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HRC lays off 22 employees due to coronavirus

Senior leadership’s salaries reduced, fellowship program frozen

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Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade, Equality March
The Human Rights Campaign has laid off 22 employees because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign on Tuesday laid off 22 employees because of the coronavirus pandemic.

HRC told the Los Angeles Blade that Alphonso David, the organization’s president, “personally reached out to every single person affected to see how he can help them moving forward — both as HRC and whatever way he can personally.” HRC did not name the employees who were laid off, citing privacy laws.

David and other members of HRC’s executive and senior leadership teams have also decided to cut their own salaries.

HRC has converted three full-time positions into part-time positions. HRC has also frozen its fellowship program and will not fill two dozen open positions.

The laid off HRC employees will receive severance packages that include at least eight weeks of their salary based on the number of years they worked with the organization and health insurance coverage through COBRA for at least three months.

HRC will allow them to access its Employee Assistance Program “to help with the financial and emotional transition.” The laid off employees will also be able to borrow computers to allow them to look for a new job.

“COVID-19 is affecting the nation and no industry or workplace is free from its impact,” Interim HRC Communications Director Nick Morrow told the Blade on Wednesday in a statement. “For us, the economic reality is that because of the cancellation of events that represent critical funding streams, the decline of our economy, and our ineligibility for any federal funding, we could not make up this shortfall without impossibly difficult decisions.”

“HRC has been in a state of growth for years, and unfortunately, this economic climate forced us to recalibrate our budget and economic forecasts,” added Morrow. “Despite these challenges, however, our membership and volunteer infrastructure remains strong as we prepare and stay focused on the most consequential election of our lifetimes and on programming that is more critical now than ever. With a staff of more than 200 employees, our investment in this election cycle remains our most significant yet.”

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State Department

State Department hosts five intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

WASHINGTON — The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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Congress

McCarthy dealt another blow by far-right GOP seeking to oust him

In January, McCarthy narrowly secured his bid for the speakership after an unprecedented 15 votes from his caucus

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California (Washington Blade photo by Michaël Key)

WASHINGTON – After joining with the Democrats on Friday to sabotage House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (Calif.) plan to forestall a government shutdown with a last-ditch spending package, a group of far-right members are now focused on replacing him.

The stop-gap funding bill was defeated 232-198 with more than 20 Republicans voting against the measure.

House GOP sources tell the Washington Blade that removing McCarthy from the speaker’s chair is now a top priority, along with resisting pressure from Senate Republicans seeking to broker a deal to avoid allowing funding to lapse.

These sources confirmed reporting in the Washington Post about discussions of tapping U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer (Minn.) to become the chamber’s top Republican, though the congressman told CBS Minnesota/WCCO News, “I fully support Speaker McCarthy. He knows that and I know that. I have zero interest in palace intrigue. End of discussion.”

While Emmer was among the 39 House Republicans who voted with the Democrats in support of the Respect for Marriage Act, which protects the rights of couples in same-sex marriages, in April he was among the more vocal members pushing for a federal ban to prohibit transgender women and girls from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

In January, McCarthy narrowly secured his bid for the speakership after an unprecedented 15 votes from his caucus. Many of the same members now calling for his replacement demanded concessions, including conditioning their votes on McCarthy’s agreement to allow any member to call for a motion to vacate the chair at any time.

During the votes, which were held over a period of five days, other members like U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) were nominated for the position.

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Congress

Dianne Feinstein dies

Calif. Democrat elected to U.S. Senate in 1992

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U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) attends a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Sept. 4, 2018, to consider the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has died at the age of 90.

Her office in a statement said the California Democrat, who has served in the U.S. Senate since 1992, passed away at her Washington home on Thursday night.

Feinstein in 1978 became San Francisco’s mayor after the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and openly gay Supervisor Harvey Milk. 

“Her passing is a great loss for so many, from those who loved and cared for her to the people of California that she dedicated her life to serving,” reads the statement that Feinstein’s office released.

“Senator Feinstein never backed away from a fight for what was just and right,” it added. “At the same time, she was always willing to work with anyone, even those she disagreed with, if it meant bettering the lives of Californians or the betterment of our nation.”

President Joe Biden, who served alongside Feinstein in the Senate from 1992 to 2009, released a statement calling her “a pioneering American,” “a true trailblazer,” and “for Jill and me, a cherished friend.”

“In San Francisco, she showed enormous poise and courage in the wake of tragedy, and became a powerful voice for American values. Serving in the Senate together for more than 15 years, I had a front row seat to what Dianne was able to accomplish. It’s why I recruited her to serve on the Judiciary Committee when I was Chairman – I knew what she was made of, and I wanted her on our team.

“There’s no better example of her skillful legislating and sheer force of will than when she turned passion into purpose, and led the fight to ban assault weapons. Dianne made her mark on everything from national security to the environment to protecting civil liberties. She’s made history in so many ways, and our country will benefit from her legacy for generations.

“Often the only woman in the room, Dianne was a role model for so many Americans – a job she took seriously by mentoring countless public servants, many of whom now serve in my Administration. She had an immense impact on younger female leaders for whom she generously opened doors. Dianne was tough, sharp, always prepared, and never pulled a punch, but she was also a kind and loyal friend, and that’s what Jill and I will miss the most.

“As we mourn with her daughter Katherine and the Feinstein family, her team in the Senate, and the people of California, we take comfort that Dianne is reunited again with her beloved Richard. May God Bless Dianne Feinstein.”

The Vice President of the United States, Kamala D. Harris & U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) (Official White House photo)

Vice President Kamala Harris, who served alongside Feinstein as U.S. Senator for California from 2017 to 2021 and, previously, was California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney, issued the following statement:

“Senator Dianne Feinstein was one of the greatest public servants that California and our nation has ever known.

“As the first woman president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the first woman to serve as mayor of San Francisco, and the longest-tenured woman to serve in the United States Senate, Dianne Feinstein broke barriers, inspired generations of women to run for office, and improved the lives of millions of Americans through her vision, courage, and leadership.

“From her work to help pass the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994, to her work to safeguard California’s public lands, and her longstanding advocacy for reproductive rights, marriage equality, and LGBTQ+ rights, Senator Feinstein helped build a better America.

“For years, I witnessed Senator Feinstein’s leadership, when the cameras were on and when they were off. In 2008, when I was re-elected District Attorney of San Francisco, it was Senator Feinstein who swore me in. As a United States Senator, it was my honor to serve the people of California alongside Senator Feinstein.

“On the Senate Intelligence Committee, we spent a great deal of time together—in classified, bipartisan briefings and hearings—working on issues critical to America’s national security and the stability of the world. Senator Feinstein and I shared a fundamental belief in the importance of strong American leadership. And I saw firsthand how she worked courageously to ensure that our leadership was guided by our nation’s values.

“In the tradition of so many great Senators from California, she was not only a leader for our state, but for our nation and our world. Through her long career, Senator Feinstein worked across the aisle to help our nation live up to its promise.

“Doug and I send our prayers to Senator Feinstein’s family.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom shared a statment on X.

Addressing the Senate floor on Friday, California Sen. Alex Padilla (D) said, “long before being able to serve together here in the Senate, Diane gave me one of my first jobs in politics in her Los Angeles office. At a time early in my career, when I was looking to make a difference for my community, and for our state. It’s in part thanks to her groundbreaking career that a Latino son of immigrants could one day not just work for her but work alongside her to keep up the fight for the American dream.”

Padilla also shared an anecdote about how Feinstein showed him a photograph, from her archives, of the AIDS Walk San Francisco in 1987, which she had inscribed with a handwritten note.

Also speaking from the floor in tribute to their late colleague following an address from the Senate Chaplain and a moment of silence were Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate President Pro Tempore Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

The statement by U.S. House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) touched on the senator’s early career in Democratic politics: “Dianne was a pioneering woman leader, who served as San Francisco’s first female Mayor with unmatched courage, poise and grace.  Standing strong amid horror and heartbreak – from the brutal murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone to the deadly HIV/AIDs epidemic – she offered our City a beacon of strength and hope.”

“Personally, it was a great honor to serve alongside Dianne for decades – from the hilly streets of San Francisco to the hallowed halls of Congress,” Pelosi said. “We were not only colleagues, but neighbors and friends.”

She added, “My daughter, Nancy Corinne, has long been an admirer and devoted friend of Senator Feinstein, and we were all close friends with her and her late husband, Richard.”

LGBTQ groups issue statements on Feinstein’s passing

“Senator Dianne Feinstein’s passing is a loss for us all,” tweeted Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson. “Her steadfast support for the LGBTQ+ community and the fight for justice will be remembered. We carry her legacy forward in our relentless pursuit of equality without exception.”

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, released a statement from Executive Director Tony Hoang on Friday. “Senator Feinstein devoted her life to serving the people of California and our nation, championing LGBTQ+ civil rights, reproductive freedom, gun safety reform and democracy throughout her remarkable career. Senator Feinstein stood with our community back when few others did, fighting for funding and action to combat the AIDS crisis when most elected officials chose to look away.”

“On the Board of Supervisors and then as Mayor, she played a crucial role in uniting San Francisco after the horrific assassinations of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, demonstrating exceptional leadership and compassion at a time when our LGBTQ+ community needed it most,” the group wrote.

“Her role in American history is unmistakably intertwined with LGBTQ+ history and the assassination of Supervisor Harvey Milk,” PFLAG said. “She had been a constant and strident advocate for LGBTQ+ rights ever since, supporting marriage equality, military service for LGBTQ+ people, the Equality Act, and so much more.

“PFLAG families in California and across the country mourn the loss of this stalwart advocate who worked to make our laws just and equitable so every LGBTQ+ person could live with dignity and respect.”

“Harvey Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk posted “After the assassination of Uncle Harvey – Senator Feinstein rose to national attention – determined, unwavering champion on women’s rights, gun control & eventually a consistent supporter of LGBTQ inclusion,” Stuart Milk, co-founder and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation, posted on X. “She is the patron of the USNS Harvey Milk -deep condolences Godspeed Dianne,” he wrote, referring to the U.S. Navy ship named for the late gay rights pioneer.

National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson said, “The loss of Senator Feinstein’s voice as an advocate and champion is immeasurable. Our hearts are with her family during this time. She was a champion for those who call California home and those seeking justice everywhere.”

“She was a trailblazer who paved the way for so many. Her deep roots in the queer community, forged as a city councilmember in San Francisco and shaped by her relationship with Harvey Milk, contributed to her unwavering supporting for LGBTQ people,” Johnson said.

She added that Feinstein was “a leader who took risks. She was an original cosponsor of the Equality Act and a key champion for legislation like the Violence Against Women Act. She is succeeded by and undoubtedly inspired a deep bench of congress people like Tammy Baldwin who are bold and  unapologetic freedom fighters who are unrelenting in their quest for freedom and justice for all! She will be deeply missed.”

A look back at Feinstein’s career

A native San Franciscan born in the city on June 22, 1933, she first attended San Francisco public schools and then graduated from the Convent of the Sacred Heart High School in 1951.

She earned her degree at Stanford University in Palo Alto in 1955 and became actively involved in government service first serving as a member of the California Women’s Board of Terms and Parole 1960-1966.

In her first foray into city politics she won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors representing the Marina neighborhood, serving from 1970-1978, and as president 1970-1971, 1974-1975, 1978.

In 1978 Feinstein was thrust into the state and national political spotlight when on November 27, 1978 she became the mayor of San Francisco, after disgruntled former city supervisor Dan White entered City Hall and assassinated Mayor George Moscone after Moscone refused to appoint White back into his seat he had resigned from days before. White then also murdered openly gay city supervisor Harvey Milk who had sparred with White over gay rights and had opposed White getting his seat back.

Feinstein served as mayor for ten years from 1978-1988 then she served on the board as a director of the Bank of California 1988-1989 at which point she made an unsuccessful run as a candidate for Governor of California in 1990.

After losing that race for governor in 1990, Feinstein later won a special election on November 3, 1992, as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. The special election was triggered by the resignation of Pete Wilson, who had defeated her in the 1990 gubernatorial election. She took office on November 4, 1992, and was subsequently reelected in 1994, 2000, 2006, 2012, and again in 2018 for the term ending January 3, 2025.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (Photo Credit: Rick Gerharter/Bay Area Reporter)

Feinstein’s record on LGBTQ+ rights was mixed

Senator Feinstein’s record on LGBTQ+ rights was mixed as reported on by San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ newspaper The Bay Area Reporter’s Assistant Editor John Ferrannini who noted:

Earlier in that campaign [1979] she’d faced some opposition from members of the LGBTQ community after she made remarks to Ladies’ Home Journal perceived as homophobic, but later won community support after gay candidate David Scott endorsed her in a runoff against independent Quentin Kopp. Scott endorsed Feinstein after she committed to appoint a gay person to the police oversight panel, which Feinstein followed through on with her appointment of lesbian Jo Daly.

Feinstein’s veto of city employee benefits for domestic partners led to a recall effort in 1983, though she won 81% to 18%.

[…]

 In the Senate she was one of the few Democratic members who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which had been supported by then-senator and current President Joe Biden (D). The last vestiges of DOMA were formally repealed in December when Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act. DOMA had key provisions struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 (Section 3, U.S. v. Windsor) and 2015 (Section 2, Obergefell v. Hodges).

Feinstein was never without controversy though, and in 2004 upset more progressive Democrats when she said then-mayor and now Governor Gavin Newsom’s decision to order San Francisco officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was “too much, too fast, too soon.”

[…]

She was criticized in 2020 when she said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing was “one of the best” and hugged Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina), then the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Barrett’s vote last June on the Supreme Court was key for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which had protected abortion as a constitutional right, a key issue for Feinstein.

In 2017 the Senator openly criticized then President Trump’s ban on trans military service.

Feinstein in February announced her decision to retire at the end of her term. “I am announcing today I will not run for reelection in 2024 but intend to accomplish as much for California as I can through the end of next year when my term ends,” she said in a statement.

Out gay California state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) wrote on Twitter:

“Dianne Feinstein has been a trailblazer for more than 50 years,” he stated. “Her accomplishments are legion. We’re so proud of her in San Francisco & grateful for her service to our city & our state.”

Equality California released a statement from Hoang:

“Throughout her storied political career, Dianne Feinstein has been a champion for LGBTQ+ rights – from her early days on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors serving alongside Harvey Milk, to her historic service as the first woman Mayor of San Francisco and the first woman to represent California in the United States Senate.

“From being one of only 14 Senators to oppose the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996 to being the lead Senate sponsor on the recently-signed Respect for Marriage Act, which repealed DOMA, Senator Feinstein has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of not only her constituents, but all LGBTQ+ Americans.

“She has supported landmark federal hate crime legislation, fought for access to life-saving treatment for people living with HIV, sponsored the Equality Act, spoken out in support of LGBTQ+ service members before and after ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, and has stood up for our community – even before it was popular to do so and when it presented significant political risks. Senator Feinstein has also been a leading champion in the fight against gun violence, recently reintroducing legislation to ban high-capacity magazines in the wake of deadly mass shootings like those at Club Q – an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado.  Equality California has been proud to call her a friend and ally –we are eternally grateful for her service and will continue to work with her as she finishes out her term.”

Additional reporting by Michael Lavers and Brody Levesque

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal appeals court lets gender-affirming ban stand in Tennessee

Samantha & Brian Williams of Nashville, TN & their 15-year-old trans daughter are challenging a Tennessee law banning gender-affirming care

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Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts/GSA)

CINCINNATI, Ohio – The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals today rejected a request from families and medical providers to block a Tennessee law banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth. Today’s ruling follows an earlier ruling by the Appeals Court rejecting a stay request to block enforcement of the law which took effect in July 2023. 


Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Tennessee, and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP issued the following joint statement:

“This is a devastating result for transgender youth and their families in Tennessee and across the region. The disastrous impact of Tennessee’s law and all others like it has already been felt in thousands of homes and communities. Denying transgender youth equality before the law and needlessly withholding the necessary medical care their families and their doctors know is right for them has caused and will continue to cause serious harm. We are assessing our next steps and will take further action in defense of our clients and the constitutional rights of transgender people in Tennessee and across the country.”

In April 2023, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Tennessee, and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP filed a lawsuit to oppose the law on behalf of Samantha and Brian Williams of Nashville and their 15-year-old daughter, L.W., as well as two other anonymous families and Dr. Susan N. Lacy. The law prohibits medical providers from treating transgender youth with evidence-based gender-affirming medical treatment and requires youth currently receiving gender-affirming care to end that care by March 31, 2024.

Samantha and Brian Williams of Nashville, TN and their 15-year-old transgender daughter are challenging a Tennessee law banning gender-affirming care for transgender people under 18. Tennessee is home to over 3,000 transgender adolescents and the health care banned by this law is supported by the entire mainstream of the medical community.

District courts have unanimously blocked such bans in Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. In August 2023, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Alabama’s ban to take effect while a legal challenge against it proceeds.

In June 2023, a federal court in Arkansas struck down that state’s ban on gender-affirming care in the first ruling on the merits of such a law, finding it violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

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Congress

House passes amendment targeting LGBTQ+ USDA workers

“In a clear indication moderates are completely controlled by the extreme fringe, they’re passing blatantly homophobic legislation”

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Rep. Lauren Boebert (left) inspecting melons at a USDA certified processing center in August, 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert)

WASHINGTON – House Republicans on Wednesday pushed through a proposal by U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using federally appropriated funds for materials supporting the agency’s LGBTQ employees.

Passing by just three votes in the face of unified opposition from Democrats, along with one GOP member, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), the measure will never be signed into law amid Democratic control of the Senate and White House.

For weeks, Boebert and her ideological allies in the lower chamber have dashed hopes of forestalling a government shutdown by insisting on ladening must-pass spending bills with far-right demands, often targeting the LGBTQ community and initiatives promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Even so, the aim and scope of the Colorado congresswoman’s amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill was striking.

Among the 17 types of “courses, books, or study guides” circumscribed in the measure are those concerning “approaching LGBT issues in the workplace,” “understanding and supporting LGBTQ+ employees,” “becoming an ally to all,” “conversations with LGBTQ+ leaders on the power of identity,” and “creating an inclusive work community” for transgender employees.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Viet Shelton condemned House Republicans’ passage of the amendment in a statement shared with the Washington Blade:

“In a clear indication that so-called moderate Republicans are now completely controlled by their extreme fringes, they are now passing such blatantly homophobic legislation that mandates federal employees be discriminated against in the workplace,” he said. “Their focus on these hateful policies while ignoring middle class families struggling with rising costs is why they will lose their majority in Congress next year.”

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Congress

Boebert denigrates, misgenders trans Pentagon official

“Rep. Boebert, just spent 5 minutes misgendering & attacking our Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness—just because she’s trans”

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Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) addresses a crowd outside of the U.S. Capitol building earlier this year. (Photo Credit: Office of Rep. Lauren Boebert)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) denigrated and deliberately misgendered Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Shawn Skelly, the Pentagon’s highest ranked transgender official, during a debate Wednesday over amendments to a defense appropriations bill.

In remarks that stirred outrage from her Democratic colleagues, the congresswoman called Skelly a “delusional man thinking he is a woman” and the embodiment of “woke-ism” before proposing an amendment that would reduce her salary to a dollar.

Skelly served on active duty in the U.S. Navy for 20 years as a naval flight officer before retiring with the rank of commander. Her record of service includes senior positions with the Defense and Transportation Departments during the Obama administration.

“Assistant Secretary Skelly has served in her role admirably, as she has done as her time as a naval officer,” responded Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (Minn.), stressing each of the feminine pronouns as she spoke.

The second-term Colorado representative countered with more transphobic comments: “if you want to call Mr. Skelly a her, his chromosomes are still XY, and we trust the science over here rather than delusion and playing dress up and imaginary games with our military readiness. “

Boebert is among the more vocal members of an ultraconservative cohort of House Republicans who, in recent weeks, have sabotaged efforts to clear must-pass appropriations spending packages before October 1 to forestall a government shutdown.

Members of the far-right faction have attached to these bills controversial, partisan, and often anti-LGBTQ amendments — effectively dooming their chances of passage by the U.S. Senate amid Democratic control of the chamber.

With respect to the Defense Department spending bill, for example, GOP members have advanced proposals that would defund healthcare services for transgender service members and ban Pride flags from military bases.

On X, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, wrote that “Republicans claim to support the military but Rep. Boebert, just spent 5 minutes misgendering & attacking our Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness—just because she’s trans. Ms. Skelly serves our country w/ honor. I can’t say the same for Boebert.”

The Caucus added, “It’s disgusting that a Member of Congress would use their platform on the House Floor to misgender & attack a top-ranking @DeptofDefense official and veteran just because she’s a trans woman.”

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Montana

State judge blocks Montana anti-trans youth healthcare law

The attorney general’s office has not said whether it intends to appeal the preliminary injunction ruling to the Montana Supreme Court

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Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen. (Photo Credit: Office of Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen)

By Mara Silvers | MISSOULA, MT. – A state district court judge in Missoula has blocked Montana’s ban on medical care for minors with gender dysphoria from taking effect while a lawsuit over its constitutionality continues, finding that the new law appears to have “no rational relationship to protecting children.”

The challenge against Senate Bill 99, a Republican-backed law passed earlier this year and signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte in April, is taking place in the state court system. Other similar laws passed in other states, including Texas and Tennessee, are winding their way through federal courts. The Montana law was slated to take effect Oct. 1.

Advocates for transgender rights, the plaintiffs and their attorneys in the Montana case heralded Judge Jason Marks’ Wednesday decision as critical protection for young people and vowed to continue fighting in court against what they deem discriminatory legislation.

“Today’s ruling permits our clients to breathe a sigh of relief,” Akilah Deernose, the executive director of the ACLU of Montana, said in a Wednesday press release. The civil rights organization is one of the groups representing transgender minors, their parents and medical providers. “But this fight is far from over. We look forward to vindicating our clients’ constitutional rights and ensuring that this hateful law never takes effect.”

Supporters of plaintiffs in Van Garderen v. State, the case over Montana’s ban on gender affirming care for transgender minors, stand outside a state district court hearing room in Missoula on Sept. 18, 2023. Credit: Courtesy Paul Kim

A spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen did not respond to a request for comment before publication. Knudsen’s office is representing defendants in the case, including himself, the governor, the state health department and agency director, and medical licensing boards. 

The 48-page ruling comes a week after both sides appeared in Missoula court to argue over the preliminary injunction, which blocks the state from enforcing the law while litigation proceeds. 

There, the plaintiffs argued that SB 99 unconstitutionally violates Montana’s rights to equal protection, the right to parent, the right to privacy, the right to seek and obtain medical care, the right to dignity for patients and freedom of speech for medical providers. Defendants said the law should be enforced as written, asserting the state’s “compelling interest” in protecting the well-being of children. 

In his ruling, Marks found that the 2023 Legislature’s record “does not support a finding that SB 99 protects minors,” writing that submitted evidence “suggests that SB 99 would have the opposite effect.” Marks also wrote that the plaintiffs were likely to eventually succeed on the merits of the case, one of the standards for temporarily blocking a law, and that SB 99 could be “unlikely to survive any level of constitutional review.” 

He described the medical treatments prohibited by SB 99 as among the options for young people experiencing gender dysphoria, a diagnosed condition caused by a distressing incongruence between a person’s gender identity and the sex they were assigned at birth. 

Nodding to the plaintiffs’ arguments, Marks also noted that many of the medications — including puberty blockers for adolescents and cross-sex hormones for teens — are often prescribed to minors to treat other conditions but that SB 99 would bar the provision of the same services for the purpose of treating gender dysphoria.

Defendants advocated for a non-medical “watchful-waiting” approach and suggested that many youths may eventually stop experiencing gender dysphoria without medical intervention, Marks summarized. He also noted that defendants sought to undermine professional medical organizations’ support for gender-affirming care, casting the science as unsettled.

Marks cut through the defendants’ framing of gender dysphoria as a psychological condition not suited for the medical treatments barred by SB 99. That logic, Marks explained, would put transgender minors on uneven footing with their peers.

“Transgender minors seeking the treatments proscribed by SB 99 do so for medical reasons — to treat gender dysphoria — and based on the advice offered by their healthcare providers. Their cisgender counterparts also seek those treatments for medical reasons — such as central precocious puberty, hypogonadism, PCOS — and on the advice of their healthcare providers. Physical conditions, like cysts on ovaries or ataxia, and psychological conditions, like depression or Alzheimer’s disease, are all health issues that may require the aid of a medical professional,” Marks wrote. 

The judge also said he was “unpersuaded” by the state’s argument that SB 99 does not discriminate based on sex, a protected class, “simply because it proscribes both minor females and minor males from receiving gender-affirming care,” citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in landmark 2020 case Bostock v. Clayton County. 

At another point in the ruling, Marks refuted arguments from the state framing gender-affirming medical care prohibited by SB 99 as “experimental” and unsafe, in part because they have not been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for the purpose of treating gender dysphoria. Marks pointed out that the treatments are approved to be used “off-label,” a common permission once the FDA approves a drug. The judge also referenced the Montana Legislature’s passage this year of Senate Bill 422, a law allowing any person to access treatment through an “investigational drug” as long as they’ve considered what has been approved by the FDA and received a recommendation from their health care provider. 

“The Court finds it fascinating that SB 99 and SB 422 were passed in the same legislative session,” Marks wrote. “… Read together, SB 99 and SB 422 authorize parents to give consent for their minor children to engage in experimental medical treatments, regardless of efficacy or risk, that cannot be blocked by the State unless the minor is transgender and seeking medical treatment for gender dysphoria in line with the recognized standard of care.”

Marks continued that, based on that reading, “the court is forced to conclude that the purported purpose given for SB 99 is disingenuous,” and that the legislative record “is replete with animus toward transgender persons, mischaracterizations of the treatments proscribed by SB 99, and statements from individual legislators suggesting personal, moral, or religious disapproval of gender transition.” He cited examples from Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, and the sponsor of the bill, Sen. John Fuller, R-Whitefish.

If the law were to take effect, Marks wrote, minors in Montana diagnosed with gender dysphoria would be at risk of facing “severe psychological distress” if they were blocked from receiving prescribed medical care, including youth plaintiffs Scarlet van Garderen, 17, and Phoebe Cross, 16. The possibility of risks to the plaintiff’s health, Marks wrote, constitutes “a high likelihood of irreparable harm.”

The judge wrote that the findings in Wednesday’s ruling “are not binding at trial,” and that a later trial “will be the appropriate time to fully evaluate the merits of the competing evidence presented in this case.” 

The attorney general’s office has not said whether it intends to appeal the preliminary injunction ruling to the Montana Supreme Court.

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Mara Silvers

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Mara writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016. More by Mara Silvers

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The preceding piece was previously published by Montana Free Press and is republished with permission.

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Crime & Justice

QAnon follower enters guilty plea: Threating a member of Congress

QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world

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QAnon banner seen at a right-wing pro-gun rally in Richmond, Virginia in 2020. (Screenshot/YouTube Anthony Crider)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – A New Mexico man has entered a plea deal after being charged with a federal criminal complaint of making threats through interstate communications directed at a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors charged Michael David Fox, a resident of Doña Ana County for calling the Houston District office of an unnamed U.S. Representative on or about May 18, 2023, and uttering threats that included knowingly threatening to kill an active member of Congress.

The plea agreement was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Damian L. Martinez of U.S. District Court in New Mexico in the Las Cruces federal court by Fox’s attorney from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in August.

According to the criminal complaint as outlined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) criminal investigator for the Albuquerque Field Office, Las Cruces Resident Agency, on May 18 at approximately 9;04 PM, Fox called the office of a congresswoman for the District of Texas, United States House of Representatives (Victim One/’V1″), who is from Houston, Texas. The call was received by V1 ‘s office.

In the phone call Fox stated “Hey [Vl], you’re a man. It’s official. You’re literally a tranny and a pedophile, and I’m going to put a bullet in your fucking face. You mother fucking satanic cock smoking son of a whore. You understand me you fucker?”

Law enforcement was able to trace the call back to Las Cruces, New Mexico, and it was believed that Fox was the user of cellular account used to make the call. According to the FBI agents who interviewed Fox, he admitted to making the call.

Fox acknowledged that the threat was direct but claimed that he did not own any guns. Fox
claimed to be a member of the Q2 Truth Movement, the Q Movement. Fox explained these
movements believe all over the world there were transgender individuals running
governments, kingdoms, and corporations.

Fox told the FBI that there is a plan called “Q the Plan to Save the World” which he learned about from an online video. Fox claimed that he believed Q was going to engage in the “eradication” of the people who were causing all the world’s misery. He believed that part of the eradication had already happened.

Fox explained that he had run Vl’s skull features through forensic analysis and determined
that Vl was born male and is now transgender. Fox discussed his military service with the
United States Air Force, Q the Plan to Save the World, and how God communicates using
numbers.

Fox continued to reiterate several different types of conspiracy theories indicating
extreme far right ideologies as his explanation for why he conducted the phone call to
threaten V1.

According to the FBI, Fox rescinded his threat against Vl and apologized. Fox claimed he was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when he made the call. Fox stated he understood how Vl would feel threatened by his phone call, and he acknowledged that anyone he knew or cared about would also be concerned with such a threat.

The charge of interstate threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

QAnon began in 2017, when a mysterious figure named “Q” started posting on the online message board 4chan, claiming to have inside access to government secrets. Since then, QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world. It is claimed by QAnon adherents that former President Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat them. 

Brooklyn-based journalist Ana Valens, a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship, and sex workers’ rights noted that Fox appears to be a “transvestigator.” Valens noted that the transvestigation conspiracy theory is a fringe movement within QAnon that claims the world is primarily run by transgender people. Phrenological analysis is common among transvestigators, with a prominent focus on analyzing celebrities for proof that they are trans.

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Federal Government

Harms of waiving anti-discrimination rules for religious universities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baylor University’s unprecedented Title IX exemption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other religious schools are likely to follow Baylor’s lead

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

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

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

193 colleges and universities have met the criteria.

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

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

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

The powerful influence and role of financial incentives  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Florida

Florida’s Charlotte County schools purge LGBTQ+ books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Equality Florida reacted in a statement saying:

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

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

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

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

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

A spokesperson later issued a clarification Tuesday:

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

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