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Biden signs historic American Rescue Plan

The legislation was passed without a single vote of support from Republicans in either chamber

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Vice-President Kamala Harris watches as President Biden signs American Rescue Plan into law. (Photo Credit: Screenshot via C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON – In a simple Oval Office event with Vice-President Kamala Harris by his side and also attended by members of the White House press corps, President Joe Biden signed his American Rescue Plan $1.9 trillion relief package into law Thursday afternoon.

The legislation authorizes a massive infusion of federal aid aimed primarily at working families. The president, who originally planned to sign the legislation into law Friday, is set to address the country at 8 p.m. Thursday evening in his first major address.

Prior to signing the bill, President Biden made a few remarks, including a nod to Congressional Republicans although the legislation was passed without a single vote of support from Republicans in either chamber.

“In the weeks that this bill has been discussed and debated, it’s clear that an overwhelming percentage of the American people — Democrats, independents, our Republican friends — have made it clear — the people out there have made it clear they strongly support the American Rescue Plan,” Biden said.

“And I’m going to have a lot more to say about that tonight and in the next couple of days, and be able to take your questions,” the president continued then added; 
 
“But in the meantime, what I’m going to do is sign this bill, and make the presentation tonight.  And then there’s going to be plenty of opportunities where we’re going to be on the road, not only talking about — what I’m talking about tonight is the impact on the virus and how we’re going to end this pandemic.  And we’re going to talk all the elements of the bill, beginning Friday, Saturday, and through the week.”

In Sacramento, California Governor Gavin Newson reacted in a statement issued by his office saying;

“The American Rescue Plan will help California roar back from this pandemic. With this infusion of federal stimulus, California can make faster progress on responding to COVID, supporting small businesses, putting money in people’s pockets, and bolstering K-12 and higher education. All of these pandemic responses add up to a brighter future for California. President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, and Leader Schumer have shown what real, compassionate leadership looks like.

I look forward to working with our partners in the Legislature to prioritize these critically needed funds, focusing on key shared priorities such as equity, housing affordability, education, and infrastructure, and coming out of this pandemic as a stronger and more inclusive California.”

The White House posted a detailed explanation of the plan on its website: https://www.whitehouse.gov/American-Rescue-Plan/

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The White House

Biden’s second State of the Union prioritizes bipartisanship

“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress”

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President Joe Biden delivers his 2023 State of the Union address (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s second State of the Union address on Tuesday focused on building upon recent accomplishments, especially legislative milestones that were reached with bipartisan cooperation.

Nevertheless, the speech was met with vocal objections from Republican lawmakers over Biden’s comments about the debt ceiling and mention of some GOP members’ plans to cut social security and Medicare.

“From reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, to the Electoral Count Reform Act, to the Respect for Marriage Act that protects the right to marry the person you love,” Biden said, “To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress.”

On the subject of legislation, for the second year in a row, Biden repeated his plea for Congress to revisit the Equality Act “to ensure LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender young people, can live with safety and dignity.”

He also focused part of Tuesday’s address on public health. “Twenty years ago, under the leadership of President Bush and countless advocates and champions, we undertook a bipartisan effort through PEPFAR to transform the global fight against HIV/AIDS,” Biden said.

The successful effort should be repeated in the fight against cancer, he added.

These matters aside, Biden included little mention of LGBTQ issues, or the extremism of Republicans who are poised to run for the presidency next year. Instead, the bulk of his remarks were focused on themes like implementing the provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law.

The country’s economic recovery was another well-trod message, on the heels of a January jobs report whose data showed record low unemployment and steady growth in new jobs and workers’ wages.

Biden did devote some time to reproductive justice. “The Vice President and I are doing everything we can to protect access to reproductive health care and safeguard patient privacy,” he said. “But already, more than a dozen states are enforcing extreme abortion bans.”

The president then vowed to veto a national abortion ban if Congress should pass one.

During last year’s State of the Union, Biden said “The onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families is wrong,” adding, “As I said last year, especially to our younger transgender Americans, I will always have your back as your President, so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential.”

One sign of solidarity with the LGBTQ community this year was the invitation of Gina and Heidi Nortonsmith, plaintiffs in the Massachusetts case that led the state to become the first to legalize same-sex marriage, to join First Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s box.

And House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) brought Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson as his guest. Biden honored the former House Speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), as “someone who I think will be considered the greatest Speaker in the history of this country.”

President Biden delivers 2023 State of the Union address:

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Crime & Justice

Gay man beaten, hospitalized after leaving bar in San Francisco

Anyone with information is asked to contact the SFPD at 415-575-4444 or text a tip to TIP411 and start the message with SFPD

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Photo Credit: San Francisco Police Department

By John Ferrannini | SAN FRANCISCO – A gay man said that he was beaten near a South of Market LGBTQ bar over the weekend, leading to his hospitalization, and a GoFundMe has been set up to help pay for his living expenses.

Barry Miles posted a picture of himself post-attack to his Instagram page Monday, February 6. Miles wrote, “Last night I got jumped when I left powerhouse by two guys. My wallet was taken? I also had a heart attack. They put in two stents. From high cholesterol. my face hit the sidewalk. also a front tooth was knocked out, and a small fracture in my neck. I’m pretty banged up.”

Barry Miles, left, before he said he was attacked by two men, and right, after he was hospitalized.
Photos: Via GoFundMe

Allison Maxie, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department, corroborated Miles’ account in a statement to the Bay Area Reporter on Tuesday.

“On February 5, 2023 at approximately 12:02 a.m., San Francisco Police Officers from Southern Station responded to the unit block of Langton Street regarding a call for a well-being check,” Maxie wrote. “Officers arrived on scene and located an adult male being treated by medics. During the initial interaction with officers, the victim was unable to provide details regarding what led up to his injuries.”

Then, “officers responded to a business on the 1300 block of Folsom Street where the male stated he had come from and during their initial investigation, officers were unable to determine that a crime had occurred at that location,” Maxie added.

“At this time, we do not have evidence that this incident was hate-motivated,” Maxie stated.

Scott Richard Peterson, the general manager of Powerhouse, stated to the B.A.R. that an officer showed up after midnight.

“A policeman came by after midnight,” Peterson stated. “The incident didn’t happen at Powerhouse, on the alley or on Folsom [Street] that we could see … Officer didn’t give me any details.

“This city is getting rough,” he added.

Maxie said that “the male was transported to a nearby hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Officers provided the male with a follow up form for this open investigation.”

Gary Virginia, a longtime gay activist and friend of Miles, set up the GoFundMe for him.

The fundraiser has raised $8,000 out of a $10,000 goal as of press time. Virginia found out from the social media post that Miles had been hurt.

Since Powerhouse is between Ninth and 10th streets, and Miles lives on Sixth Street, Virginia said Miles was probably on his way home.

Virginia has been communicating with Miles via text since “I didn’t want him to feel pressure to answer the phone or talk.”

“He lives on a tight budget,” Virginia told the B.A.R. “He’d had stents put in, a neck fracture, a heart attack, and lost a front tooth. I thought ‘that’s going to be a long time of recovery for him.'”

Virginia said that he’s known Miles for about two decades.

“We’ve been friends through the Castro and leather communities,” Virginia said. “I don’t really know when he moved here.”

The two are involved in Krewe de Kinque, a Mardi Gras-themed club. Miles was King XIV of the club (there’ve been 20 kings thus far, one per year).

Virginia said Miles needs about $5,000 for a tooth implant.

Virginia said he would text Miles to ask if the latter would be interested in speaking with the B.A.R.; Miles was also messaged directly by the B.A.R. via Instagram, but has not responded as of press time.

“I feel there could be some trauma he’s not realizing from the attack,” Virginia said.

Virginia said there’s no indication he has heard yet from Miles that this was an attack motivated by anti-gay animus.

San Francisco Pride President Nguyen Pham, a gay man, condemned “this horrific attack against a member of our community.”

“While we might not know the motive for the attack, we cannot ignore the growing nationwide trend of violence against the LGBTQ+ community, from the streets to the statehouses,” Pham wrote in an email. “We remain in solidarity with Barry, as well as other victims of anti-LGBTQ+ hate, and we will hold him in our hearts toward his speedy recovery.”

Powerhouse, a leather and cruise bar, is an anchor of the LGBTQ community in the SOMA neighborhood. It’s located on Folsom Street, once dubbed the “Miracle Mile” for its string of queer establishments. Powerhouse opened under its present ownership in 1997 after a variety of bars had done business in the space.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the SFPD at 415-575-4444 or text a tip to TIP411 and start the message with SFPD.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Bay Area Reporter and is republished by permission.

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Congress

Speaker McCarthy confirms Santos faces House Ethics probe

“If ethics finds something, we’ll take action,’ McCarthy said. “Right now we’re not allowing him to be on committees”

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) (L) with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) (Photo Credit: Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives/Facebook)

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) confirmed to CNN on Tuesday that GOP Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) faces an investigation by the House Ethics Committee.

“Ethics is moving through, and if ethics finds something, we’ll take action,” McCarthy said.

For his part, Santos continued to lean into the defiant attitude with which he has recently treated the many scandals that have enveloped him since his arrival to Washington.

Santos told CNN he is “not concerned” about the Ethics probe and is eager to welcome the constituents from his district, New York’s Third Congressional, who are headed to Capitol Hill today to demand his resignation.

“Right now we’re not allowing him to be on committees from the standpoint of the questions that have arisen,” McCarthy told the network, following reports last week that Santos stepped down from the House Committees on Small Business and Science, Space and Technology.

Asked whether his resignations came at the speaker’s behest, Santos told reporters at the time: “Nobody tells me to do anything.”

Also last week came reports that the FBI was exploring allegations that Santos ran a GoFundMe scam, allegedly stealing crowdsourced money that was intended for oncology treatments for a homeless veteran’s treasured service dog.

Politico reported that on Tuesday, dozens of constituents from Santos’ district called on the beleaguered New York Republican to resign — or demanded House GOP leadership call a vote to expel him.

Gathering on Capitol Hill outside of congressional offices on the day that President Joe Biden is to deliver his State of the Union address, constituents waved a number of signs including those that read “I believe in Santa more than Santos,” “Scamtos,” and “Sashay away George.” They chanted: “Force him out!” The New York Republican has given no indication he’d resign.

One of his GOP constituents said he found Santos’ lie that his mother perished during 9/11 particularly offensive. “You have to be really psychologically impaired to throw that around like it’s nickels,” Ben Marzouk, a local Republican, said.

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Montana

Montana Republicans support anti-Trans medical conscience bill

HB 303, which allows medical providers to decline services based on moral or religious beliefs, cleared a key House vote Monday

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Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula (Photo Credit: August Payton Photography)

By Mara Silvers | HELENA – State lawmakers in the House of Representatives gave broad approval Monday to a bill that would allow medical providers, health care facilities and insurers to deny services based on “ethical, moral, or religious beliefs or principles,” signaling the bill’s likely advancement to the Senate this week. 

House Bill 303, sponsored by Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, passed the Republican-majority chamber largely along party lines, with 65 votes in favor and 35 against, after roughly 20 minutes of debate.

Regier portrayed the bill as a “preservation and protection for medical conscience” in the state for practitioners and health care institutions that object to specific “lifestyle and elective procedures” such as physician aid in dying, prescribing marijuana or opioids, abortion procedures and gender-affirming medical care for transgender people.

“To be clear, this bill would not give the right to refuse to serve a person. It would only apply to the narrow circumstances where a nurse or physician cannot conscientiously perform a specific procedure,” Regier said.

A subsection of the bill says it is not meant to conflict with the federal emergency health care access law known as EMTALA as it applies to health care institutions, such as hospitals. But the bill does not provide a holistic exemption for emergency departments and emergency health care providers. When it comes to abortion, for example, the bill would require providers to opt-in to participating in those procedures in writing beforehand.

Similar legislation has had recent success in other states. For instance, a Medical Ethics and Diversity Act was signed into law in South Carolina last spring. The legislation in that state saw support from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious advocacy group that is also backing the Montana proposal. 

The opposition to South Carolina’s legislation, including from transgender patients and LGBTQ advocacy groups, echoes concerns now surfacing in Montana over HB 303. Medical associations and groups, including the Montana Hospital Association, Montana Primary Care Association, Montana Nurses Association and the Montana Medical Association, testified against the bill during a January committee hearing, saying it would put patients’ care at risk. 

During Monday’s debate on the House floor, Democrats reiterated that the bill includes no discrimination protection for patients, and does not guarantee that a patient has a right to access health care even if a specific provider declines to participate in those services. 

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, told fellow lawmakers the bill would mean transgender people like herself could be turned away from medical services they need.

“What is actually going to happen is it will be a denial based on diagnosis. Something like, I am diagnosed with gender dysphoria,” Zephyr said. “And the thing is, that is inherently discriminatory because you cannot pass my diagnosis from who I am. To deny me based on my diagnosis of gender dysphoria is to deny me based on my being a trans woman.”

Republican moderates appeared to try and derail the bill by proposing a strategic amendment during Monday’s floor session. 

As written, HB 303 does not apply to a “health care institution or health care payer owned or operated by the state or a political subdivision of the state.” Some Republican representatives showed interest in striking that provision from the bill, an amendment that would have triggered a higher threshold for the bill to pass because of a specific provision of the state constitution. That amendment, proposed by Rep. Tom Welch, R-Dillon, failed in a 39-61 vote. 

Republicans who spoke in support of the bill on the floor said they hoped the bill would protect freedom of expression for medical providers, even those they disagree with. 

“I think in this increasingly lack of traditional values and conscience world, and oftentimes profit-driven world, that protection needs to be provided for providers and health care workers that do have those values and do have that conscience,” said Rep. Jerry Schilling, R-Circle. 

Other Democrats who considered the bill as part of the House Judiciary Committee urged lawmakers to consider the unintended consequences of the bill. Rep. Laura Smith, D-Helena, said she’d heard stories from parents of young children faced with challenging medical circumstances who feared that, had HB 303 been in place, their desires for care would have been trumped by the prerogative or ideology of their providers. 

“This is just one of many examples that I receive where medical teams have tried to deny parents’ rights to choose procedures for their children,” Smith said. “If the bill passes, it will take away parental rights, and your constituents’ parental rights, to make these life-and-death procedural and medical decisions for our own children.”

The bill ultimately passed with widespread Republican support and one affirmative vote from Rep. Frank Smith, D-Poplar. Four Republican lawmakers joined Democrats in opposition.

If the bill passes a third, non-debatable vote this week, it will then be transmitted to the Senate and assigned to a committee for a second hearing. 

Speaking to Montana Free Press Monday afternoon, Regier said she was pleased by the vote margin. 

“It’s what we all hope for,” she said. 

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Mara Silvers 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.

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

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State Department

State Department spokesperson welcomes Pope Francis’ opposition to criminalization laws

Ned Price is openly gay, said pontiff ‘speaks with authority’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, welcomes Pope Francis' recent comments against laws that criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday said he welcomes Pope Francis’ recent comments against criminalization laws.

“His Holiness using his voice in this way is something that will be noticed by people and governments around the world,” Price told the Washington Blade during his daily press briefing. “He obviously speaks with authority that perhaps no one else can. We welcome those remarks.”

Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Rt. Rev. Ian Greenshields of the Church of Scotland on Sunday after they left South Sudan publicly denounced criminalization laws and said their respective churches should welcome LGBTQ+ and intersex people. Francis during an exclusive interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 24 described criminalization laws as “unjust” and said “being homosexual is not a crime.”

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ+ and intersex issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, but the church continues to consider homosexuality a sin. The Vatican remains opposed to marriage rights for same-sex couples. 

Price on Monday referred to President Joe Biden’s memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. 

The openly gay State Department spokesperson in May 2021 told the Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the White House in its efforts to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad. Singapore, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis have legalized homosexuality since that interview.

“We will continue, as an administration, as a government, to doing (sic) what we can, perhaps in a very different way, but practical steps that we can to promote and protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world,” said Price on Monday, referring to Biden’s foreign policy memorandum. 

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Crime & Justice

Patrons of Gay bar in New York City robbed of thousands

NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated

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The Eagle NYC (Screenshot/YouTube)

NEW YORK – The New York City Police Department, (NYPD) confirmed that a series of robberies committed at The Eagle NYC, a Chelsea gay leather bar last Fall, had the three victims losing thousands of dollars after the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones.

NBC News Out correspondent Matt Lavietes reported the three men, who were in their late 30s and 40s, visited The Eagle NYC, on separate nights in October and November and were each robbed of $1,000 to $5,000, according to the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of public information. 

No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing, authorities said.

Capt. Robert Gault of the city’s 10th Precinct, who spoke about the incidents at a police community council meeting last week, told NBC News that NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated.

“What we think is happening with this scheme is they’re being lured away from the club, maybe to say, ‘Hey, you wanna come with me? I got some good drugs,’ or something like that,’” Gault said. “And then, once they get into a car to do whatever it is that they’re going to do, at some point or another, they don’t know what happened when they wake up.”

Criminals use facial recognition to rob patrons at NYC gay bar:

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Florida

DeSantis targets Orlando non-profit over holiday drag show

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The Plaza Live venue, Orlando, Florida (Photo Credit: Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation)

ORLANDO – Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis escalated his war on the state’s LGBTQ+ community ordering a state agency to launch a complaint against a Orlando non-profit over a drag holiday event it hosted in which children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed the complaint on Friday against the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation alleging the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old. 

“A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the foundation on Dec. 28 and during the performance sold alcoholic drinks at its Plaza Live venue. In the complaint, the agency states that the foundation used “Christmas-themed promotional materials” that did not give advance notice of the “sexually explicit nature” of the show’s contents. 

The complaint also states that the division sent the foundation a letter ahead of the show saying “sexually explicit drag show performances constitute public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct when minors are in attendance” and the foundation’s license could be subject to penalties if it did not ensure minors could not attend the event. 

In its capacity as a regulator of alcohol, the division attempting to revoke the foundation’s liquor license for six alleged counts of violating Florida statutes. 

When asked about the move by the DeSantis administration targeting the non-profit, Bryan D. Griffin, the spokesman for DeSantis said “Governor DeSantis stands to protect the innocence of children, and the governor always follows through when he says he will do something.”

Orlando Weekly writer Matthew Moyer noted that The Plaza Live — besides serving as the performing home base of the Orlando Philharmonic — hosts a robust slate of touring bands, comedians, YouTubers and, yes, drag performers.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani released a statement to Orlando Weekly late Friday afternoon, condemning the state’s actions in no uncertain terms. “Governor Ron DeSantis’ culture wars are destroying people’s jobs and livelihoods. The very notion of shutting down a small business over a drag show is insane and extreme,” said Eskamani. “In the United States we do not allow the government to determine what we can read, see or hear or who we can gather with. Targeting drag performances limits everyone’s freedom of speech and is all a part of the Governor’s sick anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.”

DeSantis previously filed a complaint against a popular restaurant and pub in the Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood in July, alleging that it violated a public decency law in allowing children to attend a drag show.

The R house, is a unique casual fine dining establishment and lounge with an integrated gallery right in the heart of the vibrant Miami-Wynwood arts district named for Rocco Carulli, the executive chef as well as creator of the restaurant. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches! Make some time to check us out and experience R House.”

The complaint was filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation on asking that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun & expression & freedom.”

The department cited multiple incidents of inappropriate drag performances with kids in the audience, including one in which a child “between the ages of ten and twelve” was “seen recoiling and turning away in her seat as a Brunch performer climbed on the back of the child’s bench, squatted, and gyrated a couple of feet above the child’s head.”

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Iowa

Iowa Governor notes ‘parental rights’ at anti-LGBTQ+ town hall

Reynolds and Republican lawmakers pledged to pass legislation this session banning LGBTQ materials in schools

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Gov. Kim Reynolds addressed a town hall hosted by the conservative nonprofit Moms for Liberty Feb. 2, 2023, discussing “parental rights” legislation in Iowa. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

By Robin Opsahl | DES MOINES – Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican legislators speaking at a “parental rights” event Thursday pledged to pass legislation this session banning LGBTQ materials in schools and policies allowing students to socially transition without their parents’ consent.

“School choice” supporters gathered at Franklin Junior High School  in Des Moines Thursday evening for the town hall event, hosted by the conservative nonprofit Moms for Liberty. Reynolds cheered the passage of her private school scholarship plan in the first weeks of the 2023 session, and promised they were not done with education legislation.

“The last few years have provided so many reasons to be in this fight in the arena for kids,” Reynolds said. “And maybe for you it was how they were kept out of school wearing masks for no good reason. Maybe it was demonizing our country. Or an obsession with race in the classroom … I guess my message to you is, stay involved because parents and freedom still matter in Iowa.”

 A demonstrator yelled over Gov. Kim Reynolds speech while holding up a transgender pride flag at a Moms for Liberty Town Hall at Franklin Junior High School Feb. 2, 2023.
(Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Protesters tried to shout over Reynolds’ speech, with one demonstrator holding up a transgender flag. Others in the room cheered and shouted “USA” as police officers removed protesters from the room.

Supporters celebrated approval of the Educational Savings Account (ESA) program, which gives students an account of $7,598 each year to use for private school tuition and associated costs. The national co-founder of Moms for Liberty, Tina Descovich, said she was excited to hear about Iowa successfully passing ESAs, but said that’s just “one small little portion of issues that are facing public education.”

For years, she said, politicians were not paying much attention to education. But in Iowa and other states across the country, Descovich said parents are putting the issue “front and center” in their state’s policy agendas, and lawmakers in states like Iowa are listening to their requests to let families decide the best educational path for their children.

“I think I think parents want that now, you know, everything in society is more custom made, and so education should be a little bit more accessible and custom made,” Descovich said.

Seven Republican legislators answered questions from attendees about Iowa’s education system. Many questions were focused on class material and discussion around gender identity. Reynolds and parents brought up Linn-Mar Community School District as an example of what’s wrong with modern schools.

The school district has a “gender support policy,” which allows a student to meet with the school to discuss socially transitioning by using a different name, pronouns and facilities corresponding with their gender identity. The district allows children to choose who is involved in those meetings with the school, and lets the child decide whether to involve their parent or guardian.

Lawmaker calls gender-affirming policies a ‘slippery slope’

Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, said school board members claimed the school could not reverse this policy because it would violate state and federal civil rights protections given based on gender identity.

House lawmakers approved legislation Tuesday banning school districts from letting a student use a different name or pronouns than what they were given at birth without written parental consent. House File 190 was also introduced Thursday to remove gender identity as a protected category from the state’s civil rights act.

“Mental illness should not be accommodated as a civil right,” Shipley said Thursday.

When a teacher asked the legislators at the forum about studies that showed the use of a transgender child’s preferred name and pronouns lowers suicide rates, Shipley said there were conflicting reports how to help transgender children with mental health problems. But he said policies like Linn-Mar Community School District’s are a “slippery slope.”

Using a child’s preferred name and pronouns without their parents’ knowledge could lead to them undergoing hormone replacement therapy or having gender-affirming surgeries without their parents consent, he said. How to best support transgender people is a conversation the Legislature will be discussing a lot going forward he said.

“I know other states have done things to prohibit these therapies,” he said, referencing conversation therapy. “So I think this is a conversation we’re going to have to have as a state to really decide what is the best standards of practice of therapy, what do kids need to alleviate the dysphoria and form actual identities that can be healthy and happy for the rest of their lives.”

Lawmakers address concerns about lack of choice access for special-needs students

Multiple parents also brought up concerns about how the ESA program will impact their special needs children. Legislators said they hoped to see expanded private school options for children with special needs, and were in discussions about potential future legislation to encourage more private institutions to special education students and offer more specialized educational programs.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said he believes some private schools have not accepted special-education students because they didn’t have the resources. “And this bill was going to give them a lot more resources,” he said. “And so I’m hopeful that that alone is going to allow them to take a lot more special needs children.”

The conservative legislators assured the crowd that they would continue to provide parents more options for their children’s schooling going forward. Rep. Eddie Andrews, R-Johnston, said Iowa’s decision to desegregate schools 86 years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown v. Board of Education shows the state has always been committed to school choice.

“And that is all we are asking, and yes, demanding, that we have the ability to educate our children in the best way at the best school that is appropriate for my child’s success. To prepare my boy, my girl, your child, for success,” Andrews said. “And that’s all school choice.”

Moms For Liberty: Giving Parents A Voice Town Hall – IOWA

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Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations.

They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register’s Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa’s 4th District elections.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Iowa Capital Dispatch and is republished with permission.

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Missouri

FBI joins investigation of threats against LGBTQ+ bars in St. Louis

Since September of 2022 the FBI has been on heightened alert over violence against LGBTQ+ facilities, groups and events

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St. Louis Grove Neighborhood Business Association/Facebook

ST. LOUIS – The FBI has joined the investigation into violent threats of bombs and shootings against three LGBTQ+ bars in the Grove neighborhood of St. Louis this past weekend. A fourth threat against a children’s playground and adult café that was scheduled to hold a drag queen story hour is also being looked into by the FBI.

The three establishments, PRISM STL, Just John, and Rehab, are all located on Manchester Avenue in the city’s trendy Grove neighborhood and entertainment district. According to St. Louis’ alternative weekly press outlet The Riverfront Times, late Saturday afternoon, the bars received calls from an individual threatening violence.

Around 4 p.m. at Prism, bartender Jordan Cox answered the phone. “The caller off the bat started talking about how they were the Joker, and they were going to blow up the bar, send bombs and shoot up everybody,” Cox said, adding that it sounded like at least two people were on the other line.

Just John bar owner John Arnold said he received a voicemail around the same time.

“They said they were going to come in at 3 a.m. and burn the place down,” Arnold says. “And that they were fed up with us ‘fags’.” The same voicemail named a Just John employee whom the caller liked. “They told us to make sure he wasn’t there,” Arnold added.

St. Louis NBC affiliate KSDK NBC 5 reported that a bartender at Michael Klataske and Sean Abernathy’s bar PRISM actually spoke to the suspect.

In the incident regarding the fourth location, CBS affiliate KMOV 4 reported that the FBI is also investigating threats against a children’s playground and adult café called Urban Fort in South City. The owner said they received violent threats and were forced to tighten security and change the date, time and location of a scheduled story time lesson featuring a drag performer.

Photo Credit: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Since September, the FBI has been on heightened alert over violence against LGBTQ+ facilities, groups and events. A threat assessment distributed by the Department of Homeland Security after November Club Q mass-shooting in Colorado Springs warned that hate criminals and violent domestic extremists could increase threats to the LGBTQ+ community “due to their responses to legislative or societal changes in the United States.” related to LGBTQ+ issues, and conspiracy theories involving the LGBTQ+ community.”

In the bulletin issued by DHS, the HSI agency noted: “Some domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks have cited previous attacks and attackers as inspiration. Following the late November shooting at an LGBTQI+ bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado—which remains under investigation—we have observed actors on forums known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content praising the alleged attacker.

Similarly, some domestic violent extremists in the United States praised an October 2022 shooting at a LGBTQI+ bar in Slovakia and encouraged additional violence. The attacker in Slovakia posted a manifesto online espousing white supremacist beliefs and his admiration for prior attackers, including some within the United States.”

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement, “The investigation is ongoing.”

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Missouri

Rabbi & 11-year-old son testify against anti-trans legislation

Daniel Bogard and his family are part of an interfaith movement led by Missouri clergy aimed at stopping bills targeting the LGBTQ community

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Courtesy of Rabbi Daniel Bogard

ST. LOUIS, MO. — Rabbi Daniel Bogard should be spending this Shabbat preparing for tonight’s service at the synagogue he leads in St. Louis, Central Reform Congregation. Instead, he’s defending his family from death threats and planning his next trip to the state capitol, two hours away in Jefferson City, where Republicans hold a super majority in the state legislature and the governorship. 

That’s also where the state GOP is pushing forward six bills: Three that would ban gender-affirming healthcare for transgender children and three more that would prohibit them from competing in school sports according to their authentic gender identity. Every year for the past few years, Bogard said he has testified against bills like these.

“Every year, again and again and again,” he said. “And it’s dehumanizing and degrading and genuinely traumatic.”

In fact, Missouri lawmakers have filed the most anti-LGBTQ+ bills of any state, according to a database from the American Civil Liberties Union that tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation nationwide. The ACLU called this the “most dangerous” session of the Missouri Legislature for the LGBTQ+ community it’s seen in years. 

“The Republicans said that targeting trans kids is the single most important agenda on their list, especially targeting trans because it is their top priority this session. And I think, ‘What the fuck?’” said the rabbi. “We had, I don’t know, 50, 60 Jews who showed up in the state capitol with 25 hours’ notice to protest these bills last Tuesday.”

That day, Bogard was one of a half dozen fellow Jewish as well as Christian clergy who spoke out against the legislation, many of them testifying at a marathon, nine-hour hearing focused on student-athletes. 

Bogard’s 11-year-old eldest son testified, and boy’s grandmother was there in support. The young man told lawmakers he was there to represent his nine-year-old brother and a friend, who are both transgender.

“I have to be here because you, the Missouri government, keeps trying to take away what they have a passion for. Why do you keep trying to take things from these kids? Kids just want to have fun, playing sports, not being stressed having to come here to tell you to let them play,” he said. “This has affected my brother, because now he is scared he will not get to do what he loves.” 

The Blade agreed to not disclose either boy’s name or their faces for their protection. “I’ve had a half dozen death threats in the last year,” Bogard said. “It’s taken a huge toll. It colors everything about how I see the world at this point. I find hope really hard, which is tough as a rabbi.”

And this week wasn’t the first time the rabbi’s oldest son testified, he said. But he draws the line at putting his youngest child in the hot seat. 

“My 11-year old, he’s been testifying for years now,” Bogard told the Blade. “We don’t allow our child who’s trans to testify because, first of all, he’s only nine. But they are so cruel in that testimony room. They’re cruel, and they say awful things. I mean, they call you groomers in the testimony room. They tell you you’re mutilating your child. They ask children if they’d like to be taken away from their parents, and why their parents are forcing them to believe these things. They ask children what their genitals look like.”

“So, we don’t, we don’t let our nine-year old go there,” he said, noting his child does have plenty of support, and not just from him and his wife, Rabbi Karen Bogard and their oldest son. 

“My kid lives the life that every trans kid deserves. He is embraced and supported by every single one of his relatives, our friends, and the school and his teacher. They threw him a party on the one-year anniversary of his transition. The rabbi made him a kippah in the colors of the trans flag,” the pink, white and blue banner which was designed by Navy veteran and trans activist Monica Helms. 

Bogard’s nine-year-old attends a school which is greatly supportive of the effort to win hearts and minds at the capitol. “The school sends a senior level person to testify against every single one of these bills,” he said. “That’s the world my kid lives in.” 

To give other children like his a chance to live in a better world, even briefly, Bogard teamed-up with PROMO senior director of public policy and advocacy Shira Berkowitz last year, to start Camp Indigo Point, a summer camp for trans youth, at a secret location in Missouri.

“We thought we were going to get 20 kids from this area,” Bogard said. “And we ended up filling every one of the 97 bunks that we had for kids at the facility we had rented out, and had 60 kids on the waitlist. Those kids come from 27 states. It was the most magical thing, the best thing I’ve ever been a part of.”

Bogard said the entire staff at the camp, except for him, is trans and nonbinary. It’s efforts like this and the work he and other cisgender parents do at the capitol that has won him admiration and allies, including one woman who describes herself as an Orthodox feminist.

“The efforts to take away trans rights in Missouri — and attack and erase all LGBTQ+ people in our state — have felt like repeated gut punches as we see more and more bills proposed and work to build up the energy to travel to the capitol week after week to testify. It often feels like more than enough to break a person,” Rori Picker Neiss, Maharat and executive director of the JCRC in St. Louis, told the Blade. “And yet what continues to inspire me each day are these brave kids and their resilience, the parents who fight for them to the ends of the earth, and the faith leaders who refuse to allow religious language to be coopted for harm.”

Bogard and others making this effort do more than testify, they lobby the lawmakers. “Many of these Republicans will tell you in private how much they don’t like these bills and don’t want to be a part of them, but they feel like they have to.” 

And what about those who are pushing the bills forward, such as Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden? Bogard calls them “disgusting” and “enablers of fascism.” 

“They are the people who are torturing my family, because it’s good politics for them,” he said. “I think it’s fascism that’s rising here. I think that’s what this is and that’s what we’re facing. It’s white Christian nationalism, certainly, and it’s taking over red states.” 

As the Blade has reported, families from Texas, Florida and other states of hate are fleeing to sanctuary states like California, Connecticut and Massachusetts because of the kinds of bills being considered in Missouri. Even though Bogard has deep roots in St. Louis, he confessed moving away is something his family may have to consider. 

“I don’t know a loving parent of a trans kid in a red state who isn’t up at night, terrified that they’re going to need to flee,” he said. “I live in the house that my grandpa built, that my dad grew up in, that I grew up in, that my kids are growing up in. My folks are here at home, very close to us and who love their grandkids. My mom came down to testify with us. My brother’s here, his family, my niece.

“I’m terrified we’re going to need to flee the state, because if they give me the choice between doing what is right for my child, and staying, that’s not a choice. The great fear is, government goons showing up at your door to take your child away.”

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