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Federal Appeals Court voids ban on Conversion Therapy

Plaintiffs were represented by vehemently anti-LGBTQ Mat Staver



Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Court of Appeals Building, Atlanta, Georgia (Photo: U.S. Government)

ATLANTA – The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision Friday, voided a pair of local ordinances that were passed by the city of Boca Raton, Florida and surrounding Palm Beach County that prohibited therapists from offering so-called conversion therapy to minors struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In its ruling the court held that the bans were unconstitutional violating First Amendment rights on content-cased speech and religious freedoms.

The suit had been brought by two therapists that the ordinances targeted prohibiting them as well as other licensed counselors from performing gay conversion therapy on minors. They were represented by vehemently anti-LGBTQ Mat Staver, founder of Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, a law firm that seeks out legislation or regulatory mandates which uphold LGBTQ rights and challenges them in courts across the United States to overturn them.

Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton, who have engaged in conversion therapy with minors in Florida despite warnings against the practice, had challenged the municipal ordinances in the litigation.

Reporting on the lawsuit, Courthouse News this past February noted that the Palm Beach county regulation provides for a fine of $250 for performing conversion therapy on a minor, with a $500 fine for each additional violation. The laws define conversion therapy as the practice of attempting to change a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

In court filings Staver argued that the clients of the two therapists claimed that those persons they counseled had expressed “sincerely held religious beliefs conflicting with homosexuality,” and sought counseling to conform their identities and behaviors with those beliefs.

A federal judge in Miami had ruled that the “plaintiffs have not met their burden of showing that the ordinances violate the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

In the special hearing before the three judge panel of the 11th Circuit last February, the therapists fought to dispel the notion that they were engaged in aggressive attempts to change patients’ sexual identity. Staver argued that the counselors used neither shaming nor punishment, instead relying solely on conversation as therapy.

Leading mental health professional organizations, the American Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Associations are opposed to what both have termed “the damaging effects of conversion therapy.” 

“There is no evidence that it is helpful and plenty of evidence that it is psychologically harmful to participants.  The practice must be banned in order to protect the mental and emotional well being of both children and adults,” a spokesperson for the American Pediatrics Association told the Blade. “It can be reasonably argued that members of the LGBTQ community experience suicide and assault at greater rates than the general population, in part, due to the continued authorization of conversion therapy.”

“The archaic idea that mental health providers can or should change someone’s gender expression or gender identity or their sexual orientation is based on a history of stigmatization and subjective, restrictive sexual identities. It increases the risk of suicide of our LGBTQ children from trauma via conversion therapy,” Dr. Katya Dobrynin told the Blade.

Staver hailed the decision against bans on conversion therapy in a statement as a win for free speech and predicting similar rulings would follow the Blade’s Chris Johnson reported.

“This is a huge victory for counselors and their clients to choose the counsel of their choice free of political censorship from government ideologues,” Staver said. “This case is the beginning of the end of similar unconstitutional counseling bans around the country.”

Representative Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) who authored the first ban on youth conversion therapy in the nation as a California State Senator and who introduced proposed legislation for federal bans in Congress told the Blade in an emailed statement;

“I am disappointed and dismayed at this court decision. It’s wrong on the facts. Banning conversion therapy doesn’t concern free speech – it’s about fraud. Conversion therapy peddles treatments for an ailment that doesn’t exist. There is nothing wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or queer. Suggesting someone can sell a “cure” to being LGBTQ+ is harmful and dishonest.”

In an email Friday, Palm Beach County Attorney Helene Hvizd told the Blade; “Palm Beach County continues to review the majority and dissenting opinions as we weigh our options.”   

Jamie Cole, a partner with Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman P.L. and co-counsel for the City of Boca Raton, said via email to the Blade the legal team is weighing its next steps.

“This is a difficult legal issue, as evidenced by the split decision,” Cole said. “The city is disappointed with the majority decision, but agrees with the well-written  and well-reasoned dissent. The city is analyzing the decision to determine how to proceed.”

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, discouraged via email to the Blade any attempt to call for resolution of the issue before Supreme Court, which now has a 6-3 conservative majority as a result of Trump-appointed picks.

“I do not think this issue is ripe for Supreme Court review,” Minter said. “Today’s ruling is an outlier by two Trump-appointed judges. As the dissent points out, the decision is not well grounded in precedent and ignores what the dissent rightly describes as a “mountain of rigorous evidence” that conversion therapy puts minors at risk of serious harms.”

Minter urged the municipalities to take another course of action, saying “because the majority opinion here is so off track, seeking en banc review would be more appropriate than seeking Supreme Court review.”

The Eleventh Circuit decision creates a split among circuit courts on the constitutionality of bans on conversion therapy. The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have previously upheld these bans as constitutional.

The spilt among the circuit courts on the issue may prompt the Supreme Court to take it up to resolve the constitutional issue on a nationwide basis — provided the municipalities submit a petition for review.

Both appellate judges in the majority of Friday’s ruling were appointed to the bench by President Trump, while the dissenting judge was appointed by President Obama.

Link to the ruling is here.

Additional reporting by Chris Johnson



Brian Cornell, CEO of Target slams threats over LGBTQ+ merch

In the internal memo, Cornell wrote he tried to balance between recognizing Pride Month and making changes aimed at prioritizing safety



Brian Cornell, CEO of Target. (Screenshot/YouTube Stanford Graduate School of Business)

MINNEAPOLIS – In an internal memorandum to company employees this week,  Target Corporation Chief Executive Officer Brian Cornel described the experience of the retail giant’s staff as “gut-wrenching.”

Target has been under heavy criticism for its LGBTQ+ Pride Collection of merchandise that has been the center of physical assaults, attacks on displays, threats against employees and customers which has escalated to bomb threats in multiple states leading to criminal investigations by local and federal law enforcement.

“What you’ve seen in recent days went well beyond discomfort, and it has been gut-wrenching to see what you’ve confronted in our aisles,” Cornell told store employees in the memo, which was sent on Wednesday and first reported on by The Wall Street Journal. He also thanked service-center staffers for their “patience and professionalism through high volumes of angry, abusive and threatening calls.” 

In the internal memo sent out by email, Cornell wrote he tried to balance between recognizing Pride Month and making changes aimed at prioritizing safety.

Team –

I want to end the day where Briefly started: on a note of care. This has been a very hard day for Target, and it follows many difficult days of deliberation and decision-making.

To our team in Stores: thank you for steadfastly representing our values. No one is better at working through uncomfortable situations in service to an inclusive guest experience.

What you’ve seen in recent days went well beyond discomfort, and it has been gut-wrenching to see what you’ve confronted in our aisles.

To our team in the service centers, thank you for your patience and professionalism through high volumes of angry, abusive and threatening calls. I recognize how difficult and even frightening those interactions can be, and thank you for the composure with which you’ve fielded those comments.

To the teams who have been working so hard on our plans for Pride – and now are showing incredible agility as we adjust – thank you. Your efforts will ensure we can still show up and celebrate Pride in meaningful ways.

To the LGBTQIA+ community, one of the hardest parts in all of this was trying to contemplate how the adjustments we’re making to alleviate these threats to our team’s physical and psychological safety would impact you and your wellbeing and psychological safety. We stand with you now and will continue to do so – not just during Pride Month, but each and every day.

Those were the two guiding principles when it came time for us to act: do all we can to keep our team safe, and do all we can to honor our commitment and connection to the LGBTQIA+ community.

From a host of difficult alternatives, we have sincerely sought the best path forward, finding ways to recognize Pride Month, while making adjustments to prioritize safety. As always, we’re stronger together, and I want you to know that I’m committed to doing all I can, and all we can as a company, to support a culture across the country of care, empathy, equity and simple civility, in hopes that we’ll not have to face these kinds of agonizing decisions in the future.

Thank you for the care you’ve shown each other, our frontline teams and the LGBTQIA+ community.


Outrage over Target’s decision to remove merchandise continues to build. Journalist and Los Angeles Blade columnist Erin Reed tweeted:

Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor, Harvard Law Cyberlaw Clinic and LGBTQ+ activist tweeted:

Right-wing media outlets including Fox and Newsmax report that the outrage over the LGBTQ+ merchandise has resulted in calls for a boycott of the retail chain.


Some Target Stores Move Pride-Themed Items Due To Threats | The View:

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Texas AG impeached, suspended pending outcome of Senate trial

The House voted 121-23 to suspend Ken Paxton and refer him to the Senate for trial on charges of bribery, abuse of office and obstruction



The Texas House voted to impeach state Attorney General Ken Paxton on Saturday. (Photo Credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune)

LA Blade Editor’s note: For the vast majority of the past ten years the Texas Attorney General has waged a relentless campaign to limit the rights and equality of LGBTQ+ Texans, especially transgender Texans. Today’s vote is significant in terms of the possibility that a Senate conviction would offer a potential respite from Paxton’s attacks on the LGBTQ+ community.

By  Zach Despart & James Barragan AUSTIN | In a history-making late-afternoon vote, a divided Texas House chose Saturday to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton, temporarily removing him from office over allegations of misconduct that included bribery and abuse of office.

The vote to adopt the 20 articles of impeachment was 121-23.

Attention next shifts to the Texas Senate, which will conduct a trial with senators acting as jurors and designated House members presenting their case as impeachment managers.

Permanently removing Paxton from office and barring him from holding future elected office in Texas would require the support of two-thirds of senators.

The move to impeach came less than a week after the House General Investigating Committee revealed that it was investigating Paxton for what members described as a yearslong pattern of misconduct and questionable actions that include bribery, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. They presented the case against him Saturday, acknowledging the weight of their actions.

“Today is a very grim and difficult day for this House and for the state of Texas,” Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, a committee member, told House members.

“We have a duty and an obligation to protect the citizens of Texas from elected officials who abuse their office and their powers for personal gain,” Spiller said. “As a body, we should not be complicit in allowing that behavior.”

Paxton supporters criticized the impeachment proceedings as rushed, secretive and based on hearsay accounts of actions taken by Paxton, who was not given the opportunity to defend himself to the investigating committee.

“This process is indefensible,” said Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, who complained that the vote was taking place on a holiday weekend before members had time to conduct a thorough review of the accusations. “It concerns me a lot because today it could be General Paxton, tomorrow it could be you and the next day it could be me.”

Saturday’s vote temporarily removes a controversial but influential Republican figure in Texas and nationally. He has led an office that initiated lawsuits that overturned or blocked major Biden and Obama administration policies, sought to reverse Trump’s electoral defeat in 2020, aggressively pursued voter fraud claims and targeted hospitals that provided gender care to minors.

The Legislature had impeached state officials just twice since 1876 — and never an attorney general — but the House committee members who proposed impeachment argued Saturday that Paxton’s misconduct in office was so egregious that it warranted his removal.

“This gentleman is no longer fit for service or for office,” said committee member Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston. “Either this is going to be the beginning of the end of his criminal reign, or God help us with the harms that will come to all Texans if he’s allowed to stay the top cop on the take, if millions of Texans can’t trust us to do the right thing, right here, right now.”

Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, a member of the investigative committee, used his presentation time to criticize Paxton for calling representatives as they worked on the House floor to “personally threaten them with political consequences in the next election” if they supported impeachment.

Speaking against impeachment, Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, called the process “wrong.”

“Don’t end our session this way. Don’t tarnish this institution,” Tinderholt said. “Don’t cheapen the act of impeachment. Don’t undermine the will of the voters. Don’t give Democrats another victory handed to them on a silver platter.”

The vote came as hardline conservatives supportive of Paxton’s aggressive strategy of suing the Biden administration were lining up in support of him. Former President Donald Trump — a close political ally to Paxton — blasted the impeachment proceedings as an attempt to unseat “the most hard working and effective” attorney general and thwart the “large number of American Patriots” who voted for Paxton.

Trump vowed to target any Republican who voted to impeach Paxton.

As lawmakers listened to the committee members make their case, Paxton took to social media to boost conservatives who had come to his defense, including Trump, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, and conservative radio host Grant Stinchfield, who tweeted, “Kangaroo Court in Texas.”

About 90 minutes into the debate, the official Twitter account of the Texas attorney general’s office began tweeting at members of the committee to challenge some of the claims being made.

“Please tell the truth,” the agency’s account said.

Because Paxton was impeached while the Legislature was in session, the Texas Constitution requires the Senate to remain in Austin after the regular session ends Monday or set a trial date for the future, with no deadline for a trial spelled out in the law.

Impeachment represents the greatest political threat to date for Paxton, who has been reelected twice despite a 2015 indictment for felony securities fraud and an ongoing federal investigation into allegations of official misconduct that began in 2020.

The impeachment vote, on the third-to-last day of the regular legislative session, capped a tumultuous week at the Capitol. From Tuesday to Thursday:

  • Paxton abruptly accused House Speaker Dade Phelan of presiding over the chamber while drunk and demanded that he resign.
  • The House General Investigating Committee revealed it had been investigating Paxton in secret since March.
  • The committee heard a three-hour presentation from its investigators detailing allegations of corruption against the attorney general.
  • The committee’s three Republicans and two Democrats voted to forward 20 articles of impeachment to the full House.

Paxton, who was comfortably elected to a third term last year, made a rare appearance before assembled reporters Friday to criticize the process, saying he was not given a chance to present favorable evidence. He called impeachment an effort by Democrats and “liberal” Republicans to remove him from office, violating the will of voters and sidelining an effective warrior against Biden administration policies.

“The corrupt politicians in the Texas House are demonstrating that blind loyalty to Speaker Dade Phelan is more important than upholding their oath of office,” Paxton said. He added, “They are showcasing their absolute contempt for the electoral process.”

Many of the articles of impeachment focused on allegations that Paxton had repeatedly abused his powers of office to help a political donor and friend, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.

In fall 2020, eight top deputies in the attorney general’s office approached federal and state investigators to report their concerns about Paxton’s relationship with Paul.

All eight quit or were fired in the following months, and most of the details of their allegations against Paxton were revealed in a lawsuit by four former executives who claim they were fired — in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act — in retaliation for reporting Paxton to the authorities. Paxton’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit is awaiting action by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals.

According to the lawsuit, the whistleblowers accused Paxton of engaging in a series of “intense and bizarre” actions to help Paul, including intervening in an open-records case to help Paul gain documents from federal and state investigations into the real estate investor’s businesses. They also accused Paxton of directing his agency to intervene in a lawsuit between Paul and a charity, pushing through a rushed legal opinion to help Paul avoid a pending foreclosure sale on properties and ignoring agency rules to hire an outside lawyer to pursue an investigation helpful to Paul’s businesses.

In return, the whistleblower lawsuit alleged, Paul paid for all or part of a major renovation of a home Paxton owns in Austin. Paul also helped Paxton keep an extramarital affair quiet by employing the woman Paxton had been seeing, the lawsuit said, adding that the attorney general may also have been motivated by a $25,000 contribution Paul made to Paxton’s campaign in 2018.

In their report to the House General Investigating Committee on Wednesday, the panel’s investigators concluded that Paxton may have committed numerous crimes and violated his oath of office.

Investigators said possible felonies included abuse of official capacity by, among other actions, diverting staff time to help Paul at a labor cost of at least $72,000; misuse of official information by possibly helping Paul gain access to investigative documents; and retaliation and official oppression by firing employees who complained of Paxton’s actions to the FBI.

The articles of impeachment accused Paxton of accepting bribes, disregarding his official duties and misapplying public resources to help Paul.

The articles also referred to felony charges of securities fraud, and one felony count of failing to register with state securities officials, that have been pending against Paxton since 2015, months after he took office as attorney general. The fraud charges stem from Paxton’s work in 2011 to solicit investors in Servergy Inc. without disclosing that the McKinney company was paying him for the work.

The impeachment articles also accused Paxton of obstruction of justice by acting to delay the criminal cases with legal challenges and because a Paxton donor pursued legal action that limited the pay to prosecutors in the case, causing further delays “to Paxton’s advantage.”

Taken in total, the accusations showed a pattern of dereliction of duty in violation of the Texas Constitution, Paxton’s oaths of office and state laws against public officials acting against the public’s interest, the impeachment resolution said.

“Paxton engaged in misconduct, private or public, of such character as to indicate his unfitness for office,” the articles said.

An attorney general had never before been impeached by the Legislature, an extraordinary step that lawmakers have reserved for public officials who faced serious allegations of misconduct. Only two Texas officials have been removed from office by Senate conviction, Gov. James Ferguson in 1917 and District Judge O.P. Carrillo in 1975.

If Paxton is to survive, he will need to secure the support of 11 senators. With the 12 Democratic senators likely to support his removal, votes for acquittal would need to come from the 19 Republican members.

None has publicly defended Paxton. In a television interview Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, said merely that he believed senators would be responsible jurors and “do their duty.”

A complicating factor is Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, Paxton’s wife. State law requires all senators to attend an impeachment trial, though whether she will recuse herself from voting is unclear.

Paxton’s political base lies in the far-right faction of the Republican Party, where he has positioned himself as a champion of conservative causes and a thorn in the side of Democratic President Joe Biden. Paxton has criticized his opponents as RINOs (Republicans in name only) who “want nothing more than to sabotage our legal challenges to Biden’s extremist agenda by taking me out.”

He also retained the backing of the state Republican Party, led by former state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, who frequently attacks Republicans he considers to be insufficiently conservative. On Friday, Rinadi said the impeachment was Phelan’s fault for allowing Democrats to have too much influence in the House.

“The impeachment proceedings against the Attorney General are but the latest front in the Texas House’s war against Republicans to stop the conservative direction of her state,” Rinaldi said in a statement.

Paxton also has maintained a close relationship with Trump and filed an unsuccessful U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the 2020 presidential election. Paxton also spoke at Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, 2021, shortly before the president’s supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol.



Zach Despart’s staff photo

Zach Despart

[email protected]


James Barragán’s staff photo

James Barragán

[email protected]



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


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Target stores nationwide receive bomb threats over LGBTQ merch

A Target store in Layton, Utah was evacuated after police said they were informed of a bomb threat to multiple Utah locations



Screenshot/YouTube 11 Alive Atlanta

SALT LAKE CITY – Police departments in Utah, Ohio, and Pennsylvania aided by assistance from agents from Federal Bureau of Investigation Field Offices in Ohio and Utah are investigating threats made by email to local media referencing the retail chain Target’s LGBTQ merchandise collections celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride Month.

KUTV CBS 2 Salt Lake City reported that Sgt. John Ottesen with Layton Utah Police said bomb threats were made to Target stores in Layton, Salt Lake, Taylorsville and Provo. Sgt. Ottesen confirmed that multiple law enforcement agencies commenced the investigation after the local new stations received the emailed threats.

A Target store in Layton, Utah was evacuated after police said they were informed of a bomb threat to multiple Utah locations.

The threats specifically mentioned Target’s Pride merchandise, were three sentences long, and came from a “bogus email address,” according to Ottesen.

WOIO Cleveland 19 News received a bomb threat Friday afternoon against four Target stores in Ohio and a store in Monaca, Pennsylvania purportedly from a person or persons angry over Target Corporation’s decision to remove some of the LGBTQ+ Merch after a series of threats and physical threats against its retail clerks and staff in several southern states earlier this week.

It was not immediately known if the threats were legitimate, though precautions were quickly taken to ensure staff and customer’s safety according to officials.

A Target spokesperson who spoke with multiple media outlets said: “The safety of our team members and guests is our top priority. Law enforcement investigated these claims and determined our stores are safe. Our stores are currently open and operating regular hours.”

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

Castaneda also released a statement from the company:

“For more than a decade, Target has offered an assortment of products aimed at celebrating Pride Month. Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work. Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior. Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.”

Removal of the merchandise from its online store in addition to the storefronts has prompted harsh criticism of the retailer. California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted:

Numerous LGBTQ activists and groups have condemned Target for bowing to what is seen as political pressure by a minority of far right extremists:

“Extremist groups and individuals work to divide us and ultimately don’t just want rainbow products to disappear, they want us to disappear,” Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “For the past decade, the LGBTQ+ community has celebrated Pride with Target −it’s time that Target stands with us and doubles-down on their commitment to us.”

On Friday, Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor, Harvard Law Cyberlaw Clinic and LGBTQ+ activist tweeted her disgust over the decision by Target to effectively abandon company support for the queer product lines and the creators.

Atlanta LGBTQI+ community reacts to Target pulling some Pride merchandise:

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St. Louis mayor signs executive order seeking to shield trans youth 

“All of our children in St. Louis deserve to know that there are still elected leaders out here fighting for them”



St Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones (Screenshot/YouTube KMOV CBS 4)

By Annelise Hanshaw | SAINT LOUIS – St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones on Thursday signed an executive order seeking to insulate transgender Missourians from bills passed by the state legislature restricting access to certain medical procedures for minors and limiting participation in school sports.

“The responsibility now falls to local governments to take tangible steps to respond to this state intrusion into private family medical decisions and minors’ bodily privacy,” she wrote in a letter to the city’s legislative delegation earlier in the day notifying them of her planned order.

Missouri lawmakers passed bills earlier this month banning minors from beginning gender-affirming hormones or puberty blockers for four years, starting in August, and restricting transgender athletes to competing on teams as their birth sex. Both bills await action by Gov. Mike Parson, who has indicated he intends to sign them into law. 

Jones’ order calls the bills “an abhorrent intrusion into personal freedom and liberty.”

She wrote that her executive order was crafted after “conversation and consultation with members of the LGBTQ+ community and our city departments” and expressed concern for families moving out of state because of state legislation.

The order calls for the city Department of Health to inform residents, including minors, about gender-affirming care. Jones plans for an annual “summit of health care providers and other individuals” to discuss the best practices for transgender health care.

The order would direct city agencies to inform residents, including minors, about gender-affirming care and allow athletes in city-funded recreation programs to compete according to their gender identity

It also allows transgender athletes in city-funded recreation programs to compete according to their gender identity, for she states that these programs must not require the disclosure of gender or one’s gender-affirming hormone treatment. The Missouri State High School Activities Association policy currently allows transgender athletes to compete according to their gender identity only if they have been taking cross-sex hormones.

City recreation centers would also have at least one all-gender restroom under her order, and staff would receive training on “affirming best practices.”

Buildings housing city administration are ordered to also have at least one all-gender restroom, and the city departments are directed to administer their services in a gender-affirming manner.

Jones prioritizes economic development in the order, stating future projects must support gender inclusivity.

She requests that the St. Louis Development Corp. advise how to incentivize inclusive business practices.

“All of our children in St. Louis deserve to know that there are still elected leaders out here fighting for them,” Susan Halla, president of transgender advocacy group TransParent, said in a news release. “I am grateful to Mayor Jones for instituting these important changes in the face of recent attacks on trans youth from the Missouri legislature. For our trans youth, please know that you are seen and you are loved for who you are.”

Earlier this month, the Kansas City Council resolved that the city would be a “safe haven” for gender-affirming care. The resolution directs city staff, including law enforcement, from penalizing those seeking gender-affirming care or providing it.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey called the city council’s actions “unprecedented and radical” in a letter to the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners. In it, he urged the board to make sure police enforce the new law when it goes into effect. 

The bill does not have criminal penalties for those who seek care, so it is outside the police’s enforcement, Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves said in a statement to the Kansas City Star.

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, told The Independent he was proud to be a St. Louis resident after the mayor signed her order.

“Government should be supporting folks’ access to quality medical care, not interfering with our private medical decisions,” he said. “Our leaders should be fighting for all kids to be included in activities like sports and have an opportunity to succeed — not bullying kids who are too often already bullied and left out.”


Annelise Hanshaw

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



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

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

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Crime & Justice

NY woman indicted: Threatened Colorado LGBTQ+ businesses

Defendant made threatening comments in each of the calls, including threats to “shoot your bar up” & “you’re gonna be shot up like Club Q”



Jessica Anne Newham, known by her stage name Betty Who performed at Center Stage during Denver Pride at Denver's Civic Center Park, June 26, 2022. (Photo Credit: Denver Pride/Facebook)

DENVER – The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado announced that Sharon Robinson, age 40, of New York, has been arrested and charged in an indictment by a federal grand jury in Colorado’s capital city with making multiple threatening calls to LGBTQ businesses in Denver and Glendale.

According to allegations in the indictment, the defendant called at least four businesses catering to the LGBTQ community just a few weeks after the tragic shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs. 

The defendant made various threatening comments in each of the calls, including threats to “shoot your bar up” and “you’re gonna be shot up like Club Q.”  The threats also included anti-LGBTQ slurs.  Robinson is also accused of telling a Glendale business owner, “I’m going to go over there and shoot you all … You’re going to die,” the indictment states.

The Grand Jury made a special finding that the defendant intentionally selected her victims because of their actual and perceived sexual orientation.  The United States Sentencing Guidelines recommend higher sentences for such crimes.

CNN reported that Robinson made an initial appearance Wednesday in a New York federal court in Brooklyn and was released on a $50,000 bond, court documents show. As a condition of her release, she consented to a court order requiring her to appear in federal court in Colorado, where the charges are pending.

Amanda L. David, an attorney appointed to represent Robinson at her appearance in New York, told CNN Thursday she had no comment on the case.

This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Denver Police Department, and the Glendale Police Department.  Assistant United States Attorney Bryan Fields is handling the prosecution.

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Bill to ban healthcare for trans youth defeated in Louisiana Senate

“I guess I’ve always believed in my heart of hearts that a decision should be made by a patient and a physician”



Louisiana state capitol building in Baton Rouge. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BATON ROUGE – House Bill 648, a bill that would have banned gender-affirming care for transgender children in Louisiana was defeated by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee’s vote effectively killing the bill for this legislative session.

“The Senate Health and Welfare Committee has chosen to protect Louisiana’s transgender children by rejecting HB-648. This is a powerful win for transgender children and their families. We lift up and celebrate the incredible families, advocates, providers, and lawmakers who worked to stop this dangerous bill that targeted transgender children and stripped rights from their parents,” a spokesperson for the ACLU of Louisiana said in a statement.

“The fight to protect the rights of transgender children and their families is far from over. But make no mistake, as states across the country pass harmful bills that mirror HB648, today’s committee vote matters, and sends a powerful message that will be heard nationwide.”

The committee hearing room was filled to nearly over capacity with trans Louisianians, their supporters and allies. According to New Orleans Public Radio 89.9 FM WNNO: The committee killed the bill in a narrow 5 to 4 vote mostly split along party lines after hours of emotional testimony and contentious debate in the packed room. Republican Committee Chairman Fred Mills, of Parks, joined Democrats in opposition.

During the at times contentious debate, anti-trans opponents and Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Michael “Gabe” Firment, R-Pollock, the legislation’s author, repeatedly referred to gender-affirming care and surgery for transgender minors as a “mutilation” of childrens’ bodies. They also claimed these treatments are “experimental.”

Dr. Quentin Van Meter, a pediatric endocrinologist from Atlanta, Georgia, told the panel, “We are flying an airplane while we build the airplane,” while others backing the bill rejected the that banning gender-affirming care would lead to worse mental health conditions for minors.

Opponents pointed out that childrens’ inability to make significant life decisions and because of that, legally minors cannot purchase alcohol or get a tattoo, there’s no reason to allow them to transition.

A trans advocate, Dr. Clifton Mixon, a Louisiana psychologist who works with trans youth in the state, rebuked the idea that doctors are mutilating childrens’ genitalia. In his testimony, he also pointed out how rarely these procedures occur in the state: From 2017 to 2021, there weren’t any gender-affirming surgical procedures performed on minors in Louisiana, according to a Louisiana Department of Health study published in 2022.

WNNO noted that state Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, said he was concerned that the bill would take away parental rights and called the bill “a solution looking for a problem.”

Luneau said he believes every person who testified, including those that are happy with and those who regret their decision to transition. But lawmakers cannot legislate individual’s decisions, he said.

Luneau made the motion to defer the bill. The decision came down to chairman Mills, who expressed his trust in science and health care providers before joining Democrats in opposition.

“I guess I’ve always believed in my heart of hearts that a decision should be made by a patient and a physician,” Mills said.

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Montana bans drag queen stories in libraries, restricts public shows

Law is likely to face legal challenge, also prohibits ‘sexually oriented’ performance at any public space where minors are present



Drag members from The Countship of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the State of Montana confronting anti-LGBTQ+ protestors during Pride in Bozeman earlier this month. (Photo Credit: The Countship of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the State of Montana/Facebook)

By Arren Kimbel-Sannit | HELENA – Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed legislation this week that bans drag story hours in public schools and libraries and restricts “sexually oriented performances” on public property, likely setting the stage for another legal challenge to GOP-backed legislation restricting LGBTQ+ expression. 

House Bill 359, sponsored by Rep. Braxton Mitchell, R-Columbia Falls, became law with Gianforte’s signature Monday. 

“The governor believes it’s wildly inappropriate for little kids, especially preschoolers and kids in elementary school, to be exposed to highly sexualized content,” Kaitlin Price, a spokesperson for Gianforte, told Montana Free Press in an email Tuesday. 

That line echoes arguments lawmakers made for the bill and others like it during the recently concluded session — Mitchell suggested that drag story hours and other family-oriented drag performances were part of a “sick agenda” and “damaging to a child’s psychology and general welfare.” Mitchell could not be reached for comment in time for publication Tuesday.

Drag performers, advocates and other opponents said the bill’s backers willfully misunderstand the nature of drag performances at a time when the LGBTQ+ community is already under attack by state legislators. In addition to HB 359, Republicans this session passed Senate Bill 99, which bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth, Senate Bill 458, which inserts binary definitions of sex into state law, and several other similar bills. 

“We have white [cisgender] individuals that have zero experience within the drag community providing a legally binding definition of what drag art is, and I think I speak for the community when I say that is hurtful, degrading, and it’s a misunderstanding,” said Bozeman drag performer Anita Shadow. 

“One of the big things is that there seems to be a complete misunderstanding that drag is inherently sexual — and that is not the case,” Shadow said. 

Upper Seven Law, a non-profit law firm involved in several lawsuits related to new legislation, has pledged to challenge HB 359. 

“This is a really straightforward First Amendment activity,” Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, the firm’s executive director, told MTFP. “There’s nothing obscene about dressing in drag. The First Amendment allows reasonable restrictions on speech, but this isn’t it.” 

Similar drag bills in other states have also faced lawsuits, but supporters of HB 359 maintain that the bill’s focus on publicly funded facilities sets it apart from legislation elsewhere. 

The version of the law that reached Gianforte’s desk is less explicit about the types of expression it’s targeting than it was at its introduction. Initially, HB 359 specifically banned drag performances in public schools, libraries and public properties “in any location” when a minor is present, but underwent a series of amendments during the final days of the session that broadened its focus. 

These amendments included new language from Sen. Chris Friedel, R-Billings, that removed any reference to drag in favor of the term “adult-oriented.” 

“I can tell you right now, if that bill goes [in its current form] even the most conservative judge will strike it down for unconstitutionality,” Friedel told his colleagues in April. “The reason I brought this amendment today is to make sure that we get this across the aisle, we get this in front of the governor, he signs it, it goes to court and it can be defended by the [Montana attorney general’s] office.” 

Friedel’s amendment passed the Senate on bipartisan lines. But the vote to support the amendment in the House came just after protests in support of Rep. Zooey Zephyr, a transgender woman and Missoula Democrat, erupted in the House gallery. Despite relatively broad GOP support for the amendment in the Senate, almost every House Republican voted against the new language. 

A subcommittee of House and Senate lawmakers then met to reconcile the different versions. The language they landed on has a few operative provisions, namely an explicit ban on drag story hours at “a school or library that receives any form of funding from the state” during regular operating hours or at school-sanctioned events. The bill ultimately passed on May 2, the last day of the 68th Legislature, on mostly party lines. 

To support those restrictions, the law introduces definitions of drag queen and drag king into state statute. Critics have attacked those definitions as vague and subjective. 

A drag queen, under the law, is “a male or female performer who adopts a flamboyant or parodic feminine persona with glamorous or exaggerated costumes and makeup.”

The law also says that “a sexually oriented business may not allow a person under 18 years of age to enter the premises of the business during a sexually oriented performance” and further prohibits a “sexually oriented activity” in any public space where someone under the age of 18 is present. 

Shadow, the drag performer, described story hours as akin to “taking your kid to meet Cinderella at Disneyland,” not an expression of prurience. Performers in Shadow’s organization follow strict requirements for dress and language when performing for kids, she said.

“If you have a caterer that is working with an older crowd that has lots of money, they may bring caviar,” Shadow said. “If you’re working with a youth group for a birthday party, they’re probably bringing pizza. They’re catering to the crowd they’re going to.” 

Gianforte’s signing of the bill comes as Pride Month approaches in June. Kevin Hamm, the president of Montana Pride — and a recently announced Democratic candidate for Montana’s eastern U.S. House district — said he doesn’t expect the law will hamper the festivities. 

“We have tons of events planned, many featuring drag,” Hamm said. “Knowing how resilient and energized this community is in the face of adversity, I suspect that this nonsense will inspire even more people to show up as their authentic selves in drag or genderqueer outfits. Our community refuses to be pushed back into the closet by a small minority of ignorant but very vocal bigots, and this bill does nothing to change that.”

Shadow, who helped produce Bozeman’s own Pride event last week, said much of the same, but also noted the fear that many in the drag and LGBTQ+ community feel in the context of HB 359 and similar legislation. For example, white supremacist protesters interrupted a Pride event in Bozeman this weekend holding signs that said, among other phrases, “Boycott your local safe space.” Events she’s involved with often require security, law enforcement and other heightened measures to prevent violence and harassment, Shadow said. 

“Nationally speaking but also in Montana, the queer community is under attack,” she said.

Disclosure: Kevin Hamm is COO of Treasure State Internet, an in-kind supporter of Montana Free Press.


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Arren Kimbel-Sannit

[email protected]

Raised in Arizona, Arren is no stranger to the issues impacting Western states, having a keen interest in the politics of land, transportation and housing. Prior to moving to Montana, Arren was a statehouse reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times and covered agricultural and trade policy for Politico in Washington, D.C. In Montana, he has carved out a niche in shoe-leather heavy muckraking based on public documents and deep sourcing that keeps elected officials uncomfortable and the public better informed. 

More by Arren Kimbel-Sannit


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

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Target Corp. moves Pride to the back in some Southern States

The company said the LGBTQ Pride products Target is withdrawing are being removed from all its U.S. stores and from its website



Screenshot/YouTube CBS News

SAVANNAH, GA. – A spokesperson for Target Corporation confirmed that in some of its locations in semi-rural areas of rural Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas have moved Pride merchandise from the front of the stores to backroom areas or deeper into the stores after confrontations and backlash from shoppers.

A source with a Target in Savannah, Georgia who asked not to be identified told the Blade some of those confrontations resulted in displays being knocked over and harsh words exchanged with store retail staff.

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

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

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

Jonathan Richie, a senior staff writer for the Dallas Express reported on May 13:

Some groups have denounced the inclusion of LBGTQ apparel for children as inappropriate and an example of corporate propaganda.

Conservative non-profit group Consumers’ Research warned that “parents may need to cover their kid’s eyes next time they’re strolling through their local Target.”

“The retail store just released a new line of LGBTQ+ merchandise geared toward children and even babies,” the activist group said. “This follows longstanding efforts by Target to indoctrinate kids via books titled, ‘Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?,’ ‘The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish,’ ‘I’m Not a Girl,’ and more.”

Controversial anti-trans group, Gays Against Groomers tweeted:

Speaking with Reuters, Castaneda said the products Target is withdrawing are being removed from all its U.S. stores and from its website.

While various Pride Collection products are under review, the only ones now being removed are the LGBTQ brand Abprallen, which has come under scrutiny for its association with British designer Eric Carnell. Carnell has faced social media backlash for designing merchandise with images of pentagrams, horned skulls and other Satanic products.

Even in cities like Savannah, which tend to be more progressive in terms of political issues, the source told the Blade that store managers were moving Pride displays to less conspicuous areas to stave off some of the nasty confrontations that has occurred in other stores in Georgia.

Target Sells Satanism and Tucking Underwear:

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U.S. Federal Courts

Southern Utah Drag Stars file lawsuit over drag show permit denial

Plaintiffs argue City of St. George unlawfully discriminated against them in violation of their rights under the U.S. & Utah constitutions



Screenshot/YouTube FOX 13 News Utah

ST. GEORGE, Utah — Today, the Southern Utah Drag Stars (Drag Stars) filed a lawsuit against the city of St. George, Utah, which denied the organization a special events permit for a family-friendly drag show.

The city’s refusal to grant a permit is part of a years-long effort to target drag performances and LGBTQ+ pride events in violation of the First and 14th Amendments, as well as the Utah Constitution. Legal counsel intends to seek a preliminary injunction to allow Drag Stars to host its family-friendly drag show in June.

On March 3, Mitski Avalōx applied for a City of St. George special events permit to host a family-friendly drag event, Allies & Community Drag Show Festival, at J.C. Snow Park. A few weeks later, the city denied her application, alleging that she violated its advertising ordinance, an obscure local rule which prohibits advertising for special events until the city grants a permit.

The advertising ordinance was not routinely enforced, in part because it is unworkable – permits are typically not issued until the day of or the day before events, making advertising an event practically impossible.

Drag Stars appealed the city’s permit denial and at the hearing at least one city council member acknowledged that the advertising ban is not enforceable, but the city nonetheless denied Drag Stars’ appeal

To make matters worse, while Avalōx’s application was pending, St. George decided to suspend considering any new special event permits for six months, denying Drag Stars the opportunity to submit a new permit application after the initial rejection.

The city later exempted “city sponsored” events from the six month ban on new permit applications, creating a scheme whereby city officials selectively grant permits to favored events while denying all others. St. George’s special events policies discriminate against drag performances and are so opaque that no one can know what is allowed and what is not.

“Requiring drag performers to meet unreasonable standards to receive a permit, or denying them these permits without legitimate justification, is censorship,” said Valentina De Fex, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Utah. “Our lawsuit challenges the attempt by elected officials, who must uphold the rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and Utah State Constitution, to push subjective viewpoints of what they deem appropriate.” Regarding the impact of this case, De Fex stated, “With this filing we continue our commitment to stop efforts to discriminate against and silence LGBTQ+ and gender-diverse individuals in Utah.”

“Drag is dance, fashion, and music — it is also deeply rooted in political speech — all protected by the First Amendment,” said Emerson Sykes, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “This is the latest offense in a larger pattern of attacks discriminating against gender-diverse and LGBTQ+ people and their rights in Utah and throughout the country.”

Just last year, lawmakers in six states proposed bills to ban drag. Under some of these bills, a business would be considered a “sexually oriented enterprise” – and therefore be subject to strict zoning requirements and fees – just for letting female comedians wear pants or male magicians grow their hair out. Drag performers and host venues across the country have had no choice but to move to higher security or cancel performances altogether.

Governmental attempts to restrict drag performances claim to protect children from so-called obscene material. However, drag is not obscene, and restricting access to a supportive community only causes more harm to trans and LGBTQ+ youth, who are already at a higher risk of depression and suicide.

“The city of St. George is violating the First Amendment rights of Drag Stars and discriminating against them through a façade of permits and ordinances that have never been applied in this manner with any other group or organization,” said Jeremy Creelan, Partner at Jenner & Block. “LGBTQ+ performers are entitled to protections under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and we are asking the court to protect these fundamental rights and put a stop to this deeply troubling attack on free expression.”

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The White House

Biden admin unveils new actions to protect youth online

Work product will include resources for parents to better protect their children’s mental health, safety, and privacy online



Segment on social media platforms' harms to minors (Screenshot/YouTube CBS News)

WASHINGTON – The Biden-Harris administration announced a slate of new actions on Tuesday that are designed to better protect youth on social media and online platforms by applying a whole-of-government approach to address issues concerning mental health, safety, and privacy.

The White House noted that “undeniable” evidence links these technologies to the country’s “unprecedented youth mental health crisis,” with rates of depression and anxiety rising sharply among young people, including LGBTQ students, 69% of whom report having persistent feelings of sadness.

New actions previewed by the administration’s fact sheet [HYPERLINK] include the creation of an interagency Task Force on Kids Online Health & Safety, which will be administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in coordination with the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The task force will develop a blueprint for new research on the harms and health benefits to minors caused by online platforms, “recommend measures and methods for assessing, preventing, and mitigating” the harms, and “recommend best practices and technical standards for transparency reports and audits related to online harms to the privacy, health, and safety of children and teenagers.”

Work product from the task force will include resources for parents and legal guardians to better protect their children’s mental health, safety, and privacy online, as well as “voluntary guidance, policy recommendations, and a toolkit on safety, health, and privacy-by-design” for industry, with the latter expected by Spring 2024.

Other initiatives highlighted in the administration’s fact sheet include rulemaking by the U.S. Department of Education to protect the privacy of minor students’ data and address concerns with its monetization. The agency will also be tasked with drafting “model policies and voluntary best practices for school districts on the use of internet-enabled devices.”

Additionally, the White House announced, the Commerce Department will work to curb the online harassment and abuse of minors by “promoting awareness of services and support for youth victims,” while the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will coordinate efforts with the U.S. Department of Justice on new approaches to “detect and investigate offenses involving child sexual abuse material.”

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