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Sanders, Biden and other Super Tuesday wins in California



There was something very California about it. Former Vice President Joe Biden was in Baldwin Hills delivering his victory speech live on TV after having won 10 out of 14 Super Tuesday states when a protester dashed onstage with a “Let Dairy Die” sign. Dr. Jill Biden protected her husband and a security guard quickly wrangled her away.

But another young woman jumped onstage, pursued by Biden spokesperson Symone D. Sanders who wrapped an arm around the protester and hauled her off as numerous women, surrounded the candidate.

The video of the incident went viral, with tweets nicknaming Sanders after Wakanda warrior General Okoye, among other superlatives. Sanders responded with a kind of snarky Lizzo brush-off moment of her own: “I broke a nail. #SuperTuesday,” she tweeted.

But the moment is an interesting Hollywood-ish metaphor for the turn of events in the race to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. The 31-year-old political operative – who was a spokesperson for Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016 before she abruptly quit – literally took an opponent off the field.

The young black millennial represents politicos and voters willing to set aside ideological purity to beat Trump. “My politics are not tied to Bernie Sanders and they are not tied to Joe Biden,” Sanders told Politico for a magazine profile last year.

“I have great respect for Senator Sanders and I have great respect and admiration for Vice President Biden. If I didn’t, I would not be working for him right now. But he does not define me.”

Sanders added that she has “never agreed 100 percent with anybody I’ve gone to work for” and she has “obviously” disagreed with Biden and even donated $250 to Pete Buttigieg. But, she told Politico, she believes Biden can win over black voters “and the Rust Belt workers who went for Trump in 2016.” She wants to tell her niece and nephew that she was “actively out there working” to get Trump out of office.

Biden’s “Joe-Mentum” started in South Carolina where the deflated once-inevitable candidate was resurrected after embarrassing defeats in Iowa, New Hampshire and a Sanders blowout in Nevada. Forty-seven percent of South Carolina voters waited for, then acted upon the Feb. 28 endorsement by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American in Congress.

“I know Joe Biden. I know his character, his heart, and his record. Joe Biden has stood for the hard-working people of South Carolina. We know Joe. But more importantly, he knows us,” Clyburn tweeted. “In South Carolina, we choose presidents. I’m calling on you to stand with @JoeBiden.”

“I know where this country is: We are at an inflection point,” Clyburn said at a news conference, saying he was “fearful” for the future of this country. “It is time for us to restore this country’s dignity, this country’s respect.”

“Today people are talking about a revolution,” Biden said at that news conference. “What the country’s looking for are results. What they’re looking for is security. What they’re looking for is to be able to sustain and maintain their dignity.”

Biden won big in South Carolina but Sanders’s win in Nevada frightened many politicos worried about close down-ballot races after democratic socialist Sanders doubled down in praising the late Cuba dictator Fidel Castro, freaking out voters in Florida. Tom Steyer dropped out, as did Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar who soon endorsed Biden. Joe-Mentum before Super Tuesday was building.

And that seems to be the motivating factor that helped Biden win in Oklahoma, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maine and Texas where Bernie Sanders was expected to do well. A huge percentage of voters said the late endorsements helped make up their minds. That seemed even more evident when, without money or organization or a grassroots ground game, Biden also swept the South with wins in Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee, thanks in large part to the huge turnout from black and women voters.

Meanwhile, Trump wasn’t waiting on Russian bots to sow discord among Democratic voters. He hugged the American flag after speaking at a CPAC conference, uttering “I love you, baby.” And he constantly tweeted about how the Establishment was stealing the nomination from Sanders, as it had in 2016, he asserted. He also tweeted at billionaire Mike Bloomberg who spent $660 million in ubiquitous ads around the country banking on a Super Tuesday strategy – with only a win in American Samoa to show for it.

Billionaires Bloomberg and Styer dropping out proved that money can’t buy the Democratic presidential nomination. California has experience with that – in 1998 when relatively moneyless Gray Davis, with strategy by Eric Bauman and the grassroots Stonewall Democratic Club, pulled out a win against millionaires Jane Harmon and Al Checchi in the June 1998 gubernatorial primary.

Voters in line at the Laurel Elementary School on Hayworth in West Hollywood (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

More than 1.3 million California voters turned their ballots in early by mail. But like many other regions on Super Tuesday, in-person voters in West Hollywood and around Los Angeles County experienced long lines, long wait-times and major problems with the new $300 million voting machines. When asked how long she’d been standing in line at the Laurel Elementary School on Hayworth in West Hollywood, one woman voter in her mid-30s told the Los Angeles Blade, “Since I was 21.” One of two poll workers checking in voters said the turnout had been heavy but operating the new machines was “messy.” And while the line of prospective voters snaked around the corner, the auditorium itself was empty and the machines lifeless. LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn has called for an immediate investigation into what happened.

By Thursday morning, the California Sec. of State’s office reported that of the 20,660,465 registered voters in California, only 5,521,744 ballots had been cast/counted yielding a statewide turnout of 26%. In Los Angeles, the numbers were 5,546,785 registered voters, with 1,249,137 ballots cast/counted for 22% of the vote.  All the counties have until April 3 to turn in their final vote tallies.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy AHF)

Sanders, registered as an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, has been campaigning in California since losing the 2016 primary to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He missed the CNN LGBTQ Town Hall in LA while recuperating from his heart attack but he was the first and only presidential candidate to tour LA’s Skid Row with AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein, talking about the homeless and housing crisis at AHF’s refurbished Madison Hotel on Aug. 6, 2019. He has also been a big hit with Latinos.

So it was no surprise to LA politicos that the Associated Press and other media outlets called California in Sanders’s favor, especially in anticipation of early progressive vote-by-mail results. But after Nevada and South Carolina and the moderate Buttigieg and Klobuchar endorsements – supposedly to halt Sanders from securing an insurmountable delegate count — the question became: How many delegates would the two men split going into the convention?

By mid-day March 4, the day after Super Tuesday, of the 1,991 delegates needed to win nomination, 1,215 delegates have been declared. Biden had 566 delegates; Sanders had 501. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar had an additional 147 delegates among them. Tulsi Gabbard, who is inexplicably still in the race, had one delegate.

But by Thursday morning, March 5, it was apparent there were probably still millions of votes yet to be counted with, as Politico reported, at least a third of the total in Los Angeles alone, with 573,000 ballots still out there, plus however many mail ballots were submitted on Election Day.” And it is still a long way until the July 13-16 Democratic Party Convention in Milwaukee, Wis.

Meanwhile, Super Tuesday in California yielded a number of successful down-ballot primary races. LGBTQ ally Assemblymember Christy Smith left snarky Young Turks sexist homophobe Cenk Uygur in the dust in the CA-25 district race to fill the congressional seat vacated by bisexual Rep. Katie Hill. Longtime anti-LGBTQ former Rep. Steve Knight, who Hill defeated, clawed his way to second place behind GOP Mike Garcia in trying to challenge Smith in both a special May 12 runoff to fill six months left on Hill’s time and in the November general election for the seat outright. Former Trump staffer George Papadopoulos barely made a mark.

In another much-watched contest in the CA-50 district, Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who was maliciously reviled in his previous race against disgraced (now convicted) Rep. Duncan Hunter, is sitting back watching gay San Diego talk show host Carl DeMaio slug it out with anti-LGBTQ former Rep. Darrel Issa in the who-is-best-for-Trump Republican match.

In a nail-biting state legislative race, with thousands of ballots still to be counted in the highly contested Senate District 5 race, it looks like out Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) is in first place ahead of Republican Jim Ridenour and will advance to the November general election. The sweet spin is that the lesbian beat anti-LGBTQ Democrat Mani Grewal.

“If Eggman wins in November, she will make history as the first openly LGBTQ+ woman of color to serve in the California Senate — potentially alongside Abigail Medina, who is running in Senate District 23,” says a press release from Equality California.

“Susan Talamantes Eggman is the champion that Central Valley Voters want and deserve fighting for them in Sacramento. We are proud to support Susan’s campaign because we know she’ll roll up her sleeves and tackle homelessness, veterans’ issues and LGBTQ+ civil rights,” says Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur. “We’re confident Susan will win in November, and we’ll be with her every step of the way.”

In the San Diego area race for the CA-53, it looks like lesbian Georgette Gomez, who could become the first openly LGBTQ Latinx member of Congress, will be in a run-off with longtime LGBTQ ally Sara Jacobs. There is still a 30-day window before all the votes are tallied but the two women are the top vote-getters in a crowded field of 15 candidates.

And it looks like out Assemblymember Todd Gloria is likely to become the next Mayor of San Diego.

On the local LA County level, it looks like a run-off between LA City Council President Herb Wesson and State Sen. Holly Mitchell for the 2nd Supervisor seat being vacated by Mark Ridley-Thomas, who appears to have won his City Council race in the 10th district. As did longtime LGBTQ ally Kevin De Leon in the 14th district.  Longtime out LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS activist Eddie Martinez has made the run-off for Huntington Park City Council. 

And incumbent District Attorney Jackie Lacey is just over 50%, which, if it holds, means that she’s defeated an intense effort by progressive prosecutors George Gascon and Rachel Rossi to oust her and institute deeper judicial reforms.

Two very special races of note: longtime LGBTQ politico Jackie Goldberg won her reelection bid to the LA Unified School Board, despite vicious attacks by her charter school-supporting opponents. And lesbian Deputy DA Sherry Powell won her totally grassroots contest for Superior Court Judge Office No. 97 outright – beating rich attorney Timothy Reuben 64% to 36%.

The primaries aren’t over yet, of course, and there are ample opportunities for Biden to stumble, Sanders to recover and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to play a major role after her withdrawal on Thursday. 

And, as Washington Blade Political Correspondent Chris Johnson described in his report, there is still plenty of room for LGBTQ voters to have an even bigger impact.

“Hopefully her historic candidacy will get the attention and credibility it deserves,” longtime out Latina politico Ari Guttierez tells the Los Angeles Blade after she and her 9-year old daughter Emma Arámbula met Warren in the heart of East Los Angeles.

And what role will former Mayor Pete Buttigieg play after Biden wistfully compared him to his own late son Bo Biden, the former Attorney General for Delaware.

“We sent a message,” Buttigieg, 38, said, “to every kid out there wondering if whatever marks them out as different means they are somehow destined to be less than, to see that someone who once felt that exact same way can become a leading American presidential candidate with his husband at his side.”

Chad Griffin, former president of the Human Rights Campaign, cast his ballot for Biden, a man he has long known. “America needs a leader in the White House who can help us navigate the tremendous challenges we’re facing on all front – someone who has a tested record of success, and an enlightened vision for the future to guide this nation back onto the path of progress,” Griffin said in a statement posted to Twitter. “I’m proud to endorse him and will fight like hell to get him elected.”

It was Griffin who enlightened Biden about marriage equality.

Anti-gay marriage Prop 8 was on everyone’s mind as President Barack Obama faced reelection in 2012. Obama campaign advisors David Axelrod and David Plouffe reached out to gay GOP strategist Ken Mehlman, former chair of the Republican National Committee who engineered President George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004, for advice since Mehlman was part a Griffin-created federal challenge to Prop 8. But while almost everyone was on board with Obama coming out in favor of marriage equality before the election, including Michelle Obama, nothing happened.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigative reporter Jo Becker put it in her monumental book on Prop 8, Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality, Griffin felt bans like Prop 8 “sent a signal that there was something inherently wrong with gay men and lesbians” and permitted state sanctioned bullying and anti-LGBTQ laws. He’d asked Obama if there was anything he could do to help him “evolve” more quickly – especially since the pro-Prop 8 side wanted to use Obama’s opposition to their advantage. But the president put him off.

Then, on April 19, 2012, Griffin attended a gay Democratic fundraiser he’d helped put together at Obama’s request at the home of Michael Lombardo, an HBO executive, and his husband, Sonny Ward, an architect. He wanted to ask Biden, the guest of honor, directly about marriage equality but he knew the answer.

Vice President Joe Biden with Johnny and Josie Ward-Lombardo at a party at the home of their parents, Sonny Ward and Michael Lombardo, in 2012. (Photo courtesy Michael Lombardo)

“But as he watched the hosts’ two children, ages 5 and 7, press flowers and a note into Biden’s hand, he changed his mind,” Becker writes in an excerpt for the New York Times. “They were in the home of two married men and their family. The Obama campaign wanted the support of the gay people in this room. The vice president should have to answer to them. When it was Griffin’s turn to speak, he said: ‘When you came in tonight, you met Michael and Sonny and their two beautiful kids. And I wonder if you can just sort of talk in a frank, honest way about your own personal views as it relates to equality, but specifically as it relates to marriage equality.’”

Biden was clearly uncomfortable – he had sided with Obama in the issue. But then he totally surprised everyone.

“’I look at those two beautiful kids,’ Biden began,” Becker reports. “‘I wish everybody could see this. All you got to do is look in the eyes of those kids. And no one can wonder, no one can wonder whether or not they are cared for and nurtured and loved and reinforced. And folks, what’s happening is, everybody is beginning to see it.

‘Things are changing so rapidly, it’s going to become a political liability in the near term for an individual to say, ‘I oppose gay marriage.’ Mark my words.’”

Apparently, a dam had broken because Biden didn’t stop, asking aloud, what’s the problem?

“’And my job — our job — is to keep this momentum rolling to the inevitable,’” Biden said, stunning everyone in the room.

And he did keep the momentum going, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and answering the question directly and authentically.

“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” Biden said, noting that Obama, not Biden, sets policy.

But the cosmos had changed and the Obama camp wasn’t happy. “He probably got out a little bit over his skis, but out of generosity of spirit,” Obama said, as if it was another Biden-ism. But shortly thereafter, Obama formally, if stiffly, came out in favor of marriage equality.

And in his Inaugural Address on Jan. 21, 2013, Becker reports, “Obama drew a straight line from the civil rights fights based on race and gender to the current struggle for marriage equality.

‘Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,’ the president said, ‘for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.’”

On Thursday, Biden released an extensive plan on LGBTQ  rights. “Joe Biden is a man of uncommon decency and integrity and heart,” Michael Lombardo tells the Los Angeles Blade.

And perhaps, if Biden becomes the Democratic presidential nominee, he will use that decency as a tool in the 2020 election fight against profoundly indecent Donald Trump, with an assist from Wakanda coalition builder, Symone D. Sanders.




Missouri opposes proposed federal rule for LGBTQ foster kids

Missouri’s child welfare agency already offers guidance to foster care providers asking them to use a child’s ‘preferred name and pronouns’



Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey (Screenshot YouTube KSDK NBC 5)

By Clara Bates & Annelise Hanshaw | JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey this week joined with 18 other states to oppose a proposed federal rule that aims to protect LGBTQ youth in foster care and provide them with necessary services.

The attorneys general argue in a letter to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that the proposed rule — which requires states to provide safe and appropriate placements with providers who are appropriately trained about the child’s sexual orientation or gender identity  — amounts to religion-based discrimination and violates freedom of speech.

“As a foster parent myself,” Bailey said in a news release Tuesday, “I am deeply invested in protecting children and putting their best interests first.”

“Biden’s proposed rule does exactly the opposite by enacting policies meant to exclude people with deeply held religious beliefs from being foster parents.”

The rule is part of a package of federal proposals on foster care and is an extension of the Biden administration’s broader push to protect LGBTQ kids in foster care.

“Because of family rejection and abuse,” the Biden administration said in a September press release, LGBTQ children are “overrepresented in foster care where they face poor outcomes, including mistreatment and discrimination because of who they are.”

State agencies would be required under the rule to provide safe and appropriate foster care placements for those who are “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex,” along with children who are “non-binary or have non-conforming gender identity or expression.”

A qualifying foster parent would need to be educated on the needs of the child’s sexuality or gender identity and, if the child wishes, “facilitate the child’s access to age-appropriate resources, services, and activities that support their health and well-being.”

An example of a safe and appropriate placement is one where a provider is “expected to utilize the child’s identified pronouns, chosen name, and allow the child to dress in an age-appropriate manner,” according to the proposal, “that the child believes reflects their self-identified gender identity and expression.”

The attorneys general characterize that as “forcing an individual to use another’s preferred pronouns by government fiat,” in violation of the First Amendment.

Robert Fischer, director of communications for Missouri LGBTQ advocacy organization PROMO, said the freedom of religion “doesn’t give any person the right to impose those beliefs on others, particularly to discriminate.” 

“Any state official who claims to put ‘children’s interests first’ and in the same breath is willing to risk their well-being and opportunity to thrive in the name of religion — I think that speaks for itself,” Fischer told The Independent. 

The rule prohibits retaliation against children who identify as LGBTQ or are perceived as LGBTQ.

Public agencies would need to notify children about the option to request foster homes identified as “safe and appropriate” and tell them how to report concerns about their placement.

Agencies would also have to go through extra steps before placing transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming children in group care settings that are divided by sex.

The “majority” of states, according to the proposed rule, would have to “expand their efforts” to recruit and identify providers who could meet the needs of LGBTQ children.

Missouri guidelines

Laws and policies for protecting LGBTQ youth in foster care — relating to kids’ rights, supports, placement considerations, caregiver qualifications and definitions — currently vary by state. 

According to a federal report published in January, which reviewed states’ laws and policies, Missouri does not have laws or policies explicitly addressing any of those five categories.

Most states — 39 states and Washington, D.C. — have “explicit protections from harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression,” according to a federal report, as of January. Missouri is not one of them. 

Twenty-two  states and D.C. as of January, require agencies to provide tailored services and supports to LGBTQ youth, and eight states and D.C. offer case management and facilitate access to “gender-affirming medical, mental health and social services.”

Children’s Division, the agency within the Missouri Department of Social Services that oversees foster care, offers guidance on their website for providers and child welfare staff in “supporting LGBTQ youth in foster care,” but still does not appear to have official policy on the issue.

A spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Social Services did not respond to a request for comment. 

Those guidelines include using the child’s “preferred name and pronouns,” along with establishing a supportive environment and providing “physically and emotionally safe and supportive care and resources regardless of one’s personal attitudes and beliefs.”

The Department of Social Services is part of the administration of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, and the guidelines were in place the entire time Bailey was serving as Parson’s general counsel — the second highest ranking job in the governor’s office.  

Bailey’s spokesperson did not immediately respond when asked whether he raised any objections to the guidelines during his tenure with Parson.

AG arguments

 Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey speaks Jan. 20 (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

The 19 attorneys general contend the federal rule would “remove faith-based providers from the foster care system” because of their “religious beliefs on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

They cite Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled a public agency couldn’t force private, religious foster agencies to allow same-sex foster parents.

The proposed rule itself also acknowledges the Supreme Court case and alleges that by not requiring religious foster-care providers to welcome LGBTQ children, it is complying with the court’s precedent.

But the attorneys general do not believe this is enough. Their letter argues the proposal violates freedom of religion because those unwilling to support LGBTQ foster children “would be excluded from providing care to as many as one-third of foster children ages 12-21.”

“In addition to discriminating against religion, the proposed rule will harm children by limiting the number of available foster homes, harm families by risking kinship placements, and harm states by increasing costs and decreasing care options,” the letter says.

The rule would “discourage individuals and organizations of faith from joining or continuing in foster care,” the attorneys general argue, and “reduce family setting options.” Without faith-based foster parents, the attorneys general say, children would be more likely to be placed in congregate settings.

They also say the rule could disqualify family members who volunteer as placement, or kinship care, if the family member does not agree to support the child’s sexuality or gender identity with age-appropriate resources, as the rule entails.


Clara Bates

Clara Bates covers social services and poverty. She previously wrote for the Nevada Current, where she reported on labor violations in casinos, hurdles facing applicants for unemployment benefits and lax oversight of the funeral industry. She also wrote about vocational education for Democracy Journal. Bates is a graduate of Harvard College and a member of the Report for America Corps.

Annelise Hanshaw

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


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

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

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U.S. Federal Courts

ACLU & Lambda Legal sue Iowa over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law



Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signing legislation last Spring. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

DES MOINES, Iowa – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa and Lambda Legal on Tuesday sued to block a sweeping Iowa education law that seeks to silence LGBTQ+ students, erase any recognition of LGBTQ+ people from public schools, and bans books with sexual or LGBTQ+ content, arguing in a federal lawsuit that the measure violates the constitutional rights of LGBTQ students.

The law also requires teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and other staff to report students to their parents or guardians if a student asks to be referred to by names or pronouns that align with their gender identity. This reporting is required regardless of whether it violates a student’s expectation of confidentiality, professional ethical obligations, or whether the school official knows that the student would be rendered unsafe, kicked out of their home, or subject to abuse as a result, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit is being brought on behalf of Iowa Safe Schools, a non-profit organization supporting LGBTQ and allied youth, and seven Iowa students and their families affected by the law. The students range from 4th to 12th graders and span the state.

Puck Carlson (Photo Credit: ACLU of Iowa)

One of the clients in the case, Puck Carlson (they/them), a high school senior in Iowa City, said the law is having a devastating impact on LGBTQ+ students like them. “Reading has always been a fundamental part of how I learned to understand the world around me. Every student should have the right to do the same: to be able to learn about people, cultures, and perspectives and to be able to learn about all of the world around them—not just parts of it. Furthermore, every student should be able to see themselves in their libraries—so that they not only understand the world around them but that they also belong in it.”

Another plaintiff is Percy Batista-Pedro, high school junior, Waterloo, Iowa who said:

“I am a junior and I also attend orchestra, participate in theater, and lead my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. I have experienced harassment in school because of my transgender identity, but SF496 and its provisions to shut down open, healthy discussion of LGBTQ issues, and its silencing of students like me make me fear for my happiness and safety more than ever. 

Percy Batista-Pedro and Belinda Scarott
(Photo Credit: Lambda Legal)

“I am scared of being harassed if I wear Pride apparel, or if I talk about my identity in class. This fear, which is shared by my transgender friends, is why I have chosen to be a plaintiff in this case. During my freshman year while I was performing in a play, a student in the crowd threatened to kill me. I believe the student knew me because of a protest I had staged earlier that year at my high school. Now, after SF 496 and the climate it has created to shame and invite violence against transgender people, I would be terrified of organizing another protest.

“Transgender youth should not have to live in fear at their schools. We should not have to take unnecessary steps to gain the respect of being called by the correct name and pronouns that no cisgender kid ever has to ask for. It is blatant discrimination and should not be permitted to continue.”

Belinda Scarrott, Percy’s mom noted:

“I have joined with other parents in the State of Iowa to act against this unnecessarily cruel law. My 16-year-old child is transgender and queer. Prior to the passage of SF 496, school already presented difficulties for him that are not faced by cisgender, straight children. We struggled for years, and continue to struggle, with him being misgendered, bullied, and called the wrong name. We even received death threats posted to social media and shouted at school functions, with no action taken by the school. 

“I send my child to school, work, and play every day knowing there are many individuals who, given the opportunity, would harm my child simply because he exists as his authentic self. This law only serves to make life more perilous for him and more terrifying for me. This law claims to protect parental rights, but it does the opposite. Instead of sending my child to school and assuming he will be safe, as every parent of a cis-gendered, straight child does, I spend my days worrying about what potential damage this school day might do to my child’s physical or mental well-being.”

The law went into effect this fall. Penalties for violating portions of the law start January 1, 2024, and administrators, teachers, librarians, and other school staff will be subject to disciplinary action, which could include being fired or losing a license.


SF 496 is a law with wide-ranging implications for students’ academic experience, safe school climate, and mental health. The lawsuit challenges multiple portions of the law that target LGBTQ+ youth and require school districts to ban books, including the following provisions:

  1. The law forbids “any program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion, or instruction relating to gender identity or sexual orientation” in grades K-6. This prohibition has frightened LGBTQ+ young people into concealing who they are for fear of violating the law or getting a teacher in trouble. This provision has caused school districts to take down safe space stickers, remove references to LGBTQ historical figures from library displays, and ban books with LGBTQ themes or characters from libraries and classrooms. This provision also has forced student groups for LGBTQ+ students and their allies to stop meeting entirely.
  2. The law requires public schools K-12 to remove all books containing “descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act” with the explicit exception of the Bible. This portion of the law has caused school districts to remove hundreds of titles from school libraries. School districts have interpreted this provision as requiring the removal of classics from authors such as James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Alice Walker, and many others.
  3. The law requires school counselors and other school employees to report to parents or guardians any student’s request for a gender-affirming accommodation, including any request to be addressed by particular pronouns. This forced outing provision requires disclosure of a student’s gender identity to the student’s parents or guardians regardless of whether a school official knows that the report will expose the student to potential family rejection, being kicked out, or physical abuse.

On Nov. 15, the Iowa Board of Education issued proposed rules implementing the law, but those rules do not clarify the law and do not address its unconstitutionality.  

The plaintiffs ask the court to 1) temporarily block the law’s implementation while the litigation proceeds because of ongoing irreparable harm to LGBTQ+ students. The lawsuit also asks 2) that SF 496 then be declared unconstitutional and permanently blocked. 

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Broward high school students stage walkout over Trans exclusion

Monarch High principal James Cecil, a 25 year veteran of the Broward schools district, had been reassigned off-campus



Screenshot/YouTube WPTV News

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. –  Students at Monarch High School in northern Broward County walked out of classes Tuesday protesting in support of the trans community and school staff who were reassigned amid an investigation involving a transgender female student allowed to play on a girls’ sports team.

In a statement, officials with Broward County Public Schools said that Monarch High principal James Cecil, a 25 year veteran of the Broward district, had been reassigned off-campus while an investigation into allegations of improper student participation in sports, specifically allowing a trans student to participate on the girls’ volleyball team.

Local NBC News affiliate WPTV 6 reported that in addition to Cecil, several other staff were reassigned as school district officials investigate the allegations that the Florida state law signed by Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis two years ago, banning Trans youth athletes from participating in sports was violated.

Local journalist Kevin Deutsch reported that in an email and robocall Monday morning, Monarch High School parents and staff were informed that Cecil and three others “have been notified that they are part of the BCPS Special Investigative Unit’s investigation and have been reassigned to non-school sites pending the outcome,” according to a district spokesperson.

The other staff members are Assistant Principal Kenneth May, Teacher/Athletic Director Dione Hester, and Information Management Technician Jessica Norton, according to BCPS.

Additionally, Alex Burgess, a temporary athletic coach at the school, “has been advised his services are paused while the investigation is ongoing,” the spokesperson said.

Students perform MASSIVE WALKOUT at Monarch High School after staff reassigned:

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U.S. Federal Courts

California AG: Unredacted Federal lawsuit against Meta “damning”

“Meta knows that what it is doing is bad for kids — period. It is now there in black and white, and it is damning” 



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

OAKLAND, Calif. — California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Monday announced the public release of a largely unredacted copy of the federal complaint filed by a bipartisan coalition of 33 attorneys general against Meta Platforms, Inc. and affiliates (Meta) on October 24, 2023.

Co-led by Attorney General Bonta, the coalition is alleging that Meta designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram and Facebook that addict children and teens to their mental and physical detriment.

As originally filed, however, much of the federal complaint included information conditionally under seal. Based on the company’s own documents, the removal of the redactions provides additional context for the misconduct that the attorneys general allege against Meta. 

“Meta knows that what it is doing is bad for kids — period. Thanks to our unredacted federal complaint, it is now there in black and white, and it is damning,” said Bonta. “We will continue to vigorously prosecute this matter.”


CBS News reported that the state’s prosecutors built their case, in part, using snippets of emails, earnings call transcripts and other internal communications — all of which suggest the extreme value of young users’ personal information and time to company profits. 

In an emailed statement from October when the joint suit was filed, Meta said it was disappointed by the route taken by the attorneys general.

Meta is determined to provide teens with “safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families,” the company said at the time.

In a Monday statement, a Meta spokesperson said, “The complaint mischaracterizes our work using selective quotes and cherry-picked documents.”

Highlights from the newly revealed portions of the complaint include the following:

  • Mark Zuckerberg personally vetoed Meta’s proposed policy to ban image filters that simulated the effects of plastic surgery, despite internal pushback and an expert consensus that such filters harm users’ mental health, especially for women and girls. Complaint ¶¶ 333-68.
  • Despite public statements that Meta does not prioritize the amount of time users spend on its social media platforms, internal documents show that Meta set explicit goals of increasing “time spent” and meticulously tracked engagement metrics, including among teen users. Complaint ¶¶ 134-150.
  • Meta continuously misrepresented that its social media platforms were safe, while internal data revealed that users experienced harms on its platforms at far higher rates. Complaint ¶¶ 458-507.
  • Meta knows that its social media platforms are used by millions of children under 13, including, at one point, around 30% of all 10–12-year-olds, and unlawfully collects their personal information. Meta does this despite Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress in 2021 that Meta “kicks off” children under 13. Complaint ¶¶ 642-811.

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Prominent anti-LGBTQ+ activist running for Texas House

Woodfill has for years been at the helm of conservative Christian and anti-LGBTQ+ movements in Houston and Texas



Jared Woodfill (Screenshot/YouTube KHOU Houston)

By Robert Downen | HOUSTON, Texas – Prominent anti-LGBTQ+ attorney and former Harris County GOP chair Jared Woodfill is running for the Texas House and to replace House Speaker Dade Phelan.

Woodfill announced his candidacy for House District 138 this week, touting his legal challenges to COVID-19 mandates and LGBTQ+ legislation, and the four “Republican sweeps” that Harris County Republicans saw during his tenure as the local GOP’s leader from 2002 to 2014.

He’s running against incumbent Republican Rep. Lacey Hull, who was first elected to represent the northwest Houston district in 2020 with backing from Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston. Hull was ranked as one of the most conservative members of the Texas House this year based on an analysis of voting records by Rice University political scientist Mark Jones.

Woodfill’s campaign has already tried to frame Hull as a Republican in Name Only — RINO — by citing D ratings from two conservative activist groups. His campaign also accuses her of conspiring with Phelan — a longtime nemesis of Woodfill and other ultraconservative Texas Republicans — to “undermine” conservative legislation and impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“The entire episode was an example of why ‘RINOs’ in Austin must be voted out of office,” Woodfill’s campaign website states. “Woodfill will be ready on Day 1 to bring decency back to HD 138, and return our conservative grassroots values back to the Texas House of Representatives.”

Woodfill and Hull could not be reached for comment Friday.

Woodfill has for years been at the helm of conservative Christian and anti-LGBTQ+ movements in Houston and Texas. In 2015, he and well-known Houston GOP powerbroker and anti-gay activist Dr. Steven Hotze played key roles in the defeat of an ordinance that would have extended equal rights protections to LGBTQ+ Houstonians, during which they compared gay people to Nazis and helped popularize “groomer” rhetoric.

The two have remained close, leading a pro-Paxton fundraising group during the attorney general’s impeachment this summer and spearheading legal challenges to COVID-19 closure mandates and election results in Harris County. Woodfill is also representing Hotze in a criminal investigation stemming from a 2020 incident in which a private investigator, allegedly acting at Hotze’s behest, held at gunpoint an air-conditioning repairman who he believed was transporting fake ballots.

Woodfill has faced his own legal issues: He has for years been at the center of an ongoing lawsuit in which a man accuses Woodfill’s former law partner and Southern Baptist leader Paul Pressler of decades of sexual abuse. In March, The Texas Tribune reported that Woodfill testified under oath that he was alerted in 2004 about child sexual abuse allegations against Pressler, who Woodfill was representing at the time in an assault lawsuit that was settled for $450,000. Despite that, Woodfill continued to work with Pressler, providing him with a string of young, male personal assistants who worked out of Pressler’s home. The lawsuit is set for trial early next year.

In 2018, Woodfill was also investigated for money laundering by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office after being accused of misappropriating funds from two clients of his law firm, though no charges were filed.

Hull cruised to reelection in HD 138 last year, beating her Democratic opponent Stephanie Morales by 15 percentage points — or about 8,000 votes.

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


Robert Downen’s staff photo

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

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

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


Quality journalism doesn’t come free

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.

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Far-right blog says Satan’s overseeing Target’s holiday offerings

“When shoppers enter the seasonal aisles, they are greeted by pride flag waving Santa’s and transgender-themed nutcrackers”



'Pride' Nutcracker 2023 holiday decoration item sold at Target stores. (Photo by Vilk Radic)

LAKE MARY, Fla. – A staff writer for Florida-based far-right anti-LGBTQ+ Charisma Media’s blog Charisma News, alleges that Satan aka The Devil, Lucifer, or the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, Baphomet, Lord of the Flies, the Antichrist, Old Scratch, Father of Lies and Moloch is in charge of Minneapolis-based Target Corporation’s Christmas offerings.

According to James Lasher, Satan and Target teamed up to offer shoppers LGBTQ+ themed Christmas decorations. One in particular, an LGBTQ+ affirming nutcracker drew scrutiny. Lasher writes: “The year is not over yet, and the retail giant thought it would be a good idea to ring in the Christmas season with another ‘Pride’ campaign where they deck the halls in transgender flag colors.” He then goes on to note:

“When shoppers enter the seasonal aisles, they are greeted by pride flag waving Santa’s and transgender-themed nutcrackers who come in white and black and feature purple bears and a pride flag, the higher tier model costing $63.00 and comes with a staff with a heart on it saying “Love is Love.””

Lasher summarizes the Target Christmas holiday shopping experience as: “The goal of Satan is to move our ever-increasingly secular society away from any references of Jesus Christ. And he has succeeded mightily in accomplishing that goal in America. This entire charade of dedicating the month of June to pride is merely cover for the real goal of saturating American culture in this pagan ideology 24/7, and what more proof do you need than the attempt at making Christmas ‘Pride’ now?”

The Christian extremist writer then cites biblical references as to why Target is marketing-in-sin and then writes: “The Christian church is battling this takeover itself, with apostate congregations taking down crosses and replacing them with pride flags. No longer do they pray to Jesus and read the Bible, but instead they pray to drag queens and read the works of radical activists.”

In May of this year, outrage over LGBTQ+ Pride related merchandise being sold, especially in the company’s southern regional stores, by far-right activists caused Target Corporation to confirm that in some of its locations in semi-rural areas of rural Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas have moved Pride merchandise from the front of the stores to backroom areas or deeper into the stores after confrontations and backlash from shoppers.

Target’s Pride Collection, which was displayed for sale starting on May 1, is comprised of more than 2,000 products, including clothing, books, music and home furnishings. Items include “gender fluid” mugs, “queer all year” calendars and books for children aged 2-8 titled “Bye Bye, Binary,” “Pride 1,2,3” and “I’m not a girl.”


Speaking for the Minneapolis-based retail giant, spokesperson Kayla Castaneda noted: “Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and wellbeing while at work. Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.”

Castaneda related that the company has been celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month for over ten years, but this year the increased opposition and hostility gave the company pause and led to a decision to pull some of the Pride merchandise.

In an email to the Blade in June, Castaneda said, “Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride month and throughout the year.”

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Kansas library gets new lease by removing LGBTQ books for kids

‘I’m not real proud’: Advisory committee searched for LGBTQ words to identify and force removal of a dozen books



Judith Cremer, director of the St. Marys public library, says she has worked with commissioners to keep the library's lease because the city's residents need access to the library. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

By Rachel Mipro | ST. MARYS, Ks. — The public library in St. Marys has managed to hang onto its lease for one more year by removing all of the youth-oriented LGBTQ books from library shelves.

Library director Judith Cremer said the decision was the result of her efforts to work with the city commission, which has been threatening the library’s lease for more than a year. 

Cremer said the adult section of the St. Marys location still contains some LGBTQ books, but in the junior collection, there are “probably not” any books left that contain LGBTQ content.

“I’m not real proud of that. … I feel bad because I think that there should be a variety of things for everybody, but like I say, we do have eight locations and I can get anything for anybody within about a day,” Cremer said. “So that’s a compromise I have to make.”

“I’m just trying to be realistic in the fact that we do have a precarious position here,” she added.

The St. Marys library is the headquarters for branches in more rural communities within Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties.

Cremer described the titles that were removed as “pretty mild” and “nothing that isn’t normal in mainstream society.”

A six-person library advisory committee is in charge of evaluating books. One of the committee members searched “gay,” “transgender,” “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “queer” in the library’s catalog to find books the committee wanted to review. They then read the books before determining which ones needed to be physically removed from the library premises.

They removed about a dozen books, including “Squad,” “Blood Countess,” “The Great American Whatever,” “Beyond Clueless,” “Red Rolls of Magic,” “Infinity Son” and “Icebreaker.”

“Most of these titles, the topic really isn’t LGBTQ or anything like that,” Cremer said. “It’s just describing a reality that is normal now for most people.”

Cremer has been working with the library advisory committee over the past few months in an attempt to appease city commissioners who threatened to pull the library’s lease because of religious-based objections to LGBTQ books. While the commissioners have no governing influence over the library, the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library would be forced to find a new location if the lease weren’t renewed, giving up a community spot it has held for decades and depriving St. Marys residents of easily accessible library material.

The regional library has locations in Alma, Alta Vista, Eskridge, Harveyville, Olsburg, Onaga, St. Marys and Westmoreland, with county residents funding the library through taxes. Books removed from St. Marys were sent to these other locations.

The St. Marys location has struggled to work with members of the Society of St. Pius X, an extreme religious sect that has become a major influence in the small city of St. Marys. An estimated half of the library committee members have ties to SSPX.

All five of St. Marys’ city commissioners are tied to SSPX and have said their religion shapes their views, which includes an ongoing campaign against LGBTQ content. Some have characterized the library campaign as an SSPX attempt to dominate the last public space in St. Marys not already under its control.

A view of books inside the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library in St. Marys
 St. Marys city commissioners have said they want LGBTQ “garbage” removed from the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Commission member Matthew Childs, who currently serves as the mayor, authored a lease renewal clause last year that demanded the library remove all LGBTQ and socially divisive books from the shelves. Facing intense public pressure, the commission in December dropped the clause and renewed the lease for one year.

But as public pressure faded, the commissioners renewed their fight against the library in the spring, arguing that LGBTQ content, such as transgender “garbage,” needed to go.

“My goal is to terminate the lease with the library,” Commissioner Gerard Kleinsmith said during an April commission meeting. “If they want to have their library, so be it. Go do it. Find another building to do it in. … I will not ever vote for any taxpayer money, facilities, anything to be used anywhere that houses this kind of garbage.”

 Kleinsmith is meant to serve as the liaison between the city commission and library advisory committee.

During a Nov. 7 meeting, commissioners agreed to renew the library’s lease for another year.

Matthew Childs, new mayor of St. Marys, said some limits should be set on city debates. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
Matthew Childs,  mayor of St. Marys, says the library has shown its ability to work with the community. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

“They’ve been doing some good work,” Kleinsmith said. “They’ve gotten 12 books that have been removed from the St. Marys library. … They’re going in the right direction.”

Childs said the library’s actions showed they were able to work as a community.

“That was the question in the first place really, ‘Why don’t we work as a community?’ And it looks like we’re doing that. So that’s a win,” Childs said. 

It’s uncertain how many more books could be removed from the library in the future. When asked if there was a line she would hold if the committee continues to ask for more removals, Cremer said it would depend on the decision-making process.

Her priority is hanging onto the St. Marys location, she said, because she feels city residents need the library.

“We need to protect all of our areas of information, so that when people need that information to make decisions about their life, we have that information available,” Cremer said. “I know that and that’s what I’m striving for. But I do have to compromise to keep the doors open.”


Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.

The preceding article was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished with permission.

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Texas school board investigates how trans kid was stripped of role

The Sherman school board also temporarily ended the superintendent oversight of its fine arts programs pending results of the investigation



Amy and Phillip Hightower sit with their son Max Hightower in a hotel in Denton on Nov. 9, 2023. Max temporarily lost his role in the Sherman High School musical because he is transgender. (Photo Credit: Azul Sordo for The Texas Tribune)

By Ayden Runnels | DENTON — A rural North Texas school board on Friday agreed to launch an investigation into how a transgender student temporarily lost his role in the high school musical — an administrative decision that thrust the small town into the national debate over LGBTQ+ rights.

The board also stripped the school district’s superintendent of his duties overseeing the fine arts department, pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Sherman school board’s decision Friday afternoon is the latest flashpoint since Max Hightower, a senior at Sherman High School, was told he would lose his role — and solo — in the musical earlier this month.

The school board previously reversed that decision, directing school leadership to reinstate Hightower and other students in their original roles in “Oklahoma!” — a quintessential American musical about love and statehood.

The board’s decision seems to counter Texas’s political reality. For several years, Republicans and conservative policymakers at all levels have sought to limit transgender rights. Nearby schools in suburban Dallas have pushed book bans and policies that require teachers to call students by the name on their birth certificate and use similar gender pronouns. The Legislature this year also banned gender-affirming treatment for minors, even with parental permission.

And yet the school board’s actions reaffirms what Max Hightower, 17, and his parents have long felt about their rural town. Until the musical controversy, Max said he largely felt accepted here.

“I’ve never had any issues,” Max said. “That’s why I was so surprised.”

Public backlash for the decision to recast Max and other students was swift — dozens of news articles and multiple statements from organizations across the nation condemned the move.

The school board meeting Friday was a stage of its own, with dozens of Sherman residents giving impassioned public comments both for and against Sherman ISD Superintendent Tyson Bennett. One commenter had to be removed by security after he refused to cede his time.

Community pastors and former school employees lined up to support Bennett. They said the board’s decision to give Max his role back was more than enough.

“Get your pound of flesh somewhere else,” former Sherman ISD employee Bob Jones said during the meeting.

Those who suggested Bennett should be either fired — or at the least reprimanded — called the decision illegal and cited Title IX, the federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on gender. Others called for investigations into how the superintendent handled this situation and others in the past, as some parents called the move a “pattern” of behavior.

The board voted unanimously both to approve the hiring of an investigator and to remove Bennett from supervising the fine arts programs. Sherman ISD’s chief academic officer Amy Pesina will oversee fine arts programs in the interim.

Bennett has served as Sherman’s superintendent since May 2022, and has been met with criticisms from parents since the beginning of his tenure. Bennett introduced the “Stand in the Gap” program, which encourages local churches to be more involved with the district, and invited pastors to say prayer during one of the district’s convocations, a move several parents described as “inappropriate.”

The board’s decision on Friday is a “little win” to Phillip Hightower, Max’s father, but he says Bennett is still “dangerous” to LGBTQ+ students in the district.

“It’s great that he won’t interact with the fine arts,” Phillip said. “But what about all the other students?”


Ayden Runnels’s staff photo

Ayden Runnels is a reporting fellow based in Denton, Texas. Ayden was born in the Houston suburb of Clear Lake and speaks English and Arabic. They serve as editor-in-chief of the North Texas Daily, the University of North Texas’ student-run newspaper, and have worked on freelance projects for Newsweek and the Chronicle of Higher Education.


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


Quality journalism doesn’t come free

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.

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Out former Maryland mayor sentenced to 30 years for child porn

The sentencing followed news that surfaced which shocked Wojahn’s friends and longtime political supporters that he had been arrested



Former Mayor Patrick Wojahn was sentenced to 30 years of incarceration on Monday. (Mugshot via Prince George's County Police Department)

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. – A Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge on Monday, Nov. 20, sentenced gay former College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn to 30 years of incarceration at an emotional three-and-a-half-hour long sentencing hearing that took place more than three months after Wojahn pleaded guilty to 140 counts of child pornography-related charges as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

In agreeing to carry out the plea agreement, Judge Karen Mason sentenced Wojahn to 150 years in prison, with 120 years suspended, requiring that he serve 30 years. 

The judge and prosecutors pointed out that under Maryland’s sentencing rules Wojahn will be eligible to apply for release on parole after serving 25 percent of the 30-year sentence, which could result in his release after seven and a half years.

The sentencing followed news that surfaced in March of this year, which shocked Wojahn’s friends and longtime political supporters, that he had been arrested after police raided his College Park home and confiscated multiple cell phones, a tablet, computer, and a storage device containing video and still images, leading to two indictments alleging possession and distribution of child pornography.

The 140 counts to which he pleaded guilty include 60 counts of distribution of child porn, 40 counts of possession of child porn, and 40 counts of possession of child pornography with intent to distribute it.

He announced his resignation as mayor, a position he held since 2015, shortly before his arrest.

Wojahn’s husband, mother, sister, and 13 friends testified at the sentencing hearing. Most told the judge they understood the seriousness of the charges against their loved one and friend but called on the judge to take into consideration the good that Wojahn has done as a family member, friend, and elected official over his lifetime. Several of the friends said mental health issues and an addiction problem had played a role in Wojahn’s actions and urged the judge to arrange for him to receive mental health related services.

Among those who testified were Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Roman Catholic nun who co-founded the LGBT Catholic support organization New Ways Ministry, and Francis DeBernardo, the current executive director of New Ways Ministry. Also testifying was Thomas Bower, an official with the LGBT Catholic organization Dignity Washington, of which Wojahn has been a participant.  

Judge Mason said she would refer Wojahn, who has been held without bond since the time of his arrest in March of this year, to the Patuxent Institution, a maximum-security correctional facility located in Jessup, Md., that specializes in providing mental health services for its male and female inmates.

Mason also included in her sentencing a requirement that Wojahn serve five years of supervised probation upon his release from incarceration, register as a sex offender, and have no unsupervised contact with minors.

The testimony from family members and friends came after P.G. County Assistant State’s Attorneys Jessica Garth and Monica Meyers argued that those who possess and distribute child pornography are responsible for the suffering of victims of child sex abuse who are forced to take part in the production of child porn video and still images, even though, as in Wojahn’s case, the perpetrators do not produce the images and don’t directly come into contact with the children depicted in the images.

Police and prosecutors have alleged in charging documents that Wojahn had uploaded and/or shared dozens of videos or still images on the social media app Kik depicting explicit sexual acts between adult men and prepubescent boys, depicting prepubescent boys engaging in sex with each other, or engaging in masturbation.

In a development that surprised some attending the sentencing hearing, the two prosecutors disclosed that with the help of law enforcement officials and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, they identified 52 of the juveniles who were depicted in the video or still photo images that police had confiscated from Wojahn’s home. At a press conference following the sentencing hearing, prosecutor Meyers said the 52 then children who were identified, most of whom are now adults, were from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and several European countries, including Germany, Russia, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.

Through information obtained from law enforcement officials in the U.S. and internationally, the two P.G. County prosecutors said they obtained statements from or case reports for about 42 of the individuals listed as victims and presented those statements at the sentencing hearing by projecting them on two large screens in the courtroom. Meyers read each of the statements as they were projected, with most of the victims saying they suffered long-lasting harmful effects from being forced as children to take part in the production of pornographic images.

Meyers said while prosecutors presented victim impact statements for about 40 of the juveniles who were identified in the porn videos and still images, Wojahn had possession and helped to distribute images of “hundreds more on his devices” who were not identified.

In an effort to highlight the large numbers of sexually abused juveniles in the videos or still images in Wojahn’s possession, Meyers pointed to a photo that the prosecutors displayed on the large video screen in the courtroom during Monday’s sentencing hearing of a junior high school in College Park located near where Wojahn lived.

“That his own elementary school a half a mile from his house has less than 500 students who attended, he had more victims than that on his telephone,” Meyers said at the press conference. “And on his device, he had memorialized more than 500 victims who were sexually abused, raped, and tortured,” she said.  

“These are not victimless crimes, even though the victim is separated from the person who’s abusing them by a computer screen,” Assistant State’s Attorney Garth said at the press conference. “They are real people. They experience real damage, psychological and physical damage,” she said. “And they have to live with what happened to  them for the rest of their lives.”  

P.G. County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy, who called the press conference, thanked the team of prosecutors and police investigators who worked on the Wojahn case.

“No child deserves to be sexually abused,” Braveboy said. “No child deserves their images to be displayed on the internet or any platform for hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of people to view,” she said. “And so, in accepting this plea agreement, we are satisfied that Mayor Wojahn understood the seriousness of his actions and wanted to take responsibility.”

Wojahn, who was dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, was the last to speak at the hearing before Mason issued her sentence. Due to the fact that Wojahn and many of the others who spoke at the hearing were not using microphones, much of what was said could not be heard clearly.

“I want to give an apology,” he could be heard saying. “I don’t know what happened. I can’t explain what changed me,” he continued, weeping while speaking. “I want to apologize to all my friends. I apologize to my family,” he said. He then turned to look at his husband, Dave Kolesar, and expressed his love for his husband. Both were crying as Wojahn spoke.

“I hope what I went through will help others who need help, get help,” he said. “I do hope I will be able to recover fully myself. I hope others will know recovery is possible.”

Wojahn’s attorney, David Moyse, pointed out that Wojahn had cooperated fully with the investigation into his actions as soon as P.G. County police entered his house with a search warrant in March. Much of what Moyse said couldn’t be heard due to the faulty sound system in the courtroom, but he urged the judge to take into consideration all the positive aspects of Wojahn’s life.

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Newly introduced Florida bill could destroy LGBTQ+ nonprofits

The legislation would establish “biological” pronouns as official state policy applying to government employees and contractors



Florida House Of Representatives (Photo Credit: Florida House Of Representatives)

By Erin Reed | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A new bill just introduced in Florida aims to expand “Don’t Say Gay Or Trans” provisions to a broad range of workplaces. Targeting government employees, contractors, and nonprofits, the bill sets forth restrictions and bans on policies relating to pronouns, gender identity, and sexuality.

Specifically, it would prohibit state and local government employees as well as any contractors engaged with the government from changing their pronouns or honorifics if they do not match their assigned sex at birth. It would also bar them from instructing on gender identity or sexuality, similar to “Don’t Say Gay Or Trans” laws already active in the state education system. The legislation would establish “biological” pronouns as official state policy.

The bill also would establish protections for what it calls “deeply held biology-based beliefs.” It may even prevent all nonprofits in the state from mandating any “training, instruction, or other activity on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression,” a clause that could destroy LGBTQ+ nonprofits across Florida.

The bill, HB599, was introduced by Representative Ryan Chamberlin, a Republican. The bill is split into two sections, with the first section applying to government employees and contractors, which it defines as “an individual, partnership, corporation, or business entity” that “enters or attempts to enter into a contract for services” with any state, county, municipality, or special district of Florida.

These definitions encompass a huge number of businesses, such as stadiums, convention centers, major hospitals, insurance agencies, and more. For these businesses, as well as for all government workers, the bill would declare that it is the state’s policy that “a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait and that it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex.” It then would bar covered employees from sharing pronouns that “do not correspond to that person’s sex,” effectively banning social transition at work for these employees.

See the provisions barring pronouns, honorifics, and more here:

The bill also would enshrine a new phrase into law: protections for employees “deeply held religious or biology-based beliefs.” The phrase “deeply held religious beliefs” has longstanding precedent in constitutional law and is used to overturn laws judged to be violating someone’s freedom of religion.

Deeply held “biology-based” beliefs, however, are not something that has ever been a part of any law. It would appear that this line is meant to provide religious-based protections to people who assert that their misgendering of transgender people and using transgender people’s old names is part of their “biology-based” rights.

The bill is not limited in its application to government employees and contractors, however. A separate section of the bill would apply to “nonprofit organizations or an employer who receives funding from the state.” In the most broad reading of this section, separating “nonprofit organizations” from “employers who receive funding from the state,” it would bar all such organizations from mandating “training, instruction, or other activity on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

Provisions in HB599

This provision is severe in its potential impact. Virtually every LGBTQ+ organization would be radically affected by it and would likely have to shut down. It would be nearly impossible for an LGBTQ+ organization to run without providing instruction, training, and “other activity” around gender identity or sexuality. It would be a blatant power grab by the state targeting organizations critical to the government and would further drive LGBTQ+ activism and organizing underground in the state. If enforced broadly, this section could have a similar impact to laws in Russia designed to shut down LGBTQ+ organizations there.

This section would have impacts far beyond LGBTQ+ organizations as well. The provisions would apply to “any organization that is exempt from taxation” including “s. 501” organizations. This would include, for instance, 501c4s, which are crucial during election cycles and could be used to target left-leaning organizations running election ads. Many of these organizations have LGBTQ+ employees and provide instruction and accommodations for their employees, which would be barred by the state if this gets passed into law.

It could also have impacts on medical organizations that do business with state and local governments. Planned Parenthood, a 501c3, heavily provides care for LGBTQ+ people, and such a law could be used to target the organization statewide. Likewise, many state hospital systems that do business with the government often must educate employees and patients on HIV and AIDs, which is impossible to divorce from LGBTQ+ issues. Community health clinics would, similarly, have to contend with these provisions.

Brandon J. Wolf, the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign said to the Blade in a statement Tuesday: “This Florida bill is a hateful, anti-LGBTQ+ monstrosity. It is dangerous, unconstitutional, and we know it’s just the start of politicians’ attacks on our community this legislative session. We’re prepared to fight back.”

This legislation represents an early move in what promises to be a challenging year for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in 2024. Historically, Florida has often been the breeding ground for new laws aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. This bill might well serve as a precursor to the next “model policy” that could be replicated in multiple states, and bears close watching.


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.

Follow her on Twitter (Link)

Website here:


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

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