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How Stonewall Democratic Club retaliated against critics of its president

Stonewall Democratic Club is a powerful force in local politics, especially in the LGBTQIA+ enclave of West Hollywood.

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Lester Aponte speaking at the Stoneys in 2019 (from the Stonewall Democratic Club’s Facebook)

By Kate Gallagher  | LOS ANGELES – “I know the ugly side of politics quite well. Any endeavor that involves human beings, there’s going to be mischief somewhere,” said Lauren Buisson. “The system feeds on cronyism and self-dealing, and that’s what I saw at Stonewall.”

Buisson was a member of Stonewall Democratic Club’s Steering Committee until she was dismissed from her position in October 2018. Her capital offense was calling out the racist, transphobic, and otherwise inappropriate Facebook posts made by the organization’s president, Lester Aponte — whose current campaign for a third term as Stonewall president has the support of dozens of elected officials and Democratic Party leaders.

Stonewall Democratic Club is a powerful force in local politics, especially in the LGBTQIA+ enclave of West Hollywood. The organization’s leadership includes high-ranking members of the local, state, and national Democratic Party. Each election cycle, candidates for everything from the Santa Monica School Board to the U.S. Senate vie for Stonewall’s endorsement, a symbolic stamp of approval from the LGBTQIA+ community.

But beneath the veneer of progressivism, several current and former Stonewall members describe a toxic environment of harassment, bigotry, and abuses of power, where dissent is silenced and misconduct is swept under the rug. 

“It’s just a really twisted culture about personal gain, personal access, and nothing about advancing LGBT standards of living,” said Craig Scott, a lifelong LGBTQIA+ activist who served on Stonewall’s Steering Committee from 2017 to 2018. “

Sean Kolodji was an enthusiastic young activist when he joined Stonewall in 2009. He soon got involved in the membership team, where he was responsible for recruiting and credentialing new members. By 2015, he’d been appointed to the Steering Committee as Membership Chair. “I felt like we’re really fighting for something,” he said. “We’re fighting for LGBT rights, fighting for the trans community, fighting for diversity, and I was passionate.”

But cracks in the facade quickly started to show. In April 2017, Kolodji won a Stoney Award — the organization’s annual award ceremony/fundraiser — for Member of the Year. Eric Bauman, longtime Stonewall president and then-LACDP Chair, was also there to accept the Public Official of the Year Award. 

Bauman, who later resigned as CDP Chair amid sexual misconduct allegations, was “very handsy with everyone,” Kolodji recalled. At one point during the dinner, Bauman began massaging Kolodji’s 20-year-old guest while still seated at the table.

According to several former members, Bauman’s inappropriate behavior was an open secret at Stonewall. None of the club’s leadership ever intervened.

“The pain that we experienced in dealing with the way Eric Bauman interacted — what example did he set for us about how we get power?” Kolodji said. “I feel like there was a structural problem, where we didn’t set the ground rules and say, look, within a professional space we can’t do this.”

That summer, Kolodji was elected to Stonewall’s Executive Team as Communications Vice President. Just days later, Gemmel Moore was found dead in the home of prominent Democratic donor and Stonewall Steering Committee member Ed Buck.

Kolodji, Scott, and Alex Paris, who served as Social Media Chair, pushed the club to publicly disavow Buck’s behavior, and to donate $500 (the cost of Buck’s lifetime Stonewall membership) to Moore’s funeral expenses. They received pushback from several other Steering Committee members, including Aponte, Garry Shay (who serves as the parliamentarian for both Stonewall and the LACDP), and John Erickson, now a member of West Hollywood City Council.

“There were a lot of people in the party that just wanted to be quiet,” Kolodji said. He recalled that, when Black activists posted on Stonewall’s Facebook page asking where the organization stood on Buck’s behavior, Aponte asked that the posts be deleted.

Even once the Steering Committee voted to put out a statement regarding Moore’s death, Aponte fought to soften the statement’s language and frame it around the dangers of drug addiction, rather than Buck’s suspicious role in Moore’s overdose.

“They didn’t want to kick [Buck] out because he gave so much money to the club,” said Scott. “Lester was always like, we can’t jump to conclusions, we need more information.”

Although Buck soon resigned from the Steering Committee, Moore’s death, and the tepid reactions from the rest of the club’s leadership, was a tipping point for Kolodji. “Those experiences together radicalized me a little bit,” he said. “This organization has something rotten at its core, and I can’t just go along with it.”

Stonewall members celebrating pride on June 9, 2021 (From the Stonewall Democratic Club’s Facebook)

Lauren Buisson joined Stonewall in the summer of 2017, just after the Ed Buck scandal broke. “I actually went to some other [organizations’] events, and of all the ones I went to, the only person who chatted me up as a potential recruit was Sean.”

Kolodji and Buisson met at the annual Stonewall BBQ, hosted at the family home of State Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer. Buisson soon signed on to join Kolodji and Alex Paris on Stonewall’s communications team, where she managed the club’s social media and led writing and production on the Stonewall Spotlight podcast.

“Alex, Sean, and I worked really, really well together. We had the same social justice driven agenda,” Buisson recalled. “[But] I noticed the problems in the organization almost from the jump. And it especially became clear when the first crisis in the assembly happened.”

In late October 2017, Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra was accused of sexual misconduct. Just a week later, similar allegations surfaced against state Senator Tony Mendoza. After the news broke, Buisson, Paris, and Kolodji led an effort to convince the Steering Committee to draft a statement condemning the two officials’ behavior. 

However, Eric Bauman, who at that point was no longer a member of Stonewall’s Steering Committee, stepped in and cautioned them not to move forward with the statement. Buisson found his involvement alarming. 

“You had this guy who was himself a serial sexual harasser stepping into club business when he was no longer supposed to be involved,” she said. “Parts of the California Democratic Party like to assert that they have no control or association with the clubs. They absolutely do.”

The statement, drafted by Buisson, was eventually approved by a majority of the Steering Committee, over the objections of Aponte, Garry Shay, and Political Vice President Jane Wishon. As soon as the votes were in, Kolodji sent out the statement.

Immediately afterwards, Aponte confronted Kolodji for “going behind his back” by releasing the statement without his prior approval. Kolodji was baffled, since Aponte had put him in charge of counting the votes for the motion. “It showed that Lester and Garry and the power in the organization were uncomfortable with this kind of rebellion of the grassroots,” he said.

In the coming months, Buisson, Kolodji, Paris, and Scott frequently came into conflict with the rest of the Steering Committee. They were the only four Steering Committee members to vote against accepting a donation from Wells Fargo Bank, which had recently been rocked by a storm of scandals. Aponte ultimately decided to decline the donation after Kolodji leaked the news to LA Health Commissioner and former Stonewall Steering member Susie Shannon, who vagueposted about it on Facebook.

It gradually became clear to Paris that Stonewall’s leadership was “completely ignoring the important mission that this organization was started for… They’re more concerned with consolidating power, more concerned with glad-handing politicos and influence sharing than they are with actually helping LGBT people.”

The political disagreements sometimes turned personal. While discussing endorsements for the 2018 election, Scott, a longtime San Francisco resident, criticized Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s history of moderate positions and suggested that the octogenarian was getting too old to do her job effectively. In response, Erickson criticized Scott’s comments as “ageist” and sent an email to the Executive Team suggesting that Scott should be removed. 

“We looked at it, and we were like, okay, this isn’t… this is silly, right?” Kolodji recalled.

Jane Wishon (right) accepting an award for allyship alongside City Council President Nury Martinez (left). (From the Stonewall Democratic Club’s Facebook)

A more serious point of contention was the lack of diversity in Stonewall’s leadership. Of the eight elected officers, there’s currently only one who isn’t a cisgender man — Jane Wishon, who is a straight white woman. While officer positions are open to anyone, including straight allies, the lack of representation for LGBTQIA+ women within the club’s leadership is reflective of a larger problem, not just at Stonewall but in politics and LGBTQIA+ spaces in general.

In 2010, Aponte was on the board of a pro-marriage-equality organization called “Love, Honor, Cherish,” which crafted a failed ballot measure to overturn Proposition 8. The organization, which was entirely composed of cisgender gay men, failed to include any mention of gender identity in the measure. 

In response to a Facebook post about the lack of trans-specific language, Aponte said that none of the over 100 activists who were involved in the discussions ever raised any concerns. He seemingly recognized the problem with the group’s lack of diversity without claiming any responsibility for fixing that problem, simply saying, “Obviously we needed some of you in the room. The door has always been open.”

To Hannah Howard, this sounded like a cop-out. Howard, who is trans, attended one Stonewall meeting in 2005, but decided not to engage further after being repeatedly misgendered during the meeting. She was surprised when, just a few years ago, a Stonewall member made a Facebook post about the reasons why trans people have trouble engaging with the movement — and Aponte responded with incredulity. 

When Howard commented sharing her experience at the 2005 Stonewall meeting, Aponte “was shocked, disbelieving that such a thing could happen, but talking about [how] they were such great allies now,” she said.

However, according to current Steering Committee member Mackenzie Hussman, not much has actually changed. She recalled that, during a Pride event in 2018, a newer member of the Steering Committee, who is a trans woman, was working at Stonewall’s booth. An older man on the Steering Committee didn’t recognize her, and accused her of stealing from the booth. The incident was addressed awkwardly at the next Steering Committee meeting.

“Lester gave some sort of wash-overstatement like, ‘Oh we try to be inclusive of everyone.’ And then he proceeded to ask this trans woman how she would like to be treated,” Hussman recalled. “It just felt so insensitive. We’re an LGBT club, we should already know how to welcome trans members into our community. And she was publicly singled out in front of 30 people. It was embarrassing.”

In another example of Stonewall’s lukewarm commitment to inclusion, two Black LGBTQIA+ candidates, Steve Dunwoody and Ashley Marie Preston, intended to run in the 2018 special election for Assembly District 54. However, Wishon, as Vice President of Politics, made the decision that Stonewall shouldn’t endorse or support either candidate, because it would be “too divisive for us to choose between a Black gay man and a Black trans person,” according to Kolodji. In the end, neither candidate even made it onto the ballot.

Mitch O’Farrell being thanked for being a Platinum Sponsor of Stonewall’s 2019 Summer BBQ (From the Stonewall Democratic Club’s Facebook)

In April 2018, Buisson posted an article to the Steering Committee’s private Facebook group about the need for more Black women in Democratic Party leadership. All hell broke loose. 

Shay replied that Buisson’s post was “not productive,” and instructed Operations Vice President Steve Bott to remove the post. When Buisson noticed it was gone, she posted the article again. It was removed again, and Buisson was blocked from further posting in the group.

“I’m 6’1″ and 245 pounds. I don’t let men tell me when I can talk and when I can’t,” said Buisson. “You could throw a brick and not hit a person of color at these general meetings. This was a problem we needed to address internally. And they refused.”

Buisson brought her concerns to Kolodji, who raised the issue with the rest of the Executive Team, including Aponte, Shay, Wishon, and Bott. All four replied that any criticism of the Democratic Party is unwelcome on the Steering Facebook page. 

Kolodji repeatedly pointed out the irony of silencing a Black woman for calling out the Party’s silencing of Black women. Aponte, who is Puerto Rican, is the only person who responded to this point — he replied mystifyingly, “The real irony is that the only ethnic minority in this thread is me.”

At the time, Stonewall had no official grievance process — if Buisson wanted to press the issue further, it would be judged by the Steering Committee, which was overwhelmingly white and male.

Interestingly, Wishon had said that “no one is trying to censor Lauren on her own page,” and Aponte agreed that Buisson and Scott (whom no one else had mentioned) had “the entire wide world web” to post whatever they wanted. They quickly changed their stance on this.

Just a few weeks later, Scott shared a link to a video on his personal Facebook page with the comment, “Fag hags need to be checked so often.” The video depicted a brawl between a group of intoxicated white women and a group of queer men of color in an alley in West Hollywood. 

However, the Executive Team interpreted Scott’s comment differently. Within hours, the officers had been looped into an email with the subject line “URGENT: Regarding post encouraging violence against women.” 

Scott insisted that his comment was meant to condemn the violence. “There’s this ongoing debate within the LGBT, especially gay men, culture about the appropriateness of straight women and bridal showers going to gay spaces,” he told Knock LA. “So I just said you got to check your fag hags because you don’t want them beating up on queer people. I basically saw it as a gay bashing.”

Shay recommended that the board should immediately ask for Scott’s resignation. Wishon agreed. Attaching a screenshot of an unrelated Facebook comment by Buisson, she added, “And Lauren…”

By the next day, seven of the eight officers had signed a letter calling for Scott’s resignation. Kolodji was the only one who dissented. While he agreed that Scott’s post was “in very poor taste,” he told the rest of the Executive Team that he didn’t feel it was a resignation-worthy offense.

Neither did Scott, who deleted the post but refused to resign. At that point, the Executive Team (except Kolodji) motioned for the formation of an investigation committee to address the issue. 

The committee presented its findings at Stonewall’s June 25 general membership meeting. The room was packed. “They called all the members who don’t normally show up, describing [Scott] as this misogynist who’s endorsing violence against women,” Buisson said. 

LACDP Chair Mark Gonzalez was brought in to preside over the session. DNC member Laurence Zakson served as Parliamentarian. Scott himself chose not to attend the meeting, but Buisson led the defense on his behalf.

“It was a circus,” Kolodji said. One LACDP leader described the proceedings as “absurd.” At one point, West Hollywood City Councilmember John Heilman called impatiently from the back of the room, “Let’s vote already!”

In the end, the members voted, 48 to 14, to remove Scott from the Steering committee. That was the end of his involvement with Stonewall.

Regardless of whether or not Scott’s post should have been considered grounds for dismissal, the affair revealed a glaring double standard for whose inappropriate behavior is, or isn’t, punished. Just a year earlier, Stonewall had vigorously supported Eric Bauman’s campaign for CDP Chair, despite his well-known sexual misconduct.

“They all jumped on [Scott] because they wanted to get rid of a critical voice,” Buisson concluded.

Throughout the controversy, Kolodji had warned the rest of the Executive Team that “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, so to speak. Be careful pursuing this with Craig, because this is an abuse of power, and you’re setting a precedent that is going to come back.”

Kolodji had been Facebook friends with Aponte for years, and he was aware of several posts Aponte had made that were just as offensive, if not worse than the comment that led to Scott’s removal. He mentioned this to Buisson, who began combing through Aponte’s most problematic posts.

In October 2011, Aponte posted a link to an article about Hermain Cain with the comment, “I hear the camp is iin [sic] the Spik Valley and overlooks Gook Mountain. Ain’t Texas grand?”

In November 2014, he posted an article about Mia Love, a Black Mormon Republican recently elected to Congress, commenting: “Until 1972, official Mormon Church doctrine was that Black people were evil and could not be saved. Perhaps this is their way of proving it?”

In 2015, he deliberately misidentified Ann Coulter as trans: “I am saying Ann Coulter is transgender. Go ahead and sue me.” The comments on the post became filled with vitriolic anti-trans and misogynistic remarks. Aponte did nothing to stop the hateful discussion.

 In 2016, Aponte liked an anti-BLM post that said,  “I think these people are assholes. There I said it. I’ve grown to despise BLM because of their tactics and narrative.” 

In 2017, he joked that immigrant activists should be deported.

In 2018, Aponte described the Inclusive Pride Flag as “stupid.”

Buisson compiled 18 pages of screenshots of these and other inappropriate remarks. It was already clear to her that taking her concerns to the Steering Committee would be futile.

“It was not just about this one bigoted individual,” Buisson said. “It was infecting. You could see it in who was in the club, who was in leadership positions, who spoke from whom, who was excluded, the whole system was infected. And in my view at the time, that fish was rotting from the head.”

So, rather than rely on the club’s leadership to discipline themselves, Buisson sent the offending posts to several elected officials, asking them to withdraw their support for Stonewall until Aponte resigned.

Not a single official responded.

One of the recipients was Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, host of the annual Stonewall BBQ — which was coming up in just a few weeks. 

“My feeling was, as somebody with a reputation for advocating for the Black community, this man might be a little bit pissed off about these racist things,” Buisson said. “It would be no problem for him to say, this event is canceled until you resign. You’re out of Stonewall or doesn’t go forward.”

Jones-Sawyer’s office did reach out to Stonewall’s leadership — but not to demand Aponte’s resignation. Instead, they passed along Buisson’s letter, fingering her as a whistleblower.

A few weeks after her letter-writing campaign began, Buisson suddenly found herself locked out of Stonewall’s digital assets and social media accounts. Paris, who chaired the social media team, called Aponte in confusion. Aponte informed him that Buisson was no longer allowed to serve on the communications team.

“I said, what are you talking about, you’re just [removing] her?” Paris recalled. “And [Aponte] is like, ‘yeah, I can do that, I’m president.’ I was like… pretty sure you can’t.”

When Aponte realized that he could not, in fact, unilaterally remove Buisson from her Steering Committee position, he told Paris and Kolodji to ask for her resignation. They refused.

On September 26, Aponte sent an email to the full Steering Committee revealing that Buisson had sent letters to several elected officials accusing him of making “racist and bigoted statements.” Without revealing any details about the “statements” in question, Aponte called Buisson’s accusations “false and defamatory… harmful, not just to my personal reputation, but the reputation and public standing of our organization.” He asked that the Steering Committee vote on whether to expel Buisson from her position.

In stark contrast to Scott’s widely-publicized hearing, Buisson’s removal was handled quietly at a Steering Committee meeting on October 4. So quietly, apparently, that Wishon told Knock LA she didn’t remember the meeting had even happened — although the minutes confirm she was in attendance.

“There were wild allegations and actual shouting matches at this meeting,” Paris recalled. “That was an absurdly fireworks meeting over an issue that was not taken seriously.”

Buisson chose not to attend the meeting, but Paris and Kolodji argued on her behalf that the real problem at hand was Aponte’s behavior, not Buisson’s. Even if the committee didn’t feel that Aponte’s Facebook posts were grounds for resignation, his attempt to retaliate against Buisson was itself an abuse of power that warranted investigation.

However, other Steering Committee members said that Buisson should have brought the issue directly to them — which Kolodji found ludicrous, given their handling of Buisson’s previous complaints. “We tried to deal with this stuff internally,” he said. “But it seemed like their side was kind of like, ‘we’re gonna use our power — and we have more power — to essentially drive you out.”

The Steering Committee ultimately voted, 17 to 3, to remove Buisson from her position. Paris resigned the same day in protest. Kolodji soon disengaged from Stonewall as well.

“The organization just seemed destined to be an unredeemable mess,” Kolodji said. “Is there no shame, to just ruthlessly try to target someone that we need as a leader in queer spaces? And instead, what do we get?”

As a parting shot, Kolodji and Paris motioned for a separate investigation into Aponte’s Facebook posts. The motion was approved, and an Ad Hoc Incident Review Committee was formed to review the posts. The five-member committee included Aponte’s longtime ally, Garry Shay.

Knock LA obtained a copy of the investigation’s report, which was finalized in June 2019 and sent only to the eight members of the Executive Team. In Aponte’s statement to the committee, he defends each of his insensitive posts, which he maintains are not “racist [or] bigoted.” He claims Buisson only called out his comments because of a “personal vendetta.”

The committee’s assessment notes that Aponte’s posts are in “poor taste” and that each of the committee members would “know better than to make these kind of comments.” However, they largely accept Aponte’s justifications, some of which strain credulity (in one example, he insists that his sarcastic use of racial slurs “was in no way meant to condone the use of racial slurs in place names, but rather the opposite.” He doesn’t elaborate further.)

Ultimately, the committee decides that the posts are not grounds for Aponte’s removal. The report concludes: “What appears most important now is to move forward from this point.”

It’s unclear whether the investigation’s findings were ever revealed to the full Steering Committee or the membership at large. Wishon claims the investigation’s report was presented at a general membership meeting; however, Knock LA reviewed the minutes for every meeting from 2018 to June 2021, and there is no mention of the incident review committee’s existence.

According to a current Steering Committee member, at some point Aponte made a brief apology and deleted the Facebook posts, but that’s where the consequences ended. In May 2019, Aponte was nominated, unopposed, for a second term as president. Three of the five members of the official nominating committee were also involved in the incident review committee, whose investigation into Aponte was still ongoing.

Ultimately, Aponte was reelected, and his now-deleted racist Facebook posts were seemingly never mentioned again. During this same time, however, Stonewall was implicated in a wave of controversies that weren’t so easily swept under the rug. 

In November 2018, Eric Bauman resigned as CDP Chair after an onslaught of sexual harassment allegations. In January 2019, a second body was found in Ed Buck’s apartment. Later that year, a third victim narrowly escaped from Buck’s home alive, and Buck was finally arrested. He was eventually indicted on nine counts by a federal grand jury, and his trial is currently underway.

Meanwhile, in November 2020, John Erickson, a major player in several of Stonewall’s internal scandals, was elected to West Hollywood City Council, thanks in part to the resources that came along with his endorsement by Stonewall. Notably, four of the eight eligible candidates were inexplicably barred from participating in Stonewall’s endorsement process, and although two council seats were open, Stonewall’s membership voted to endorse only Erickson — Sepi Shyne, an LGBTQIA+ woman of color, failed to reach the 60% vote threshold for endorsement.

Lester Aponte presenting City Council President Nury Martinez with the Morris Kight Presidential Award in 2020. (From the Stonewall Democratic Club’s Facebook)

On May 24, Aponte announced his candidacy for a third term as Stonewall president. Interestingly, the same day as his announcement, he changed his Facebook cover photo to the Inclusive Pride flag that he previously decried as “stupid.” His slate, which is running on a platform of diversity and inclusion, includes five men and one straight woman (Wishon).

This time, however, Aponte isn’t the only candidate in the running — although he was chosen by the official nominating committee, another Stonewall member submitted a nomination for Alex Mohajer, who currently serves as Chair of Public and Media Relations.

According to Mackenzie Hussman, this year’s election has been tense from the very beginning, when the nominating committee itself was being chosen. “I felt rushed,” she said. “They were trying to put select people through who would nominate whoever [the current officers] wanted to.” 

When other Steering Committee members spoke up and suggested different names for the nomination committee, there was procedural confusion. “They were just shocked that people would not go with what they were saying,” Hussman said. “It’s just been very key prominent people running this club without check or challenge, and now there’s people challenging them. You can tell they feel threatened.”

Hussman notes that Aponte has personally blocked several Steering Committee members on Facebook, ostensibly for opposing his campaign for reelection. In a blast of deja vu, Hussman, who is Chair of Social Media, and another communications team member were both inexplicably locked out of Stonewall’s social media accounts on July 12 with no explanation, although their access was restored when the issue was brought to Operations VP Bott’s attention.

According to Hussman, the only people who could have revoked the access are Bott, Aponte, and Wishon. When Knock LA asked Wishon about the incident, she explained vaguely, “The Operations team examined all our permissions on the website and socials. Two members were moved to different permissions on [Facebook], but as soon as Operations was made aware that the previous level was required in order to stream they were moved back to their original levels.”

Lester Aponte with Congressman Adam Schiff at the Stoney Awards in 2019 (From the Stonewall Democratic Club’s Facebook)

Despite the internal dissent, Aponte still enjoys widespread support from the Democratic establishment. His reelection campaign has been endorsed by John Erickson; West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath; State Assemblymembers Reggie Jones-SawyerLaura FriedmanJesse Gabriel, and Isaac Bryan; State Senators Ben AllenAnthony Portantino, and Sydney Kamlager; LA City Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin; LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell; LACDP Chair Mark Gonzalez; CDP Executive Director Yvette Martinez; and at least six DNC members. 

As this roster of supporters suggests, the implications of Stonewall’s internal drama extend far and wide through state and local politics. 

To Buisson, the problems at Stonewall are emblematic of a larger problem with how the Democratic Party treats marginalized communities, particularly the Black women on whose votes and volunteer labor they rely. She notes that the refusal to prioritize the needs of diverse communities could be an existential threat to the Party’s survival.

“Juneteenth does not make up for George Floyd. And Kamala Harris does not make up for all the slights that women of color suffer,” she said. “[Last year], the entire region went ultra progressive. We had a record turnout. And yet they’re still trying to preach to us, you know, what the well-heeled people want. You think that they would realize where this is headed… The younger voters are willing to suffer through a Republican administration to teach the Democrats a lesson.”

But perhaps one of the most worrying consequences of Stonewall’s toxic culture is the impact on the LGBTQIA+ community. “I don’t want these creeps mentoring our queer youth. I don’t want them jaded and cynical after their first election,” Buisson said. “We can’t have vulnerable people having weak leaders or corrupt leaders. That does harm to our children and makes them even more isolated.”

“I think at the end of the day, this is about restoring the important place that organizations like Stonewall play in the progressive movement,” Paris added. “We can sit by and let the party apparatus do what it’s going to do to protect its insular interests, or we can stand up and fight back for the interests of the people that the party proclaims that it is in service of.”

Buisson believes the first step is to expel Aponte, not just from Stonewall, but from the CDP, where he currently serves as co-chair of the LGBT Caucus. Beyond that, she suggests that the LACDP should temporarily revoke Stonewall’s charter — essentially disaffiliating the organization from the Democratic Party — until the internal issues are addressed. 

This seems unlikely to happen, given that the LACDP’s executive director and parliamentarian are both members of Stonewall’s Executive Team, and LACDP Chair Mark Gonzalez has endorsed Aponte’s reelection campaign. But Buisson is hopeful that public pressure from elected officials could be enough to turn the tide and hold Aponte accountable.

“It’s one call from one of them… to the chair of the state party, to expel him, and to sanction Stonewall,” Buisson said. “It’s one call [from] one elected. That’s all it takes. And I’m laying down that gauntlet. Which one of you is it going to be?”

Knock LA contacted Aponte, who responded with a completely blank email. Garry Shay declined to comment. John Erickson didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Kate Gallagher is a freelance journalist and writer based in Los Angeles. She is also a Senior Content Writer for Parcast Studios on Spotify.

Gallagher is a graduate of the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Language and Literature.

The preceding article was published at KnockLA, a Los Angeles based non-profit community journalism project and is republished by permission.

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McConnell opposed LGBTQ rights throughout his career

Since the mid-2000s, McConnell has leveraged his power in the Senate to fight against marriage equality, as documented by the GLAAD Accountability Project. He also opposed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which established same-sex marriage as a constitutional right.

McConnell opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and more recently blocked a vote on an amendment that would have stopped Trump’s ban on military service by transgender service members.

Also during Trump’s presidency, McConnell appointed anti-LGBTQ activist Tony Perkins to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

He voted against employment protections for LGBTQ+ federal workers and LGBTQ+ inclusive policies on hate crimes and, in the 1990s, joined the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms’s (R-N.C.) efforts to protect U.S. Department of Agriculture employees who were critical of the agency’s pro-LGBTQ policies and to prohibit the use of federal funds by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for collecting information about teenage sexual behavior.

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California Politics

MAGA Republicans trying to oust Newsom, again

Rescue California said 400 plus Californians are serving as proponents of the recall which needs valid signatures equal to 12% of the vote

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaking in Los Angeles, Oct. 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO – The Republican group that organized the 2021 effort to unsuccessfully recall California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Monday that it is once again targeting the Golden State’s Chief Executive.

“Gavin Newsom has abandoned the state to advance his Presidential ambitions, leaving behind a $73 Billion budget deficit and a public safety, immigration and education crisis,” said Rescue California’s campaign director Anne Dunsmore in a statement to Sacramento’s NBC News affiliate KCRA 3. “California needs a full-time governor who is fully focused on the serious problems the state and its citizens are facing. This may be our last opportunity to rescue and restore our state, while we highlight for the rest of the country the destruction Newsom has left in his wake.”

Newsom ally U.S. Rep. Pete Aguilar who represents the 33rd Congressional District of California centered in San Bernardino County noted: “Governor Newsom has always fought to safeguard our democracy and protect the freedoms of all Californians. California Republicans tried this charade before and it failed. Trust me, this latest effort will fail again.”

Other prominent Democrats also weighed in on this latest effort including Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass who posted on X (formerly Twitter): “Governor @GavinNewsom has delivered countless times for Los Angeles over just the past year helping us address homelessness, rebuild after the 10 freeway fire and recover from recent storms. Republican recalls do nothing more than waste taxpayer dollars and valuable time.”

Newsom, who was formally served notice of Rescue California’s filing on Monday, also took to X (formerly Twitter) and blasted this latest effort: “Trump Republicans are launching another wasteful recall campaign to distract us from the existential fight for democracy and reproductive freedom,” Newsom posted Monday. “We will defeat them.”

Rescue California’s Dunmore said more than 400 Californians are serving as proponents of the recall.

California’s senior U.S. Senator Alex Padilla said in his X post: “The same MAGA Republicans who tried to recall @GavinNewsom are at it again playing political games. With CA leading the fight on everything from climate action to abortion access, and even the future of our democracy, Governor Newsom won’t be distracted by partisan attacks.”

The governor will have ten days to formally respond to the effort. That response will end up on a petition that will begin circulating to gather signatures to land the issue on the ballot.

In order for it to qualify for the November ballot, proponents will need to gather enough valid signatures equal to 12% of the vote for Newsom in the last election (just under 1.4 million) by May. If the signature gathering lasts beyond May, the election could happen later.

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California Politics

Equality California announces 2024 state legislative package

Access to TGI inclusive health care, expand LGBTQ+ inclusive benefits, equitable coverage for IVF, support unhoused LGBTQ+ young people

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California Capitol Dome (Photo Credit: State of California government)

SACRAMENTO — Equality California, announced on Tuesday its initial 11 sponsored bills for the 2024 state legislative session. 

“In the face of rising anti-LGBTQ+ hate and extremism in California and across the country, Equality California has assembled a bold legislative package to defend the progress we’ve made and continue advancing our mission to create a world that is healthy, just, and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people,” said Executive Director Tony Hoang. “From expanding access to TGI-inclusive healthcare to supporting unhoused LGBTQ+ youth to ensuring that fertility services like IVF remain accessible to all people, including LGBTQ+ people — we can make certain California remains at the forefront of advancing policies that uplift our entire community.”

Equality California is sponsoring the following bills:

Improve Access to Gender-Affirming Care

AB 2442 (Zbur) Expedite Licensure for Gender-Affirming Care Providers – Expands the network of gender-affirming care providers in the state to improve accessibility of care by expediting licensure applications for health care providers who intend to provide gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care in California.

SB 959 (Menjivar) Ensure Comprehensive Access to Information – Creates an online resource for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGI) Californians and their families to combat misinformation and provide accurate information about access to trans-inclusive health care, existing legal protections for patients and providers, and other available support services. 

Support LGBTQ+ Families

AB 518 (Wicks) Extend Paid Family Leave to Chosen Family – Provides critical protections for LGBTQ+, immigrant, and other workers who need to take time off work to care for a loved one with a serious illness by allowing them to receive Paid Family Leave benefits when caring for their seriously ill chosen or extended family members.

SB 729 (Menjivar) Provide Equitable Fertility Coverage – Advances reproductive freedom in California by requiring large group health plans to provide coverage for fertility and infertility care, including IVF, and updating the definition of infertility to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ family planning experiences.

Strengthen Data Equity 

SB 957 (Wiener) Enhance SOGI Data Collection – Enacts recommendations from last year’s state audit to close loopholes in existing law and ensure that the California Department of Public Health is collecting, analyzing, and reporting data on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) to improve LGBTQ+ health outcomes.

SB 1333 (Eggman) Improve HIV Data Sharing – Allows confidential data sharing for HIV and other communicable diseases to ensure that public health officials and health care providers can more effectively respond during public health emergencies and improve care coordination for people living with HIV.

Support Unhoused LGBTQ+ Youth

AB 2007 (Boerner) Establish Unicorn Homes Pilot Program – Establishes a 3-year pilot program – the Unicorn Homes Transitional Housing for Homeless LGBTQ+ Youth Program – to place unhoused LGBTQ+ youth with affirming volunteer host families and provide trauma-informed crisis intervention care, with the ultimate goal of reunification with the youth’s family when possible. 

Protect Access to Health Care

AB 2258 (Zbur) Increase Access to Preventive Care – Codifies longstanding federal guidance requiring health plans to cover services that are integral to recommended preventive care – including HIV and STI screenings for PrEP and cervical cancer screenings – without requiring patients to pay out-of-pocket.

Combat Systemic Discrimination

SB 1022 (Skinner) Strengthen Enforcement of Civil Rights – Enables the Civil Rights Department to more effectively investigate and prosecute long-running civil rights violations affecting groups or classes of people by making technical changes to the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Improve Inclusive Emergency Preparedness and Response

SB 990 (Padilla) LGBTQ+ Disaster Preparedness – Requires California to update the State Emergency Plan to include LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and best practices to ensure that LGBTQ+ people can access affirming services and resources before, during, and after an emergency or natural disaster.

Launch California LGBTQ+ Commission

AB 3031 (Lee and Low) LGBTQ+ Commission – Establishes a statewide LGBTQ+ Commission representing California’s diverse LGBTQ+ community to shine a light on the unique challenges LGBTQ+ people face, assess and monitor programs and legislation to address systemic barriers, and make recommendations to improve the health, safety, and well-being of LGBTQ+ Californians.

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Politics

Virginia Lt. governor misgenders trans lawmaker in Senate session

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.’”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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Politics

Trump’s CPAC speech did not target the trans community

The former president’s speech included scant mention of LGBTQ issues, apart, perhaps, from some oblique references to “woke” public education

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Former President Donald Trump speaks at CPAC on Feb. 24 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — When he took the stage before a packed ballroom at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, it seemed inevitable that former President Donald Trump would target the transgender community with insults, ridicule and hostile policy pronouncements.

After all, this kind of rhetoric had become a through-line at this year’s convening of Republican lawmakers, pundits, media personalities, electoral candidates, attorneys, activists and government officials — a feature of virtually every speech and panel discussion from Wednesday to Saturday.

And for his part, Trump kicked off his presidential campaign by pledging, in February 2023, to weaponize the federal government against the trans community if he returns to the White House. This came after he unveiled a “Plan to Protect Children from Left-Wing Gender Insanity” and was followed by similar pronouncements from Trump in the months since, as documented by GLAAD.

On Saturday, though, the former president’s speech included scant mention of LGBTQ issues, apart, perhaps, from some oblique references to “woke” public education and attacks on Christianity.

Trump instead addressed a variety of topics over an hour and a half, from attacks on President Joe Biden and the prosecutors who have targeted him with 91 felony counts to diatribes on overseas conflicts and immigration.

The Independent noted several instances in which Trump made untrue or misleading claims onstage, which concerned the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan during his presidency and a supposed electoral fraud scheme in which Californians are being sent multiple ballots.

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Politics

VP Harris, other leaders issue statements on Nex Benedict’s death

The 16-year-old’s death on Feb. 8 sparked outrage and questions about the high school’s response to the altercation

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Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8 after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

WASHINGTON – Vice President Kamala Harris, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt are among the political leaders who have issued statements in recent days about the death of nonbinary teenager Nex Benedict after they were assaulted in a school bathroom after enduring months of bullying.

The 16-year-old’s death on Feb. 8 sparked outrage and questions about the high school’s response to the altercation, which had occurred the previous day. LGBTQ leaders who include Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson have called for federal investigations by the Justice and Education Departments.

Advocates pointed to the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies, particularly targeting transgender and gender-diverse communities, that have escalated in Oklahoma over the past few years, noting that they tend to increase the incidence of bias-motivated hate violence.

In their statements on X, which offered condolences to those mourning Benedict’s death, the vice president and White House press secretary also pledged solidarity with the LGBTQ community, while Pelosi took aim at “the anti-trans fervor fueled by extreme Republicans” and Pocan — who is gay and chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus — promised to keep fighting for “the dignity that nonbinary and trans Americans deserve. ”

Stitt, who in 2022 signed an anti-trans bill prohibiting students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates, wrote in his statement that “our hearts go out to Nex’s family, classmates, and the Owasso community. The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy — and bullies must be held accountable.”

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Politics

Michael Knowles targets trans people & LGBTQ families at CPAC

Medically assisted family planning is a symptom of America’s moral decline that is akin to abortion, Knowles said

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Michael Knowles speaks at CPAC on Feb. 22. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Right-wing commentator Michael Knowles began his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday by briefly addressing the “kerfuffle” over his proclamation during last year’s event that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.”

Widely interpreted as a call for violence against transgender people or the trans community, the remarks were denounced at the time by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who called them “shameful, hateful and dangerous.”

Looking back at the incident, Knowles told the crowd “I stand by the observation that men can’t become women.” The controversy, he said, is evidence that the country “is having an identity crisis” — primarily as a consequence of the “decline of religion in America.”

While “true freedom is a national policy based on what we know in our hearts as morally right,” as ordained by God, Knowles said a worldview that makes space for the recognition of LGBTQ people and their families is based on a “false” notion of freedom that privileges, instead, “liberation from all limits.”

He pointed to same-sex marriage as an example, arguing that marriage does not and cannot include unions between “a couple of men, or a couple of women, or three men and a billy goat, for that matter.”

Additionally, Knowles said, one may not claim the “right” to have a child, because “children are people and no one has a right to another person.” He then veered into criticizing the practice of purchasing “designer babies” on the “open market of the surrogacy industry.”

Medically assisted family planning is a symptom of America’s moral decline that is akin to abortion, Knowles said. “If we have the right to kill babies, surely we have the right to buy and sell them too.”

Knowles argued there are “trade-offs” to understanding freedom as a permission structure to identify oneself outside the cisgender male-female binary, or to build relationships and families that are not centered around heterosexual, procreative unions.

Allowing trans women to use women’s restrooms — or, as he put it, giving “men” the “freedom to use the women’s bathroom,” means that “women lose the freedom to have their own bathrooms.”

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Politics

Tuberville promotes anti-transgender sports ban at CPAC

The senator accused the Democrats, “the socialist party” of “dividing the family” by “trying to bring gender together”

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U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) speaks at CPAC 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – During an interview with right-wing talk show host Ben Ferguson at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) promoted a bill he introduced on Feb. 1, the Protection of Women in Olympic and Amateur Sports Act.

The legislation, which Tuberville acknowledged would not be brought to the Senate floor so long as Democrats have a majority in the chamber, would “prohibit any governing body recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee” from allowing transgender women to participate “in any athletic event intended for females.”

The senator accused the Democrats, “the socialist party” of “dividing the family” by “trying to bring gender together, because they think men can have babies now.”

Tuberville expressed frustration with Republican Senate colleagues who did not agree with his sports bill, recounting how he had asked some of them, “don’t you have a daughter?”

“Now they want to tear down sports,” he said, warning that opening women’s and girls’ teams to trans women and girls will result in injury.

Tuberville and Ferguson criticized a new policy adopted by USA Boxing in January, which they found insufficiently restrictive.

The organization’s new rules stipulate that minors “must compete as their birth gender” and in weight classes specified in the rulebook — but allows trans women older than 18 to compete in the female category if they have undergone genital reassignment surgery and agree to quarterly hormone tests for four years.

More transphobia from GOP’s leading candidate for N.C. governor

Taking the stage after Tuberville and Ferguson was North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the Republican frontrunner in the state’s gubernatorial primary, who also spoke out against allowing trans women and girls to compete in athletics and proclaimed “men oughta go in their own bathroom, not the women’s bathroom.”

Robinson objected to press coverage of his anti-trans remarks during a campaign speech this month in which he said, “we’re going to defend women in this state,” which means “if you’re a man on Friday night and all of the sudden on Saturday, you feel like a woman and you want to go in the women’s bathroom in the mall, you will be arrested — or whatever we got to do to you.”

At a different rally, Robinson said those who “are confused” about their gender should “find a corner outside somewhere to go” to the bathroom.

Robinson accused “the leftist news media” of cherry-picking these statements in their coverage rather than his remarks about other subjects. “Whenever they mention my name, they mention it in connection with social issues,” he said. “According to them, I hate everybody.”

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Political commentary & analysis

Republicans issue new shutdown threat over trans people

On Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus issued a letter indicating that the government may shut down if anti-trans polices are not included

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U.S. Capitol Dome
U.S. Capitol Dome (Photo by Michael Key)

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus published a letter threatening a government shutdown in which it outlines a number of policies that are needed to supposedly avert such a result.

Listed among these policies are restrictions on gender affirming care, transgender participation in sports, DEI programs, and defunding Planned Parenthood. This comes after nearly a dozen riders targeting transgender people have been inserted into numerous government spending bills that could result in large scale government shutdowns if not handled by March 8th.

In an exclusive released by Axios, Republican sources state that “people are predicting a shutdown.” The report states that one of the primary drivers of the shutdown frustrations are policy riders on gender-affirming care and abortion.

Currently, Speaker Mike Johnson’s negotiations reportedly do not include gender affirming care policies, which is upsetting Republicans who have pushed for the inclusion of those policies in the final bill. Biden has stated opposition to any bill that contains them, and the riders did not make the final cut for the previous stopgap budget bill.

Now, in a letter from the House Freedom Caucus, Republicans state that unless these policies are included, the “probability that the appropriations bills will be supported by even a majority of Republicans” is low.

See the full letter here:

Increasingly, Democrats and LGBTQ+ organizations have applied pressure on the Biden administration and Democratic leadership not to accept any deal that includes anti-LGBTQ+ riders. In a letter signed by 163 Democratic members of congress, they state that bans on gender affirming care, pride flags, DEI initiatives, and discrimination should not be on the table for negotiation. Human Rights Campaign has likewise released an advertisement echoing that message:

These policies encompass bans on pride flags, prohibitions on insurance coverage, restrictions on DEI programs, and even the defunding of children’s hospitals that offer gender-affirming care.

Such measures could lead to nationwide bans on care if “federal funding” is broadly interpreted. These provisions are found in funding bills for the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, the military, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, among other sectors.

Some factions within the Republican Party have increasingly indicated that targeting transgender individuals is a top priority and may view a shutdown as worth the political risk over transgender issues. Representative Dan Crenshaw stated in June that such bans are the “hill we will die on.”

It would not be the first time government operations have ground to a halt over transgender issues; in 2023, Republicans refused to move forward with any other bills unless they could pass a ban on gender-affirming care, allowing a filibuster to last for three months. Should this occur at the national level, however, it would represent the most significant impact of anti-trans policies on multiple sectors of government.

Democrats have not shown a willingness to compromise over national anti-transgender riders so far. However, if a new bill is not passed by March 1st, a partial government shutdown will trigger; March 8th is the deadline for a full government shutdown.

Should Republican leadership proceed without any of the anti-trans policy riders, many Republican voters will likely vote against the bill, and Speaker Johnson could see his own speakership threatened. Until the 2024 general elections, the riders represent the largest risk for transgender people and their care nationwide.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

The preceding post was previously published at Erin in the Morning and is republished with permission.

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