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New hate crimes bill introduced in U.S. Senate

Aimed at strengthening enforcement of existing law

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Hate Crimes Prevention Act, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) co-introduced a bill calling for strengthening the enforcement of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.) on Jan. 28 introduced a bill calling for strengthening the enforcement of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 by clarifying the law’s language related to the motive of people charged with a hate crime.

The newly introduced bill, the Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act of 2020, calls for amending the Shepard-Byrd law to make it clear that prosecutors must prove that bias or hate was a “substantial motivating factor” for the crime rather than the sole motive.

The Klobuchar-Murkowski bill follows a proposal by the U.S. Attorney for D.C., Jessie K. Liu, in June 2019 that the D.C. City Council consider amending the District’s hate crimes law to make a similar clarification over the motive of a hate crime.

“Since the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act in 2009, federal courts have split on the interpretation of the motive requirement in the law,” according to a statement released by Klobuchar’s office.

“In 2014, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted the law to require that hate crime prosecutors must prove that bias against a protected characteristic was the sole motivation for the crime – a standard that is difficult to prove and could chill the enforcement of the federal hate crimes law,” the statement says.

“The Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act clarifies that prosecutors must prove that bias against a protected characteristic was a substantial motivating factor for the crime,” the statement says.
The Shepard-Byrd law was named for gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was bludgeoned to death by two young men in a remote field outside Laramie, Wyo., in 1998 in one of the nation’s most notorious anti-gay hate crimes. The law was also named for Texas resident James Byrd Jr. who was targeted for his race as an African American by attackers to tied him with a rope to a truck and dragged him to death.

LGBT rights organizations played a key role in lobbying for approval of the Shepard-Byrd hate crimes law, which gives the U.S. Justice Department authority to prosecute hate crimes if state and local law enforcement agencies are unable to or decline to prosecute such crimes. The law also authorizes the Justice Department and the FBI to provide assistance to state and local authorities in the prosecution of hate crimes.

The Shepard-Byrd law declares that the federal government through the Justice Department may prosecute a crime of violence “motivated  by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim.”

“As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand the trauma that hate crimes can inflict not only on victims, but also on entire communities,” said Klobuchar, who’s running for president. “The Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act ensures that federal law enforcement have the authority needed to prosecute hate crimes,” she said in a statement. “We must do all we can to put an end to attacks motivated by prejudice.”

Murkowski said in her own statement that she is proud to join Klobuchar in introducing legislation to provide federal law enforcement “the legal certainty they need” to bring perpetrators of hate crimes to justice.

“Prejudice against groups and individuals because of their sexual orientation, religion, race, or other characteristics has been part of our history,” she said “While we have made great progress in protecting our fellow Americans from acts of hatred and bias – discrimination, violence, and stereotyping still continue. It must be put to a stop.”

David Stacy, Government Affairs Director for the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT advocacy group; and Richard Saenz, Senior Attorney and Criminal Justice Strategist for the LGBT litigation group Lambda Legal, said their respective groups support the Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act.

“We have heard of additional issues in the enforcement of the Federal Hate Crimes law such as barriers to reporting and questions concerning the scope of the law, so we applaud steps to strengthen and clarify the federal law and the authority of prosecutors and courts to enforce it,” Saenz told the Blade in an email.

Stacy said HRC has observed that career federal prosecutors under the Trump administration have continued to prosecute hate crimes under the Shepard-Byrd law. He noted prosecutions under the law began in full force during the Obama administration after President Barack Obama signed the Shepard-Byrd legislation into law in 2009.

According to Stacy, federal prosecutors have said state and local prosecutors have been more aggressive in prosecuting hate crimes since the Shepard-Byrd law took effect, which was the goal of the law’s longtime supporters.

At the time the Shepard-Byrd law was being considered by Congress LGBT rights advocates said the measure was needed, among other reasons, because some local and state prosecutors had declined or appeared unprepared to prosecute anti-LGBTQ hate crimes.

As of this week, a version of the Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes bill had yet to be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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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

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.”

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Congress

House Republicans pass NDAA with anti-LGBTQ riders

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases

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U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) during the debate on Thursday over the National Defense Authorization Act (Screen capture via C-Span)


WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases during a debate over the annual National Defense Authorization Act spending bill on Thursday.

The appropriations package, which contains five anti-LGBTQ riders pushed by House GOP members, was passed on Friday.

“We know there are a lot of threats to the health and well-being of our service members and their families: poisoned water, toxic mold in military housing, PTSD, and suicide,” said Garcia, who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“So I’m stunned to see that the Republican idea to protect our troops is to ban drag shows,” he said. “Mr. Speaker, my Republican colleagues want us to believe that ‘these gays are trying to murder us.’ They want us to believe that drag is harmful, or immoral and wrong. This is ridiculous.”

“We can document and celebrate drag shows on military bases since the late 1800s, and through both world wars,” Garcia continued. “The USO and the Red Cross supported drag during World War II. That’s right: the Army that defeated Hitler and saved the world included drag queens.” 

“Ronald Regan starred in a movie called ‘This Is the Army!’ — a movie about World War II that featured four drag performances,” he said. “And he’s not the only Republican president who knew that drag can be fun and sometimes silly.”

Garcia displayed a photo of former president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump alongside former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was dressed in drag.

“Mr. Speaker,” the congressman said, “drag is Art. Drag is Culture. Drag is Creativity. Drag is Comedy. And no, drag is Not a Crime. It’s not pornography. The real obscenity is when one of our colleagues, the gentlewoman from Georgia, shows literal posters of revenge porn in our Oversight Committee! If we want to end porn in government facilities, let’s ban that.”

In a statement on Friday, the Equality Caucus called out House Republicans’ politicization of the military appropriations bill.

“Like last year, House Republicans voted to add poison pill, anti-LGBTQI+ provisions to the NDAA that discriminate against our LGTBQI+ servicemembers and their families,” said Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) “The Equality Caucus remains committed to preventing these discriminatory provisions from becoming law.”

Along with Brecheen’s drag show ban, the caucus highlighted four of these riders from this year’s NDAA:

  • Amendment 46 by U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), which would “prohibit funds for the Department of Defense Education Activity from being used to purchase, maintain, or display in a school library or classroom books that include transgender and intersex characters or touch on topics related to gender identity or variations in sex characteristics,”
  • Amendment 49 by U.S. Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.), which would “ban Pride flags from any workplace, common access area, or public area of the Department of Defense,” and
  • Amendments 52 and 53 by U.S. Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Ralph Norman (S.C.), which would, respectively, “ban TRICARE from covering and furnishing gender-affirming surgeries and hormone treatments,” and “prohibit the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) from covering or providing referrals for “gender transition procedures”—including puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgeries—for servicemembers’ dependent minor children.”

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Federal Government

Administration officials visit LGBTQ-owned dental, medical offices

“There’s a surge in small businesses starting and that includes” those founded by members of the LGBTQ community”

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Second from left, Dr. Robert McKernan, co-founder of Big Gay Smiles, U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabel Guzman, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine, Big Gay Smiles Co-Founder Tyler Dougherty, and SBA Washington Metropolitan Area District Director Larry Webb. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)


WASHINGTON — The Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Administrator Isabel Guzman of the U.S. Small Business Administration toured two LGBTQ-owned small businesses on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. — Big Gay Smiles and Price Medical, accompanied by the Washington Blade.

The event provided an “amazing opportunity” to “talk about the different synergies in terms of small businesses and the SBA, and health equity for many communities,” including the LGBTQ community, Levine told the Blade.

Representation matters, she said, adding, “that’s true in dental care and medical care,” where there is a tremendous need to push for improvements in health equity — which represents a major focus for HHS under her and Secretary Xavier Becerra’s leadership, and in the Biden-Harris administration across the board.

“Small businesses identify needs in communities,” Guzman said. With Big Gay Smiles, Dr. Robert McKernan and his husband Tyler Dougherty “have clearly identified a need” for “dentistry that is inclusive and that is respectful of the LGBTQIA community in particular.”

She added, “now that they’re a newly established business, part of the small business boom in the Biden-Harris administration, to see their growth and trajectory, it’s wonderful to know that there are going to be providers out there providing that missing support.”

The practice, founded in 2021, “is so affirming for the LGBTQIA community and we certainly wish them luck with their venture and they seem to have a great start,” Levine said. “They’re really dedicated to ending the HIV epidemic, providing excellent dental care, as well as oral cancer screenings, which are so important, and they’re really providing a real service to the community.”

Big Gay Smiles donates 10 percent of its revenue to national and local HIV/AIDS nonprofits. McKernan and Dougherty stressed that their business is committed to combatting homophobia and anti-LGBTQ attitudes and practices within the dental field more broadly.

“We try to align our practices here within this dental office to align with the strategic initiatives being able to help reduce HIV transmission, reduce stigma, and help to ensure people have the knowledge and [are] empowered to ensure that they’re safe,” Dougherty said.

McKernan added, “With the Academy of General Dentistry, we’ve done a lot of discussions around intersex, around trans affirming care, in order to help educate our fellow dental providers. It’s very important that every dentist here in the [D.C. area] provide trans affirming care and gender affirming care because it’s very important that someone who comes to a medical provider not be deadnamed, not get misnamed, and have an affirming environment.”

Trans and gender expansive communities face barriers to accessing care and are at higher risk for oral cancer, depression, and dental neglect. Levine, who is the country’s highest-ranking transgender government official, shared that she has encountered discrimination in dental offices.

After touring the office, Levine and McKernan discussed the persistence of discrimination against patients living with HIV/AIDS by dental practices, despite the fact that this conduct is illegal.

“I’ve traveled around the country,” the assistant health secretary told the Blade. “We have seen that many FQHCs [federally qualified health centers] or community health centers as well as LGBTQIA community health centers have had dentists, like Whitman-Walker, to provide that care because many people with HIV and in our broader community have faced stigma and have not been able to access very, very important dental care.”

Prior to opening his practice, McKernan practiced dentistry at Whitman-Walker, the D.C. nonprofit community health center that has expertise in treating LGBTQ patients and those living with HIV/AIDS. Big Gay Smiles is a red ribbon sponsor for the organization’s Walk & 5K to End HIV.

After their visit with Big Gay Smiles, Levine and Guzman headed to Price Medical, a practice whose focus areas include internal medicine/primary care, HIV specialty care, immunizations, infectious disease treatment, and aesthetics like Botox.

There, the officials talked with Dr. Timothy Price about his office’s work advancing health equity and serving LGBTQ patients including those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as the ways in which small businesses like his have benefitted from access to electronic health records and telemedicine.

Levine, Dr. Timothy Price of Price Medical, and Guzman 
(Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

“People being able to access medical care from the comfort of their home or workplace can be very important,” Price said, with technology providing the means by which they can “ask questions and get an answer and have access to a health care provider.”

Often, LGBTQ patients will have concerns, including sexual health concerns, that need urgent attention, he said. For instance, “we’ve had patients need to access us for post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV,” in some cases when “people are vacationing and they have something that might be related to their health and they can reach us [via telemedicine] so that’s the way it’s really helped us and helped the patients.”

Access to technology for small businesses is an area in which the SBA can play a valuable role, Guzman noted.

“The Biden-Harris administration has focused on a whole-of-government approach to making sure we can support the community, and that includes in entrepreneurship,” she told the Blade.

“There’s a surge in [small] businesses starting and that includes” those founded by members of the LGBTQ community “and so you see that there’s products and services that need to be offered,” and the administration is “committed to making sure that we can fund those great ideas.”

Guzman said she sees opportunities for future collaboration between her agency and HHS to help encourage and facilitate innovation in the healthcare space. “Small businesses are innovators creating the future of health tech,” she said.

Levine agreed, noting “we have been talking about that, about different ways that we can work together, because as we think about the social determinants of health and those other social factors that impact health, well, economic opportunity is absolutely a social determinant of health,” and small businesses are certainly a critical way to broaden economic opportunity.

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New York

WABC’s Up Close | Stonewall Inn’s revival & NYC’s equity efforts

WABC-TV Channel 7 is showcasing stories of Pride with a special edition of the Up Close podcast with host Bill Ritter

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WABC 7 news anchor Bill Ritter interviews Ronald Porcelli & co-owners of the Stonewall Inn, Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly. (Screenshot WABC)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – As the 55th anniversary of the queer uprising at the Stonewall Inn in West Greenwich Village, WABC 7 news anchor Bill Ritter interviews Ronald Porcelli, the director of the NYC Unity Project, Mayor’s Office of Equity & Racial Justice, and the co-owners of the Stonewall Inn, Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly.

According to Ritter on his podcast WABC Up Close, Lentz and Kelly share the stories of what inspired them to buy the Stonewall Inn 18 years ago, what the process of reviving it entailed, the challenges they face and what the future holds for this institution, while sharing their own stories of embracing their identities and living their truths.

Porcelli gives listeners and viewers a rare look into how City Hall is working with diverse communities to make New York a more equitable and fair place for all of its people during a time of heightened societal polarization.

Watch:

For readers & viewers in the Tri-State area watch Up Close on Sunday mornings at 11:00 on Channel 7, WABC-TV.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Title IX transgender protections blocked in federal court

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect

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A march for Transgender Day of Visibility passes in front of Jackson Square in New Orleans on Friday, March 31, 2023. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Greg Larose | MONROE, La. – A federal judge has temporarily halted enforcement of new rules from the Biden administration that would prevent discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana issued a temporary injunction Thursday that blocks updated Title IX policy from taking effect Aug. 1 in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana. 

In April, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would expand Title IX to protect LGBTQ+ students, and the four aforementioned states challenged the policy in federal court.

Doughty said in his order that Title IX, the 52-year-old civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, only applies to biological women. The judge also called out the Biden administration for overstepping its authority. 

“This case demonstrates the abuse of power by executive federal agencies in the rulemaking

Process,” Doughty wrote. “The separation of powers and system of checks and balances exist in this country for a reason.”

The order from Doughty, a federal court appointee of President Donald Trump, keeps the updated Title IX regulations from taking effect until the court case is resolved or a higher court throws out the order.

Opponents of the Title IX rule changes have said conflating gender identity with sex would undermine protections in federal law and ultimately harm biological women. Gender identity refers to the gender an individual identifies as, which might differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill, who filed the suit in the state’s Western District federal court, had called the new regulations “dangerous and unlawful.” In a statement Thursday evening, she said the rules would have placed an unfair burden on every school, college and university in the country.

“This (is) a victory for women and girls,” Murrill said in the statement. “When Joe Biden forced his illegal and radical gender ideology on America, Louisiana said NO! Along with Idaho, Mississippi, and Montana, states are fighting back in defense of the law, the safety and prosperity of women and girls, and basic American values.”

Title IX is considered a landmark policy that provided for equal access for women in educational settings and has been applied to academic and athletic pursuits. 

Related

Doughty’s order comes a day after a similar development in Texas, where Judge Reed O’Connor, an appointee of President George W. Bush, declared that the Biden administration exceeded its authority, The Texas Tribune reported. 

Texas filed its own lawsuit against the federal government to block enforcement of the new rules, which Gov. Greg Abbott had instructed schools to ignore. Texas is one of several states to approve laws that prohibit transgender student-athletes from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect. 

Earlier Thursday, Republicans in Congress moved ahead with their effort to undo the revised Biden Title IX policy. Nearly 70 GOP lawmakers have signed onto legislation to reverse the education department’s final rule through the Congressional Review Act, which Congress can use to overturn certain federal agency actions.

Biden is expected to veto the legislation if it advances to his desk.

“Title IX has paved the way for our girls to access new opportunities in education, scholarships and athletics. Unfortunately, (President) Joe Biden is destroying all that progress,” U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Illinois, author of the legislation, said Thursday.

States Newsroom Reporter Shauneen Miranda in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg’s other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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

The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Our in-depth investigations and news stories, news briefs and commentary help residents make sense of how state policies help or hurt them and their neighbors statewide.

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

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Georgia

A Georgia Pride Executive Director arrested on drug & gun charges

“We believe that all persons are innocent until proven guilty, including Mr. Hobbs. We offer our support to Mr. Hobbs’ family at this time”

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Photo Credit: Columbus, Georgia Police Department

COLUMBUS, Ga. – The Columbus Georgia Police Department announced on Wednesday that following a months-long investigation, the Columbus Police Department’s Special Operations Unit executed a search warrant at a residence in the 4200 block of 16th Avenue. Jeremy Hobbs, 49, was taken into custody without incident.

Hobbs, the Executive Director of the Debra Smith Wellness Center Inc., doing business as Colgay Pride, was charged with:

  • • Possession of Cocaine with Intent to Distribute
  • • Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Distribute
  • • Possession of VGCSA Schedule I Drug with Intent to Distribute
  • • Possession of Drug-Related Objects
  • • Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Crime

According to Columbus Police, during the search, officers found and seized the following items:

  • 5.4 grams of crack cocaine
  • • 20.7 grams of methamphetamine
  • • 23.8 grams of liquid GHB
  • • An INA .38 revolver

A statement released by Harry Underwood, Vice President of Communications, Colgay Pride and the board of the Debra Smith Wellness Center, Inc. in response to Hobbs’ arrest noted:

“The board of the Debra Smith Wellness Center, Inc., doing business as Colgay Pride, expresses our utmost concern and regret regarding the arrest and charges facing our Executive Director, Jeremy Hobbs. The charges which have been filed against him are serious. The board does not condone the alleged actions and we will cooperate with law enforcement in the coming investigations regarding our operations and finances.

We believe that all persons are innocent until proven guilty, including Mr. Hobbs. We offer our support to Mr. Hobbs’ family at this time.

Our organization will meet to discuss our next steps, including a transition in leadership and strategy in the interim period. Our events and operations are on hold until further notice. With humility, we ask for the understanding and solidarity of the local community in this period. We apologize to our allies, colleagues and partners for the distress caused by these developments.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court rules to preserve access to abortion medication

The suit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas

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The abortifacent drug mifepristone is marketed under the brand name Mifeprex (Photo courtesy of Danco Laboratories)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a much-anticipated decision against efforts by conservative doctors and medical groups challenging access to mifepristone, one of two pharmaceuticals used in medication abortions. As a result of the high court’s decision, access to the drug won’t change.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the court, reversed a lower court decision that would have made it more difficult to obtain the drug, which is used in about two-thirds of U.S. abortions. The ruling however was narrow in scope as it only addressed what is known as legal standing in a case.

SCOTUSblog senior court reporter Amy Howe noted that Kavanaugh acknowledged what he characterized as the challengers’ “sincere legal, moral, ideological, and policy objections” to elective abortion “by others” and to FDA’s 2016 and 2021 changes to the conditions on the use of the drug.

But the challengers had not shown that they would be harmed by the FDA’s mifepristone policies, he explained, and under the Constitution, merely objecting to abortion and the FDA’s policies are not enough to bring a case in federal court. The proper place to voice those objections, he suggested, is in the political or regulatory arena.

“Under Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff’s desire to make a drug less available for others does not establish standing to sue,” Kavanaugh wrote.

“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision in this incredibly important case. By rejecting the Fifth Circuit’s radical, unprecedented and unsupportable interpretation of who has standing to sue, the justices reaffirmed longstanding basic principles of administrative law,” said Abigail Long, a spokesperson for Danco. “The decision also safeguards access to a drug that has decades of safe and effective use.”

The White House released a statement from President Joe Biden on Supreme Court Decision on FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine:

“Today’s decision does not change the fact that the fight for reproductive freedom continues. It does not change the fact that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, and women lost a fundamental freedom. It does not change the fact that the right for a woman to get the treatment she needs is imperiled if not impossible in many states.
 
It does mean that mifepristone, or medication abortion, remains available and approved. Women can continue to access this medication – approved by the FDA as safe and effective more than 20 years ago. 
 
But let’s be clear: attacks on medication abortion are part of Republican elected officials’ extreme and dangerous agenda to ban abortion nationwide. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Republican elected officials have imposed extreme abortion bans in 21 states, some of which include zero exceptions for rape or incest. Women are being turned away from emergency rooms, or forced to go to court to plead for care that their doctor recommended or to travel hundreds of miles for care. Doctors and nurses are being threatened with jail time, including life in prison, for providing the health care they have been trained to provide. And contraception and IVF are under attack.
 
The stakes could not be higher for women across America. Vice President Harris and I stand with the vast majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to make deeply personal health care decisions. We will continue to fight to ensure that women in every state get the health care they need and we will continue to call on Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law — that is our commitment.”

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, in a ruling a year ago, waved aside decades of scientific approval, ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration improperly approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago in 2000.

Kacsmaryk, appointed to the federal bench by former President Donald Trump, in his 67 page opinion wrote that the FDA’s two-decade-old approval violated a federal rule that allows for accelerated approval for certain drugs and, along with subsequent actions by the agency, was unlawful.

The suit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas in mid-November by Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ legal organization.

Applauding Kacsmaryk’s ruling, Erik Baptist, speaking for the Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement: “By illegally approving dangerous chemical abortion drugs, the FDA put women and girls in harm’s way, and it’s high time the agency is held accountable for its reckless actions.”

Erin Hawley, a senior attorney for the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case at the Supreme Court, said the opinion was “disappointing,” but told reporters in a press gaggle after the ruling that the explicit mention of conscience protections was a victory.

“The Supreme Court was crystal clear that pro life doctors do have federal conscience protections, even in emergency situations,” Hawley said. “So that’s a huge win for the pro-life cause. The Supreme Court clearly said that our doctors are entitled to those federal conscious protections that are based on their religious beliefs.”

Related

The case now returns to the lower courts, and the dispute over access to the drug likely is not over. 

SCOTUSblog also reported that Nancy Northrup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, praised the decision but conceded that the dispute could continue even after Thursday’s ruling. She, too, noted that the three states “could still attempt to keep the case going, including taking it back up to the Supreme Court,” and she warned that access to mifepristone “is still at risk nationwide.”

The Hill notes that for instance, the same district court in Texas that originally ruled against the FDA said a group of three red states—Missouri, Idaho and Kansas— can intervene in the lawsuit.

“I would expect the litigation to continue with those states raising different standing arguments than made by our doctors,” ADF’s Hawley told reporters.

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, emailed the Blade the following statement from Executive Director Tony Hoang in response to a unanimous ruling by the United States Supreme Court:

“We appreciate today’s unanimous decision to uphold access to the abortion drug mifepristone, authored by a conservative Justice. This ruling reinforces the critical importance of maintaining accessible reproductive healthcare and highlights the necessity of safeguarding these rights from baseless legal attacks.

However, it is imperative to recognize that the Court should never have accepted this case. The so-called Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine lacked the standing to initiate this challenge. Moreover, federal conscience exemptions already exist for healthcare providers who object to offering abortion-related care. 

Medication abortions involving mifepristone constitute the majority of abortions in America, including those sought by LGBTQ+ people. Our community understands the necessity of bodily autonomy and the right to make decisions regarding our own medical care, including reproductive care. Patients deserve access to the medications they need, and providers should be able to deliver that care without unwarranted interference from extremist courts or politicians.   

Attacks on abortion do not end with this decision; millions of people nationwide are still unable to get abortion care and abortion opponents remain focused on their end goal of a nationwide abortion ban. 

Equality California will continue to work with our legislative partners in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., as well as organizational allies, like Planned Parenthood, to help protect and expand access to abortion and reproductive healthcare.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

ACLU of Indiana sues City of Loogootee for blocking Pride

The First Amendment lawsuit calls for the court to enjoin Loogootee’s Special Events Ordinance and allowing plaintiffs to hold PrideFest 2024

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Photo Credit: Loogootee Pride 2024

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — The ACLU of Indiana filed suit in U.S. District Court on Thursday against the City of Loogootee, a community of about 2,600 in the southwestern part of the state, on behalf of the sponsors of PrideFest 2024.

After initially approving a permit for PrideFest 2024 to take place on September 7, the Loogootee City Council has since passed two new ordinances changing the application process for using city property, rescinded its prior approval of PrideFest 2024, and failed to vote on the new application the sponsors properly submitted in February 2024.

The first Loogootee Pride Festival was successfully held in June 2023 at the Public Square, in the center of town. where numerous community events have been held over the years. About 200 people attended the 2023 festival, and organizers had no reason to suspect that the town’s leadership would not approve a permit for a festival in 2024.

Since submitting a new application for PrideFest 2024 in February, the organizers of PrideFest, Patoka Valley AIDS Community Action Group, have attended each subsequent Loogootee City Council meeting.

The PrideFest application has been on the Council’s meeting agenda but Council members never discussed or voted on it. On June 10th, the Council passed the most recently revised ordinance setting up numerous roadblocks to PrideFest.

Another event, Summer Fest, is scheduled to be held in the Public Square next week, apparently without the organizers of that event even applying for a permit.

The First Amendment lawsuit filed today calls for the court to enjoin Loogootee’s Special Events Ordinance and allowing plaintiffs to hold PrideFest 2024 at the Public Square on September 7, 2024.
 
ACLU of Indiana’s Legal Director Ken Falk said:
 
“The City of Loogootee’s revocation of its November 2023 permission to hold PrideFest 2024 and its actions since that time violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The latest city special events ordinance is unconstitutional in many ways. It, and the actions of the City Council, clearly indicate that Councilmembers are trying to deny our plaintiffs the ability to hold their event because they disagree with a celebration of the LGBTQ community..

The complaint can be found here.

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