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LGBTQ ally Dr. Shirley Weber sworn in as California Secretary of State

Dr. King teaches us that we are at our best when we stand up in service of others and I am humbled to be able to continue to stand up for Californians

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California Secretary of State designate Dr. Shirley N. Weber takes the oath of office from Governor Gavin Newsom.
(Photo Credit: Provided by the Office of the Governor of California)

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday swore in San Diego Assemblymember and Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus Dr. Shirley N. Weber as California Secretary of State. Dr. Weber is the first-ever African American to serve as Secretary of State in California history.

“On the eve of Black History Month, California once again makes history in swearing in Dr. Weber as Secretary of State,” said Newsom. “As the state’s Chief Elections Officer, Dr. Weber will continue her lifelong dedication to defending civil rights and will undertake a vital role in protecting our democratic process at a critical time.”

In December of 2019 while Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, Dr. Weber worked closely with State Senator Scott Wiener, the then Chair of the California Legislature’s LGBTQ Caucus in petitioning Governor Newsom to posthumously pardon Bayard Rustin, a confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a key organizer of the March on Washington in 1963. Rustin also helped plan other nonviolent protests and boycotts to end racial discrimination.

This led to Newsom not only posthumously pardoning the gay civil rights leader in January of 2020, but also addressed the creation of a new pardon process for others convicted under outdated California Penal Code laws which punished homosexual activity.

Weber was selected by Newsom to replace the state’s former secretary of state, Alex Padilla. Padilla was appointed by Newsom to fill the U.S. Senate seat that had been previously been held by Vice-President Kamala Harris. 

“The fact that each citizen is a primary officeholder in a democracy is the lodestone tenet of our system of government. It is my responsibility as Secretary of State to ensure that more Californians are able to exercise that power through the electoral process, and that our elections remain secure, accessible and fair even under the most adverse conditions,” said Dr. Weber.

“Dr. King teaches us that we are at our best when we stand up in service of others and I am humbled to be able to continue to stand up for Californians as Secretary of State. I thank the Governor for his nomination, the State Senators and Assemblymembers who confirmed my appointment, and the Californians who expressed their faith in my ability to assume this critical office. I look forward to lifting up and defending our democratic values of inclusivity and participation in this new role.”

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Politics

Anti-trans policies promoted at second GOP presidential debate

The seven Republican hopefuls gathered on stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library’s Air Force One Pavilion in Simi Valley, California

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The GOP's second presidential primary debate was held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library's Air Force One Pavilion in Simi Valley, California. (Screen capture/Fox News)

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – During the second Republican presidential debate Wednesday night, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Vice President Mike Pence pledged their support for a national ban on gender-affirming healthcare for minors along with policies requiring schools to forcibly “out” trans students to their parents, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the anti-LGBTQ policies in his state.

They were joined on stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library’s Air Force One Pavilion by former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

Former President Donald Trump, the party’s frontrunner, was again a no-show- declining to participate, instead campaigning in Michigan meeting with striking UAW autoworkers and other labor leaders.

Responding to debate moderator and Fox News host Dana Perino’s question about Christie’s promise to protect “parental rights” by passage of a federal law, Ramaswamy proclaimed that “transgenderism,” especially in kids, is “a mental health disorder.”

After Perino redirected him back to her question, Ramaswamy said when school officials are aware of cases in which a student may be socially transitioning, they must be obliged to inform parents.

“The very people who say that this increases the risk of suicide by are also the ones saying that parents don’t have the right to know about that increased risk of suicide,” he said, adding, “To affirm a kid’s confusion — that is not compassion, that is cruelty.”

The former biotech executive then promised a federal ban on healthcare interventions for trans youth, relaying an anecdote about meeting two women on the campaign trail who, he says, now regretted the gender affirming surgical procedures they had undergone.

Ramaswamy said the women are now in their 20s but did not specify how old they were when the surgeries — double mastectomies and, in one case, a hysterectomy — were performed.

Genital surgeries are almost never performed on patients younger than 18, per the clinical practice guidelines on the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors, which are supported and considered medically necessary by every mainstream scientific and medical body with relevant clinical knowledge.

“The fact that we allow that to happen in this country is barbaric,” Ramaswamy said, “so I will ban genital mutilation or chemical castration under the age of 18.”

Perino asked Pence how he would protect the LGBTQ+ community as president, noting the rise and escalation of violent attacks documented by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and research showing LGBTQ+ people are nine times likelier to be victims of violent hate crimes.

The former vice president’s description of plans and policies on this front was brief and not terribly detailed. “I’ll stand up for the safety and the civil liberties of every American from every background,” he said before pivoting to affirm his support for rules requiring schools to effectively “out” transgender and gender nonconforming kids to their parents.

“Linn-Marr Community Schools in Iowa had a policy,” Pence said, in which “you had you had to have a permission slip from your parents to get a Tylenol, but you could get a gender transition plan without notifying your parents.”

“That’s crazy,” he said. “We’re going to stand up for the rights of parents.”

He concluded his answer with a pledge that “we’re going to pass a federal ban on transgender chemical or surgery anywhere in the country,” adding, “We’ve got to protect our kids from this radical gender ideology agenda.”

Some of DeSantis’s remarks also touched on the notion that progressive ideas about gender identity are being pushed on American youth in schools.

The governor defended education policies in his state that have been widely criticized as anti-LGBTQ+ and racist, proclaiming that “Our country’s education system is in decline because it’s focused on indoctrination, denying parents rights,” but “Florida represents the revival of American education.”

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California Politics

Bonta leads 20 States in opposing Indiana anti-transgender law

The law significantly harms trans youth by denying them medically necessary care that protects their physical & psychological health

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California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaking this past June. (Photo Credit: Office of California Attorney General)

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today led a multistate coalition of 20 attorneys general in opposing a state law in Indiana that severely blocks the ability of transgender youth to access critical, lifesaving gender-affirming care.

The plaintiffs in K.C. v. Indiana are suing to block Indiana’s Senate Enacted Act (S.E.A.) 480, which prohibits healthcare professionals from providing gender-affirming care to transgender youth. Today, the coalition, led by Attorney General Bonta, filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs, stressing the importance of gender-affirming care for the health and well-being of transgender youth.

“Every person deserves equal and comprehensive access to medical care to lead a healthier and happier life,” said Bonta. “As we continue to witness the growing number of attacks against our LGBTQ+ community in California and across the nation, today’s legal action is a testament to our ongoing commitment to ensuring the rights of transgender youth are safeguarded and fully available. At the California Department of Justice, we will continue to stand up against any action that targets and compromises the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of our most vulnerable communities.”

Many transgender teens suffer from gender dysphoria, which results from the incongruence between their gender identity and sex assigned at birth. Gender dysphoria has been found to cause severe distress and anxiety, depression, fatigue, decreased social functioning, substance misuse, and a poorer quality of life. Among transgender people, suicide attempts are nine times more common than in the overall U.S. population. Those risks are even higher among transgender youth.

Enacted in April 2023, Indiana’s S.E.A. 480 is aimed at blocking transgender minors’ access to medical treatment such as hormone therapy and puberty blockers that help treat gender dysphoria.

In their amicus brief today, the coalition supported the plaintiffs’ lawsuit seeking to block the enforcement of S.E.A. 480, arguing that the law:

  • Significantly harms the health and lives of transgender people by denying them medically necessary care that protects their physical, emotional, and psychological health.
  • Is discriminatory and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by banning medical treatment for transgender youth while permitting the same treatment for cisgender youth.

The Attorney General continues to stress an ongoing commitment to protecting the rights of transgender individuals. Last month, he announced a lawsuit to immediately halt the enforcement of the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education’s mandatory gender identity disclosure policy, which threatens to cause transgender students with mental, emotional, psychological, and potential physical harm.

In August, Bonta led a multistate coalition in filing an amicus brief opposing state laws in Kentucky and Tennessee restricting transgender youths’ access to critical and lifesaving healthcare. In June, the Attorney General issued the “State of Pride Report” highlighting the California Department of Justice’s recent efforts to support, elevate, and defend the rights of LGBTQ+ communities throughout California and beyond.

In May, he led a multistate coalition in supporting a challenge to a Florida rule restricting access to gender-affirming care and joined another multistate coalition defending a Colorado law that prohibits gay and transgender conversion therapy on children and youth. In June, he joined a coalition in support of the Ludlow School Committee’s efforts to create a safe and supportive environment for transgender children and all students.

In filing today’s amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta was joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.

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California Politics

New laws expand access & protections for reproductive health care

“This action builds on California’s nation-leading efforts to safeguard access to reproductive health care and remain a safe haven state”

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California Governor Gavin Newsom. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO – California Governor Gavin Newsom signed nine bills Wednesday – providing stronger protections for providers delivering abortion care, expanding the health care workforce, and protecting patient reproductive health care information.

In a press release a spokesperson for Newsom noted: “This action builds on California’s nation-leading efforts to safeguard access to reproductive health care and remain a safe haven state – including protecting patients, providers, and supporters; expanding access to care and services; and sharing California’s efforts and actions with other states through the Reproductive Freedom Alliance.”

The bill package signed today included:

PROTECTING PEOPLE FROM OTHER STATES’ ABORTION BANS:

  • Senate Bill 345 by Senator Nancy Skinner (D–Berkeley) improves protections for providers against the enforcement of other states’ laws that criminalize or limit reproductive and gender affirming health care services.
  • Senate Bill 487 by Senator Toni Atkins (D–San Diego) provides additional safeguards for California abortion providers to participate in the Medi-Cal program, regardless of enforcement activities in another state, if the conduct is legal under California law.
  • Assembly Bill 1707 by Assemblymember Blanca Pacheco (D–Downey) protects health care providers and facilities in California from state licensing actions against them based on the enforcement of hostile laws that restrict abortion and gender affirming care in another state.

“Radical politicians continue their all out assault on women’s health care with dangerous and deadly consequences. The right to an abortion is enshrined in California’s constitution. We will continue to protect women and health care workers who are seeking and providing basic care,” Governor Newsom stated.

PROTECTING REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH INFORMATION: 

  • Assembly Bill 254 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D–Orinda) protects reproductive and sexual health digital data included in personal health tracking applications.
  • Assembly Bill 352 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D–Orinda) enhances privacy protections for electronic medical records related to abortion, gender affirming care, pregnancy loss, and other sensitive services, closing a major loophole in privacy protections for people traveling to California for abortion and gender affirming care.

PROTECTING PATIENTS & PROVIDERS:

  • Assembly Bill 571 by Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D–Laguna Beach) prohibits an insurer from refusing to provide malpractice insurance to a provider on the basis of them offering abortion, contraception, or gender affirming care that is lawful in California but unlawful in another state.
  • Assembly Bill 1720 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D–Orinda) clarifies that ultrasounds and similar medical imaging devices must be offered in licensed facilities or by licensed providers, protecting against unscrupulous uses.

EXPANDING REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE WORKFORCE:

  • Assembly Bill 1646 by Assemblymember Stephanie Nguyen (D–Elk Grove) facilitates guest rotations in medical residency programs in California for residents who can no longer receive the proper training due to their program being in a state with restrictions or bans.
  • Signed earlier this month, Senate Bill 385 (Atkins, D – San Diego) allows physician assistants to provide abortion care, after receiving training and in compliance with protocols.

“While California has institutionalized nation-leading protections for women, birthing people, and providers, we cannot become complacent in our work to combat extremists’ outright assaults on women and our reproductive agency. I’m grateful to the Governor and the Legislature for continuing to take action to expand women’s health care and reproductive freedom and for protecting those seeking and providing care. The policies affirmed today are emblematic of California’s ongoing commitment to serve as a safe haven for those seeking reproductive care,” said First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom.

A complete list of bills signed by Newsom below:

  • AB 254 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) – Confidentiality of Medical Information Act: reproductive or sexual health application information.
  • AB 352 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) – Health information.
  • AB 571 by Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D–Laguna Beach) – Medical malpractice insurance.
  • AB 1646 by Assemblymember Stephanie Nguyen (D–Elk Grove) – Physicians and surgeons: postgraduate training: guest rotations.
  • AB 1707 by Assemblymember Blanca Pacheco (D–Downey) – Health professionals and facilities: adverse actions based on another state’s law.
  • AB 1720 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D–Orinda) – Clinics: prenatal screening.
  • SB 345 by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) – Health care services: legally protected health care activities.
  • SB 487 by Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) – Abortion: provider protections.

People in need of abortion care or support accessing abortion care, regardless of what state they call home, can utilize California’s nation-leading website: Abortion.CA.Gov.

Legislative Women’s Caucus Chair Sen. Nancy Skinner said: “As abortions, contraception, and other essential health care continue to be criminalized across the country, California is not backing down. With Governor Newsom’s signing of these groundbreaking new bills authored by members of the Legislative Women’s Caucus and sponsored by the California Future of Abortion Council, we have solidified our position as the national leader for reproductive freedom. These bills further strengthen and expand California’s legal protections for patients, doctors, nurses and everyone involved in providing and dispensing reproductive and gender-affirming care.”

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Los Angeles County

New on the LA County Channel

You can watch on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

New on the County Channel

This month, girls in the Los Angeles County Foster Care System had the chance to honor their Hispanic roots with a magical Quinceañera.

You can watch more stories like this on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here.

In Case You Missed It

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

On September 12, 2023, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion proclaiming “Hispanic Heritage Month” in Los Angeles County. Throughout the month, we proudly celebrate the rich tapestry of cultures and contributions from the Hispanic and Latino/a/x communities that continue to shape the diverse landscape of Los Angeles County. 

Join us in recognizing and celebrating the numerous contributions of these remarkable individuals by visiting the Natural History Museum, a local library or park and learning about the culture, contributions, and heritage of Hispanic Americans.

At Your Service

LA Food Equity Fund: Grant Applications Open

Food insecurity continues to rise in LA County, affecting nearly 1 million residents. Some 3 in 10 households experienced food insecurity this year, according to a new USC research study.

But we’re working hard to find long-term solutions to hunger in our region based on recent recommendations by the Los Angeles County Food Equity Roundtable. The County will soon distribute nearly $10M in federal American Rescue Plan funds to local community organizations looking to close the hunger gap through innovative programs like urban agriculture and food waste recovery. 

Applications are being accepted through Oct. 30. 

Out and About

Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes

The American Diabetes Association® will host their annual Step Out Walk to raise awareness and encourage physical activity in Los Angeles County. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 133 million adults are living with diabetes or prediabetes in the United States and one in five of our adolescents are living with prediabetes, a growing epidemic.

To support the efforts of the American Diabetes Association to raise awareness and promote healthy living, join us for a 5K scenic walk along the shoreline and marinas at Rainbow Lagoon in Long Beach on Saturday, September 30th, 2023.

The signature event Step Out Walk will provide an opportunity for people to improve their health by learning more about diabetes management and prevention, connect with other individuals who are living with diabetes and raise funds that extends far beyond crossing the finish line.

Photo Finish

Photo: Los Angeles County / Mayra Beltran Vasquez

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with LA County.


Click here to access more photos of LA County in action.

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Congress

Boebert denigrates, misgenders trans Pentagon official

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Research/Study

Attacks on LGBTQ+ rights associated with democratic backsliding

The first study to analyze the relationship between LGBT of LGBTI people and their rights across 175 countries

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UC Berkeley students protest in the Spring of 2020. (Photo by Geoff Livingston)

LOS ANGELES – A new report from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds that countries that are highly accepting of LGBTI people tend to have high levels of liberal democracy, such as free and fair elections and the protection of civil liberties. More accepting countries also tend to have higher GDP per capita and a greater share of their population in urban environments.
 
Using data from the LGBTI Global Acceptance Index and the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute, researchers examined the relationship between democratic backsliding and acceptance of LGBTI people. The report highlights four countries—Indonesia, Brazil, Poland, and Ghana—to describe the complex dynamics between anti-LGBTI rhetoric and policies and the rise of authoritarianism.
 
Results show that attacks on LGBTI people and their rights are strongly associated with democratic backslide. A decline in LGBTI acceptance may, under some conditions, be a bellwether of democratic decline.
 
“Anti-LGBTI rhetoric and policies can signal a more fundamental erosion in democratic norms and institutions,” said study author Ari Shaw, Senior Fellow and Director of International Programs at the Williams Institute. “Efforts to marginalize LGBTI people are, on their face, evidence that democracy and respect for minority rights are under threat.”
 
Restrictions on freedoms of association and expression, in particular, may negatively affect LGBTI acceptance given that they are fundamental to the ability of activists to organize and advocate for greater inclusion and to oppose further rollback of rights.
 
“The links between democracy indicators and LGBTI acceptance are clear but complex,” said study author Andrew R. Flores, Visiting Scholar at the Williams Institute. “Future research should examine how state-sanctioned attacks on LGBTI people influence democratic backsliding and how democratic backsliding diminishes acceptance of LGBTI people and their rights.”

Editor’s note:

Democratic backsliding is “a process of regime change towards autocracy that makes the exercise of political power more arbitrary and repressive and that restricts the space for public contestation and political participation in the process of government selection”.

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Montana

State judge blocks Montana anti-trans youth healthcare law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mara Silvers headshot white background

Mara Silvers

[email protected]

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

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

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Crime & Justice

QAnon follower enters guilty plea: Threating a member of Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Africa

TikTok in talks with Kenyan government to stop LGBTQ+-specific content

Official says ‘draft framework’ will be ready by end of this month

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(Public domain photo)

NAIROBI, Kenya — TikTok is the latest global digital video platform to enter talks with the Kenyan government to stop access to LGBTQ+-specific videos and other content prohibited under the country’s laws.  

TikTok, a popular short-form mobile video-streaming platform, is currently in joint talks with government officials to develop a framework for censoring such content classified under the “restricted category.”  

“A draft framework of the content regulation is being worked on by a joint team and it will be ready by the end of this month. The larger regulatory framework will address specific content like LGBTQ, explicit and terrorism materials shared on TikTok,” an official who is familiar with the discussions told the Washington Blade.

The joint team is compelled to develop the framework to regulate TikTok users who enjoy full control of videos they share on the platform without the service providers’ prior approval, unlike Netflix and other movie streaming platforms that readily classify content for users.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are criminalized under Section 165 of Kenya’s penal code.     

The move to regulate TikTok content arises from a petitioner who wrote to the National Assembly last month demanding the country ban the social media platform for promoting what he deemed harmful and inappropriate content. 

The petitioner, Bob Ndolo, an executive officer for Briget Connect Consultancy, cited violence, explicit sexual videos, hate speech, vulgar language and offensive behavior as content with a “serious threat to cultural and religious values of Kenya” shared on TikTok. 

The petition ignited an uproar among Kenyans, particularly TikTok users who make a living from their videos through monetization. 

They asked the government not to ban the platform, but instead enact a regulatory framework to stop inappropriate content. This request prompted President William Ruto and several senior government officials to convene a virtual meeting with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew on Aug. 24 over content regulation under Kenya’s guidelines and monetization.  

Chew during the meeting committed to “moderate content to fit community standards” by removing inappropriate or offensive content from TikTok and pledged to set up an office in Nairobi to serve the African continent.   

The virtual meeting was followed by another physical one at State House between Ruto and TikTok Africa Director Fortune Sibanda on Sept. 2, where it was announced that the social platform is set to launch a national training program to empower its users on creating and promoting so-called positive content. 

TikTok has already stopped monetization for users sharing inappropriate or restricted content and deactivated their accounts as efforts to draft the regulatory work continue.

“A joint artificial intelligence tool is being used in the meantime to detect offensive content for removal and the accounts brought down,” stated the official. “It has significantly reduced inappropriate content for the last few weeks since Kenya and TikTok started engaging.”

The latest Reuters Institute Digital News Report released in June revealed that Kenya leads the world in TikTok usage with an astounding 54 percent share of global consumption. Thailand and South Africa follow with 51 percent and 50 percent respectively.   

The Kenya Film Classification Board, the country’s film regulator, signed an agreement with Netflix in February this year to stop the streaming of LGBTQ+-specific movies. The regulatory body is part of the ongoing talks with TikTok. 

The KFCB is also yet to finalize its talks with Showmax and two local video-on-demand platforms to stop the streaming of LGBTQ+-specific movies.    

The regulatory body derives its powers from the Films and Stage Act that regulates the exhibition, distribution, possession or broadcasting of content to the public. 

The ever-changing digital technologies that include TikTok and other social media platforms have prompted the KFCB to reconsider its regulatory framework by coming up with new measures. 

One such proposal, dubbed the Kenya Film Bill, would empower the KFCB to classify and regulate content in this digital era to stop ones that go against government-mandated standards. 

The Information, Communication and Technology Ministry last week appointed a special team to look into existing laws and recommend policy and regulatory framework for the digital platforms. The ministry’s senior officials, including Assistant Minister John Tanui, are also taking part in the talks with TikTok.

The ministry’s newly unveiled panel will also ask whether the Kenya Film Bill can be enacted independently or combined with new legislative proposals.  

The regulation of TikTok content in Kenya comes amid the anticipated introduction of the Family Protection Bill in the National Assembly that would criminalize any form of promotion of LGBTQ+ activities with harsh punishment of at least 10 years in jail or not less than a $67,000 fine or both.     

TikTok in April 2022 suspended the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ rights group in the U.S., for a couple of days after it included the word “gay” in a reel against Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law. The company determined the post violated “community guidelines.”

A British lawmaker criticized TikTok in September 2019 over reports that it censored LGBTQ+-specific content, such as two men kissing or holding hands, and artificially prevented LGBTQ+ users’ posts from going viral in some countries.

Theo Bertram, TikTok’s director of public policy in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, apologized to the British parliamentary committee and confirmed the company only removes such LGBTQ+-specific content if law enforcement agencies in countries of operation request it.

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Federal Government

Harms of waiving anti-discrimination rules for religious universities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baylor University’s unprecedented Title IX exemption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other religious schools are likely to follow Baylor’s lead

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

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

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

193 colleges and universities have met the criteria.

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

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

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

The powerful influence and role of financial incentives  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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