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Kansas Governor Kelly vetoes anti-Trans youth sports bill

Kelly labeled the legislation “a devastating message” to families in Kansas.

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Kansas Governor Laura Kelly (Photo Credit: Office of the Kansas Governor)

TOPEKA, KS. – Democratic Governor Laura Kelly vetoed a bill Thursday that would have banned participation of Trans youth athletes in high school and college in girls’ and women’s sports. Kelly labeled the legislation, Kansas Senate Bill 55, “a devastating message” to families in Kansas.

The Topeka-Capital Journal reported that Kelly raised concerns over the impact such legislation would have on the state’s economy but also argued in her veto message that Senate Bill 55 would have an impact on the mental health of transgender youth and was counter to Kansas’ status as “an inclusive state.”

“This legislation sends a devastating message that Kansas is not welcoming to all children and their families, including those who are transgender — who are already at a higher risk of bullying, discrimination, and suicide,” Kelly wrote.

In a statement released by the ACLU of Kansas, which supported Kelly’s veto of SB55, Nadine Johnson, ACLU Kansas Executive Director wrote:

“As we have said from the moment legislators introduced this mean-spirited and anti-business bill, it would have cost the state dearly in litigation, repelled potentially lucrative business dealings, and most important, bullied and harmed innocent Kansas children.

In the most multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial Kansas ever, our state should be focused on ways to boost participation in sports and other extracurricular activities for all youth, rather than squandering much of the legislative session targeting trans youngsters around the state.”

Rep. Stephanie Byers, D-Wichita, the first transgender legislator elected in Kansas history, told The Topeka-Capital Journal that Kelly’s decision shows trans youths have a high-profile advocate in their corner. She hoped Republican colleagues — some of whom privately told her they opposed the bill, despite later voting “yes” — would follow suit. 

“Not everyone in Kansas is a blockade to being your authentic self,” Byers said. “Many of us are opening the door and doing what we can to make sure you are affirmed in every way.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Court hears arguments on injunction blocking Iowa school book law

The law was blocked before enforcement began, but, a significant number of books were removed from Iowa K-12 public schools due to the law

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Gender Queer, a graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe, was the most challenged book in America in 2022, according to the American Library Association. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)


By Robin Opsahl | ST. PAUL, Minn. – Attorneys for the state of Iowa and civil liberties groups clashed in court Tuesday over an injunction blocking enforcement of a law that restricts school libraries from carrying books with material related to sex acts, sexuality and gender.

The injunction was imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher in December 2023, days before enforcement of the law was expected to begin. It was issued after Penguin Random House Books and the Iowa State Education Association sought an injunction in one of the two lawsuits now challenging the measure, with the other lawsuit filed by American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Lambda Legal.

The lawsuit filed by Penguin Random House in conjunction with the ISEA, educators and authors argues that Iowa students’ constitutional rights of free speech and equal protection are restricted by the law, as the measure unreasonably limits their ability to freely access and share ideas.

Books removed from schools due to the law include classics like “Brave New World” and “Ulysses,” but also include several books focused on LGBTQ+ and race issues, including “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and “Gender Queer.”

Books related to sexual assault and rape have also been removed from several Iowa school library shelves. Laurie Halse Anderson, author of “Speak” and “Shout” and one of the plaintiffs in the case, told reporters in November that restrictions on books like hers on sexual assault and violence could isolate and harm students looking for support in the aftermath of traumatic incidents.

During Tuesday’s hearing before a three-judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Eric Wessan of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office told the judges the law is not violating constitutional free speech protections, as these books can still be found and obtained at a bookstore. The law’s restriction of materials in public-school libraries is a regulation of government speech, not private speech, he argued.

“The government’s interest in ensuring an education suitable to students’ age and in preventing minor students’ exposure to inappropriate material is a legitimate, compelling, even substantial one,” Wessan wrote in his brief on the case. “And removing from school library shelves books that describe or depict ‘sex acts’ is reasonably related to that legitimate interest.”

Christy Hickman, ISEA chief legal counsel, said in a news conference that U.S. Supreme Court precedent has not favored arguments that books can still be found by students outside of school libraries as a reason for allowing the removal of books from the schools’ shelves.

“Public school libraries are intended to provide access to books to all children, regardless of whether or not they can buy it at the bookstore,” Hickman said. “So such an argument, while it might make sense in other contexts, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the context of our K-12 public schools, because some of our kids can’t afford to go across the street … to the bookstore and buy it. That’s the purpose of our public school libraries.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit, filed on behalf of Iowa Safe Schools and seven students and families in the state, similarly argues that the Iowa law violates the U.S. Constitution. Wessan argued that the student plaintiffs did not have standing in the lawsuit, because the law is enforced against school districts and school employees, not students.

While the law was blocked before enforcement began, there have been a significant number of books removed from Iowa K-12 public schools due to the law and potential violations. The Des Moines Register found school districts across the state have removed nearly 3,400 books from their libraries. While the state has repeatedly argued that not all of the books were removed correctly or would count as violations of the law, education advocates have said that ambiguity about the law’s scope have caused school districts and teachers to err on the side of caution.

In August 2023, the Iowa Department of Education chose not to release any guidance on schools should proceed in light of the law, despite requests from educators for more information to ensure compliance.

Bird calls book ban a ‘common sense’ law

During Tuesday’s court arguments, a judge said that school districts could be sued on an individual basis for removing books that do not fall under the law’s restrictions as a means to address inappropriate removals. But Hickman, the ISEA attorney, said the lawsuit against the state is the appropriate action, as individual school districts are trying their best with current resources to follow the law as intended.

“If we had to start all over and start suing individual school districts — think about the court and school and public resources that go in into that,” Hickman said. “I hope that that is not where we end up. What the education community needs, what our members need, is some guidance in how to implement this law.”

Another judge expressed concerns about questioning the law’s constitutionality before it has been implemented, an argument presented by Wessan. The law was created to help address the way Iowa students learn, he said, and the injunction against portions of the law has “stymied that” objective.

“The state believes that if this injunction is vacated, the school districts, the schools and the students will understand what the law means,” he said. “And as time moves forward, this will become an integral part of Iowa’s educational landscape.”

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird said in a statement that her office is defending a “common sense” law that she said “protects kids, families, and parental rights.”

“Inappropriate books do not belong in the hands of school children,” Bird said. “As a mom, I know how important it is for parents to have a say in what books and materials their kids have access to.”

Attorney Thomas Story with the ACLU said that the law has already had a negative impact on Iowa schools and students.

“It restricts expression in terms that are so vague and overbroad that no two schools seem to agree on what they mean,” Story said in a news conference. “But the fact is that over 3,000 books were removed, student (gay-straight alliances) were closed, and LGBTQ+ students across the state were forced into silence. That is unconstitutional and we will continue to defend the rights of Iowa students as this case moves forward.”

The Eighth Circuit appeals panel did not provide a timeline as to when it might issue a ruling.

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Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.

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

Iowans value integrity in their government. Free and independent journalism is what keeps our public servants accountable and responsive to the people. That’s why Iowa Capital Dispatch, a nonprofit, independent source for quality journalism, is working every day to keep you informed about what government officials are doing with your money, your freedom and your safety.

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

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal Court: Mass. school can enforce ban on anti-trans T-shirt

Denying the existence of the gender identities of trans & gender non-conforming students would have a serious negative impact

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Liam Morrison courtesy of the Alliance Defending Freedom

BOSTON, Mass. – A three-judge panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled earlier this week that Middleborough, Massachusetts, middle school is able to enforce its ban on clothing apparel that could potentially demean LGBTQ+ students.

The panel in its ruling noted that school administrators did not act “unreasonably” when they concluded Nichols Middle School 12-year-old seventh-grader Liam Morrison’s shirt may be understood “to demean the identity of transgender and gender-nonconforming” students.

According to local media reports, Morrison was wearing a T-shirt that read “There are only two genders,” which school administrators ask him take off. He later wore a T-shirt saying “There are only censored genders,” which officials also made him remove.

Liam Morrison wearing one of the two banned shirts in May of 2023. The shirt reads: “There are CENSORED genders” (Screenshot/WCVB.)

The Morrison family filed a federal lawsuit in 2023 represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom and Massachusetts Family Institute, which argued officials violated his First Amendment rights when they said his shirt was prohibited by the school’s dress code.

In the suit, ADF attorneys said:

Morrison attends Nichols Middle School in Middleborough. In March, he wore the shirt to school to peacefully share his belief, informed by his scientific understanding of biology, that there are only two sexes, male and female, and that a person’s gender—their status as a boy or girl, woman or man—is inextricably tied to sex. The principal of the school, along with a school counselor, pulled Morrison out of class and ordered him to remove his shirt. After Morrison politely declined, school officials said that he must remove the shirt or he could not return to class. As a result, Morrison left school and missed the rest of his classes that day.

“This isn’t about a T-shirt; this is about a public school telling a seventh grader that he isn’t allowed to hold a view that differs from the school’s preferred orthodoxy,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Public school officials can’t censor Liam’s speech by forcing him to remove a shirt that states a scientific fact. Doing so is a gross violation of the First Amendment.”

Chief U.S. First Circuit Court Judge David Barron in the 70 page opinion wrote:

“We think it was reasonable for Middleborough to forecast that a message displayed throughout the school day denying the existence of the gender identities of transgender and gender non-conforming students would have a serious negative impact on those students’ ability to concentrate on their classroom work.”

Judges O. Rogeriee Thompson and Lara Montecalvo joined in the 3-0 decision writing:

The school’s dress code bans clothing with messages that “state, imply, or depict hate speech or imagery that target[s] groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other classification.”

“[W]e see no reason to substitute our judgment for Middleborough’s with respect to its application of its Dress Code here,” the opinion continues. “We conclude the record supports as reasonable an assessment that the message in this school context would so negatively affect the psychology of young students with the demeaned gender identities that it would ‘poison the educational atmosphere’ and so result in declines in those students’ academic performance and increases in their absences from school.”

In a press statement released after the ruling, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman said there likely will be an appeal the noting students “don’t lose their free speech rights the moment they walk into a school building.”

“This case isn’t about T-shirts; it’s about a public school telling a middle-schooler that he isn’t allowed to express a view that differs from their own,” Cortman said. “The school actively promotes its view about gender through posters and ‘Pride’ events, and it encourages students to wear clothing with messages on the same topic—so long as that clothing expresses the school’s preferred views on the subject.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge blocks Florida trans health care ban & restrictions

Florida plans to appeal the ruling, said Jeremy Redfern, spokesperson for DeSantis. An appeal would go to U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Two Florida medical oversight boards held a meeting about proposed rules for treating gender dysphoria for minors in the state on Feb. 10, 2023. (Photo by Issac Morgan/Florida Phoenix)

By Jackie Llanos | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s ban on puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy for transgender minors and restrictions for adults are both unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who presided over the case in Tallahassee, sided with the plaintiffs in the class action — parents of transgender minors and transgender adults — who argued the measure violated the U.S. Constitution because it solely targeted transgender people.

“The federal courts have a role to play in upholding the Constitution and laws. The State of Florida can regulate as needed but cannot flatly deny transgender individuals safe and effective medical treatment — treatment with medications routinely provided to others with the state’s full approval so long as the purpose is not to support the patient’s transgender identity,” Hinkle wrote.

 FL Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Those restrictions came into place following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approval of SB 254 in May 2023 and promulgation of rules from the Florida Board of Medicine and Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine enacting that law. Those boards and Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo were named as defendants.

The measures banned minors’ use of puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy, common treatments for gender dysphoria. Additionally, the law said only physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists could treat adults seeking gender-affirming care, with the added requirements of frequent in-person visits, tests, and authorization through a consent form that contained false information about the harms of hormone replacement therapy.

However, the law didn’t impose the same restrictions on cisgender women needing to take testosterone or cisgender men needing to take estrogen.

Appeal incoming

The state plans to appeal the ruling, said Jeremy Redfern, press secretary to DeSantis. An appeal would go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

“Through their elected representatives, the people of Florida acted to protect children in this state, and the court was wrong to override their wishes,” Redfern wrote in a statement to Florida Phoenix.

“We disagree with the court’s erroneous rulings on the law, on the facts, and on the science. As we’ve seen here in Florida, the United Kingdom, and across Europe, there is no quality evidence to support the chemical and physical mutilation of children. These procedures do permanent, life-altering damage to children, and history will look back on this fad in horror.”

Redfern wrote that the state would continue to “fight to ensure children are not chemically or physically mutilated in the name of radical, new age ‘gender ideology.’”

In his 105-page ruling, Hinkle noted that “there were no complaints from patients, no adverse results in Florida, just a political issue.”

However, the ruling does not lift the state ban on gender-affirming surgery for minors and restrictions on surgery for adults. That’s because the plaintiffs didn’t challenge the statutes relating to surgery for minors, and the adult plaintiff had not sought surgery and so lacked standing to challenge those restrictions.

Relief for plaintiffs

Plaintiff Gloria Goe (they used pseudonyms to protect the privacy of their children) is the mother of an eight-year-old (at the opening of the case) transgender boy. During the opening day of the trial on Dec. 13, she testified that she feared her son would be swallowed by depression if forced to go through puberty without medical treatment.

“This ruling lifts a huge weight and worry from me and my family, knowing I can keep getting Gavin the care he needs, and he can keep being the big-hearted, smiling kid he is now. I’m so grateful the court saw how this law prevented parents like me from taking care of our children,” Goe wrote in a press release.

Attorneys with GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Human Rights Campaign Foundation, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Southern Legal Counsel, and the Lowenstein Sandler law firm represented the plaintiffs.

Hinkle compared the discrimination transgender people face nowadays to racism and misogyny.

“Some transgender opponents invoke religion to support their position, just as some once invoked religion to support their racism or misogyny,” Hinkle wrote. “Transgender opponents are of course free to hold their beliefs. But they are not free to discriminate against transgender individuals just for being transgender. In time, discrimination against transgender individuals will diminish, just as racism and misogyny have diminished.”

Los Angeles Blade Editor’s Note:

In a statement made to the Los Angeles Blade after Tuesday’s rule, Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights said:

“This decision is important because is the first federal court to rule on a law restricting healthcare for transgender adults and because it finds that Florida’s laws are plainly based on anti-transgender bias, not science. This victory shows that we can and must keep fighting these dangerous laws, notwithstanding the deeply flawed rulings of some conservative appellate courts.

Judge Hinkle ruled in favor of the transgender plaintiffs in this case even after the negative Eleventh Circuit ruling that reversed our initially successful challenge to a similar ban in Alabama. He was able to do so because the evidence showing that these laws have no medical justification and are rooted in false stereotypes and bias was so strong. This is a huge victory, and one that shows that we can win these battles even in red states.”   

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Jackie Llanos is a recent graduate of the University of Richmond. She has interned at Nashville Public Radio, Virginia Public Media and Virginia Mercury.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Florida Phoenix and is republished with permission.

The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.

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

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Pennsylvania

Sen. Bob Casey: $400,000 for LGBTQ+ health & wellness center

The Mazzoni Center provided over 5,500 vaccines to patients for over 7,200 visits, including 100 patients every month receiving HIV meds

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U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) at the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia June 6, 2024 (Capital-Star/John Cole)

By John Cole | PHILADELPHIA, Penn. – U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) visited the Mazzoni Center on Thursday to announce $400,000 in community project funding for the center. 

“This community project funding will modernize the center’s basic equipment, like vitals machines or security systems, or air conditioning. It will also enable Mazzoni to purchase a generator,” Casey said.

“We know for many of our clients, this is the only place they feel safe coming for care,” Mazzoni Center executive development and communications officer David Weisberg said. He said the comprehensive health and wellness center is the largest LGBTQ nonprofit of any kind in Philadelphia, serving 15,000 clients a year, with a staff of 130.

Dr. Stacey Trooskin, executive medical officer at the Mazzoni Center, said the center provides medical care, including gender affirming care, HIV care, medication for opioid use disorder and primary care. 

“We are priding ourselves on being a one stop shop for all of our patients,” she said. 

Last year, the Mazzoni Center provided over 5,500 vaccines to its patients and lab work for over 7,200 visits, including more than 100 patients every month receiving HIV medication, Trooskin said, emphasizing that having access to electricity at all times is vital for the center to care for its patients. 

“We are incredibly grateful and quite relieved to have access to a generator that will protect us from service dysfunction,” Trooskin said. 

The federal money will also go to expanding its low threshold services for STI testing, HIV testing and viral hepatitis testing at their Washington West location, she added. 

“I’m just grateful to be here during Pride month to be able to announce some good news from Washington, which doesn’t happen every week,” Casey said.

Sultan Shakir, president and executive officer of Mazzoni Center said the funding will “make a real impact on our ability to provide culturally competent care to individuals who need it in our community.”

The funding was secured as a part of the Fiscal Year 2024 government funding bill.

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John Cole

John Cole is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He’s worked for various outlets such as The Northeast Times, PoliticsPA, and PCN. In these previous roles, he covered a wide range of topics from local civic association meetings to races across the commonwealth. He earned a degree in journalism from Temple University.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Pennsylvania Capital-Star and is republished with permission.

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news site dedicated to honest and aggressive coverage of state government, politics and policy.

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

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District of Columbia

Douglas Emhoff & Billy Porter kick off Capital Pride festivities

Nationally acclaimed singer Billy Porter, who performed the next day at the Capital Pride festival, also spoke at the press conference

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Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff speaks at a press conference at the starting location of the Capital Pride Parade on June 8. (Washington Blade/Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Douglas Emhoff, the husband of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who has the title of Second Gentleman, was among the speakers at a press conference on Saturday, June 8, at the location of the start of D.C.’s Capital Pride Parade that was called by Capital Pride organizers.

Emhoff and nationally acclaimed singer Billy Porter, who performed the next day at the Capital Pride festival and concert, and who also spoke at the press conference, each emphasized the importance of the LGBTQ rights movement at a time when lawmakers in states across the country are pushing legislation to curtail LGBTQ rights.

“It’s great to be here again to enjoy the ambiance and to celebrate with the generations of LGBTQ+ Americans who have fought for their right to live openly and proudly and authentically,” Emhoff told those attending the press conference, which included Capital Pride officials and supporters.

“I love coming to Pride,” Emhoff said. “I was here with my wife, your vice president, in 2021, when she became the first sitting vice president ever to march in a Pride parade. We go to Pride parades all over – San Francisco, L.A., and love doing it,” he said.

Porter joined Emhoff at the press conference urging people to vote “blue” in the November election.

“I don’t care who you are. I don’t care where you come from,” he said. “It’s an election year and our democracy is at stake, period,” he continued. “There is one choice. That choice is for democracy. Vote blue down the ticket,” he said, referring to Democratic Party candidates.

 “The one thing I will say as a 54-year-old Black queer man who came out in the ’80s at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, is that I’ve lived long enough to know that love always wins,” said Porter. “I’ve lived long enough to have seen the circle of life play out in our favor,” he said.

Actor Billy Porter speaks at the Capital Pride Parade on June 8. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Others who spoke at the press conference included Kenya Hutton, deputy director of the Center for Black Equity, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual Black Pride events; Ryan Bos, executive director of Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes most of D.C.s Pride events; Ashley Smith, chair of the Capital Pride Alliance Board; and Bernie Delia, co-chair of the World Pride Steering Committee.

Bos and Smith provided details about the parade, festival, and concert during the 2024 Capital Pride weekend, while Delia provided details about World Pride 2025, the international Pride celebration that D.C. and Capital Pride Alliance were selected to host in June 2025.

Hutton said the Center for Black Equity is excited to be working with Capital Pride Alliance on plans for World Pride 2025, when the Black Pride events will be the kickoff events for World Pride. “We are especially proud of partnering with Capital Pride Alliance in organizing the World Pride Human Rights Conference,” he said.

Also speaking at the press conference were Theresa Belpulsi, Senior Vice President of Tourism, Sports, and Visitor Services for Destination D.C.; and Angie Gates, president and CEO for Events D.C. The two organizations promote tourism and business events such as conventions in D.C. and are playing a lead role in helping to promote World Pride 2025, the two said.

“Right now, our estimations are that we will see over two million visitors coming to Washington, D.C. for World Pride,” Belpulsi said at the press conference. “And that does not include our local families that are here,” she said. “What that actually means is and why this matters is the economic impact is over $787 million to Washington, D.C. over two weeks.”

Delia, who introduced D.C.’s Wanda Alston Foundation executive director June Crenshaw as his co-chair of the World Pride Steering Committee, said the committee has been “working diligently to guarantee the World Pride celebration showcases the best of the national capital region and the best of the United States.”

He said that in addition to the parade, festival, and concert, World Pride events will  include the human rights conference mentioned by Hutton, a sports festival, a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, a march on Washington, a music festival, and an international choral festival managed by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington.

In his remarks at the press conference, Emhoff told of his wife’s long record of support for the LGBTQ community in her past role as District Attorney in San Francisco, as California’s Attorney General, and as a U.S. senator from California.

“And now as vice president, she and Joe Biden are responsible for the most pro-LGBTQ+ administration in history,” he said. “And all that goes away if Donald Trump wins in November. We can’t let that happen, right?” Many in the crowd of Capital Pride supporters and volunteers attending the press conference shouted, “That’s right.”

“So, make no mistake,” Emhoff replied. “The upcoming election is about your freedom and your rights,” he said, adding, “My message today is simple. You are not alone. We are here for you. …We love you for who you are and we’re fighting right beside you. And together we are going to win this election and we are going to protect our freedoms. Thank you.”

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New Jersey

Bill on library book selection clears NJ Assembly panel 

The bill would require school boards to explain their decision when either removing a book or going against recommendations of a committee

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he measure would require school districts to draft policies on library curation and the removal of books from library shelves. (Photo Credit: Dana DiFilippo/New Jersey Monitor)

BY: Nikita Biryukov | TRENTON, N.J. – An Assembly panel advanced a bill that would create a new, more uniform process for the removal of library books in a near-unanimous vote following nearly four hours of testimony Thursday.

The bill, which the Assembly Education Committee approved in a 7-1 vote with the no vote from Assemblywoman Dawn Fantasia (R-Sussex) and an abstention from Assemblyman Erik Simonsen (R-Cape May), would require local districts to adopt discrete policies on library curation and removing books from school libraries while barring districts from granting requests that seek to remove books a filer believed were offensive but not age-inappropriate.

“Parents will continue to have the right to decide what their own child reads, but one parent should not have the ability to solely determine what another parent’s child reads,” said bill sponsor Assemblywoman Mitchelle Drulis (D-Hunterdon).

The bill’s authors have dubbed it the “Freedom to Read Act.”

The bill would require local districts to create written policies on library curation that bar book removals made on the basis of its authors’ backgrounds, origins, or views and require librarians to periodically review their collections for relevance and recency, among other things.

It would require local school boards to reject book removal requests filed by those without a connection to the district — someone other than a teacher, parent, or student there — and mandate district superintendents to convene boards to adjudicate requests for removal.

“Out-of-state individuals and organizations will no longer be able to ride into New Jersey with a political agenda and target our public libraries,” Drulis said.

Those committees must include the superintendent, school principal, a board representative, a grade-appropriate teacher, a parent or guardian of a child enrolled in the district, and a student, in some cases.

Individuals who filed the request for removal cannot sit on such a committee, and the superintendent may appoint additional members if they see fit.

The bill is a response to recent pushes by religious and anti-LGBT groups to remove books with themes or content related to sex and gender, among others.

“During the school day, parents are not present to give their consent and support their children who may view this material,” said Hilary Jersey, a co-leader with NJStandsUp, an anti-vaccine group. “Age-inappropriate content isn’t just in the school libraries. My seventh grader just shared that she read a school-supplied book about a 13-year-old who was pregnant.”

The final decision on book removals would remain with school boards under the bill, and the committees it requires must make their non-binding recommendations within 60 days of their next meeting.

The bill would require school boards to explain their decision when either removing a book or going against the recommendations of a committee, and books that survive a challenge would be immune from further challenges for one year.

The Department of Education would be required to draft a model policy on library curation, and the state librarian must draft a model policy on the adjudication of book removal requests.

The bill advanced Thursday was narrower than past versions of the legislation. It would no longer amend the state’s obscenity statute to add protections for librarians and teachers; instead it would immunize librarians who make good-faith efforts to comply with the bill’s provisions on curation and book removal.

Separate language that would have allowed librarians to lodge civil suits for protective orders against harassers was also removed by amendments, as was language that would have amended the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to bar employers from considering a librarian’s actions on a given book removal request in hiring decisions.

Those changes softened some opposition but did little to turn its opponents into supporters.

“I’m grateful for that the freedom to read is more now like the freedom to remove, and I’m sure many school boards are going to remove many of these books that parents have been challenging for months and for years,” said Shawn Hyland, director of advocacy for the New Jersey Family Policy Center, which previously opposed the bill but was neutral Thursday.

The measure has yet to move in the Senate and must be approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee before it sees a full vote on the chamber’s floor.

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Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov is an award-winning reporter who covers state government and politics for the New Jersey Monitor, with a focus on fiscal issues and voting. He has reported from the capitol since 2018 and joined the Monitor at its launch in 2021. The Rutgers University graduate previously covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. Before then he covered local government in New Brunswick as a freelancer for the Home News Tribune. You can reach him at [email protected].

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The preceding article was previously published by The New Jersey Monitor and is republished with permission.

New Jersey Monitor provides fair and tough reporting on the issues affecting New Jersey, from political corruption to education to criminal and social justice. We strive to hold powerful people accountable and explain how their actions affect New Jerseyans from Montague to Cape May.

New Jersey Monitor, PO Box 6843, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648

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

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Montana

Great Falls, Montana mayor: No Pride Month proclamation

A resident noted Reeves issued proclamations for other groups in the community, but it was “discriminatory” not to include Pride among them

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Great Falls, Montana Mayor Corey Reeves. (Photo Credit: Mayor Corey Reeves/Facebook)

By Nicole Girten | GREAT FALLS, Mont. – A dozen people came to a meeting this week to protest Great Falls Mayor Corey Reeves’ decision not to issue a pride proclamation for the month of June.

Reeves, who took the nonpartisan office in January, said on social media the government should not “condemn nor celebrate who should love who.”

“While I firmly believe in equality for all individuals, I also believe that the government should not be involved in matters concerning personal and private relationships, whether they involve straight individuals or members of the LGBTQ+ community,” Reeves said in a Facebook post Monday.

Two commissioners of the four total spoke to the importance of recognizing the LGBTQ community during Pride Month at the end of their meeting, with Susan Wolff saying she was “not complicit with that decision.” But another commissioner, Rick Tryon, said he supported Reeves’ post and said people saying the city was homophobic were “ignorant.”

When reached for comment Wednesday, Reeves said his Facebook post spoke for itself.

“I want government out of who we love,” Reeves said in an emailed response.

Great Falls resident Stacy Kony’s voice quivered as she spoke through tears to city commissioners.

“I don’t wear rainbow items to tell you who’s in my bed,” she said. “I wear rainbow and trans colors so the family across the street will feel a little safer in my neighborhood. So the couple in the restaurant knows they aren’t alone. So the boy who sees me notice him looking at dresses knows I won’t judge.

“Right now, here in Great Falls, there is a young person who believes that they’d be better off dead than trans or gay. I wear my pride because you would have them hide.”

President of the local LGBTQ+ Center Matt Pipinich said Reeves’ post was harmful, but he knew the mayor didn’t intend to be hurtful.

“Cory, I’ve known you for a long time and I know you’re not homophobic, and I know that wasn’t your intent,” Pipinich said. “I would really like for you guys to reach out to the LGBTQ Center and see if we can be a part of the solution.”

A handful of commenters spoke to how LGBTQ+ youth are more likely than their peers to commit suicide.

“According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ plus youth are at higher risk for suicide because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized by society,” said Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith of United Church of Christ. “A Pride Month proclamation would be a message of hope and encouragement from the leadership of their community to those youth.”

Local activist and former Democratic candidate Jasmine Taylor listed a series of atrocities the LGBTQ+ community have faced in the past century, from gas chambers in the Holocaust to last year’s incident in Great Falls where woman was killed, allegedly for her transgender identity.

“There is not a straight pride month because people were never marched into gas chambers for being heterosexual. Straight people have never been beaten, tortured, tied to fences, run over or had their houses set on fire because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Taylor said.

Taylor noted Reeves had issued proclamations for other groups in the community, but it was “discriminatory” not to include Pride among them.

“You have singled out this specific minority group and decided we are not worthy of recognition,” she said.

Tryon said he agreed with Reeve’s decision not to make the proclamation, but took umbrage with what he saw as the commenters accusing the city of being homophobic.

“Implying that anybody on the City Commission or the mayor was doing something out of some homophobic or bigoted motivation is wrong,” Tryon said. “Nobody up here is homophobic or wants to see anybody, for any reason, commit suicide or to be hated on by anybody in this community.”

Tryon went on to say there are “dark corners” of Great Falls, like in any other city, where people have hateful tendencies including against the LGBTQ+ community, “but that does not reflect on the official business or the official stance of this city or of the mayor.”

The mayor has the sole discretion to issue proclamations, which are purely ceremonial and typically celebrate noteworthy events relevant to the community. According to the city’s proclamation guidelines proclamations are not issued for:

  • Matters of political or religious nature or individual conviction
  • Matters with potential political controversy or which may suggest an official City position on a matter whether or not under consideration or to be voted upon by the City Commission
  • Events or organizations with no direct relationship to the city of Great Falls

Commissioner Shannon Wilson, part of the progressive group Great Falls Rising, said not every group or cause can be recognized at commission meetings, “but we try and do our best.”

“The LGBTQ community deserves our recognition as no other group receives more hate incidents and discrimination than their community,” Wilson said. “They aren’t looking for special rights. They’re just looking for equal rights.”

Wolff said she felt the rest of the commission looked “complicit” in the mayor’s decision to not issue a proclamation, and said she was “not complicit.”

“I’m not sure where the mayor may want to go with this, but it was upsetting to me for all the reasons that we heard tonight,” Wolff said.

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Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Daily Montanan and is republished with permission.

The Daily Montanan is a nonprofit, nonpartisan source for trusted news, commentary and insight into statewide policy and politics beneath the Big Sky.

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

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Florida

Florida parents sue Board of Education over its book ban policy

Florida saw more books challenged for removal than any other state last year, according to data released by the American Library Association

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A selection of books that have been challenged in Florida and other states over "objected content matter." (Screenshot/YouTube CBS News)

By Mitch Perry | GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Three parents of children attending Florida public schools filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Florida Board of Education on Thursday, claiming that a 2023 education law discriminates against parents who oppose book bans and censorship.

The legislation in question (HB 1069) requires local school boards to adopt policies regarding objections by parents to the use of specific material, but these parents contend that the law “only provides a mechanism for a parent to object to the affirmative use of material; it does not provide a mechanism for a parent to object to the lack of use or discontinued use of material.”

Florida saw more books challenged for removal than any other state last year, according to data released by the American Library Association.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court Northern Division of Florida by:

  • Nancy Tray, a St. Johns County resident and parent of three students in the St. John’s School District;
  • Anne Watts Tressler, a St. Johns County resident and parent of two students in the St. Johns School District; and
  • Stephana Ferrell, an Orange County resident and parent of two children who attend Orange County Public Schools.

The defendants are the Florida Board of Education, along with the chair, vice chair, and all individual members of that body as well as Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr.

“The law is an attempt to steal important decisions away from parents and allows those with a strong desire to withhold critical information on a variety of age-relevant topics to decide what books our kids have access to,” Ferrell said in a press release. “The State of Florida should not be able to discriminate against the voices of parents they disagree with — I deserve an equal voice in my child’s education as any other parent.”

As noted in the lawsuit, the bill sponsor, Ocala Republican Stan McClain, acknowledged on the floor of the House when the bill was being debated that the legislation would treat parents differently depending on whether they objected to or supported the availability of school materials.

Gainesville Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson remarked to McClain that there was “a method on several pages of your bill for a parent to complain about a book. But is there a method for the other 99% of the parents to request the book?”

McClain said there was not, and that he would not consider including such a method.

‘Shut Up!’

The lawsuit goes into detail describing how Ferrell, the Orange County mother, was unsuccessful in fighting the removal of a book called “Shut Up!” by Marilyn Reynolds at Timber Creek High School, removed in the summer of 2023 due to the objection of a single parent.

Ferrell objected to the removal of that title, but was informed on Aug. 30, 2023, that the district had rejected her objection because “[o]nly the challenger can appeal the determination of the School or District to not remove the book to the board. You do not have the standing to file with this board. … The statute does not expressly give the authority to parents to challenge a removal of a book.”

Ferrell sought access to the state review process and submitted her objection to the State Review Liaison on Sept. 26, 2023. She finally received a response on Feb. 27, 2024, informing her that “the Department has received multiple requests for the Appointment of a Special Magistrate. You will receive a response in writing in the near future.”

The very next day, the department wrote to Ferrell that “[a] special magistrate is not available to contest a district’s decision to remove material or for the purpose of providing clarification on the law. As such, your request has been dismissed.”

The lawsuit goes on to say: “Parent Ferrell’s request was dismissed because she holds the State’s disfavored view.”

“Florida has become a national leader in book banning, garnering mass attention for the unprecedented number of books that have been removed from our public schools,” said Samantha Past, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida, one of three law firms representing the parents (along with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Democracy Forward Foundation).

“A review process that is available only to parents with certain viewpoints violates the First Amendment. Denying parents an appropriate avenue to challenge censorship is undemocratic, and stifling viewpoints the state disagrees with is unlawful. Ultimately, these actions perpetuate the statewide attack on members of the Black, Brown, and LGBTQ+ communities in an attempt to erase them from our history books,” Past continued.

2,700 books

Nearly 2,700 books were targeted for restriction or removal in Florida schools and libraries in 2023, according to the American Library Association in a report issued in March. That was 1,200 more than the state with the second-most challenges, Texas.

Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis acknowledged that giving parents the right to object to books and other materials in public schools has led to confusion at school districts throughout the state, but he declined to criticize state policy.

“If you have a kid in school, OK. But if you’re somebody who doesn’t have a kid in school and you’re going to object to 100 books, no, I don’t think that that’s appropriate,” he said.

DeSantis earlier this year signed into law a bill that caps the number of books that individuals who don’t have children in Florida’s public-school systems at one per month. The bill’s original language would have charged a $100 fee for a person who brought an unsuccessful challenge, but that was stripped from the final legislation.

Sydney Booker, the communications director with the Florida Department of Education, responded to the lawsuit by issuing this statement: “There are no books banned in Florida. However, sexually explicit material and instruction are not suitable for classrooms.”

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Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Florida The Phoenix and is republished with permission.

The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.

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

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Oregon

Anti-LGBTQ bias crime directed at Oregon library, juvenile arrested

Based on FBI crime data, Newberg is not one of the safest communities in America. Relative to all of Oregon, it has a 84% higher crime rate

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The Newberg Public Library said on Facebook that a BB was fired at the library window on the southeast corner. The original 1912 glass is still intact. The new protective glass installed with grant funds in January 2024 has been shattered. (Photo Credit: Newberg Public Library)

NEWBERG, Ore. – The Newberg-Dundee Police Department were called to the Newberg Public Library after an incident occurred this past Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. No one was injured and it was initially investigated as a vandalism complaint.

However, uniformed officers referred the case to Newberg-Dundee Police detectives after “concerns that the suspect possibly had a biased intent because a pride flag was displayed directly behind the vandalized window,” arose.

In a statement the agency noted responding officers were able to determine an unknown suspect(s) shot at least one projectile into a window which caused substantial damage. The department also stated:

On June 7, 2024, after a thorough investigation, detectives were able to identify the suspect to be a juvenile. The investigation determined the juvenile acted alone. The juvenile cooperated with detectives and was arrested. This case is being referred to the Yamhill County Juvenile Department for prosecution. Oregon law prohibits the release of identities for juvenile offenders.

Any further inquiries regarding this case should be directed to the Yamhill County Juvenile Department police said.

“I was angry, and I was also profoundly disappointed that someone would do this,” Will Worthey, Newberg’s city manager, told Portland’s NBC News affiliate KGW 8 News. “It’s clearly a pathetic act,” Worthey added referring to the library shooting.

Newberg, located 24 miles southwest of Portland, Oregon is famed for its vineyards and all the surrounding wineries. But, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most recent crime data for 2023, the chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime in Newberg is 1 in 33.

Based on FBI crime data, Newberg is not one of the safest communities in America. Relative to Oregon, Newberg has a crime rate that is higher than 84% of the state’s cities and towns of all sizes.

Recently, Newberg has had a slew of anti-LGBTQ incidents, KGW 8 News reported. Three years ago, the Newberg School Board banned Pride flags. Then in 2022, a person was captured on surveillance video burning a Newberg resident’s Pride flag

Related

“We take a harder look at these cases,” Daniel Fouch, a detective with the Newberg-Dundee Police Department, said.

“We have had things that have gone on in the recent past that are negative,” Newberg Mayor Bill Rosacker said. “But the people of Newberg love people.” Now, the mayor added, the community needs to stand up to hate. 

“Our town, like all towns, need to stand up for what is right,” Rosacker said.

City leaders hope the shooter has to pay for the damage.

“I’m hoping that someone has to pay restitution for this,” Worthey said.

The Newberg Public Library released a statement thanking the police for their work in obtaining an arrest: “Thank you to the Newberg-Dundee Police Department for their diligent work to resolve this case!”

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North Dakota

Judge denies request to halt enforcement of trans care law

Ban on gender-affirming care passed North Dakota’s GOP-dominated Legislature with more than 2/3 approval. Lawsuit set for November trial

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South Central Judicial District Judge Jackson Lofgren presides over a hearing Jan. 19, 2024, in Bismarck. (Amy Dalrymple/North Dakota Monitor)

By Mary Steurer | BISMARCK, ND. – A judge on Wednesday denied a request to halt enforcement of North Dakota’s ban on gender-affirming care for minors while a legal battle over the law plays out in court.

A group of North Dakota families and a pediatric endocrinologist sued the state over the ban and filed for a preliminary injunction in September, arguing that the law infringes on their personal autonomy and freedom to parent, is discriminatory toward transgender children and prevents them from accessing necessary medical treatment, and puts health care providers at risk of prosecution for good-faith medical decisions.

The state has countered that the health care law is needed to protect children, that it has regulatory authority over the medical field and that the ban doesn’t endanger medical practitioners who follow the law.

In an order, South Central Judicial District Judge Jackson Lofgren wrote that while the plaintiffs may eventually succeed on some points in the case, he did not find their arguments convincing enough to meet the standard necessary for a preliminary injunction.

Had Lofgren granted the motion, the preliminary injunction would have temporarily suspended the law until a final decision in the case is reached.

In a Thursday statement, Brittany Stewart — an attorney for Gender Justice, one of the groups representing the plaintiffs — said Gender Justice is “obviously disappointed” in Lofgren’s decision.

“The bottom line is that the longer this law is allowed to remain in effect, the more North Dakota kids and families will be harmed by the state’s unfair, unjust, and unconstitutional denial of the essential and life-saving health care they need,” Stewart said.

To meet the legal burden necessary for a preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs would have had to convince the court that they are substantially likely to win on the merits of the case, and that allowing the law to stay in effect poses irreparable harm.

The measure, signed into law by Gov. Doug Burgum in 2023, makes it a crime for medical professionals to provide gender-affirming treatment to anyone under the age of 18. It carves out an exemption for adolescents who had been receiving gender-affirming care before the law took effect.

The plaintiffs argued in a January hearing that the ban is preventing all transgender children from receiving gender-affirming care in North Dakota — even those who were being treated for gender dysphoria before the ban — and that a lack of access to this treatment can cause irreversible health impacts.

They claimed the exemption in the law is worded too vaguely to enforce, and so minors who should qualify for it cannot find any in-state medical professionals willing to provide it. 

Dr. Luis Casas, a plaintiff and pediatric endocrinologist, testified during the hearing that he no longer provides gender-affirming care in North Dakota to any adolescents — even those who received treatment from him before the ban took effect — for fear of prosecution. He now has transgender adolescent patients who live in North Dakota travel to his Moorhead, Minnesota, clinic for care.

Lofgren wrote in his order that the law is not unconstitutionally vague. He said the law makes it clear minors who were treated for gender dysphoria before the ban “can receive any medical care for the treatment of gender dysphoria” available in North Dakota before the law went into effect.

In its Thursday statement, Gender Justice wrote that Lofgren’s order may help give health care providers more confidence they can legally administer gender-affirming treatment to adolescent patients who fit the exemption.

“However, many physicians already moved their gender-affirming care practices out of state, so access to care is likely to remain significantly impeded or blocked for North Dakota transgender and nonbinary youth,” Gender Justice said in the statement.

The plaintiffs also argued before Lofgren during the January hearing that the health care ban violates the equal protection clause of the North Dakota Constitution because it prevents transgender adolescents from accessing necessary medical treatment, even though the treatments are still available to other kids for other reasons.

Lofgren wrote in his order that transgender people don’t constitute a protected class under the North Dakota Constitution. He also said that, based on the evidence presented to him during the hearing, there isn’t enough of a medical consensus on the benefits of gender-affirming care to warrant suspending the health care law.

“As previously noted, while there are documented psychological benefits to gender affirming care, there are also potential risks,” Lofgren wrote. “There is also disagreement regarding the soundness of the research and data available and the potential for unforeseen consequences.”

In its statement, Gender Justice noted that major American medical groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association endorse gender-affirming care as safe and effective treatment for gender dysphoria when administered along health guidelines.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in November.

North Dakota’s ban on gender-affirming care passed North Dakota’s Republican-dominated Legislature with more than two-thirds approval in each chamber. 

The law makes it a class A misdemeanor to administer gender-affirming treatments like puberty blockers or hormone therapy to a minor. Anyone found guilty of doing so could face up to 360 days in jail, fines of up to $3,000 or both. Medical professionals also fear a violation of the ban could jeopardize their medical licenses, according to court filings.

The law also makes it a class B felony to perform transition-related surgery on a minor. Anyone convicted of doing so could face up to 10 years in prison, a maximum $20,000 fine or both.  Experts testified before Lofgren in January that medical professionals do not perform such surgeries on minors in North Dakota.

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Mary Steurer

Mary Steurer is a reporter based in Bismarck. A native of St. Louis, Steurer most recently worked as the local government reporter for the Casper Star-Tribune newspaper in Wyoming.

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The preceding article was previously published by the North Dakota Monitor and is republished with permission.

North Dakota Monitor is a nonprofit, nonpartisan source for trusted news, commentary and insight into statewide policy and critical issues affecting the Peace Garden State.

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

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