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Harris as VP pick brings diversity, LGBTQ ally to Biden ticket

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Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was chosen by Joseph Biden as the 2020 Democratic Party vice presidential candidate. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

Joe Biden made history Tuesday by selecting Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as the first woman of color as a vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket, and a rising political star who has demonstrated a commitment to the LGBTQ community.

Harris is a relative newcomer to Washington, but her record on LGBTQ rights extends back to her tenure as a district attorney for San Francisco and California attorney general as well as her work during her first term as U.S. senator. That’s made her a favorite among LGBTQ people, many of whom still wear “For the People” shirts from her presidential campaign.

“I grew up in a community and a culture where everyone was accepted for who they were, so there wasn’t a moment where it was like, ‘OK, now let’s let this person in,’” Harris told the Los Angeles Blade in 2019. “Everyone was a part of everything. It was about community. It was about coalition building. It was about equality, inclusion.”

Rick Chavez Zbur, executive director of the LGBTQ group Equality California, congratulated Harris in a statement for being the pick, calling his home state senator “an exceptional choice.”

“Throughout her career, Sen. Harris has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to civil rights and social justice for all LGBTQ+ people,” Zbur said. “As vice president, we are confident she will continue Vice President Biden’s tradition of using the office to champion and advance full, lived LGBTQ+ equality — and equality for the diverse communities to which LGBTQ+ people belong.”

The crown jewel of Harris in terms of her LGBTQ record is her decision as California attorney general not to defend Proposition 8, the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage enacted at the ballot in 2008.

“I declined to defend Proposition 8 because it violates the Constitution,” Harris said in a statement in 2013. “The Supreme Court has described marriage as a fundamental right 14 times since 1888. The time has come for this right to be afforded to every citizen.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court restored marriage equality to California in 2013, Harris officiated the wedding of Kris Perry and Sandy Stier of Berkeley, Calif., the first same-sex marriage performed in California after the landmark decision.

Additionally, Harris instructed clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples with “no exceptions” despite complaints from officials in more conservative parts of the state.

In 2015, Harris declined to certify a measure that obtained enough signatures to get on the state ballot to institute the death penalty for homosexual acts, which became known as the “Kill the Gays” initiative, bucking her requirements as California attorney general.

Before that time, as district attorney for San Francisco, Harris worked with the California Legislature to pass legislation barring the use of gay or transgender panic defense in court. As a result, California in 2014 became the first state to ban the plea.

Kamala Harris and Shangela at The Abbey in West Hollywood. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Since becoming a U.S. senator in 2016, Harris has taken major steps to lead efforts on LGBTQ rights, including the introduction of pro-LGBTQ legislation in addition to drawing attention to the anti-LGBTQ policies of the Trump administration. 

After the Trump administration affirmed it wouldn’t allow people to identify themselves as LGBTQ in the 2020 U.S. Census, Harris introduced legislation that would require the Census Bureau to include questions on the Census, as well as the American Community Survey, asking respondents whether they’re LGBTQ.

When a transgender immigrant from Honduras, Roxsana Hernandez, died from AIDS complications after being held in immigration detention, Harris and other senators demanded answers. An autopsy concluded Hernandez wasn’t physically abused before her death.

Harris and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) had called on U.S. Attorney General William Barr to revoke a 2017 Trump administration order declining to enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in cases of anti-transgender discrimination in the workforce. That request was renewed after the Supreme Court determined in June anti-LGBTQ discrimination is unlawful under Title VII, but the memo still hasn’t been rescinded.

Among other Senate Democrats, Harris is among the co-sponsors of the Equality Act, comprehensive legislation that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination as a form of sex discrimination.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said based on Harris’ record, Biden made “nothing short of an exceptional choice” for his running mate.

“Throughout her groundbreaking career, Sen. Harris has been an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ community, standing with us when many, even sometimes those within her own party, did not,” Davis said. “As a presidential candidate, Harris spoke with deep understanding of and empathy for the issues our community faces. It’s clear the Biden-Harris ticket marks our nation’s most pro-equality ticket in history.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) praised Harris in an interview with the Blade on Tuesday.

“I’m delighted that my home state Sen. Kamala Harris will be the next vice president of our country,” Takano said. “She comes to this opportunity well qualified, well prepared and I definitely look forward to campaigning for the Biden-Harris ticket. I think it’s a winning ticket and it’s a ticket about the future.”

John A. Perez, former California Assembly Speaker and current chair of the University of California Regents told Los Angeles Blade, “I was the co-chair of her Senate campaign and obviously was Speaker when she was the Attorney General. She is a brilliant choice. She has proven to be a good executive, a good legislator, a good lawyer and a good advocate for justice. I think she’s exactly the kind of vice president Joe Biden should have picked and did pick. And I think she strengthens his campaign immeasurably.”

Of Harris immediately announcing that Karine Jean-Pierre as her chief of staff. Jean-Pierre, you will remember, was the petite lesbian mother who defended Harris after some guy jumped the stage John said: “It’s not surprising to me. She’s always been an incredible ally to the LGBT community in every role she’s had. And it doesn’t surprise me that she’d want to have the best and the brightest rounding out her team.”

As a 2020 presidential candidate, Harris was among the contenders for the Democratic nomination who unveiled a comprehensive plan for LGBTQ Americans. Among other things, Harris promised to create a White House advocate for LGBTQ affairs.

Harris, however, faced criticism when she said Pete Buttigieg was “a bit naive” for bringing up the struggle of being a gay American when asked about diversity issues, even though he explicitly said “there’s no equating the two experiences.” LGBTQ and Black activists were split over whether Harris was right to denounce Buttigieg.

But Harris has faced criticism from progressives who say her career has been too aligned with support for the police at a time when law enforcement and police brutality are under heavy scrutiny. Harris fought to keep a non-violent prisoner locked up in state prison, openly defying a 2011 Supreme Court decision ordering the state to reduce overcrowding, according to a report in The American Independent.

Critics of Harris in terms of LGBTQ rights point to legal filings she signed in 2015 as California attorney general defending the state prison system in refusing to grant transgender surgery to inmates. Among them was Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, who was formerly incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif., for second-degree murder.

“Norsworthy has been treated for gender dysphoria for over 20 years, and there is no indication that her condition has somehow worsened to the point where she must obtain sex-reassignment surgery now rather than waiting until this case produces a final judgment on the merits,” says one brief signed by Harris.

Harris was able to secure a change that led to Norsworthy being able to obtain the procedure upon parole, the first in the Untied States, outlining a procedure for inmates to obtain gender reassignment surgery.

But according to information the Blade obtained last year in a public records request, few transgender inmates were able to obtain the procedure under the new policy. 

As of 2019, only seven prisoners ever got the male-to-female procedure out of 130 who asked, and 10 out of the 51 inmates who requested female-to-male gender reassignment surgery obtained it. The California prison system has updated its policy on transgender inmates, but hasn’t yet made changes specific to gender reassignment surgery.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Indiana GSA sues school district that banned Pride flags over another ban

“The treatment aimed at PHGSA by administrators is unwarranted- these students must be treated in the same manner all others are treated”

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Pendleton Heights High School in Pendleton, Indiana (Screenshot via WTHR NBC 13 News)

INDIANAPOLIS – A student led Gay-Straight Alliance at Pendleton Heights High School in Pendleton, Indiana filed suit against their school and the South Madison Community Schools District for banning public announcements and adverts in-school for their club.

Last Spring officials in the Schools District, in this suburban community 30 miles northeast of Indianapolis, ordered faculty members at Pendleton Heights High School to remove Rainbow Pride flags from classrooms. The Schools District labeled the flags “political paraphernalia”  and instructed the Spanish, French and art teachers to get the flags out of their classrooms saying the flags violate their school district’s “political paraphernalia” policy.

In the suit filed last Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of the Pendleton Heights High GSA, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, the ACLU noted that the principal at Pendleton Heights has stated that the PHGSA cannot publicize its existence on school bulletin boards or on the school’s radio station, while other curricular and non-curricular clubs at the school are able to do so. 

“This group aims to create an environment that provides support to students, during a time that otherwise might be increasingly difficult for LGBTQ students,” said Kit Malone, advocacy strategist at ACLU of Indiana. “The differential treatment aimed at Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance by administrators is unwarranted and these students must be treated in the same manner that all other student groups are treated.” 

Pendleton Heights Principal Connie Rickert has the authority to decide what student groups are allowed to meet at the school and which ones are deemed to be “official.” Last Spring she deflected on the apparent anti-LGBTQ+ messaging the order to remove the flags sent telling one media outlet; ““Teachers are legally obligated to maintain viewpoint neutrality during their official duties to ensure all students can focus on learning and we can maintain educational activities and school operations,” she said. “Our counselors are trained to respond to any student who desires support.”

While she has allowed the GSA club to meet, her banning announcements and notifications for the GSA runs contrary to her statements last Spring that that her school prides itself on creating a welcoming environment for all. 

“Students at Pendleton Heights High School may participate in non-curricular clubs recognized by the school,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “By creating additional hurdles for Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance such as censoring the group’s promotions and prohibiting fundraising, the school is infringing on these students’ rights.” 

The South Madison Community Schools District has declined comment.

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Texas

Alarming numbers of Texas Trans kids in crisis over litany of anti-Trans bills

“Under the guise of protecting children- Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender & nonbinary youth”

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LGBTQ youth protest anti-Trans bills at the Texas Capitol building (Photo Credit: Equality Texas)

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project received nearly 4,000 crisis contacts from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas in 2021, with many directly stating that they are feeling stressed and considering suicide due to anti-trans laws being debated in their state.

This new data comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.

The Texas State Senate passed its anti-trans sports ban SB3 this week, and the companion bill HB10 is now moving forward in the Texas House. 

Republican Texas Governor Abbott has prioritized SB 3 and called for a third consecutive special session of the legislature to consider this bill, which would ban transgender student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

“The Trevor Project’s crisis counselors have been hearing from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas who are scared and worried about anti-trans laws being debated in their state — and some have even expressed suicidal thoughts. This is a crisis. We urge Texas lawmakers to consider the weight of their words and actions — and to reject HB10/SB3,” said Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project.

  • Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
  • While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
  • Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
  • Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.

“As a transgender young person in Texas, this new data from the Trevor Project is not surprising, but it’s nonetheless harrowing and alarming to see this representation of the detrimental impact Texas Lege is having on our community — especially our kids. Lawmakers and proponents of bills like SB3 and HB10 should be alarmed by these statistics, too,” Landon Richie a Trans youth activist and GenderCool Youth Leader from Houston told the Los Angeles Blade.

“Under the guise of protecting children and promoting fairness, Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender and nonbinary youth, denying them the dignity, respect, and childhoods that they deserve. It’s never an exaggeration to say that the passage — and merely debate — of these bills will cost lives,”  Richie added.

National mental health organizations like The Trevor Project and state LGBTQ equality groups including Equality Texas and Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) are raising concerns about the impact of such legislation on the mental health and wellbeing of transgender and nonbinary youth.

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. Further, Trevor released a new research brief earlier this month on LGBTQ youth participation in sports, which found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (nearly 66%) do not actively participate in sports — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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Utah

2nd largest school district in Utah bans Pride & BLM flags as ‘too political’

“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can”

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Davis School District Offices in Farmington Utah (Photo Credit: Davis School District)

FARMINGTON, Ut. – Administrators this week in the Davis School District, which is Utah’s 2nd largest school district with 72,987 students, banned LGBTQ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, saying they are ‘politically charged.’

According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Davis Schools spokesperson Chris Williams told the paper; “No flags fly in our schools except for the flag of the United States of America.” Williams later walked that statement back adding a clarification that some of the Districts schools have flags from sports team or international countries which are considered “unrelated to politics.”

“What we’re doing is we’re following state law,” said Williams. “State law says that we have to have a classroom that’s politically neutral.”

Amanda Darrow, Director of Youth, Family, and Education at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, told multiple media outlets the school district is “politicizing the rainbow flag” which doesn’t belong on a political list.

“That flag for us is so much more,” said Darrow. “It is just telling us we’re included in the schools, we are being seen in the schools, and we belong in these schools.”

KUTV CBS2 News in Salt Lake City checked with the Utah State Board of Education. In an email, spokesman Mark Peterson said, “There is nothing in code that specifically defines a rainbow flag as a political statement so it would be up to district or charter school policies to make that determination.”

The local Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in saying in a statement;

Whether or not a school district has the legal ability to ban inclusive and supportive symbols from classrooms, it is bad policy for them to do so,” the advocacy organization said in a statement. “Utah schools have an obligation to ensure that all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identify, feel welcome inside a classroom. We urge school administrators and teachers to adopt policies that make all students feel safe and included.”

Williams insisted the policy is not meant to exclude anyone and that all students are loved and welcomed – they just want to keep politics out of school he told the Tribune and KUTV.

“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can,” said Williams.

A Utah based veteran freelance journalist, writer, editor, and food photographer weighed in on Twitter highlighting the negative impact of the Davis Schools decision on its LGBTQ youth.

Davis County School District bans LGTBQ and BLM flags as ‘too political’

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