and supported.”

“Under California law, schools are required to support and affirm LGBTQ+ students, which includes addressing students by the name and pronouns that match their identity and respecting their decisions about coming out,” said Becca Cramer-Mowder, legislative advocate at ACLU California Action. “By targeting transgender and nonbinary youth, forced outing policies violate state and federal anti-discrimination and privacy laws. The SAFETY Act strengthens existing protections that ensure that all California students are safe and treated fairly at school.”

Sen. Eggman, who cosponsored AB 1955, echoed Assemblymember Ward in a late afternoon phone call with the Blade Tuesday: “We need to take our time see what works best cooling down the forced outing momentum. The average parent just wants to have their kids safe. Our goal is not parental rights fight, schools should not be getting in between parents and kids- the goal is getting support so that all kids are safe.”

In a separate statement Eggman said:

“School campuses should be safe places for students to learn and grow as their authentic selves. The SAFETY Act is a critical piece of legislation that seeks to protect everyone on school campuses, especially LGBTQ+ students. When and how a person comes out is a conversation that should be reserved for a student and a parent, not arbitrarily forced on unsuspecting youth by a school administration.”

“Educating children works best with engaged parents and caring teachers working together to create a safe space for all children to learn,” said parent, former teacher, and Our Schools USA co-founder Kristi Hirst. “Forced outing policies harm children, condemn taxpayer dollars to be wasted on attorneys, and do nothing to improve public education in our state or across the country.”

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Texas

Texas AG Ken Paxton sues to stop new gender identity guidelines

Texas Attorney General aims 75th lawsuit at Biden Administration this one to halt compliance of gender identity mandates in the workplace

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Collin County Labor day picnic in Plano on Sept. 2, 2023. (Photo Credit: Azul Sordo for the Texas Tribune)

By Nina Banks | AMARILLO, Texas – Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and members of the Biden Administration to contest LGBTQ+ workforce protections.

The guidance, released last month, states that denying an employee accommodations for their gender identity, such as prohibiting an employee to use the bathroom of their gender identity, is unlawful workplace harassment. The guidance isn’t legally enforced and instead it serves to distinguish what constitutes harassment under the EEOC.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday argues that the EEOC specifically targeted Texas with its new guidance, as some Texas employers do not have to comply with federal policies meant to prohibit discrimination. Paxton claims the guidance would force Texas to reevaluate its agencies, causing “irreparable harm” to state finances and sovereignty, and redefine “sex” under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Yet again the Biden Administration is trying to circumvent the democratic process by issuing sweeping mandates from the desks of bureaucrats that would fundamentally reshape American law,” Paxton said in a statement. “Texas will not stand by while Biden ignores court orders forbidding such actions and we will hold the federal government accountable at every turn.”

This is Paxton’s 75th lawsuit against the federal government since Biden was inaugurated in January 2020. Paxton has long portrayed himself as the bulwark against Biden’s agenda and has positioned Texas at the forefront of the largest conservative legal battles of the day.

This lawsuit parallels a motion from October 2022 where Paxton sued the Biden administration over a 2021 EEOC guidance that explained the parameters then for gauging harassment and the Supreme Court’s stance on Bostock v. Clayton County, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

A longtime adversary to gender-affirming policy, Paxton claimed the 2021 guidance forced the Biden Administration’s “political agenda” onto Texas. In that case, the U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled in favor of Paxton, concluding that the Biden Administration’s protections for LGBTQ+ employees were too extensive.

Paxton filed this lawsuit, like many of his legal challenges, in Amarillo, where one judge hears nearly all cases—Kacsmaryk.

Kacsmaryk was appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump as the first judge appointed directly from a religious liberty law firm. Kacsmaryk previously worked at First Liberty, a Plano-based conservative Christian law firm, where he frequently litigated cases involving abortion, contraception and gender identity.

Reporter Eleanor Klibanoff contributed to this story.

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Nina Banks’s staff photo

Nina Banks is the Tribune’s Dallas Press Club Foundation reporting fellow based in Arlington where she is studying communications at Tarrant County College. She is managing editor of the student-run newspaper, The Collegian, and hosts the staff’s podcast, The First Draft. When Nina isn’t hunched over her laptop, you can find her sipping on boba tea.

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

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The White House

Senate confirms Biden’s 200th judicial nominee

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama

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President Joe Biden speaks at the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — With the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of his 200th judicial nominee on Wednesday, President Joe Biden surpassed the number who were appointed to the federal bench by his last two predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of his two terms in office.

In a statement celebrating the milestone, Biden highlighted the diverse identities, backgrounds, and professional experiences of the men and women he has appointed over the past four years.

They “come from every walk of life, and collectively, they form the most diverse group of judicial appointees ever put forward by a president,” he said, noting that “64 percent are women and 62 percent are people of color.”

“Before their appointment to the bench, they worked in every field of law,” Biden said, “from labor lawyers fighting for working people to civil rights lawyers fighting to protect the right to vote.”

The president added, “Judges matter. These men and women have the power to uphold basic rights or to roll them back. They hear cases that decide whether women have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; whether Americans have the freedom to cast their ballots; whether workers have the freedom to unionize and make a living wage for their families; and whether children have the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”

The LGBTQ judges who were confirmed under Biden include Beth Robinson, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal court of appeals, Nicole Berner, the 4th Circuit’s first LGBTQ judge, Charlotte Sweeney, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal district court west of the Mississippi River, and Melissa DuBose, the first Black and the first LGBTQ judge to serve on a federal court in Rhode Island.

Echoing the president’s comments during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted Biden’s appointment of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“We’ve confirmed more Hispanic judges circuit courts than any previous administration,” she said. “We’ve confirmed more Black women to circuit courts than all previous presidents combined.”

Jean-Pierre added that while these milestones are “great news,” there is still “much more work to be done.”

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