Right-Wingers are taking over library boards to remove books on racism
Most of these opposition groups purport to be homegrown & grassroots, all have access to numerous national right-wing organizations.
By Eleanor J. Bader | NILES, IL – When Joe Makula decided to run for the board of the Niles-Maine Public Library in Niles, Illinois, this spring, a community member asked him how he thought the library could better serve the area’s increasingly diverse community.
Many were stunned by his response: “Instead of stocking up on books in seven different languages, if we got people to assimilate and learn English better, I think we would do more good in that area than increasing our inventory of foreign language books.”
At the time of his candidacy, Makula was a known person in Niles, having previously led efforts to impose term limits on elected officials and stop the town mayor from filling vacant trustee positions, but his interest in the library was new. Elizabeth Lynch, an organizer with #SaveNilesLibrary, a campaign of the Niles Coalition, says that she does not know what provoked Makula’s involvement, but it quickly became apparent that his goal was “to object to the library being a community center.” He also opposed spending to repair the building’s aging roof and upgrade the facility to better bridge the digital divide separating low-income residents from their more affluent neighbors.
But despite, or perhaps because of, his political outlook, Makula — who did not respond to Truthout’s request for an interview — won the April election and now holds a seat on the library board; two other fiscal conservatives were also elected.
“Fewer than 2,000 people out of more than 57,000 who were eligible to vote, voted to fill four open slots,” Lynch told Truthout. “It was the lowest turnout ever. In addition to Makula and the other two, there was another conservative already on the board, so this gave them a four to three majority.”
Since their swearing in on May 19, the new board has wasted no time in imposing its agenda. “Their focus is to change the very nature of the library,” Lynch says. “They’ve already slashed the budget from $7.4 to $5.9 million, fired staff or reduced their hours, gone from being open 70 hours a week to being open 54, and eliminated outreach to schools and nursing homes.” In addition, she says, longtime library director Susan Dove Lempke felt she had to resign from her position after clashing with Makula and the other conservatives over the cutbacks.
At least 165 local and national groups are working to “disrupt or block lessons on race and gender,” in both traditional classrooms and public spaces.
But Lynch is hoping that the right-wing ascension will be temporary.
“On June 14, staff voted to unionize with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and hundreds of concerned community members have formed #SaveNilesLibrary,” she says. “We’re trying to assure the long-term survival of the library and make sure that Makula and the others do not get re-elected when their terms expire. We’re also trying to be there for staff, show our solidarity, and spread awareness about what Makula and his people are doing.”
A Broad Pushback
The Niles-Maine Public Library is not the only program facing draconian cutbacks or a right-wing takeover. In fact, in places ranging from Kootenai County, Idaho, to Ann Arundel County, Maryland, to Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, to the town of Frisco, Texas, local efforts are underway to limit what libraries offer — especially when it comes to promoting racial equity and gender inclusivity.
Some locales are making opposition to critical race theory — either through books or community lectures and discussions — their core focus, but other locations are adding virulent opposition to comprehensive sex education and LGBTQIA+ acceptance in a trio of concerns. What’s more, while most of these opposition groups purport to be homegrown and grassroots, all have access to the support and resources (including model legislation) of numerous national right-wing organizations. These include the Alliance Defending Freedom, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Family Research Council, Family Watch International, the Heritage Foundation and Project Blitz, as well as right-wing media outlets such as Breitbart, Fox News, the Daily Wire, Newsmax and the Washington Free Beacon. All told, NPR reports that as of late June, at least 165 local and national groups are working to “disrupt or block lessons on race and gender,” in both traditional classrooms and public spaces.
In Kootenai County, Idaho, conservatives Rachelle Ottosen and Vanessa Robinson ousted two incumbents on the Community Library Network board in May. Ottosen told the local GOP that she and her husband and children had recently moved to Idaho from western Washington State “to get away from the socialist political atmosphere.”
Like Joe Makula, Ottosen did not respond to Truthout’s request for an interview, but her website stated that she was running for the library board to promote traditional values: “I don’t think public libraries need to be an extension of scriptural knowledge only, but they sure shouldn’t be forcing taxpayer funding of Satanic agendas that lead to the destruction of our nation,” she said.
“What does it say to a kid who is trans or gay if their identity needs to be shielded from the public and placed behind a desk?”
As extreme as this sounds, this is not the first time that U.S. public libraries have found themselves in the right-wing’s crosshairs. In fact, during the Cold War, libraries across the country were condemned for stocking “communist propaganda,” and librarians were attacked for giving The Nation, The New Republic, The New World Review and the Negro Digest space on their shelves. Some places were even more vitriolic in their denunciation of the “Red Menace.” In San Antonio, Texas, for example, journalist James Rorty, writing in Commentary Magazine, reported that local lawmakers had compiled a list of 600 books allegedly penned by “communist sympathizers.” All were stamped on their inside covers with a message denouncing the “traitorous” author. Among the books labeled: Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
In today’s world, of course, the Red Menace is no longer dominant; instead, critical race theory, feminism and anything affirming a continuum of gender identities have jelled into a new bogeyman.
And nothing sticks in the conservative craw like Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH).
According to Jonathan Hamilt, executive director of DQSH, the program was created in 2015 by writer Michelle Tea and RADAR Productions. “It started as drag queens reading stories to children in libraries and grew into a global phenomenon,” Hamilt told Truthout. “DQSH now offers literary and creative programming for kids and teens of all ages by Drag Queens, Kings and Creatures.” Readings take place in libraries, schools, summer camps and book stores and are intended “to capture the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and give kids glamorous, positive and unabashedly queer role models. Kids see people defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress-up is real,” Hamilt says.
But despite its growth and popularity — it has not only run programs in at least 25 U.S. cities, but also in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Mexico and Sweden — Hamilt says that the program has also unleashed a barrage of hate. “I, myself, get multiple death threats and hate mail on a daily basis,” he says. “Among the charges: DQSH ‘promotes perversion’ and is ‘social engineering.’ Some dub it ‘child abuse.’”
It’s not just drag royalty who are being denigrated.
Lambda award-winning author Julia Watts found herself the target of right-wing animosity in 2019. Shortly after her 2018 novel, Quiver, was published, Watts was invited to read at LitUp Festival, an event sponsored by the Knox County, Tennessee, Public Library System. “It was going to be a big event to encourage teen readers with a lot of programming put together by the kids,” Watts told Truthout. She says she was pleased to be invited — and then shocked to have the offer rescinded.
“I was surprised and angry that this happened to me; I was the only author to be disinvited. I was told it was because I’d written lesbian erotica and apparently this made some of the adults nervous.” But after this happened, Watts says she got incredible support. “I was amazed at how far the news of my disinvitation had travelled and I was interviewed by a bunch of national publications and given an intellectual freedom award in 2020 from the American Library Association. People understood that if you censor one writer, it’s a slippery slope to censoring others.”
Right’s Focus Expands
Richard Price, an associate professor of political science at Weber State University in Utah, created a blog called AdventuresinCensorship.com in 2018 and notes that many of the books that have met with community opposition — including In Our Mother’s House, Heather Has Two Mommies, Daddy’s Roommate, Call Me Max, George and I Am Jazz — depict LGBTQIA people respectfully. “Parents have demanded that these books be removed, or put on a ‘parental reserve shelf’ so that kids need to get an adult’s permission to read them,” Price told Truthout. “What does it say to a kid who is trans or gay if their identity needs to be shielded from the public and placed behind a desk?”
Until 2020, Price says, most of the books on the American Library Association’s annual list of Most Censored texts were queer-themed. That changed last year, Price reports, following the police murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other people of color.
“The 2020 list is representative of the white grievance politics that former President Trump exemplified and amplified,” Adventures in Censorship concludes.
In Frisco, Texas, the brouhaha took shape after Cicely Lewis, named 2020’s National School Librarian of the Year by School Library Journal and Scholastic, proposed a voluntary reading challenge for students: to read 10 books “that cover current topics faced in society.”
“They basically understand that if young people are introduced to ideas about diversity and inclusion, we are creating an incubator for them to question every ‘traditional’ value.”
The Frisco School Libraries decided to implement the suggestion and created a list of optional readings. Among the recommended texts: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds; Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo; The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert; and Frankly in Love by David Yoon.
Far right parents, lawmakers and religious leaders called this “indoctrination” and zeroed in on a local high school librarian for particular acrimony. Although she asked that her name not be used to protect her safety and the safety of her family, she said that she understands that the conservative agenda goes beyond targeting specific individuals. “The far right in Frisco wants to dismantle public education and make our school district even whiter and more Christian-centric than it already is,” she told Truthout. “Our library reading program is optional. If the kids read all 10 books and write something, they get a T-shirt. I wrote a Facebook post saying that we want all kids to see themselves reflected on the library shelves. That post put me on the far right’s radar. I guess they’re upset that we recognize that students have different faces and this impacts how they’re perceived and received by teachers, librarians and society at large.”
Christine Soyong Harley, president and CEO of SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change, has seen the culture wars that surround changing racial and gender dynamics play out over the past few decades. Although the right has long been fixated on sexual expression, she says that opposition to sex ed in the schools and LGBTQIA inclusion is merely one facet of the right’s overall ideology. “For years, the Christian right has been worried about what it will mean for gender-queer folks to be treated as equal to straight people. This year, we’ve seen the idea of critical race theory become popularized, and it has pushed these folks to consider what will happen if all people of color are treated as equal to whites. They basically understand that if young people are introduced to ideas about diversity and inclusion, we are creating an incubator for them to question every ‘traditional’ value.”
And that, she says, represents a threat to white supremacists — and an incredible opportunity for organizing, whether through electing people who support diversity to library boards, or mobilizing community support for inclusive programming through mass meetings, street protests, petition drives or public demonstrations.
Correction: This article was updated on July 15 to clarify a quote by Joe Makula, and to clarify that Elizabeth Lynch is an organizer with #SaveNilesLibrary, a campaign of the Niles Coalition.
Eleanor J. Bader is an award-winning journalist who writes about domestic social issues, movements for social change, books and art. In addition to Truthout, she writes for The Progressive, Lilith Magazine and blog, the LA Review of Books, Fiction Writers Review and other online and print publications.
The preceding article is Copyright © Truthout and is republished by permission.
Gay Days 2023 will go on despite DeSantis & anti-LGBTQ+ animus
“We continue to be that blue speck in a sea of red, but ultimately laws are laws, and that is the interesting situation we are in”
ORLANDO – Equality Florida has issued a travel advisory to LGBTQ+ people that traveling to the state isn’t safe given the plethora of anti-LGBTQ+ laws. On May 23, 2023, the Human Rights Campaign joined with Equality Florida urging LGBTQ+ people to avoid travel to Florida.
Citing six anti-LGBTQ bills passed and signed by Governor DeSantis, the two groups noted that while not a blanket recommendation against travel nor a call for boycott, the travel advisory outlines the devastating impacts of laws that are hostile to the LGBTQ community.
As Pride month gets underway Thursday, an annual event that is celebrating its 32nd anniversary this year and draws tens of thousands of LGBTQ+ people to Walt Disney World and the Disney resort areas near Orlando, is slated to commence over the next four day period.
Wearing red shirts to identify themselves, participants in the unofficial Disney Gay Days celebration gather for parties, meet-ups, and enjoying a Disney holiday. In an interview with the Associated Press, Joseph Clark, CEO of Gay Days Inc., said that he is hoping that this year can see upwards of 150,000 LGBTQ+ people descending on Central Florida to mark the start of Pride season.
In addition to Disney, the LGBTQ+ folks will also be visiting the neighboring amusement parks of Universal Studios and SeaWorld.
Pride celebrations this year in Florida have taken on a different tone, St. Cloud organizers of the ‘PRIDE in St. Cloud’ scheduled for June 10 cancelled the event joining a growing list of Pride events being cancelled as a “climate of fear” has overtaken the state in the wake of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ extreme new anti-LGBTQ+ laws.
The Pride Alliance of the Treasure Coast notified the greater Treasure Coast community that the Pride parade was cancelled and that Pridefest will only be accessible to residents 21-years-old or older.
The Wilton Manors City Commission as well as the city’s mayor voted to amending the permit for Stonewall Pride Inc. to force compliance of a new state law that expands the definition of “live adult entertainment” to include drag entertainment.
Brandon Wolf, the Press Secretary for the largest state-wide LGBTQ+ equality and human rights advocacy group Equality Florida, in a text with the Blade noted: “These are the intended chilling effects of DeSantis’ slate of hate legislation. Just as the Don’t Say LGBTQ law didn’t direct school districts to rip down rainbow stickers, this bill does not ban drag or pride. But it uses vague language and threats to induce self-censorship.”
“We continue to be that blue speck in a sea of red, but ultimately laws are laws, and that is the interesting situation we are in,” Joseph Clark, the CEO of Gay Days, told Deadline, adding that many folks have reached out to ask whether it’s safe to visit Florida.
In a Facebook post earlier this week, GayDays® announce the cancellation and “reimagining” of Taste of GayDays® as “due to challenges caused by the current political climate in Florida which recently caused concerns for a large group of our restaurant partners.”
“UPDATE: We’re deeply sorry to announce the cancellation and “reimagining” of Taste of GayDays® due to challenges caused by the current political climate in Florida which recently caused concerns for a large group of our restaurant partners. Because of these circumstances, and though we adamantly tried to recruit additional vendors, it became clear that we would be unable to provide the exceptional experience that our guests have come to expect at the Taste of GayDays® Event.
But FEAR NOT! We’ve planned something special for you all. Join us for the FREE GayDays Orlando 2023 “Taste of GayDays® Entertainment Preview Show” at 6pm on Thursday, June 1! This new event aims to give a preview of several other special events during GayDays® Orlando including performances by some of our Miss GayDays® Pageant competitors, introductions and meet & greets with Mr. GayDays® Leather Competitors and more. Please know – we are committed to delivering extraordinary experiences at GayDays® Orlando.
As we are days away from the start of GayDays Orlando 2023 this was not an announcement we had expected to have to make. We will not let this deter us! We are determined to work towards changing the mindset of people and ensure that future events uphold the high standards that are synonymous with GayDays®. It is because of you, that together, we’ll make a difference,” the group wrote.
GayDays® at Area Theme Parks | #RedShirtDays schedule linked here: (Link)
U.S. Federal Courts
ACLU sues to block Idaho’s ban on health care for trans youth
“This law is a dangerous intrusion upon the rights of Idaho families. Our state should be a safe place to raise every child, including trans”
BOISE — An Idaho law criminalizing gender-affirming health care for transgender youth is being challenged by families in federal court.
In a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Idaho, Wrest Collective, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and Groombridge, Wu, Baughman & Stone LLP, two Idaho families assert that HB 71, signed into law by Governor Brad Little earlier this year, violates the rights of transgender youth and their parents under the U.S. Constitution.
“Being able to live my life as my true self has been a long journey and my medical care has been an important part of that journey. My family, my doctors, and I have worked together to make decisions about my medical care, and it’s shocking to have politicians take those decisions away from us,” said Plaintiff Jane Doe, a 16-year-old transgender girl. “Trans people like myself deserve the same chance at safety and liberty as everyone else, but this law specifically targets us and our health care for no good reason. I’m 16–I should be hanging out with my friends and planning my future instead of fighting my State for the health care I need.”
“This law is a dangerous intrusion upon the rights and lives of Idaho families. Our state should be a safe place to raise every child, including transgender youth, and HB 71 threatens to deny them the safety and dignity they deserve,” said Amy Dundon, Legislative Strategist with the ACLU of Idaho. “We welcome this opportunity to defend the transgender youth of Idaho and their families from this discriminatory political attack and we won’t stop defending them until each one has all the care and support they need to thrive.”
“We are determined to protect the transgender youth of Idaho, their families, and their medical providers from this unjust and dangerous attack on their rights and lives,” said Li Nowlin-Sohl, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “This health care is supported by every major medical organization in the U.S. and is critical for the futures of transgender youth across the state. We will not rest until this unconstitutional law is struck down.”
The challenge filed today is the eighth legal challenge by the ACLU and its nationwide affiliate network so far against a wave of bans targeting health care for transgender youth. The ACLU and the ACLU of Arkansas filed the first such challenge against the first such law in the country in 2021 and similar challenges have been filed in Indiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Montana, Kentucky, and Nebraska.
The White House
Pride Month proclamation: ‘Our nation faces another inflection point’
The statement reaffirms the Bide-Harris administration’s commitment to standing “proudly with the LGBTQI+ community
WASHINGTON – Just as the 1969 Stonewall Riots marked a transformational time for LGBTQ civil rights in America, the country now faces another critical inflection point, President Joe Biden said in the White House’s proclamation Wednesday honoring Pride Month.
This moment is precipitated by the wave of hateful anti-LGBTQ legislation moving through state and local legislatures across the country and amid the escalating violence and threats of violence against the community, the statement notes:
“In 2023 alone, State and local legislatures have already introduced over 600 hateful laws targeting the LGBTQI+ community. Books about LGBTQI+ people are being banned from libraries. Transgender youth in over a dozen States have had their medically necessary health care banned. Homophobic and transphobic vitriol spewed online has spilled over into real life, as armed hate groups intimidate people at Pride marches and drag performances, and threaten doctors’ offices and children’s hospitals that offer care to the LGBTQI+ community. Our hearts are heavy with grief for the loved ones we have lost to anti-LGBTQI+ violence.”
Biden drew parallels between the “LGBTQI+ protestors” who “bravely stood their ground” against the law enforcement dispatched to arrest them more than 50 years ago and the youth organizers leading walkouts in response to discriminatory education laws, along with the “young people and their parents [who] are demonstrating unimaginable courage by testifying in State capitols in defense of their basic rights.”
The statement reaffirms the Bide-Harris administration’s commitment to standing “proudly with the LGBTQI+ community in the enduring struggle for freedom, justice, and equality,” chronicling some of the major steps the administration has taken on this front.
Biden highlighted his issuance, on his first day in office, of an Executive Order prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination, along with his signage last year of the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified protects for the rights of same-sex couples that might otherwise be jeopardized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority.
The statement then noted the administration’s moves to protect LGBTQ youth by ordering federal agencies to: combat conversion therapy, “end the crisis of homelessness among LGBTQI+ youth and adults,” and address anti-LGBTQ discrimination in foster care.
Meanwhile, Biden said, the U.S. Department of Justice is fighting against discriminatory laws targeting trans youth, while the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have drafted rules that would better protect anti-LGBTQ discrimination “in healthcare, at school, and in sports” and the White House is developing ways to combat online harassment and abuse that “disproportionately target LGBTQ people.”
Finally, the White House noted: its rollout last year of the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for LGBTQ youth, who can now reach specially trained counselors by dialing 988 and then 3; the administration’s appointment of historic numbers of LGBTQ appointees at all levels of the federal government; and its repeal of bans preventing trans people from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
From passing federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans via the Equality Act to addressing “the crisis of violence against transgender women and girls of color,” Biden acknowledged the work that lies ahead.
“This month and every month,” his proclamation concludes, “let us celebrate the pride that powers the movement for LGBTQI+ rights and commit to doing our part to help realize the promise of America, for all Americans.”
Defense Secretary orders drag show at USAF base cancelled
A Pentagon official said that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was visibly angry about the decision to host the event on base
NELLIS AFB, NV – A previously scheduled drag show to kick off Pride Month on this sprawling base, an advanced combat aviation training facility for the U.S. Air Force northeast of Las Vegas, was cancelled Wednesday according to a Pentagon official, after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley stepped in.
A Pentagon source familiar with the matter told the Blade that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs informed the Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. that it is not Pentagon policy to fund drag shows on bases and the show needed to be canceled or moved off base.
The issue over drag performances was a focus at a House Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this year on March 29, when anti-LGBTQ+ Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz demanded in an angry tone that the Defense Secretary and the JCS Chairman explain why drag queen story hours were being hosted on U.S. military installations. The Florida Republican mentioned bases in Montana, Nevada, Virginia and Germany.
In a highly publicized incident in May 2022, Stars and Stripes reported that the Commanding General of the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein AFB in Germany had a Drag Queen Storytime, that was to be held in honor of Pride Month cancelled.
According to Stars & Stripes, the 86th Air Wing’s public affairs sent a statement to a radical-right anti-LGBTQ+ news outlet in Canada, The Post Millennial, which had requested comment to its article about the event and also accused the Air Force of pushing a more “woke” agenda among servicemen.
In a press release, Florida Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio took partial credit for the cancellation.
Rubio sent a letter to U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall regarding the Air Force Library at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany hosting a “Drag Queen Story Time” event for young children of servicemembers.
Rubio urged him to cancel the event, discipline the staff involved in planning and hosting the event, and respond to questions on whether other installations both at home and around the world have done similar events. Following receipt of Rubio’s letter, the Air Force canceled the event.
“The last thing parents serving their nation overseas should be worried about, particularly in a theater with heightened geopolitical tensions, is whether their children are being exposed to sexually charged content simply because they visited their local library,” Rubio wrote.
A Pentagon official referring to the drag show at Nellis said that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was visibly angry about the decision to host the event on base after being informed about it earlier this week.
The drag show was scheduled for Thursday June 1, but Maj. Gen. Case A. Cunningham, the Commander of the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, Nellis was informed in the past few days that it must either be canceled or moved off base.
On May 23, Congressman Gaetz sent a letter to Secretary Austin and Chairman Milley, alleging that the “pervasive and persistent use of taxpayer dollars for drag events,” had a June 1, 2023 Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada event scheduled.
Gaetz went on to write that “Nellis Air Force Base has announced a so-called “family-friendly” drag organized by the Nellis LGBTQ+ Pride Council for June 1, 2023. In this latest outright attack on children, this event is being advertised as having no minimum age requirement.”
In his letter Gaetz also demanded to know:
- Does the DoD feel it’s appropriate for children to attend a sexualized drag performance?
- Why are base commanders defying your intent and direction by facilitating drag events?
- If this event goes forward, whether on June 1st or a later scheduled date, please provide an explanation regarding your justification for why you allowed the event to take place.
According to a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, Nellis, in June 2021 the base had hosted a Pride Month drag show titled “Drag-u-Nellis.” The spokesperson noted the 2021 show was intended to promote inclusivity and diversity.
Alabama extends ban on trans female athletes to universities
“Look, if you are a biological male, you are not going to be competing in women’s and girls’ sports in Alabama”
MONTGOMERY – Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday signed House Bill 261 which limits transgender students to playing sports in public colleges and universities only with “their biological sex assigned at birth.”
“Look, if you are a biological male, you are not going to be competing in women’s and girls’ sports in Alabama. It’s about fairness, plain and simple,” said Governor Ivey in a statement released by her office.
House Bill 261 was approved 26-4 in the Alabama Senate and 83-5 in the House of Representatives. In the vote in the Alabama House over a dozen lawmakers abstained from the vote.
Ivey had previously signed legislation in 2021 banning trans female athletes from competing in K-12 girls sports. At the time she signed that bill the governor had noted that “Alabama remains committed to protecting female athletes at all levels and upholding the integrity of athletics.”
Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey, Alabama state director of the Human Rights Campaign said the legislation is part of a “systematic attack against LGBTQ+ people” in Alabama and elsewhere.
“In just two years, [Ivey] and extremist lawmakers in Alabama have passed four anti-LGBTQ+ bills. From dictating what bathrooms we can use to blatantly ignoring the actual problems in women’s sports, these politicians are making Alabama an increasingly hostile place for transgender people and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole,” Anderson-Harvey said.
South Dakota Governor asks colleges to ban drag shows
Noem targeted college student life, including removing references to and enforcement of preferred pronouns, prohibiting drag shows on campus
PIERRE, S.D. – Republican Governor Kristi Noem sent a letter last week to the South Dakota Board of Regents, which is the governing board that controls six public universities in the state, telling the Board that in her opinion higher education for Dakotans was in crisis.
Echoing the political philosophy of her fellow Republican governor, Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Noem criticized instructional methods in universities saying that professors were focusing on “feelings rather than facts.”
The governor also took aim at diversity programs saying that students were being taught equity and “safe spaces” rather than “learning to tolerate the disagreement, discomfort, and dissent they will experience in the real world.”
Noem also targeted college student life, including removing references to and enforcement of preferred pronouns, prohibiting drag shows on campus, and removing policies that prohibit students from exercising their right to free speech, the latter regarding use of what has been defined hate speech against the LGBTQ+ community based on religious freedoms and expressions.
KSFY-TV reported that Board of Regents issued a statement this past Friday that it is still reviewing the contents. Adding that it was eager to have “a willing partner in higher education.”
The letter contained several goals that the Board of Regents has worked on for many years. This letter, along with our internal Strategic Plan and Senate Bill 55 Legislative Taskforce, presents solutions to support the growth of South Dakota’s workforce through our public universities.
According to KSFY-TV the Board stated that its main goal is readying the next generation of leaders with skills to grow the state’s economy. “We are fully committed to this mission.”
In addition to the letter the governor in a press release announced that she also launched a whistleblower hotline calling for South Dakota to be “an example to the nation of what quality higher education should look like.”
CBS News affiliate KELO’s Capitol Bureau reporter Bob Mercer noted that Noem said the “whistleblower hotline” is for students, parents, taxpayers and faculty to call and voice concerns. The number is (605) 773-5916.
KELO also reported the hotline audio said:
“This hotline was created for students and faculty to keep our universities accountable to South Dakota values,” the recording says. “And be an example to the nation of what good higher education looks like.”
In a statement to KELO, Shuree Mortenson, a spokeswoman for the Board of Regents, said the hotline is being managed by the governor’s office and the BOR is still reviewing the contents of the letter.
Trans teen no longer feels welcome in Florida- So she left
“It was just terror in my heart, like you could just feel that cold burst in my chest just going all throughout my body”
By Stephanie Colombini, WUSF | SAINT AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Josie had put off packing long enough. The high school sophomore in St. Augustine, Florida, sat on her bed while her mom, Sarah, pulled clothes from her closet.
It held a trove of good memories — like the red dress Josie wore to the winter homecoming dance and a pink cover-up she sported at a friend’s pool party. Good times like these have felt scarce lately. Josie, who’s transgender, no longer feels welcome in Florida.
Her family requested they be identified by their first names only, fearing retaliation in a state where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and other officials have proposed, politicized, and passed policies in health care and education that limit identity expression, access to certain school activities, and accommodations for trans people.
The ACLU is tracking bills it calls an “attack on LGBTQ rights, especially transgender youth.” State legislation has forced some residents like Josie to rethink where they want to call home.
Josie moved more than a thousand miles from St. Augustine — and her parents — to start a new life in Rhode Island and stay with her aunt and uncle, who live outside Providence.
Preparing her for the move, Josie’s mom held up outfits and asked, “Staying or going?”
The formal dress could stay behind. Cardigans and overalls went in the suitcase. At one point, the family dog, Reesie, crawled past the luggage to snuggle up to Josie.
“She has a sense when I’m sad, and just comes running in,” said Josie, 16.
Moving to Rhode Island had been Plan B for some time, but Josie said she never thought it would happen. Much has changed in the past year.
Florida is one of more than a dozen states that have passed bans on gender-affirming medical treatments for minors, such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and certain surgeries.
Florida’s medical boards began debating those bans last summer. For months, Josie was terrified she would lose access to hormones she takes to help her body align with her identity.
Board members argued gender-affirming treatments were “experimental” and, in March, barred doctors from prescribing them to minors. They allowed children who had already started care to continue. But Josie didn’t trust that her access would last.
This spring, the legislature considered forcing all trans youth to stop treatment by Dec. 31, part of a bill to bolster restrictions on transgender care.
“I thought that they would realize what they’ve done wrong and repeal some things,” Josie said. “But they just kept going. It just became, like, too real, too fast.”
Lawmakers ended up stripping that provision just before the session ended this month, allowing young people like Josie to stay in treatment.
But she had already made her decision to move out of state. School has been challenging at times since Josie came out as trans in eighth grade. Some childhood friends rejected her.
Josie wanted to play on the girls tennis team, but Florida law bans trans girls and women from competing on school teams meant for athletes assigned female at birth.
She said living in Florida was also especially painful after the state passed the Parental Rights in Education law, which “prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels.” Critics call it the “Don’t Say Gay” law and said it has had a chilling effect on some teachers. Josie noticed stickers signifying that areas were “safe spaces” for LGBTQ+ people had been taken down at school.
“Which is just ridiculous, like you want your students to be comfortable and safe,” she said.
The new laws and anti-trans rhetoric are hurting kids across Florida, said Jennifer Evans, a clinical psychologist at the University of Florida’s Youth Gender Program in Gainesville.
“I’m seeing more anxiety, more depression,” Evans said. “Things I hear patients say are, ‘The government doesn’t want me to exist.’ They don’t feel safe.”
States are pushing measures on all sorts of gender-related issues — not just health care, but what schools can teach or which bathrooms people can use.
Bills don’t have to pass to cause harm, said Evans, who is queer.
“It’s a lot to feel like enough people in this country don’t agree with your existence — which actually isn’t affecting them — that people want to shut down other people’s access to living complete and affirmed lives,” she said. “It’s painful to see that.”
Four families who sought care at Evans’ clinic have already left Florida, she said, while another 10 plan to move this year. Some older teens she treats also want to get out when they turn 18.
But moving isn’t easy for many families.
“Just financially, it’s difficult to uproot what we’ve set up,” Josie’s dad, Eric, said.
They’ve owned their home in St. Augustine for a long time. Eric recently started a new job. Josie’s mom, Sarah, works at a private college that offers a benefit that allows Josie and her older sister to get reduced tuition at some colleges around the country.
So her parents decided that, at least for now, Josie would go live with her aunt and uncle and they would stay behind.
The choice was devastating.
“It was just terror in my heart, like you could just feel that cold burst in my chest just going all throughout my body,” said Sarah. “Josie is part of everything I do.”
Josie will finish her sophomore year in Rhode Island before returning to St. Augustine for summer break. Her family sees it as a trial run for what could be years of separation.
One night before Josie left, she invited friends over for a going-away party. The teens played a dance video game, laughing as they performed a hip-hop routine.
Sarah brought out a Black Forest cake. “We love you Josie” was piped in frosting along the platter, framed by two hearts.
It was a simple but powerful send-off from the support system Josie has relied on in Florida. A few days later, she and her mom flew north to get Josie settled. Leaving her daughter in Rhode Island was “agony,” Sarah said.
“I was a mess,” she said. “I cried the whole way to the airport. I just felt I was going the wrong way.”
Sarah is still adjusting to life without Josie at home, but they talk every day. And Josie is getting used to her new environment. Her aunt and uncle have been great, she said, and she’s making friends at school.
Her new school is a little smaller than her old one and in a community that feels more liberal-minded, the family said. Josie said she loves seeing pride flags in the halls and plans to join the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club. It all feels like a “bombardment of support.”
“It was just, like, such a shock to me — like, not a bad shock, but, like, just shocked that this is how schools can be,” Josie said. “It’s just that Florida’s choosing not to be like that.”
DeSantis’ office did not respond to several requests for comment to address concerns of families like Josie’s.
Since Josie moved to Rhode Island in April, DeSantis has signed four bills that would curb health care and gender expression of trans people.
Josie’s parents said they’ll keep their pride flag waving in the front yard and advocate for equality while she’s away.
Josie said she thinks about the trans kids who can’t leave and urged them not to give up hope. But right now, she needs to move on.
This article is from a partnership that includes WUSF, NPR, and KFF Health News. It can be republished for free.
The White House
Biden condemns signing of Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act
National Security Council ‘to evaluate’ law’s implications, U.S. engagement with country
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday condemned Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that the country’s president has signed.
“The enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is a tragic violation of universal human rights — one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people, and one that jeopardizes the prospects of critical economic growth for the entire country,” said Biden in his statement. “I join with people around the world — including many in Uganda — in calling for its immediate repeal. No one should have to live in constant fear for their life or being subjected to violence and discrimination. It is wrong.”
Biden notes “reports of violence and discrimination targeting Ugandans who are or are perceived to be LGBTQI+ are on the rise,” since MPs introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Act.
“Innocent Ugandans now fear going to hospitals, clinics, or other establishments to receive life-saving medical care lest they be targeted by hateful reprisals. Some have been evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs. And the prospect of graver threats — including lengthy prison sentences, violence, abuse — threatens any number of Ugandans who want nothing more than to live their lives in safety and freedom,” said Biden.
“This shameful Act is the latest development in an alarming trend of human rights abuses and corruption in Uganda. The dangers posed by this democratic backsliding are a threat to everyone residing in Uganda, including U.S. government personnel, the staff of our implementing partners, tourists, members of the business community and others,” added Biden.
The version of the Anti-Homosexuality Act that President Yoweri Museveni signed contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”
Biden in his statement notes he has “directed my National Security Council to evaluate the implications of this law on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda, including our ability to safely deliver services under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other forms of assistance and investments. My administration will also incorporate the impacts of the law into our review of Uganda’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).”
“We are considering additional steps, including the application of sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption,” he said.
Ugandan media reports indicate the U.S. has revoked Parliament Speaker Anita Among’s visa.
“The United States shares a deep and committed partnership with the people of Uganda. For more than 60 years, we have worked together to help millions of Ugandans live healthier, more productive lives,” said Biden in his statement. “Our programs have boosted economic growth and agricultural productivity, increased investments in Ugandan businesses, and strengthened our trade cooperation. In total, the U.S. government invests nearly $1 billion annually in Uganda’s people, business, institutions, and military to advance our common agenda. The scale of our commitments speaks to the value we place on this partnership — and our faith in the people of Uganda to build for themselves a better future. It is my sincere hope that we can continue to build on this progress, together and strengthen protections for the human rights of people everywhere.”
Bill restricting ‘explicit shows’ in front of children heads to Abbott
“The broadness could negatively implicate even the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders” Advocates: ‘revisions to the legislation still target drag’
By William Melhado | AUSTIN – The Texas Legislature gave final approval Sunday to a bill that will criminalize performers that put on sexually explicit shows in front of children as well as any businesses that host them.
Originally designed as legislation to restrict minors from attending certain drag shows, lawmakers agreed on bill language that removed direct reference to drag performers just before an end-of-day deadline. The bill now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
Under Senate Bill 12, business owners would face a $10,000 fine for hosting sexually explicit performances in which someone is nude or appeals to the “prurient interest in sex.” Performers caught violating the proposed restriction could be slapped with a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
After lawmakers from both chambers met in a conference committee to hash out the differences between their versions of the bill, the House and Senate released a new one that expanded the penal code’s definition of sexual conduct. The bill classifies as sexual conduct the use of “accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics,” accompanied with sexual gesticulations.
Advocates said this addition is aimed at drag queens’ props and costumes, which is evidence that lawmakers are still targeting the LGBTQ community.
Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, amended the legislation in the House by removing explicit reference to drag. Shaheen told The Texas Tribune that members had viewed videos of performances in which children were exposed to “lewd, disgusting, inappropriate stuff.” He said the updated bill addresses what was in those videos. Shaheen did not specify which videos concerned lawmakers.
Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, authored SB 12 after a small but loud group of activists and extremist groups fueled anti-drag panic by filming drag shows and posting the videos on social media. Those groups characterized all drag as inherently sexual regardless of the content or audience, which resonated with top GOP leaders in the state, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Advocates say the revisions to the legislation still target drag, even if those types of performances aren’t directly mentioned in the bill.
Brigitte Bandit, an Austin-based drag performer, criticized the addition of “accessories or prosthetics” to the bill. Drag artists performing in front of children don’t wear sexually explicit costumes, Bandit said, adding that this bill creates a lot of confusion over what is and isn’t acceptable to do at drag shows.
“Is me wearing a padded bra going to be [considered] enhancing sexual features?” Bandit asked. “It’s still really vague but it’s still geared to try to target drag performance, which is what this bill has been trying to do this entire time, right?”
Shaheen said that including direct reference to drag performers wasn’t necessary to the intent of the bill, which was to restrict children from seeing sexually explicit material.
“You want it to cover inappropriate drag shows, but you [also] want it to cover if a stripper starts doing stuff in front of a child,” Shaheen said.
Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, spoke against the bill Sunday just before the House gave it final approval in a 87-54 vote. She criticized the removal of language that previously narrowed the bill’s enforcement to only businesses. González warned that the bill’s vague language could lead to a “domino effect” of consequences.
“The broadness could negatively implicate even the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders,” said González. “It can go into your homes and say what is allowed in your homes after the lines ‘commercial enterprise’ were stricken out.”
During a House hearing on SB 12, Democrats questioned whether the bill’s language would also ensnare restaurants like Twin Peaks that feature scantily clad servers. Shaheen said the way the bill is written exempts these types of performances.
LGBTQ lawmakers applauded the removal of the direct reference to drag performers. But advocates fear the phrase “prurient interest in sex” could be interpreted broadly since Texas law doesn’t have a clear definition of the term, said Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas who testified against the bill in a House committee.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the term is defined as “erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion,” though the language’s interpretation varies by community.
The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.
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GLSEN under siege as lies from right-wing extremists escalate
“We cannot let a violent, angry minority hold our democracy, our school systems, or our communities hostage”
NEW YORK, NY – Fox News and other far-right media outlets have escalated their campaign of misinformation and deceptive inflammatory statements against GLSEN, the American education organization working to end discrimination, harassment, and bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
On Friday, May 26, the Fox network noted that Target Corporation is “partnering with a K-12 education group [GLSEN] which focuses on getting districts to adopt policies that will keep parents in the dark on their child’s in-school gender transition, providing sexually explicit books to schools for free, and integrating gender ideology at all levels of curriculum in public schools.”
None of those allegations or statements is true.
Fox also reported that GLSEN “calls for gender ideology to be integrated into all classes, even math. It provides educators instructions on how they can make math “more inclusive of trans and non-binary identities” by including “they/them” pronouns in word problems.”
The Fox News attacks came after Target, which has been under siege over its LGBTQ+ affirming ‘Pride Collection’ of merchandise this past week including physical assaults, verbal threats, and bomb threats, leading to the retailer removing some merchandise from display and purchase, saw GLSEN and other leading LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations release a statement calling on the business community to rise up against anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.
GLAAD has joined @family_equality, @glsen, @HRC, @nclrights, @thetaskforce and @nbjconthemove in calling on @target, and all businesses to stand up against anti-LGBTQ attacks.— GLAAD (@glaad) May 25, 2023
Read the letter: https://t.co/6SAkmloW9N pic.twitter.com/8RdM7mgccJ
Another far-right media outlet, The Daily Wire, which hosts anti-LGBTQ+ hosts Matt Walsh, Candace Owens, Ben Shapiro, and Michael Knowles, all of whom have a lengthy record of vicious lies and homophobic/transphobic commentary, ran an article headlined; “Target Donates To Group That Promotes Secret Child Gender Transitions, LGBTQ Books In Schools.”
In its article, the Daily Wire implied GLSEN endorses and promotes paedophilia as part of its Rainbow Library initiative, writing:
“One of the volumes available for purchase is “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel which contains verbal descriptions of masturbation and oral sex along with explicit illustrations, including a scene where a teenage boy fantasizes about touching an older man’s genitalia. “Lawn Boy,” another sexually explicit book, is also available for purchase.”
The Daily Wire also cast a shadow on GLSEN writing: “Beyond the endorsement of explicit books and clandestine gender transitions, GLSEN supports the promotion of the LGBTQ movement in every facet of a school’s curriculum.”
Fox in its article attacking GLSEN also noted: “Targets Pride Month partner GLSEN also seeks to ensure districts allow biological males to compete in women’s sports, which the majority of Americans overwhelmingly do not support.”
TARGET TAKES AIM: The retail giant provides annual donations to GLSEN, which calls for gender ideology to be integrated into all classes, even math. https://t.co/f7g9yLDvuO pic.twitter.com/vCK6fqXepa— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 26, 2023
British Right-wing media outlet The Daily Mail added to the chorus of lies reporting:
“The company’s close ties with GLSEN have since come to light amid the backlash, with Target reportedly pouring upwards of $2.1 million to the group over the years.
Among the policies pushed by the body are recommendations for teachers to step in if students are learning about sex and gender, to ensure it fits the group’s ideology.
‘When students are creating their own surveys, if they want to include data for biological sex, teachers need to be sure they include both intersex and other as choices,’ the group says in a lesson plan.
‘And if the students want to include data for gender, a variety of choices need to be included, such as agender, genderfluid, female, male, nonbinary, transman, transwoman, and other.’
One of the group’s core policies is supporting trans-youths with their transition, even without their parents’ consent.”
On the various far-right social media platforms like BitChute, Gab, Gettr, Parler, Rumble, and Truth Social along with Twitter which has become a discordant state since Elon Musk’s takeover last Fall, anti-LGBTQ+ extremists have been amplifying and spreading the lies and deceptions of right wing media.
Target donated $2.1 million to LGBTQI+ group that encouraged schools to transition children and hide it from their parents.— Oli London (@OliLondonTV) May 28, 2023
The retailer donated to the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) which also opposes efforts by legislators to ban LGBTQ books with sexually… pic.twitter.com/qIXarK9Kvy
These persons also included a former Republican member of the U.S. House, Mo Brooks:
#Target helps fund GLSEN – that supports child abuse (gender change w/o parent consent).— Mo Brooks (@RepMoBrooks) May 26, 2023
Has Target not learned from Bud Lite?
Does Target WANT to go out of business?
Shareholders losing $$ from boycotts: sue Target executives for gross mismanagement.https://t.co/Maur25hJvy
Comprehensive Sexuality Education did this🤮— Scarlett Johnson (@scarlett4kids) May 25, 2023
Thank The Human Rights Campaign and GLSEN, both proudly funded by @Target. https://t.co/rLEXiLgDod pic.twitter.com/GpOlHuZxMy
In a statement GLSEN noted: “Right-wing media outlets have spread harmful and vicious lies about GLSEN — and these intentional and heinous attacks have spurred an onslaught of hateful messages and threats to our mission and the physical safety of our staff.”
“GLSEN’s mission is to create safe, inclusive learning environments for K-12 students, and these recent attacks from right-wing extremists show how important and necessary the work that we do is,” said GLSEN Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers (they/she). “We are seeing the far right harass companies in an attempt to erase the LGBTQ+ community. We cannot let a violent, angry minority hold our democracy, our school system, or our community hostage. As GLSEN and LGBTQ+ people continue to face attacks, we’re committed to our mission and to the students that rely on us, and we’ll continue to fight to ensure that every single student can go to school free from fear.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President & CEO said in a statement posted to GLAAD social media accounts:
“Right-wing media spread dangerous lies about GLSEN yesterday and put a target on them. It is now our duty to join together as a community and show support and love to the hard-working staff and leaders at GLSEN. Their critical work helps so many LGBTQ students and has for decades. The inaccurate and hateful attacks on our friends at GLSEN are reprehensible. Follow @GLSEN on social to see how you can support them. Hate and lies will never silence the LGBTQ community.”
In the last 24 hours, we have received thousands of hateful messages and threats from right-wing extremists trying to scare away our allies and strip away our rights. We need your support now more than ever. #RiseUp4LGBTQ pic.twitter.com/SG9KmLrQm6— GLSEN (@GLSEN) May 27, 2023
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