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Will California Democrats be forgiven for AB5?

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Rep. Mike Garcia on the House floor (via C-SPAN)

Did the law of unintended consequences cost Assemblymember Christy Smith the 25th Congressional District special election on May 12?

Republican political novice and Trump loyalist Mike Garcia was sworn into office May 20 to serve the remainder of former Rep. Katie Hill’s congressional term. Garcia was leading by double-digits when Smith conceded May 13, even though the final results of the race are weeks away. The district north of Los Angeles — Palmdale, Porter Ranch, Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and part of Lancaster — had been a Republican stronghold for 28 years until Hill’s victory in 2018. Garcia’s win is the first time since 1998 that a Republican has flipped Democratic seat in California.

Despite an almost 30,000 Democratic registration advantage, the race was expected to be tight. But a 10-point blowout was a shock in a race widely considered a referendum on President Trump.

“The same week, we have a president who endorsed both my opponent and potentially using household disinfectants to treat a deadly pandemic,” Smith told the New York Times for a May 5 story. “I think that pretty well encapsulates the moment.”

So what happened? Several analysts pointed to traditional Democratic low voter turnout in special elections, made worse by the coronavirus “stay at home” orders. But of the roughly 425,000 registered voters who each received a pre-postage paid mail-in ballot, 173,789 votes were counted by May 20, with June 12 the date for certification.

Another analysis noted that Republicans doused Garcia in money while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $3 million early for research and ads but other funders like Emily’s List and the House Majority PAC are waiting for the November rematch.  However, according to their most recent campaign finance reports, Smith and Garcia each raised over $2.2 million and had about $300,000 cash on hand, The Times reported.

Volunteer apathy is also blamed for Smith’s loss, with grassroots energy dissipated by COVID-19. The American Prospect scotched that, citing an email sent to volunteers, where “one office in Southern California alone made 20,000 phone calls, sent 23,000 postcards, and sent 100,000 texts on Smith’s behalf since the March 3 primary.”

Or Garcia’s victory could be attributed to the rage over AB5, a labor bill authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego intended to stop large employers such as Uber and Lyft from denying worker rights and benefits to their gig employees. It also grossly limited work for freelancers and independent contractors.

A serious revolt ensued with the range of workers in the service, entertainment and hospitality industries coalescing with freelancer writers and photographers to agitate to repeal AB5.

Smith told the Los Angeles Blade that fixes were in the works. But Republicans and Garcia seized the issue and tirelessly demanded a repeal. In response, as California Globe editor Katy Grimes reported, Democrats were smug, fixes and carve outs were denied, and independent workers demeaned during the Senate Labor Committee hearing for Senate Bill 806 authored by Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield).

“Perhaps the most egregious and condescending comments of the hearing came from Senator Hannah Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), who claimed that when people (independent contractors) say they’ve lost their jobs, they don’t really mean it – that’s it’s businesses which just don’t want to hire them properly,” Grimes wrote. “Jackson, burnishing her credentials as a tone-deaf political elitist, said freelancers, gig workers and independent contractors are only angry about the job losses because the law is ‘taking away the lollipop they had to work when they want.’”

Upset Democrats targeted Smith to send a message.

“I and many of my fellow freelancers are lifelong liberal Democrats who feel betrayed by your party and astonished that the only people who seem to be defending our rights are Republicans who are pointing to AB5 as a classic example of government overreach into the ‘free market’ that only ends up hurting people. Unfortunately in this case they are right,” cinematographer Leonard Levy wrote in a letter to his congressional representatives. “Wake up and look around. Don’t lose our support. We do vote. Stop AB5 until a carefully crafted alternative can straighten out employment in California.”

“Voted democrat since 1976. Republicans were bad before and are far, far worse today. Because of AB5, and the absolute deafness of California democrats, I voted republican in the local elections last round and will do it again in November. Watching online as my artist friends, long time liberals are doing the same, all of us with a bad taste in our mouths. But if you’re going to take away our profession, then we will take away yours,” Grimes reported one of many local voters as saying.

On May 12, the New York Times wrote early that “nearly 20 percent of voters in the district have cast their ballots, with 31 percent of registered Republicans and 19 percent of Democrats doing so, according to tracking data.”

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez felt the heat and on May 20, moved bills to fix AB5.

“They were right. I was wrong,” Fred Topel of California Freelance Writers United tweeted Gonzalez as saying as she introduced AB2257, a carve out for writers, musicians and others. AB2257 and AB1850, a bill with exemptions for other professions, both passed the Labor Committee and are headed to Appropriations where obstacles await.

Asked about the political drama over AB5, out LA County Democratic Party Chair Mark Gonazlez said: “Like everyone, we’re monitoring the progress of AB2257 and support anything that’s going to have a positive effect on independent contractors.”

But AB5 is not fixed and Newsom earmarked $20 million for AB5 enforcement in the budget. Democrats may need to do some repair work before November.

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Maryland

A year after Safe Harbor in Maryland, TurnAround & sex trafficking

Perhaps the most striking thing about TurnAround is how large of an operation it is — how large of an operation it needs to be

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The staff at TurnAround Inc. in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo courtesy of TurnAround Inc.)

By CJ Higgins | BALTIMORE, Md. -In 2023, the law in Maryland dictated the following: If a child was discovered to be sex trafficked during a sting operation, they were to be arrested, handcuffed, and then incarcerated as a “child prostitute.” One survivor testified to Maryland lawmakers that after being trafficked throughout College Park from ages 12 to 15, it was their ‘rescue’ by law enforcement that was the most traumatizing part of their experience.

In 40 states and in federal law, the sex trafficking of minors was already understood to be a crime committed against children, and not a crime committed by children. When Gov. Wes Moore signed the Safe Harbor law on May 16th of last year, prohibiting the criminal prosecution of sex-trafficked minors, he brought Maryland out of a legal dark age.

How do things look in Maryland a year later? The Washington Blade got in touch with TurnAround Inc., headquartered in Baltimore, to find out. TurnAround is Maryland’s first provider of comprehensive services to survivors of sexual trafficking, Baltimore’s rape crisis center, and a support center for victims of intimate partner violence and sexual violence.

Perhaps the most striking thing about TurnAround is how large of an operation it is — how large of an operation it needs to be. The organization fielded more than 10,000 calls on their hotline in 2022, conducted almost 4,000 counseling sessions, and placed 337 clients in safe shelter: nearly one for every day of the year. But the staff at TurnAround is relieved to see these numbers so high. During the pandemic, there was a steep decrease in reports of sex trafficking. 

“[COVID] had a very chilling effect on the number of trafficking survivors that were getting access to services,” said Amanda Rodriguez, executive director of TurnAround. Many of the avenues through which cases were referred to TurnAround simply shut down. The hospitals were inundated with COVID cases, and so weren’t referring anyone; the schools were closed down, and so weren’t referring anyone; and State Attorney Marilyn Mosby stopped prosecuting low-level crimes, which had the unintended consequence of limiting the opportunities law enforcement had to identify youth at risk of trafficking.

In 2020, TurnAround moved into a new office in downtown Baltimore, and it is cavernous — half the floor of a skyscraper. When you walk in, you could mistake the headquarters for a dentist’s office for how calmly the front desk attendant answers the phone. A few lines here and there give away the seriousness of their work: “Is it OK for us to leave a voicemail?” Not every caller’s phone is a safe place.

The office is flanked by a hallway of therapists on one side of the building, who focus on the inner lives of their clients, and a hallway of advocates on the other side, who focus on their outer lives: support in court, government benefits, direct outreach on the streets of Baltimore. At the center are a host of services one would think spread across the whole of the city: a computer center, a clothing donation center, storage for the goods and products needed to survive while in shelter, a kitchen for group meals, and a place to wash and dry your clothes. But the most sobering part of the office is the play center full of toys, for the children that TurnAround serves. “We have clients as young as three years old,” said Jean Henningsen, senior director of strategic initiatives. Some of these children come in as the dependents of adult survivors, but they are sometimes the victims of sexual violence themselves.

“When we were creating Safe Harbor, we looked to see how many kids had been arrested and charged by law enforcement in every county in the state,” Amanda said. “Baltimore City had the highest number at the time. This has changed since then, and is actually getting much better.” The majority of these trafficked kids were trans girls living in the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore — a situation that would surprise many Baltimore residents. Charles Village has a reputation for being one of the safest neighborhoods in the city. It is the neighborhood of Johns Hopkins University, which has, in an effort to assuage the concerned parents of its undergraduates, stationed security officers on many of the surrounding street corners. Despite criticism, the university recently partnered with the Baltimore Police Department to create its own police force, and has started recruiting and training officers as of this spring.

“It’s historically been a safer neighborhood for the LGBTQ community in general,” Amanda said. “I don’t know what spurred more nefarious individuals coming in and exploiting people, other than opportunity. Traffickers are just such master manipulators. They will figure out for anybody what their vulnerability is.” But these nefarious individuals are not part of some transnational crime organization. They are sometimes trans women themselves, trafficking these girls to serve their own needs in the home. Often rejected by their families and in search of community,  trans girls find this community among other trans women, and then get manipulated into sexual service.

The procedure for dealing with suspected child sex trafficking in Maryland begins with what are called “Regional Navigators,” a role established by the Child Sex Trafficking Screening and Services Act of 2019. Law enforcement agents and local departments of Social Services will notify the county’s Regional Navigator of a suspected trafficking case, and then this Regional Navigator will put together a Multi-Disciplinary Team, or MDT. The MDT consists of all agents and departments that are involved in or have some stake in the case, including Child Protective Services, Juvenile Services, law enforcement, therapists, and schools. These stakeholders will compare notes on what the youth has told them, since they will often have provided different agents and departments with competing descriptions of what’s going on. 

While the MDT procedure is highly effective for inter-departmental coordination on a given case, Stephanie Gonzalez, the Acting Regional Navigator for Howard County, explained that the system has some way to go when it comes to LGBTQ youth. “When we get referrals in general, a lot of times, it’s not mentioned how they identify,” she said. As a consequence, their data on how many LGBTQ youth are being trafficked isn’t always accurate, and these youth sometimes aren’t being handled in ways consonant with their sexual or gender identity. And even when these youth are appropriately identified, they aren’t always able to access the appropriate resources.

“We had a transgender female come to us from another state, and she had been trafficked,” Stephanie said. “We had her in a hotel while we looked for other housing options. We could not find trans-friendly housing options.” The women’s shelters they approached didn’t have the requisite training or resources. They would ask insensitive and irrelevant questions about any surgeries the girl had undergone as part of her transition, or require that she be isolated from other women for their safety. “Why are they trying to make it seem like I’m going to hurt someone,” she would ask.

But that situation is changing. TurnAround has partnered with the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County to open up a safe house with the resources needed to support any child survivor of sex trafficking. “It’s built!” Jean said. “TurnAround will be staffing it and running it 24/7. Right now there are no children in the facility. We’re still waiting on the final licensing paperwork from the state.”

The project is expensive, with an estimated running cost of $1.5 million each year. TurnAround has partnered with Femi Ayanbadejo, a former Super Bowl winner with the Baltimore Ravens, to help coordinate fundraising. Ayanbadejo advocates for TurnAround with a deep enthusiasm—hearing him talk on the work they do, it could easily be a field-side interview in the final quarter of a game. “If we can reach five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty thousand people that we wouldn’t have with [the Blade’s] reach, maybe there’s one or two foundations that would give five, ten, a hundred, a thousand, maybe a million dollars. Who knows?”

To learn more about TurnAround’s work, visit their website at turnaroundinc.org. If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual violence, TurnAround has offices in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Howard County. All three offices can be reached via 410-377-8111.

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CJ Higgins by Sam Jeong

CJ Higgins is a postdoctoral fellow with the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

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Arizona

Trying to avoid LGBTQ+ issues, schools denying basic sex-ed

Superintendents pointed to anti-LGBTQ+ culture wars and fear of repercussions as reasons why kids are not being taught sex-ed

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Los Angeles Blade/NJ Gov. file photo

By Shelby Rae Wills/LOOKOUT | PHOENIX, Ariz. – A LOOKOUT investigation shows that tens of thousands of youth attending the state’s public schools are not receiving nationally recommended sexual education studies, specifically in regards to gender, sexuality, and consent. Educators have used the heated politics around LGBTQ+ issues as an excuse for denying students the curriculum.

Out of 18 public school districts across Arizona in rural, suburban, and urban areas that LOOKOUT analyzed, eight districts—representing at least 37,000 school-aged children in suburban and rural parts of the state—responded and said they do not offer any kind of sex education, currently.

Those districts are: Duncan, Heber-Overgaard, Gila Bend, Ganado, Parker, Nogales, Kingman and Scottsdale.

The number of students not receiving proper sex education illustrates the effect of how schools are grappling with the politics of the time, and failing to give youth lessons about their bodies and prevent disease.

But even in urban areas where sex education is offered, such as parts of Maricopa and Pima counties, instead of offering the courses themselves, schools have turned to third-party groups to provide the education. But advocates and experts interviewed said that discussions have been limited because of both state regulations and school districts’ fears of finding themselves the focus of far-right critics who have provoked harassment of employees at school board meetings or on school grounds.

As a result, queer students—which some estimates list Arizona’s LGBTQ+ youth population at 44,000, including as many as 20,000 trans and nonbinary people under 24 years old in the state—are most at risk.

“Arizona sex education needs to change because sexual health disparities are pretty grave in our state,” said Courtney Waters, an assistant research professor at the University of Arizona. “Sexual health outcomes are bad across the state for youth, but we see it specifically among LGBTQ+ youth.”

What we found

There are 261 school districts in Arizona, ranging from the most populous, Mesa Public Schools, to the Young Public School District that serves roughly 50 students a year.

Districts that choose to teach sexual education have to go through a bureaucratic process that involves district meetings, public forums, parental guidance, and administrative oversight. LOOKOUT reported this year that those processes are marred with confusion and allows districts to forgo teaching sex education if they believe the “community interest” doesn’t align.

The result is tens of thousands of students who aren’t educated on preventative sexual health tools while HIV, syphilis, and unintended pregnancy rates locally continue to rise above the national average. LGBTQ+ students, specifically, are also more at risk of unintended pregnancySTI transmission, and domestic abuse.

Of the schools LOOKOUT found that teach sex education, not all of them offer inclusive or comprehensive sexual health studies. Instead, they only focus on puberty and body changes, along with STI education without a focus on prevention or treatment.

Educational and youth organizations that focus on LGBTQ+ students have pointed to the state’s repeal of its “No Promo Homo” law, which catapulted a local conservative movement to restrict how students could learn about sexual health.

Arizona’s law—which was similar to Florida’s current law that advocates refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill—was repealed with bipartisan support in 2019. But far-right lawmakers and lobbying groups successfully pushed for stricter scrutiny of what could be taught in schools in regards to sexual material, including in biology and health classes.

Nate Rhoton, CEO of the LGBTQ+ youth advocacy nonprofit One∙n∙Ten, said that since the law’s repeal school districts haven’t been equipped to handle what he called “the storm or frenzy” from “‘concerned parents’ about teaching affirming and inclusive sexual health education.”

As a result, he said, school districts have “walked away” from providing classes.

In an example, Parker Unified School District, which is located just south of Lake Havasu City, decided not to offer sex education in the past because they didn’t have a certified health teacher to lead the class.

“Instead of trusting that information to a substitute teacher just off the street, we did not do it,” according to Superintendent Brad Sale.

By simply ignoring our community through education, you’re doing a lot more harm to all students. – Nate Rhoton, CEO of One∙n∙Ten

But more recently, conservative arguments around gender, sex, and LGBTQ+ youth have chilled any movement on offering a curriculum, Sale said: “That was several years ago, and because of the political climate with that, we as a district have decided not to offer it.”

Southern Arizona sex educator Hannah Woelke explained that this is a common refrain: “Everyone knows it’s a problem. Parents know, teachers know,” Woelke said. “But nobody has the stomach to really do anything about it because it’s such a fight.”

An Arizona problem

Maricopa County has a higher incidence rate of sexually transmitted infections compared to the nation by more than 30%, according to the Arizona Department of Healthcare Service’s online data portal.

And younger people in the region are most at risk. Data from the portal showed STI cases are most common for Arizona women aged 15-24 (including trans women) and men aged 20-29 (including trans men).

The same pattern appears in rural areas such as Navajo County, where LOOKOUT identified at least one school district without a sex education curriculum. Residents there had a 37.6% higher STI rate than the state average. Most new STI cases among residents were those aged 15-24, according to the state health department.

People living there also experience a 65% higher rate of unintended pregnancies among youth than the national average, according to research from Making Action Possible by the University of Arizona.

Arizona also has the sixth highest rates of contracting syphilis in the country according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2022 breakdown.

Public health experts interviewed said that many of the problems the state faces with youth and sexually transmitted disease as well as unintended pregnancies could be solved in part by proper education in schools. But since the state pushes those decisions to local school districts, they said, the end result is a patchwork of classes and curriculum that is determined by the social politics of an area.

In a state report, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States said that Arizona’s “local control over sex education presents unique challenges that have resulted in a glaring disparity regarding the quality of sex education that students receive.”

SIECUS said that Arizona’s policy of ceding sex education from the state also “allows for the implementation of policies and curriculum that stigmatize marginalized youth, such as students of color and LGBTQ youth.”

Rural school districts such as in Duncan and Parker and larger districts in Scottsdale and Nogales have gone since at least 2015 without letting students and families opt in to sex education.

Superintendents listed reasons such as lack of interest from the community in offering sex ed, but went on to list secondary reasons such as navigating the changing laws and the desire to avoid additional stress to teachers’ workload amid a teaching shortage and pressure to shut down discussions on gender and sexuality.

And in the process of avoiding LGBTQ+ topics, the result is all students being left behind, Rhoton with One∙n∙Ten said: “By simply ignoring our community through education, you’re doing a lot more harm to all students.”

Who’s helping?

In metropolitan areas, there are organizations that try to fill gaps in the state’s health education.

In the Phoenix area, One∙n∙Ten offers monthly sexual health classes for LGBTQ+ youth and their families called “SexFYI.” The program divides people up between older teens and young adults between 18 and 24 years old to discuss consent, gender identity, internet safety, and building healthy relationships.

SexFYI is run in partnership with Affirm—formerly Arizona Family Health Partnership—and the Maricopa County Health Department. It’s only offered outside of schools.

In Pima and Maricopa counties, the Southwest Institute for Research on Women collaborates with Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation and El Rio Health to offer a program called “Spectrum+.” The program’s website claims it offers “culturally-driven comprehensive sexuality education,” including topics on HIV, hepatitis C, substance use, and LGBTQ+ care.

Those programs are also offered outside of schools.

SIROW Assistant Research Professor Courtney Waters explained that these programs often exist outside of a school setting because, “there’s a lot of rules at the public schools about having sex education. The legislation is rather unclear and there’s just a lot of fear around what they can and can’t do.”

“Education is such a key piece of reducing those disparities and our state has had really conservative rules around sex ed for decades and it doesn’t really seem to be serving anyone,” Waters said. “We see much better outcomes in other states that have more inclusive and comprehensive sex ed.”

SIROW receives $500,000 annually for five years from a federal grant by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They work alongside groups such as the Family Pride Initiative, which also received a $425,000 federal grant from the same agency to offer counseling to queer youth, education on LGBTQ+ health, and train caregivers outside of schools.

Within schools, though, Arizona Youth Partnership has provided sex and relationship education in the state for three decades. Last year over 3,000 students participated in two of their programs aimed at healthy relationships or sexual violence.

But just because those programs exist inside school districts does not necessarily mean that youth are given the best tools for understanding their bodies, especially LGBTQ+ students.

Development and Communications Director at Arizona Youth Project Jetzabel Ramos said that getting schools to partner with them has been made more difficult after the pandemic and with the rise of the parental rights movement.

And Division Director Sara Sherman said state regulations bar them from discussing same-sex relationships in the classroom or answering questions about same-sex relationships if they arise: “We can tell them to go to a trusted adult, but not all students have a trusted adult in their life.”

These restrictions, sources said, have raised concerns that in the absence of evidence-based, medically accurate, inclusive sex education children have turned to the internet for information.

Sherman said she has seen this play out in the classroom, “When we read these questions that we’re getting from students, it’s shocking the misinformation that they’re getting from the digital space.”

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Shelby Rae Wills/LOOKOUT

Shelby Rae Wills moved to Phoenix in 2022 to pursue their Master’s degree in Investigative Journalism. They taught English in California and in Eastern Europe through the Peace Corps.

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This article was originally published by LOOKOUT, a nonprofit queer-focused news organization covering Arizona’s LGBTQ+ communities. Sign up for their free newsletter. Republished from the Arizona Mirror with permission.

The Arizona Mirror is amplifying the voices of Arizonans whose stories are unheard; shining a light on the relationships between people, power and policy; and holding public officials to account.

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

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Politics

Anti-trans Democrat loses Texas primary to queer woman

Incumbent Democrat Shawn Thierry, who cast a vote to ban gender affirming care in Texas, lost to Lauren Ashley Simmons, a queer woman

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Shawn Thierry, from a public feed, Texas House of Representatives & Lauren Ashley Simmons, LGBTQ+ victory fund

By Erin Reed | HOUSTON, Texas – Houston Democratic Texas House of Representatives incumbent Shawn Thierry was trounced in a primary runoff election on Tuesday.

Thierry was one of only a handful of Democrats across the country who broke ranks with her party and voted for a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, delivering a lengthy and misinformation-filled speech in doing so.

After her anti-trans vote, queer union organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons stepped forward to unseat her, earning dozens of influential endorsements from party leaders and organizations. On Tuesday night, Simmons left no doubt about her victory: she resoundingly won 65%-35%.

On May 12, Representative Thierry voted to pass a gender-affirming care ban for transgender youth, an exceedingly rare vote for a Democrat. In doing so, she spoke on the House floor, calling transgender girls “biological males” and arguing that conversion therapy was the true solution to gender dysphoria.

She also voted against every amendment intended to mitigate the harm the bill would cause transgender youth in the state. This led to a vote to censure Thierry by the Meyerland Area Democrats, who reported feeling betrayed by her earlier assurances that she was an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.

Thierry’s district, the 146th District of the Texas House of Representatives, is not a swing district. It includes predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Houston that tend to vote heavily Democratic. Previously, Thierry had beaten a Libertarian candidate 87%-13%, with no Republican running in the race. Thus, whoever wins the Democratic primary in the district is likely to represent the district in the Texas House of Representatives.

Enter Lauren Ashley Simmons, a queer union organizer who ran in opposition to Thierry’s anti-LGBTQ+ votes and activism. In her announcement that she would be challenging Representative Thierry in the primary, Simmons stated, “Our current representative has lost her way and now votes with Greg Abbott and Republicans to take away our rights, destroy our public schools, and hurt our kids.”

Simmons quickly garnered major endorsements, an uncommon feat for a primary challenger to an incumbent politician. Equality Texas, Victory Fund, and LPAC, all significant LGBTQ+ organizations, endorsed her.

She also secured major union endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Additional support came from Planned Parenthood, Harris County Young Democrats, and Run for Something. High-profile congressional endorsements included Congresswomen Jasmine Crockett and Lizzie Fletcher, as well as former Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

In the lead-up to the election, which was quickly becoming a referendum on whether anti-transgender politics could gain a foothold in the Democratic Party, Thierry did not tone down her anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. She participated in “faith walks” with major local churches supportive of her stance and relied heavily on Republican donations.

When asked about her anti-trans votes, she called gender-affirming care “Black genocide.” Thierry’s statements were decried by major community members, including Diamond Stylz Collier, who leads the Texas nonprofit Black Trans Women Inc. Collier called the comments disgusting, stating, “We have an increase of trans people dying of violence around the country and a real-life genocide happening in other parts of the globe.”

As votes poured in on Tuesday evening, it became clear that Simmons would be the victor. She secured a decisive majority, with the district voting 65-35 in her favor over Thierry. Reflecting on her victory, Simmons stated, “Thanks to your amazing support, we all won BIG last night! We are so grateful, and so proud of the strong message this decisive victory sends to those who seek political gain by using bigotry, hatred, and fear: STOP. Thank you!”

Increasingly, anti-trans influencers are attempting to make inroads into left-leaning politics, a strategy that has seen mixed results internationally. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the Labour Party has been notoriously poor on transgender rights.

In the United States, however, these efforts have met with far less success. Just yesterday in California, an attempt to place a gender-affirming care ban on the ballot was defeated. Similarly, in most states, Democrats have remained steadfast against anti-transgender legislation. Now, even in a conservative state like Texas, it is evident that there is little appetite within the party for sacrificing transgender rights, and doing so could jeopardize one’s political career.

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

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

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Latin America

Latin America elections challenges, opportunities for LGBTQ people

Activists throughout the region agree the elections offer a crucial opportunity to advance the inclusion and protection of LGBTQ+ rights

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Richelle Briceño was a candidate for the Venezuelan National Assembly in the country's last elections. (Photo courtesy of Richelle Briceño)

By Esteban Rioseco | CARACAS, Venezuela – Activists throughout the region agree the elections offer a crucial opportunity to advance the inclusion and protection of the rights of their community amid far-right advances.

Venezuela’s presidential election will take place on July 28, while Brazil’s municipal elections will happen on Oct. 6. Regional and municipal elections will take place in Chile on Oct. 27. Uruguay’s congressional elections are slated to occur on the same day.

María José Cumplido, executive director of Fundación Iguales in Chile, emphasized the importance of having LGBTQ representation in politics. 

“It is fundamental because LGBTQ+ people tend to support laws or public policies aimed at protecting the community,” Cumplido told the Washington Blade. “In that sense, it is important that the voices of these people are heard because, obviously, they know the reality more closely and many times they have lived it.” 

Cumplido noted “LGBTQ+ representation has grown notoriously in recent years, so much so that today there is an LGBTQ+ caucus in Congress.” 

“That is good news,” said Cumplido.

Ignacia Oyarzún, president of Organizado Trans Diversidades (Organizing Trans Diversities or OTD), also from Chile, highlighted the observation and registration work the Trans Voting Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean has done. Oyarzún also noted the promotion of transgender candidates as a way to combat misinformation a promote respect for the community’s political rights.

“We monitor the situation of the political rights of our communities in the region and establish guidelines through which we encourage respect for the right to elect representatives and to be elected,” said Oyarzún. “We also maintain initiatives that have to do with the dissemination of trans candidacies and news that go against the disinformation established through false news that have begun to circulate through the various social and political media.”

Collette Spinetti, president of the Colectivo Trans del Uruguay, pointed out the challenges faced by LGBTQ people in politics, especially trans people.

“The biggest challenge is to achieve trustworthiness especially towards gender-dissident people in their ability to be able to hold public office,” said Spinetti.

Professor Collete Spinetti has dedicated many years of her life to improving living conditions for LGBTQ people in Uruguay (Photo courtesy of Collete Spinetti)

“In Uruguay politics is still quite macho, especially in the so-called traditional and right-wing parties where there is no political representation of members of the LGBTIQ+ community,” Spinetti further explained. “On the left, although there is, thanks to internal work, female representation, there is still a lack of work.”

“In this sense the scarce LGBTIQ+ representation is present through gay men,” added Spinetti. “There is still no representation of publicly lesbian people and only one representation in the interior of the country of a trans woman.” 

In Brazil, Keila Simpson, president of Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals or ANTRA), highlighted the diversity of LGBTQ representation in the country’s politics. Simpson nevertheless recognized the importance of mandates that go beyond identity and address a wide range of issues that benefit the entire community.

“The challenges for LGBTQIA people when it comes to applying for positions in Brazil are many,” she said. “The first one is the way Brazilian society sees this stigmatized and completely stereotyped population. If we think about the trans population, this violence is even greater, since in addition to being smaller in number, the discrimination is even greater because this population is commonly associated with eroticism and hypersexualization of their bodies, and these are the main problems these people face. they are associated when they run for prominent positions or leaders, even in the partisan political arena.” 

Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (ANTRA) President Keila Simpson at her office in Salvador, Brazil, on March 16, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

In Venezuela, Richelle Briceño, a trans woman and former congressional candidate, on the other hand, lamented the lack of presidential candidacies that explicitly defend LGBTQ rights. She noted the country still faces fundamental challenges that prevent a serious debate on these issues.

“There are candidates who have expressed themselves against non-discrimination, but that’s as far as it goes,” Briceño recounted. “There are no specific candidates that I can tell you who even handle what the definition of the word queer is and how it is understood, let’s say, within LGBTQ+ activism.”

Briceño said María Corina Machado, an opposition leader who President Nicolás Maduro’s government has barred from running for office, has “come out in favor of issues such as equal civil marriage and the issue of recognition of trans identities.” Briceño noted to the Blade that Edmundo González Urrutia, who is running as her surrogate, did not meet with LGBTQ activists until last week.

“These activists exposed their points of view, however, the current candidate leading the polls has not made a public statement regarding his position or what his position will be on the issues of LGBT rights in Venezuela,” said Briceño.

Briceño further stressed that Venezuela “is still in a cave.” 

“Here the country is in the basics, the country is in not losing electricity, in having water and in seeing how people eat daily,” she said. “The political and economic crisis that we have lived through for two decades, and with more depth in the last decade, has not allowed for a serious debate on the issues of the 21st century, including the rights of sexual diversity populations or the LGBT population and women”.

José Rodríguez, a Venezuelan psychologist who, like many of his compatriots had to leave his country, said that “as a young Venezuelan exiled in Chile for eight years, today I feel the tranquility of living in a society where a governmental interest in the welfare of my community is appreciated, expressed by a legal framework that although it could be better; compared to the overwhelming setbacks that have occurred in recent weeks in neighboring countries and the constant lethargy of Venezuela in terms of advancing the LGBTQIA+ agenda, is deeply painful and worrying.”

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Photo Credit: Movilh

Esteban Rioseco is a Chilean digital communicator, LGBT rights activist and politician. He was spokesperson and executive president of the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement (Movilh). He is currently a Latin American correspondent for the Washington Blade.

On Oct. 22, 2015, together with Vicente Medel, he celebrated the first gay civil union in Chile in the province of Concepción.

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Los Angeles County

New survey: “Without LGBTQ people, LA would just be traffic”

In the Lived Experiences in LA County (LELAC) Survey, researchers asked about 500 participants what, if anything, LGBTQ people contribute

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East Los Angeles Library presents Mariachi Arcoiris during Hispanic Heritage Month. On National Coming Out Day, the first LGBT mariachi in the world performs and discusses the sensitive topic that is very taboo in the Hispanic community. (Mayra B. Vasquez/Los Angeles County)

LOS ANGELES – A new survey of LGBTQ adults in Los Angeles County by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds LGBTQ people provide many of the things that give LA County its unique identity and make it an attractive place to live and visit.

In the words of a cisgender gay white man in his 30s: “Without LGBTQ people, LA would just be traffic.”

In the Lived Experiences in Los Angeles County (LELAC) Survey, researchers asked about 500 participants what, if anything, LGBTQ people contribute to the broader LA community and culture. Responses ranged from offering values of acceptance, support, love, and resilience to enriching diversity, helping others, and contributing to all parts of the local economy.

“Despite the challenges they face, LGBTQ Angelenos are proud of the many contributions they make to LA County,” said lead author Brad Sears, Founding Executive Director at the Williams Institute. “LGBTQ contributions make the County unique, a better place to live for everyone, and a model of equality, diversity, and pride for other parts of the United States.”

Positive values and characteristics

More than 40% of LGBTQ respondents identified positive values and characteristics, including acceptance, inclusivity, empathy, love, vibrancy, joy, and support.

As one cisgender bisexual white man in his 60s said, “LGBT people contribute intelligence, strength, passion, generosity of spirit, and courage to the broader community and culture of LA County.”

Enriching diversity

About one-third (31%) of respondents said that LGBTQ people and communities added to LA County’s rich diversity. They mentioned that by living their lives openly and with pride, LGBTQ inspire everyone to accept themselves and live openly as their authentic selves.

A cisgender bisexual Black woman in her 40s said, “The desire and expectation to live their authentic lives openly and honestly is the contribution … [It’s] the reminder to live authentically.”

Culture, arts, and creativity

About one-third (31%) of respondents noted how LGBTQ people’s creativity contributes to the arts, culture, and entertainment in Los Angeles.

One nonbinary white person in their 80s said, “[We have] a different way to experience life and the world. A new approach to problems derived from living a life contrary to what is forced upon us. A vibrant art expressing our different beliefs and lives.”

Community leadership and service

More than one in five (22%) respondents described how LGBTQ people give back to LA County by supporting marginalized communities, volunteering, and participating in the political process.

A cisgender bisexual Latina in her 30s said, “Without queer people, so many societal developments would still be stalled … LA County LGBTQ people have carved out a safe haven for those who need a home and community.”

Economic contributions

About one in ten (11%) LGBTQ respondents emphasized the economic contributions of the LGBTQ community to LA County to industries such as entertainment, hospitality, and education, by being entrepreneurs and promoting tourism.

As one cisgender Asian lesbian in her 20s said, “Gay tourism stimulates the economy due to LA’s reputation as a hotspot for LGBT people.”

“LGBTQ people feel they make significant and unique contributions to the Los Angeles County community,” said co-author Christy Mallory, Legal Director at the Williams Institute. “These contributions are often grounded in how LGBTQ people differ from non-LGBTQ people, including their lived experiences of being closeted, bullied, and discriminated against.”

Read the report

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U.S. Federal Courts

NH federal court strikes down ‘banned concepts’ curriculum law

The “banned concepts” law, violated teachers’ 14th Amendment rights because it’s too vague for them to follow the judge ruled

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The Warren B. Rudman U.S. Courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire. (Photo by Ken Gallager)

By Ethan DeWitt | CONCORD, N.H. – Patrick Keefe says he just wanted to teach Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”

The high school English teacher has long included the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about slavery in his curriculum at Litchfield’s Campbell High School. And in the past, he had questioned students about whether Morrison’s themes about the legacy of slavery applied to the present.

But after a state law passed in 2021 that regulated how teachers may talk about race and other concepts to students, Keefe became more cautious, he testified in a deposition last year. Any student-led discussion about structural racism might lead to a complaint under the new law, and might cause Keefe to lose his teaching license, he feared.

On Tuesday, a federal judge cited Keefe and other teachers’ examples in an order striking down the law, siding with teachers unions and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and ruling that the law is unconstitutionally vague. 

In his decision, Judge Paul Barbadoro held that the law, known by opponents as the “divisive concepts” or “banned concepts” law, violated teachers’ 14th Amendment rights because it is too vague for them to follow. 

“The Amendments are viewpoint-based restrictions on speech that do not provide either fair warning to educators of what they prohibit or sufficient standards for law enforcement to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement,” Barbadoro wrote, referring to the statutory changes passed by the law. 

The law prohibits K-12 public school staff from any instruction that advocates for four concepts: that a person of any race, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristic is inherently “superior” to another; that any individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive against another for any characteristic; that an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment for any characteristic; and that people of one characteristic “cannot and should not attempt to treat others without regard to” one of their characteristics.

The characteristics covered by the law are a person’s “age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, mental or physical disability, religion, or national origin.” 

The law, which was in part modeled after an executive order by President Donald Trump that applied to federal employees and was repealed by President Joe Biden, was presented by Republican lawmakers as an anti-discrimination statute meant to ensure that all students were treated equally. It came as Republican lawmakers raised concerns about diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts implemented in public schools, and argued that teachers were espousing “critical race theory” in classrooms.

The law allowed parents to bring complaints to the state’s Commission for Human Rights against teachers and school staff who they believed violated the new anti-discrimination statute. And it gave the State Board of Education the power to revoke educators’ teaching licenses if they were found by the commission to be in violation. 

But teachers unions and others raised concerns that the prohibited concepts were too unclear to follow and would result in educators self-censoring instruction around certain topics such as race or gender for fear of losing their teaching credentials.

In his order Tuesday, Barbadoro sided with the state’s two teachers unions – the National Education Association of New Hampshire (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers of New Hampshire (AFT) – who had argued that the law violated their 14th Amendment rights because it did not provide clear guidance of what teachers should or shouldn’t teach. 

Barbadoro’s ruling grants “declaratory relief” to plaintiffs, meaning he is ruling that the law is unconstitutional, but it does not grant “injunctive relief” – a stricter ruling that would have stopped the state from carrying out the law. In his order, Barbadoro wrote that he didn’t believe he needed the latter relief because he believed the state would respect the ruling and stop enforcing the law.

The ruling was a setback for the state, which had argued that the Attorney General’s Office had given teachers sufficient guidance in a “Frequently Asked Questions” document released in 2021 that outlined scenarios in which teachers would violate or not violate the law.

There are no known cases of New Hampshire teachers who have been found by the Commission for Human Rights to have violated the law. 

But Barbadoro said there were a number of scenarios that the FAQs did not address. One such unanswered question centered on Keefe’s attempts to teach “Beloved.” 

According to his deposition, Keefe had asked for clarity from his school’s administration but “was told there was none available other than the Attorney General’s Frequently Asked Questions,” Barbadoro noted. 

Barbadoro also noted the example of Jennifer Given, a former high school social studies teacher at the Hollis Brookline High School who “felt the need to significantly modify her teaching methods ‘out of fear that [she] would be accused of’ violating the Amendments, regardless of whether she was actually doing so.”

And he argued that the uncertainty applied to extracurricular activities as well, citing the testimony of Ryan Richman, a high school history teacher at Timberlane Regional High School. Richman said as a faculty adviser for the school’s Model United Nations team, he felt the law hampered his ability to help students for their competition in fear of saying something that might be seen as a violation. 

Barbadoro used the examples to bolster his larger conclusion. 

“The Amendments are vague not because they subject teachers to severe professional sanctions, but because they fail to provide teachers with sufficient notice of what is prohibited and raise the specter of arbitrary and discretionary enforcement,” he ruled.

He also said that the vagueness would allow state officials to apply their own arbitrary interpretations to enforcement. 

“… Because the Amendments fail to establish ‘minimal guidelines to govern [their] enforcement,’ officials are free to ‘pursue their personal predilections’ when applying the law,” Barbadoro wrote.

The decision was hailed by the plaintiffs; Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, called it “a victory for academic freedom and an inclusive education for all New Hampshire students.” 

“New Hampshire’s ‘banned concepts’ law stifled New Hampshire teachers’ efforts to provide a true and honest education,” agreed NEA-NH President Megan Tuttle in a statement. “Students, families, and educators should rejoice over this court ruling which restores the teaching of truth and the right to learn for all Granite State students.”

And it was cheered on by Democrats, including the two lead Democratic candidates for governor. Former Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig praised the plaintiffs who “fought this unconstitutional law.” In her own statement, Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington said, “Teachers should be free to teach – the truth – and students should be free to learn.” 

Republicans said they would redouble efforts to pass the bill. In a statement, former state Senate President Chuck Morse, a Republican candidate for governor who had helped push for the law in the Senate, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the decision but vowed to press on.

“As Governor, I will work tirelessly with lawmakers, educators, and community leaders to draft and pass a stronger bill that addresses the court’s concerns while keeping our fundamental goal intact: to prevent the dissemination of any materials that promote racial superiority or inferiority,” Morse said.

In a post on X, State Rep. Keith Ammon, a New Boston Republican, wrote: “Judge Barbadoro just put stopping Critical Race Theory back on the ballot in November.”

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Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by The New Hampshire Bulletin and is republished with permission.

The independent, nonprofit New Hampshire Bulletin is guided by these words from our state constitution: “Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive.” We will work tirelessly every day to make sure elected officials and state agencies are held to that standard.

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

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National

Target employees flag concerns over Pride merchandise decisions

Ultimately, the number of products offered for Pride was slashed by the time the collection was launched, & then again by nearly 50%

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Target store (Photo by Jonathan Weiss)

MINNEAPOLIS — When Target Corp. was hit with an unprecedented wave of hate over its 2023 LGBTQ Pride month merchandise last summer, plans for the 2024 collection were already underway and team members were looking to leadership for guidance. 

Target employees with knowledge of the matter, who spoke with the Washington Blade on the condition of anonymity, said the process leading up to Target’s announcement a few weeks ago of plans to dramatically cut back its Pride collection was haphazard and reactive from the start. 

They said that the company’s commitment to supporting LGBTQ guests and employees feels hollow, considering leadership’s failure to move toward strategies for selling gender-affirming apparel and merchandise year-round along with decisions to curtail internal Pride month celebrations. 

First introduced in 2013, Target’s Pride collection quickly grew to become a profitable example of the company’s heritage moments offerings, collections that are sold each year to mark observances like Black History Month and National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Even as the COVID pandemic surged in the summer of 2020, demand remained high, the employees noted, “a real indication” of the sales potential for Pride apparel and merchandise irrespective of whether parades, gatherings, and in-store shopping are happening. 

However, Target planned for just $5 million in sales this year for Pride month, about a tenth of that which might be forecast based on precedent.

Amid reports last summer of an online boycott campaign and in-store incidents in which employees were allegedly made to feel unsafe by negative guest reactions to the 2023 Pride collection, Target announced it would move the merchandise to the back of some stores located in the southeastern U.S. 

The employees agreed the move “didn’t feel great,” but the team accepted the company’s decision as a temporary solution to get through the chaos — while communicating the need for “our leaders to be really clear with us [about] what we can and cannot do” in 2024 “so that we can deliver the best profitable strategy possible.” 

Around this time, they said, communication became siloed. Requests for more information about in-store confrontations were denied over privacy and safety concerns, while some employees and other social media users flagged that many of the videos purporting to show guests’ outrage over LGBTQ-themed merchandise were several years old. 

Staff asked for details in the first place, the employees said, because “We were like, ‘OK, well, let us segment around these places that are perceived as dangerous’” to make nuanced and narrowly tailored decisions about when and where to make cuts. 

Ultimately, the number of products offered for Pride in 2023 was slashed by the time the collection was launched, and then again by nearly 50 percent, they said. 

Target organized a town hall event in July. Invited to speak were Executive Vice President and Chief Growth Officer Christina Hennington and Executive Vice President and Chief Food, Essentials and Beauty Officer Rick Gomez, both of whom are LGBTQ. 

One employee said they were left with the impression that staff should make peace with the decisions to cut Pride merchandise because the meeting was led by the company’s senior LGBTQ leadership, who announced “they were going to pull back on all heritage moments.” A second employee who was not in attendance agreed this was the message relayed to them. 

Leading into next year, the employees said teams informed leadership that they would “segment the hell out of this 2024 assortment to get the right things in the right stores, if [the company is saying] that there’s a subset of stores that need to serve a different function or guest need” — just as decisions are made to, for example, feature more swimwear items in Miami than in Seattle. 

Folks were broadly in agreement over this strategy, the employees said, but “cut to 2024, we’re sending [the Pride collection] to half the stores” — a decision that was reached “a couple of months ago when product had to be committed to stores.” 

Target announced that the decision was based on historical sales, in a statement that also reaffirmed the company’s commitments to supporting the LGBTQ community year-round. 

According to the employees, however, the move did not accurately reflect “guest demand” for Pride apparel and merchandise. 

Going back to 2023, one source said, apparel and accessories leaders initially provided direction to reduce the planned sales by approximately 19 percent to reflect what was happening elsewhere in the apparel business.

The team agreed the figure was “really close to where we need to be” and sought to build a strategy to maximize sales, learning from past mistakes that were made “in all of our heritage moments — and we saw this in Black History Month last year — of spreading the goods out too equally everywhere” rather than in the stores where it was selling out.  

The employees said the team responsible for the Black History Month collection introduced the idea of segmenting product between that which is designed for the intended audience versus that which could be worn by everyone, allies included, which feels noticeably absent from the 2024 Pride collection that is available in select stores and online today. 

With respect to the in-store experience, a similar approach would apply, they said. 

For instance, the original idea for this year’s Pride collection was “a four-tier strategy,” which built upon established precedent for heritage moments merchandise. 

On one end of the spectrum is a “full-blown experience, that kind of delivers and addresses all audiences.” And then a more narrowly tailored assortment would be offered for stores that may have space constraints or less foot traffic, along with another that might be “the most ally-friendly, or the most conventional,” and “versions for what we call our small-format stores.” 

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California Politics

Effort to put measure limiting trans youth’s rights on Calif. ballot fails

The group claimed it had gathered more than 400,000 signatures, falling short of the requisite threshold number for inclusion on the ballot

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Protect Kids California CEO & Roseville school board member Jonathan Zachreson, (right) with anti-LGBTQ+ Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and an unnamed delegate at the California GOP convention in Anaheim on Sept. 29, 2023. (Photo Credit: Zachreson/Facebook)

SACRAMENTO – The effort by the anti-LGBTQ+ conservative group Protect Kids California, headed by Roseville school board member Jonathan Zachreson, to collect some 550,000 valid signatures to place a transphobic trans youth proposal on the November 5 ballot has failed.

In a press release on Tuesday, the deadline set by the California secretary of state, the group claimed it had gathered more than 400,000 signatures, falling short of the requisite threshold number for inclusion on the ballot.

Protect Kids California submitted the proposed ballot initiative—presented as the “Protect Kids of California Act of 2024,” last September. The proposed ballot initiative would have:

  • Forced outing of transgender youth to their parents, ensuring that trans kids cannot have safety or privacy in schools if they are not ready to come out to family. Often these policies also include violations of privacy for the student when they discuss their gender identity with school counselors.
  • Banning of transgender youth from sports that match their gender identity, stigmatizing them and often forcing them out of sports altogether. Notably, these provisions typically fail to differentiate between high-stakes elite competitions and casual middle school teams. They also generally don’t provide for pathways to participation like hormone therapy, a method that has been researched and employed to address concerns of potential “unfair advantages” in competitions. California, which allows youth to access gender affirming care, will have youth who never underwent the puberty of their assigned sex at birth who would also be banned under this provision.
  • Banning gender affirming care for trans youth shown to be lifesaving. Gender affirming care is associated with a 73% reduction in suicidality and over 50 studies assembled by Cornell University show its benefits. California is one of several states that has recently moved to protect transgender youth and their medical care, and such a restriction would impact a large number of transgender kids in the state.

“We are relieved that anti-LGBTQ+ extremists have failed to reach the required signature threshold to qualify their anti-transgender ballot initiatives to the November 2024 ballot. Equality California will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ+ youth everywhere, and push back against any and all efforts by extremist groups who seek to discriminate against them,” said Tony Hoang Equality California Executive Director. “To every LGBTQ+ youth in California: know that you are loved and valued.”

A coalition of leading LGBTQ+ and allied organizations including Equality California, TransFamily Support Services, The TransLatin@ Coalition, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, ACLU California Action, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gender Justice LA, California TRANScends, Tranz of Anarchii Inc. issued the following statement in response to the failure of anti-LGBTQ+ extremists to qualify an anti-transgender initiative for the 2024 California General Election ballot:

“We are relieved that this dangerous initiative did not meet the required signature threshold to appear on the ballot.

This extremist proposal sought to ban essential healthcare for transgender youth, forcibly out transgender students without consent or regard for their safety, and ban transgender youth from accessing school facilities or playing sports that correspond with their gender identity.

Still, we know that this fight isn’t over. A handful of school districts across the state have already implemented their own harmful policies targeting LGBTQ+ youth, and we are grateful to California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the California Department of Education for challenging the discriminatory actions of such districts in court. We are also proudly supporting the SAFETY Act (AB 1955), by Assemblymember Chris Ward and the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, which will protect transgender students across California from harmful forced outing policies and provide them and their families with the resources and support they actually need to thrive.

We will never stop fighting for LGBTQ+ youth to be their authentic selves, feel protected and to be safe.” 

The anti-LGBTQ+ group placed partial blame for the failure on California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who the group had sued over the title and summary he assigned to its ballot measure that would strip rights from transgender minors.

The Bay Area Reporter noted the Liberty Justice Center filed a lawsuit February 13 in Sacramento County Superior Court on behalf of Protect Kids California that alleged Bonta’s personal beliefs led to a biased title and summary. Therefore, the center contended the ballot measure proponents should be given 180 additional days for signature gathering without discounting signatures already collected.

“Respondent [Bonta] has demonstrated that he personally, and in his official capacity, is opposed to any kind of notification by a public school to a parent or guardian that his or her child is exhibiting signs of gender dysphoria when the child asks the school to publicly treat him or her as the opposite sex with a new name or pronouns, and to allow the child to use the sex-segregated facilities of the opposite sex,” claimed the groups in their lawsuit.

But a Sacramento Superior Court judge sided with Bonta in a ruling that was first issued tentatively April 19 and was made final April 22. Judge Stephen Acquisto ruled that Bonta’s title and summary are accurate.

“Under current law, minor students have express statutory rights with respect to their gender identity,” Acquisto stated. “A substantial portion of the proposed measure is dedicated to eliminating or restricting these statutory rights. … The proposed measure would eliminate express statutory rights and place a condition of parental consent on accommodations that are currently available without such condition.

“The proposed measure objectively ‘restricts rights’ of transgender youth by preventing the exercise of their existing rights. ‘Restricts rights of transgender youth’ is an accurate and impartial description of the proposed measure,” Acquisto added.

The attorney general’s office has some leeway when it comes to determining ballot titles, the judge noted.

In a statement provided to the B.A.R. on April 24, after news that the decision had been made permanent, Protect Kids California attorney Nicole Pearson stated, “The mental gymnastics used to justify this prejudicial title and summary are not only an egregious abuse of discretion that entitles our clients to an appeal, but a chilling interpretation of law that jeopardizes the very foundation of our constitutional republic. We are reviewing our options for an appeal of these clear errors and will announce a decision shortly.”

Additional reporting by The Bay Area Reporter.

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Missouri

Missouri AG targets health care professionals over trans care

Health care professionals and parents of transgender youth are raising concerns about use of private medical records in the statewide probe

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A group of over 200 protesting MU Health's cancelation of transgender minors' prescriptions approaches Columbia City Hall Sept. 15. MU Health backed out of gender-affirming care for minors after the passage of a new state law including broad medical malpractice provisions (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

By Annelise Hanshaw | ST. LOUIS, Mo. – A state investigation of the Washington University Transgender Center in St. Louis expanded to include therapists and social workers across the state who work with minors seeking gender-affirming care.

Documents made public as part of various lawsuits show that Attorney General Andrew Bailey has obtained a collection of unredacted and loosely redacted records of transgender children, including a list of patients that received care at the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. 

 Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey speaks Jan. 20 to the Missouri chapter of the Federalist Society on the Missouri House of Representatives dais (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

He is also seeking untethered access to the university’s digital medical records system.

The attorney general’s use of private medical records, and the targeting of therapists and counselors, has interrupted the health care of LGBTQ Missourians and has families worrying about their children’s privacy.

Katy Erker-Lynch, executive director for Missouri LGBTQ advocacy organization PROMO, told The Independent she fears that the pressure will drive health care providers out of the state, especially impacting rural Missourians.

“The attorney general has created a hostile environment for medical providers where they are afraid to stay and practice medicine,” she said. 

The saga began last year when Bailey launched an investigation based on an affidavit from Washington University whistleblower Jamie Reed. Bailey is using the affidavit to question other gender-affirming-care providers like Planned Parenthood, which he has said he hopes to “eradicate.”

The probe involves the Missouri Division of Professional Registration, which oversees medical licensing in the state. According to records obtained by The Independent, the agency interviewed 57 health professionals as part of the inquiry and had 16 cases open as of early May.

While Bailey announced the division would assist in the investigation when he first announced it, therapists did not expect to be included — or have their license to practice put at risk. 

The division’s chief legal counsel, Sarah Ledgerwood, told The Independent that the division and its boards can’t join other officials’ investigations. When asked about Bailey’s investigation, she said the boards “can only complete investigations based on receipt of a complaint.”

Division Director Sheila Solon said last year that she anticipated complaints as part of the attorney general’s investigation.

Kelly Storck, a licensed clinical social worker with a focus on LGBTQ-positive therapy, was interviewed last year and expressed grave concerns about unredacted medical records of minors being in the hands of a state official who has repeatedly opposed gender-affirming care.

When the division contacted Storck for an interview, she hired a lawyer before meeting with the investigator.

During the meeting, she says the investigator had a small stack of unredacted letters Storck had sent the Transgender Center to recommend clients for gender-affirming care.

Storck recalled senior investigator Nick McBroom telling her he wasn’t fully sure what he was doing, saying she was taking the interview more seriously than it was. He questioned why she had a lawyer.

McBroom asked about the process of writing letters of support, Storck said, opening a file with just a portion of the letters she had sent to the Transgender Center. She said she noticed the documents had green underlines added and asked McBroom if they were his edits. He didn’t seem to know the source of the underlines.

After a 30-45 minute interview, McBroom asked her to write up her process. Through her attorney, she declined, and her case was closed soon after.

McBroom declined to speak to The Independent about the case.

“I still have a lot of distrust about who initiated it,” Storck said, “and who was in my documents.” 

Parents of transgender children told The Independent they have heard whispers of other therapists facing investigation.

Multiple providers declined to be interviewed about the investigation out of fear of retaliation. Storck, though, had already faced the attorney general as one of the plaintiffs attempting to block an emergency rule targeting transgender care filed by Bailey last year.

A fight for patient privacy

 The Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital has received national attention since a whistleblower’s affidavit went public last year (Rebecca Rivas/Missouri Independent).

A legal battle between Washington University and the attorney general’s office shows the records used in the interviews may have directly come from the university itself.

In the attorney general’s office’s response to the litigation, a timeline is laid out of the university turning over three sets of documents. In its second document production, Washington University gave the attorney general a list of patients in a spreadsheet.

“The supplemental production included a spreadsheet titled ‘Transgender Patient data,’” the attorney general’s office wrote. “Which included various workbooks chronicling patient names, encounters and medications, among other information.”

The attorney general’s office has declined to comment about the scope of the investigation and the source of investigative documents. Washington University also declined comment. 

People who have received care at the Transgender Center have asked to be notified if their health records are accessed, but many assume some of their information is already in the attorney general’s hands.

The Independent asked Reed if she provided any of the documents to the attorney general. 

“I cannot definitively say what the therapists are being handed (or) where it came from,” she said. “We just don’t really know where those things directly came from. The one thing I will add is that any documents that were provided to the attorney general’s office from me were redacted.”

Reed said she did not give any documents that would be stored in the electronic health records software Epic. When asked where else the records could come from, she said, “email or shared drive.”

The records investigators had of Storck’s patients included names, something Reed said she redacted before providing to the attorney general.

Becky Hormuth and her 17-year-old son Levi, who was a patient at the Transgender Center, have been hearing about the scope of Bailey’s investigation for months.

They learned that the attorney general’s office had been looking into Levi’s psychologist’s records and heard about other providers that had interviews related to their support for gender-affirming care.

Levi said the attorney general’s work seemed like “complete government overreach.”

Bailey’s actions, like a tip line about gender-affirming care and an emergency rule that sought to limit access to certain procedures and prescriptions, prompted Hormuth to prepare to move out of state.

“It is very invasive, what he’s doing,” she told The Independent. “The state has already basically disrupted our lives. They’ve disrupted our families, our children’s lives with the legislation that has passed. Then for him to continue going on is even more invasive and damaging.”

When lawmakers passed a ban on gender-affirming care for minors that included a provision that allowed broad medical malpractice claims, the Transgender Center stopped providing Levi’s medication.

Hormuth learned from other parents to make her son’s medication stretch, just in case it would be a long time before a refill.

She had requested an appointment with a provider in Illinois prior to the law’s passage, and Levi was on a waiting list. The center told her at the time that they weren’t taking new out-of-state patients because there was already a large influx from multiple states.

But eventually, Hormuth got a call that they were ready to take out-of-state patients. So, she and Levi make periodic trips to Chicago to go to the doctor.

Levi is old enough to receive hormone-replacement therapy at the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region’s clinics, which accept transgender patients 16 and up for gender-affirming care.

But Hormuth wanted to take her son someplace outside of Bailey’s reach.

“I was absolutely dead set against going to Planned Parenthood locally because I knew that as soon as we would establish ourselves at Planned Parenthood… that (Bailey) was going to come there and start digging through those papers and those personal records,” she said. “I absolutely was not going to give him the chance at any other aspect of our family’s life.”

Both branches of Planned Parenthood in Missouri are also subjects of Bailey’s investigation, according to court filings, despite the attorney general’s office only publicly announcing an investigation into the Transgender Center.

The attorney general is not allowed to investigate medical malpractice claims, but it can look into false advertising under the state’s consumer protection law, known as the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act. 

Bailey used that law to file an emergency rule, which he later rescinded before a court case could decide its bounds, and he is utilizing it again to dig into gender-affirming-care providers.

In a case in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Bailey’s office admits the investigation into the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital has multiple subjects.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains filed a lawsuit to avoid the attorney general’s civil investigative demands which it argued sought sweeping information about its practice and patients.

In court documents, Solicitor General Josh Divine wrote that the civil investigative demand was looking into the organization and others in addition to the Transgender Center.

“The attorney general is investigating (the Transgender Center) and ‘others in the state’ who ‘may have used deception, fraud, false promises, misrepresentation, unfair practices, and/or the concealment, suppression, or omission of material facts within the scope of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act,’” Divine wrote. “The attorney general has already made unequivocally clear that (Planned Parenthood) is under investigation.”

Similar arguments are on display in a case between the Planned Parenthood affiliate in St. Louis and the attorney general’s office.

“(Bailey’s) request encompasses hundreds, if not thousands, of patient records concerning treatment decisions, discussions with physicians, mental health assessments and prescription information, among other areas,” Planned Parenthood’s attorney wrote in its lawsuit.

Judges ruled in favor of the attorney general’s office in both cases, which have been recently appealed.

A case filed by Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City against Bailey’s investigative demands also went in favor of the attorney general.

Washington University’s case against the attorney general’s office is yet to be decided.

This fall, the attorney general’s office will defend the state in a case that seeks to reverse a ban on gender-affirming care for minors passed last legislative session.

Storck said the inquiry has compounded anxieties about access to gender-affirming care that patients have following the passage of the ban.

“I really was so afraid that some of my clients were going to be in absolute emergent situations and really struggle to get access to health care,” she said. “My patients have connected with what they need, but it is now an all-day or multiple-day event to get medical care. Previously, they could have gotten it (within two hours).”

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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.

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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.

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

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Libertarian Party nominates gay presidential candidate for 2024

At the Libertarian National Convention Saturday, former President Trump was booed by the crowd after asking for the third party’s endorsement

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Libertarian Party nominees Mike ter Maat for Vice-President & for President Chase Oliver. (Chase Oliver Libertarian Party Campaign/Facebook)

WASHINGTON – After a contentious seven rounds of voting on Sunday, the Libertarian Party nominated Chase Oliver, a gay sales account executive and former U.S. Senate candidate, to run in the 2024 presidential election.

Oliver will represent America’s third largest political party, whose endorsement had been solicited by the leading Republican and Independent candidates, Donald Trump and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Libertarian candidates typically earn about one percent of the national vote share during presidential elections, though Gary Johnson earned three percent in 2016, and Jo Jorgensen secured more votes than comprised the margin of victory in some 2020 battleground states.

Oliver’s third-party candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Georgia in 2022 helped force a runoff election that was won by U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).

Both Trump and Kennedy spoke at the Libertarian convention over the weekend, but they only earned a respective 0.65 percent and two percent of the votes from the party’s 900 delegates. (Trump, a write-in candidate, would likely have been ineligible to receive the nomination since he is the presumptive GOP nominee.)

Taking aim at Trump as well as the Democratic nominee, President Joe Biden, Oliver said during his acceptance speech, “We know that the lesser of two evils continues to give us more evil. But we’re done with that, and so are the voters.”

At the Libertarian National Convention in Washington, D.C. on Saturday night, former President Donald Trump was booed by the crowd after asking for the third party’s endorsement. The reception was far less friendly than the ones Trump receives at his own rallies, with some libertarian voters appearing hesitant to support him. NBC News’ Julie Tsirkin reported:

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