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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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Politics

Anti-LGBTQ GOP Senate hopefuls target immigration in RNC speeches

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)’s Republican opponent among Tuesday speakers

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Wisconsin Senate candidate Eric Hovde (R) at the 2024 Republican National Convention in Milwaukee (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

MILWAUKEE — Taking the stage at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on Tuesday were a handful of anti-LGBTQ GOP Senate candidates whose remarks centered largely around immigration.

“Biden, with his border czar Vice President Harris, opened our Southern border allowing criminals and terrorists to enter our country,” said Eric Hovde, a real estate and banking tycoon who will face off against U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in November.

Like the other speakers, Hovde sought to link President Joe Biden’s immigration policies to the scourge of fentanyl “killing over 100,000 Americans every year” while his own campaign has been marred by accusations of transphobia.

The Human Rights Campaign, for instance, notes that Hovde once said that being transgender is “insanity.”

Appearing on a right-wing talk radio show earlier this year, Hovde said about Baldwin, “She actually earmarked, in the last budget, $400,000 for a transgender-affirming clinic that doesn’t even tell parents that they’re doing that, with their own kids.”

Baldwin’s office said the funds could not be used for that program and instead would go entirely to cover counseling and to provide a social worker for kids experiencing homelessness. 

Additionally, former President Donald Trump’s administration gave $350,000 to the same clinic.

Baldwin became the first openly gay member to serve in the Senate in 2012, and she is considered a trailblazer as one of the country’s first out elected leaders dating back to her time in the Wisconsin General Assembly in the 1990s.

“The American dream that I live is under attack with Joe Biden and his enablers in the Senate, like Sherrod Brown who encouraged millions of illegals to invade America,” said Bernie Moreno, a GOP candidate who is challenging the senior senator from Ohio.

(The state’s junior senator, JD Vance, was tapped by Trump to join the 2024 GOP ticket.)

“Joe Biden’s border czar Kamala Harris and a Democrat Senate have put the welfare of illegals ahead of our own citizens,” said Moreno.

LGBTQ issues have loomed large in his race, too.

Leading up to the 2024 Republican primary election, the Associated Press reported that an account linked to Moreno’s email was set up on Adult FriendFinder seeking “men for 1-on-1 sex,” though the candidate’s lawyer said a former intern claimed credit for the “aborted prank.”

Moreno’s companies sponsored Cleveland and Akron’s hosting of the 2014 Gay Games and were on record in support of an LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination law in 2020. The businessman also shared that his eldest son is gay during an interview in 2016.

However, the AP notes, “he began to distance himself from his past activism, professing to be unfamiliar with the anti-discrimination legislation” during his first Senate run in 2021, and “during his current Senate campaign, Moreno has accused advocates for LGBTQ rights of advancing a “radical” agenda of “indoctrination.”

“I have never seen anything like the Biden-Harris open border policy,” said Mike Rogers, who is running for the Senate seat that will be vacated by the retirement of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

“They are rolling out the red carpet for violent gangs, fentanyl, Chinese spies, [and] individuals on the terrorist watch list,” he said.

In 2014, Equality Alabama and the Alabama Association of Realtors accused Rogers, who then represented Michigan’s 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, of making homophobic comments.

Equality Alabama Chairman Ben Cooper wrote in an open letter to the congressman, “when you marginalize our community, we will not be silent.”

“You allegedly joked about how nice it was to be called ‘Honey’ and ‘Sweetie’ by a woman at an Alabama restaurant rather than a D.C. men’s room,” Cooper wrote. “And you went on to mock our nation’s capital as a ‘cross between Detroit and San Francisco’ — an obvious reference to Detroit’s racial makeup and San Francisco’s vibrant gay culture. Comments like these are racist, homophobic, and hurtful, and they will not be tolerated.”

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California Politics

Newsom signs law banning schools’ gender notification policies

Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) introduced AB 1955

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(Graphic courtesy of PFLAG)

Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1955 on Monday, banning forced outings in California schools after facing fierce opposition.

The signature comes after Newsom faced pressure to sign, leaving many to question his stance on LGBTQ issues after vetoing a bill that would have considered parents’ acceptance of a child’s identity or orientation in legal custody battles.

The bill, proposed by Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) earlier this year, bans schools from creating or enacting policies that would out students to their parents about their gender, pronouns, name change, or sexual orientation.

“This comes from a growing national attack on LGBTQ+ people and in particular transgender individuals, with several California school districts and other states enacting policies that explicitly compel teachers to tell parents that their child identifies as transgender,” said Ward during a hearing last month.

“Forced outing policies harm everyone: Parents, families, and school staff by unnecessarily compelling the staff to involve themselves in family matters and removing the opportunity for families to build trust and have conversations on their own terms.”

The introduction of the bill follows a string of policies requiring counselors, administrators, teachers, school staff, and anyone else at the school to notify parents about their child’s transition or change of pronouns.

AB 1955 supports the Support Academic Futures and Educators for Today’s Youth Act (SAFETY Act) in preventing schools from enforcing or enacting forced outing policies.

“As a nonbinary educator working at a middle school, I definitely feel relieved to have some solid protection at the state level, and I feel empowered to continue advocating for my LGBTQ+ students,” said Amanda Estrada, a middle school teacher at Los Nietos Unified School District.

Lawmakers were discordant last month at a hearing that erupted in emotions over the issue. Following the hearing, legislators sent the bill to Newsom to stop these policies against LGBTQ students, families, and educators who felt passionately about the issue.

Last summer, Chino Valley Unified School District began enforcing the policy notifying parents of any requests “to change any information contained in a student’s official or unofficial records.” The policy was later blocked in court, sparking a civil rights lawsuit from California, bringing in Attorney General Rob Bonta to advocate against the policy.

Earlier this year, the school district revamped the policy, leaving out terms like gender, biological sex, and bathrooms but continues to push for outing students based on any changes they may request.

Existing law regarding the polarizing issue requires the State Department of Education to develop school-based resources and update previous resources that aim to support LGBTQ students. The new law now requires the State Department of Education to develop community-based resources for LGBTQ students and their families as well.

Existing law also prohibits discrimination against students participating in any program or activity conducted that receives or benefits from state-level funding. The new law will now include “any governing body or body of those educational entities from enacting or enforcing policy, rule, or administrative regulation that requires an employee or a contractor to disclose any information related to a pupil’s consent unless otherwise required by law.”

The law also states that students should feel “safe, supported, and affirmed for who they are at school.” This requires allowing them to choose when and how they want to make their new identities or orientation public and making resources available for them and their families.

This legislative push for laws and policies that protect LGBTQ youth will continue to face opposition as transition and gender identity continues to be a heavily polarizing and political issue among families.

The proposed bill cites research by the Trevor Project, stating that affirming school environments significantly lower the odds of transgender and LGBTQ youth attempting suicide.

Further findings also suggest that educators often face harassment and retaliation attempts because of their lawful efforts to uphold student privacy and protect them from discrimination.

“Over the past couple of years, I started to worry more about the creep of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric across the state, mostly through small districts like mine,” said Estrada. “Now that we have this law in place, I’ve got some peace of mind, and hopefully going forward, my students will too.”

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Trump picks anti-LGBTQ JD Vance as running mate

HRC, GLAAD highlight vice presidential nominee’s record

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U.S. Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio) speaks at the 2023 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Former President Donald Trump announced anti-LGBTQ U.S. Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio) as his 2024 running mate in a Truth Social post on Monday.

A political neophyte who was first elected in 2022 thanks to Trump’s endorsement, Vance once compared the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to Adolf Hitler, also calling him “cultural heroin” and “an opioid of the masses.”

The Ohio senator’s journey from critic to acolyte was cemented over the weekend.

After Trump walked away from an assassination attempt and both of the major candidates said it was time to turn down the rhetoric, Vance went further than many on the right and directly blamed President Joe Biden and his campaign for the gunman’s actions.

“The central premise of the Biden campaign is that President Donald Trump is an authoritarian fascist who must be stopped at all costs,” he said on X. “That rhetoric led directly to President Trump’s attempted assassination.” 

LGBTQ organizations and advocates issued statements on Monday blasting Trump’s vice president pick.

“Donald Trump has been a bully for years — and his pick of MAGA clone JD Vance is a reminder that nothing has changed. This is anything but a unity ticket,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said.

“We are not simply choosing between two campaigns. We are choosing between two fundamentally different visions of America. One, with Trump and MAGA ‘yes man’ JD Vance at the helm, where our rights and freedoms are under siege. And the other, with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris leading the way, where we are advancing toward freedom and equality for all,” she said.

“Everything is at stake and the contrast could not be clearer. We must defeat Trump, Vance, and their brand of chaos and division, and send Joe Biden and Kamala Harris back to the White House.”

In a press release, HRC listed some of the ways in which Vance has denigrated LGBTQ people.

GLAAD, meanwhile, has a lengthy entry for Vance in the GLAAD Accountability Project. Positions, statements, and actions by Trump’s running mate that were noted by the two organizations include:

  • His endorsement of the “groomer” slur against Democrats for their support of LGBTQ people,
  • His statement “strongly disagree[ing]” that LGBTQ people should be protected from discrimination,
  • His opposition to the Equality Act, which would federalize and codify LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections,
  • His extreme anti-choice views, including opposition to exceptions to abortion restrictions for victims of rape and incest and opposition to IVF,
  • His introduction of a bill to charge healthcare providers with a felony for providing medically necessary health care to transgender youth,
  • His statement that he would have voted “no” on the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified federal protections for married same-sex couples and was supported by a dozen GOP senators,
  • His defense of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) for appearing at a white supremacist conference with host Nick Fuentes, who has spread racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theories, and
  • His claim, a week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that Biden was risking war with Russia because President Putin doesn’t believe in trans rights.
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Garcia and Log Cabin Republicans president react to new GOP party platform

RNC had not issued a new position manifesto since 2016

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Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Committee at National Harbor, Md., on March 4, 2023. (Screen capture via Vimeo)

Following the issuance of the Republican Party’s first new policy platform since 2016, U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) and Charles Moran, president of the conservative LGBTQ group Log Cabin Republicans, shared their reactions this week with the Washington Blade.

Unlike previous iterations, including in 2016 and 2012, the 2024 version contains no mention of same-sex marriage and very little discussion about abortion, issues long championed by the religious right factions of the party.

Still, the document calls for banning transgender girls and women from competing in girls and women’s sports, as well as a proposal to cut federal funding for “any school pushing critical race theory, radical gender ideology, and other inappropriate racial, sexual, or political content on our children.”

“We will keep men out of women’s sports, ban taxpayer funding for sex change surgeries, and stop taxpayer-funded schools from promoting gender transition, reverse Biden’s radical rewrite of Title IX education regulations, and restore protections for women and girls,” the platform says.

“Republicans will ensure children are taught fundamentals like reading, history, science, and math, not leftwing propaganda,” according to the document. “We will defund schools that engage in inappropriate political indoctrination of our children using federal taxpayer dollars.”

Garcia, an openly gay vice chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, told the Blade by phone on Tuesday that the language is of a piece of the party’s efforts across the board to restrict rights, freedoms, and protections from many of America’s most vulnerable.

“The platform is the platform,” he said. “It’s reactionary. It moves us backwards. It does not support diverse communities.”

What is more important, however, than “the Republican platform, Project 2025, all of these ideas and proposals,” Garcia said, is the question of “who’s going to implement these.”

“Look at what Donald Trump is actually saying,” Garcia said. “That should scare us. He’s saying he’s going to deport undocumented people across the country. He’s saying he’s going to empower fossil fuel and oil companies in public. He’s saying that he doesn’t support unions. He’s saying all of these horrible things. I think we should take him for his word.”

“We should already know that he’s going to do what he says. He’s saying he’s going to jail his political opponents,” the congressman added. “This is insane. So, I think that is much more instructive than any party platform or other conversation happening right now.”

Project 2025, the exhaustively detailed governing blueprint for a second Trump term that was published by the right-wing Heritage Foundation think tank, “is finally starting to get more attention,” Garcia said.

Unlike the party platform, the 900-page document reads like a wishlist for the most right-wing conservative Christian flanks of the GOP — with proposals to criminalize all pornography, for instance, and to revoke LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections for federal government employees.

“I wish that over the last two days we were talking about Project 2025,” said Garcia.

House Democrats, who had just returned from the July 4 break, had been inundated with questions about whether President Joe Biden should continue leading the party’s 2024 ticket after a shaky debate performance last month exacerbated concerns about his age.

“Moving forward,” he said, Project 2025 “needs to get more attention, and I’m hopeful that it will.”

Also speaking with the Blade on Tuesday was Moran, who had attended a Log Cabin Republicans fundraiser on Monday that former first lady Melania Trump hosted and netted $1.4 million. The event was the first to be held in the Trump Tower residence since her husband launched his 2024 campaign.

“Project 2025 is like a kid’s Christmas wish list — and it has just as much chance of coming to fruition as Santa Claus coming down that chimney,” he said. “It’s just not reality.”

By contrast, the platform has Trump written all over it, Moran said.

“Even though I was not on the platform committee, it was clear those in leadership understood that the process had been commandeered in the past by special interests and those trying to use intimidation and fear to bully their influence into the final document,” he said. “The RNC took steps to ensure a clean, orderly and accessible drafting process.”

As a result of influence peddling by special interest groups, “the platform continued to be an albatross around the necks of common-sense Republicans,” providing opportunities for Democrats to portray their political opponents as anti-gay, for example, since the document historically took a position against same-sex marriage.

“The 2016 platform was crafted under the influence of Ted Cruz’s delegates, veering it in a much more conservative direction on gay issues,” Moran said. “President Trump made it clear that he wasn’t aligned with the 2016 platform, and if the full RNC convention would have been held in 2020, it would have been changed then.”

Moran added that while “the platform process has historically been influenced by paid lobbyists representing special interests trying to game the system for their client’s pet projects and desires,” this year “presented President Trump with his first opportunity to genuinely make the GOP platform represent the modern Republican Party, and make it represent an inclusive, America-First context.”

Moran said the new platform is a reflection of the campaign’s strategy and approach to this election.

“I believe the president knew that the old platform made the GOP uncompetitive in major geographic and critical demographic areas,” he said. “The platform was definitely worth fighting over, because we know that the presidential nominee needs to get the party in the best position possible to appeal to the broadest number of people.”

“This is a platform that is inclusive of many communities, including LGBT Americans,” Moran said. “It promotes the sanctity of marriage, but doesn’t exclude our marriages. It supports IVF, which is the principle way same-sex couples build families.”

“This is a pro-family platform,” he added, “but it provides a place for our families too.”

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Republican National Convention expected to address LGBTQ issues

The Washington Blade will be reporting from Milwaukee next week

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Former President Donald Trump (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade will be in Milwaukee next week covering the Republican National Convention, which is expected to include events and discussions concerning LGBTQ issues.

  • GRACE, the gender research advocacy council and education, will host a media availability at the RNC next week with Alaina Kupec, its founder and president, and Executive Director Jennifer Williams.

Williams is a Republican city councilmember representing Trenton, N.J., and the first transgender woman elected to a municipal office in the state. Kupec, who is also trans, is a Navy veteran who has served in executive level positions at biopharmaceutical companies.

GRACE was founded to “assist other groups in addressing misinformation about transgender people,” as Kupec told Bay Area Reporter. The organization has also focused on engaging conservatives and moderates, including through a series of ads spotlighting right-leaning, Christian fathers of trans children.

The organization notes that the 2024 Republican Party platform included “references to the transgender community.”

  • On July 15, the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, will host “Heritage Policy Fest: Fighting for America’s Future.”

The group’s Project 2025, a 900+ page governing agenda for a second Trump administration, would repeal LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections and direct the federal government to advance principles of Christian nationalism.

The Biden-Harris 2024 Campaign has sought to bring attention to Project 2025 and tie it to Trump’s candidacy, as the document contains extreme policy proscriptions including a proposal to criminalize all pornography.

  • The anti-LGBTQ group Moms for Liberty will host “Giving Americans a Voice Town Hall” on July 16.

The group, which is considered a far-right extremist organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center and has close ties to the Republican Party, has sought to ban books with LGBTQ characters or themes and its members have harassed and intimidated educators and school officials.

  • Log Cabin Republicans, the conservative LGBTQ group, will host a Big Tent Event on July 17.

Former first lady Melania Trump hosted a fundraiser for the organization on Monday at the Trumps’ penthouse in Trump Tower, raising $1.4 million according to the New York Post. The event was the 2024 campaign’s first that was held at the couple’s residence.

  • On July 18, the anti-LGBTQ Faith and Freedom Coalition will host a prayer breakfast.

The organization, led by Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, opposes same-sex marriage and “transgender ideology.”

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Politics

EXCLUSIVE: Will Rollins raises $2.2+ million in Q2

Gay Democrat seeks to unseat anti-LGBTQ GOP opponent

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Will Rollins and his partner, Paolo, at the 2022 Palm Springs Pride Parade. (Photo courtesy of Will Rollins for Congress)

Will Rollins, the gay Democrat vying for anti-LGBTQ U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert’s (R-Calif.) seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, raised more than $2.2 million in the second quarter, the Washington Blade has learned.

Fundraising totals covering the period from April 1 to June 30 must be reported to the U.S. Federal Election Commission by or before July 15.

With this latest haul, the Rollins campaign’s cash on hand will exceed $4.7 million and the total raised for the 2024 cycle, $7 million.

If Rollins out-raises Calvert, it would be the fourth consecutive quarter. In the first quarter of 2024, Rollins brought in more than $950,000 more than his opponent, boasting $3,162,026.27 in cash on hand to Calvert’s 2,639,376.83.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee believes California’s 41st Congressional District is likely to flip from red to blue, and therefore has made additional investments in Rollins’s campaign as he seeks to unseat a GOP member who has served since 1993.

The Democratic challenger’s campaign says this quarter saw more than 29,000 total contributions, 95 percent of which were $100 or less, for a total this cycle of more than 44,000 unique donors.

“Flipping the 41st District is critical for a host of reasons: Installing new leadership that prioritizes working families over special interests, defending and restoring into law a woman’s fundamental right to choose, protecting our fragile democracy, mitigating the effects of climate change and creating local green energy jobs that will protect our planet, and so much more,” Rollins told the Blade in an emailed statement.

“But, it’s also a history-making opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “If elected, I’d have the honor of being the first openly LBGTQ+ member of Congress to represent Palm Springs and the first openly LGBTQ+ member of Congress from a law enforcement background.”

Rollins continued, “I think that this representation and visibility resonates with a lot of grassroots supporters who see our current congressman for who he is: A staunch opponent of our community. Calvert’s record speaks for itself, including voting against the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill and just last year voting to strip funding for basic services for LGBTQ+ community centers, including meals for seniors. It’s abhorrent.”

“As a result, we’ve been fortunate to have an outpouring of support from the LGBTQ+ community, particularly those locally in Riverside County,” Rollins said. “And it’s just one of a host of reasons why our campaign’s fundraising has been so strong — I’m very thankful for the support and look forward to finishing the job this November.”

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California Politics

Update: Calif. proposes LGBTQ commission amid escalating national and local challenges

Assemblymember Alex Lee introduced Assembly Bill 3031

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In response to mounting pressures on LGBTQ rights across the nation, California lawmakers have introduced Assembly Bill 3031 that would create a statewide LGBTQ commission. 

This initiative comes at a critical juncture, as the LGBTQ community faces intensifying challenges even within the traditionally progressive Golden State.

Recent years have seen a troubling trend in smaller California cities, where school boards face pressure from anti-LGBTQ groups to withdraw supportive curriculum and disband LGBTQ student organizations. 

In communities like Chino Hills, for instance, school boards have passed policies requiring schools to forcibly out transgender students to their parents, a move that has sparked intense debate and concern among LGBTQ advocates. These local battles mirror a larger national movement seeking to limit LGBTQ visibility and support in educational settings.

Simultaneously, some city councils, most recently in Downey, have moved to ban the Pride flag from flying on public property, a symbolic gesture with far-reaching implications for LGBTQ acceptance and representation.

At least one leader of these efforts, Claudia Frometta, a Downey, California councilmember who unsuccessfully voted against funding of LGBTQ Pride events in that city and one year later lead a successful effort to ban the flying of the Rainbow Flag on city property, has risen to national prominence. Frometta was recently elected President of the highly influential National Association of Elected Officials (NALEO).

Such developments contribute to a climate of exclusion and send a powerful message about the value placed on LGBTQ lives and experiences in these communities and organizations.

These local actions unfold against a backdrop of rising hate crimes targeting LGBTQ individuals. 

Between 2021 and 2022, California witnessed a 29 percent increase in reported hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation bias, totaling over 391 incidents. This surge in violence has sparked alarm among LGBTQ advocates and underscores the urgent need for comprehensive state-level action to protect and support the LGBTQ community.

The proposed commission aims to address these multifaceted challenges. 

Assemblymember Alex Lee, who serves California’s 24th Assembly District (Alameda County and Santa Clara County), the bill’s author, emphasized its importance: 

“It’s critical that the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ community members are recognized by our government,” he said. “The commission will play an important role in informing policy and programs for the LGBTQ+ community.”

LGBTQ advocates have expressed particular concern over the wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation sweeping across the country. 

In 2023 alone, 520 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in more than 40 states, with 84 signed into law. The pace has not slowed in 2024, with 490 such bills proposed by June. This legislative onslaught has targeted various aspects of LGBTQ life, from restricting access to gender-affirming care for transyouth to limiting discussions of LGBTQ topics in schools.

Adding to these concerns is the Republican Party’s Project 2025 blueprint — a comprehensive plan that outlines potential rollbacks of LGBTQ rights should the party regain control of the White House. This document suggests threats to marriage equality and protections in employment and housing and other hard-won victories. The combination of ongoing legislative attacks and the potential for sweeping federal changes has created a climate of uncertainty and fear within the LGBTQ community, even in progressive states like California.

Equality California Executive Director Tony Hwang highlighted the urgency of the situation. 

“California has come a long way in the fight for full, lived equality for LGBTQ+ people, but our state is not immune to the wave of anti-LGBTQ+ hate, violence and right-wing extremism sweeping the country,” he said. “California’s commitment to the health, safety and dignity of LGBTQ+ people is needed now more than ever.”

The proposed commission would consist of nine members representing California’s diverse LGBTQ community. The governor would appoint five members, while the Assembly speaker and the Senate Rules Committee would each appoint two members. This structure aims to ensure a broad representation of perspectives and experiences within the LGBTQ+ community.

The commission’s responsibilities would be wide-ranging and impactful. It would act in an advisory capacity to the state legislature and governor on policy matters affecting the LGBTQ community. This would involve monitoring proposed legislation and regulations, coordinating with other relevant commissions on issues of mutual concern, and working with state agencies to assess the impact of their programs and policies on LGBTQ individuals.

The commission would also engage in fact-finding and data collection to gain a comprehensive understanding of the experiences and needs of LGBTQ Californians. This would involve holding public hearings to gather input directly from community members, as well as conducting research on various issues affecting the LGBTQ population. 

The commission would be required to submit annual reports to the legislature and governor, summarizing its findings and offering policy recommendations to address the needs of the LGBTQ community.

The bill has garnered support from various quarters, including local government bodies. 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in January 2024. From left to right: Janice Hahn, Hilda Solis, Lindsey Horvath (chair), Kathryn Barger and Holly Mitchell. (photo courtesy of the LA County Board of Supervisors)

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on June 25 officially threw its support behind AB 3031.

Supervisors Lindsey Horvath and Hilda Solis in a motion they put forth said the bill would create a commission “that represents California’s diverse LGBTQ+ community and shines a light on the unique challenges that LGBTQ+ people face.”

The Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee President Drew Lloyd told the Bay Area Reporter that having “a commission that addresses disparities facing California’s queer community and works to elevate our community’s unique experiences, voices, and concerns, is invaluable. BAYMEC enthusiastically endorses the creation of this commission and looks forward to working with all stakeholders and our community to create a safe and unique space that leads to a better California for all.”

“I thank my colleague Assemblymember Alex Lee for introducing this important legislation to establish the California LGBTQ+ Commission, which will empower our LGBTQ+ community with independent representation to advise the Legislature and governor on policy matters and provide recommendations for future actions we can take to identify and reduce systemic inequalities and barriers,” Assemblymember Evan Low, co-sponsor of AB 3031 and a member of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, stated,

As AB 3031 progresses through the legislative process, it represents California’s proactive stance in safeguarding LGBTQ rights amidst a challenging national landscape. The commission’s establishment would signal the state’s commitment to not only maintaining existing protections but also actively addressing the evolving needs of its LGBTQ residents in the face of unprecedented threats to their rights and well-being.

The creation of this commission comes at a time when LGBTQ Californians, estimated at 2.7 million or roughly 9 percent of the state’s adult population, face both longstanding and emerging challenges. From workplace discrimination and healthcare disparities to the recent surge in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policy proposals, the need for a dedicated body to address these issues has never been more apparent.

As the bill moves forward, many in California’s LGBTQ community and their allies are hopeful that this commission will provide a powerful voice for their concerns at the highest levels of state government. In doing so, it may serve as a model for other states seeking to protect and empower their LGBTQ residents in an increasingly challenging political climate.

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Project 2025 is Trump’s roadmap to the elimination of LGBTQ rights

US Supreme Court on Monday boosted former president’s re-election chances

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As a doubly emboldened Donald Trump eyes a return to the White House, a chilling blueprint for a fascist takeover of the country has emerged in the form of a 900-page blueprint called Project 2025. Every LGBTQ person, every agency that works on our behalf, every political and legal ally, every person who believes in civil liberties, equality and justice, must pay attention.

We are now facing a national emergency that requires you to understand the seriousness of Project 2025.

This far-reaching plan, developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation and its allies, outlines a radical reshaping of the federal government, and includes an uncompromising plan to reverse course on LGBTQ rights in this county. 

Project 2025, of course does not only target LGBTQ poeple. It also targets immigrants, people of color and every allied interest community and progressive ideal.

Project 2025 is a $22 million initiative created in collaboration with 100 right-wing partner organizations. It includes a 180-day playbook of regulations and executive orders, a database of potential appointees, and a 1,000-page handbook outlining policy priorities. While its creators claim it’s designed to “save our republic,” Project 2025 in fact represents a coordinated assault on civil liberties, particularly those of LGBTQ Americans.

The project outlines numerous actions that would severely impact the LGBTQ community. A key focus is stripping away non-discrimination policies. This includes removing terms like “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “diversity” from federal documents, restricting the application of the Bostock v. Clayton County decision that prohibited discrimination against  LGBTQ people in the workplace, and rescinding all regulations prohibiting discrimination based on LGBTQ status.

The plan also aims to narrowly define “sex discrimination” in a way that would exclude LGBTQ identities, effectively erasing legal protections for this community.

Healthcare access for LGBTQ individuals, particularly transgender people, is another major target. The project proposes eliminating trans healthcare coverage in Medicare and Medicaid, opposing trans healthcare for service members, and ending anti-discrimination rules based on gender identity and sexual orientation in the Affordable Care Act.

These changes would significantly restrict access to necessary medical care for many LGBTQ Americans.

The military is not spared from this sweeping agenda. Project 2025 calls for reversing policies that currently allow trans people to serve openly in the armed forces. It goes further, proposing to expel trans troops and even individuals living with HIV from military service, regardless of their ability to perform their duties.

In education, the project aims to repress LGBTQ-inclusive policies and curricula. It promotes restrictive views on gender in schools, seeks to disallow students from using names or pronouns that don’t match their birth certificates, and advocates for removing LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum and policies.

These changes would create hostile environments for LGBTQ students and staff in educational settings.

The influence of Project 2025 extends beyond U.S. borders. It proposes ending the State Department’s LGBTQ equality initiatives globally, potentially emboldening anti-LGBTQ sentiments and policies in other countries, particularly in regions where LGBTQ rights are already under threat.

The project falsely characterizes trans identities as an “ideology” linked to child exploitation and portrays LGBTQ-inclusive education as harmful. It aims to prioritize a narrow definition of family that excludes LGBTQ parents and single mothers.

Project 2025 represents a coordinated effort to not only halt progress on LGBTQ rights but to actively dismantle existing protections. Its implementation would significantly impact the lives of LGBTQ Americans across various sectors, from healthcare and employment to education and military service, potentially setting back decades of progress in civil rights and equality.

The comprehensive nature and far-reaching consequences of Project 2025 make preventing its implementation one of the most urgent priorities for LGBTQ advocates and allies. The plan’s potential to systematically erase LGBTQ protections and rights at a federal level poses an unprecedented threat to the community.

The urgency to act against Project 2025 is further underscored by recent developments in the Supreme Court and political landscape. In a historic and controversial decision, the court granted substantial immunity from prosecution to Trump on election subversion charges, with potential far-reaching consequences for presidential accountability and the 2024 election.

This 6-3 decision, split along ideological lines, not only establishes broad new immunity for past and future presidents but also significantly boosts Donald Trump’s chances at reelection.

The timing of that ruling is also particularly bad, coming on the heels of what many observers described as a disappointing debate performance by President Joe Biden, an ally who, if reelected in 2024, would stand as a bulwark against the implementation of Project 2025’s goals.

The ruling states that presidents may not be prosecuted for exercising their “core” constitutional powers, and even in situations where former presidents might be prosecuted after leaving office, they are entitled to at least presumptive immunity for official actions taken as president.

Biden addressed the Supreme Court’s ruling, warning of its dangerous implications.

“Today’s decision almost certainly means that there are virtually no limits on what a president can do,” Biden said. He continued, “This is a fundamentally new principle, and it’s a dangerous precedent because the power of the office will no longer be constrained by the law, even including Supreme Court of the United States. The only limits will be self-imposed posed by the president alone.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, argued that such immunity is necessary to protect an “energetic” and “independent executive” willing to take “bold” actions and make unpopular decisions when needed. However, this ruling raises significant concerns for LGBTQ advocates and civil rights groups, especially in light of Project 2025.

The decision potentially makes it more difficult to hold presidents accountable for actions that may infringe on the rights of marginalized communities, including LGBTQ people. This could embolden a future Trump administration, or any administration aligned with Project 2025’s goals, to implement discriminatory policies with little fear of legal consequences.

This combination of factors — a well-funded, comprehensive plan to roll back LGBTQ rights, coupled with increased legal protections for those in power who might enforce such policies, and a political landscape that seems increasingly favorable to Project 2025’s proponents — presents a grave threat to the LGBTQ community. It underscores the critical importance of mobilizing now to prevent Project 2025 from becoming a reality.

LGBTQ advocates must not only work to thwart Project 2025 but also address the broader legal and political landscape that could enable its implementation. This includes pushing for legislative action to counteract the Supreme Court’s immunity ruling, working to ensure that future judicial appointments prioritize civil rights protections, and engaging in voter education and mobilization efforts to support candidates who oppose Project 2025’s agenda.

The stakes have never been higher. The time for action is now, before the combined threats of Project 2025, expanded presidential immunity, and potential political shifts can erode decades of progress in LGBTQ rights and protections.

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LGBTQ issues absent from Trump-Biden debate

Advocacy groups hoped candidates would address queer topics

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Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden debate on CNN on Jun 27, 2024. (Screen captures via CNN)

At their televised debate in Atlanta on Thursday, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump traded barbs on issues from abortion and election integrity to immigration and foreign policy. The 81 and 78-year-old candidates even argued over who is a better golfer.

Absent from the discussion, however, were matters of LGBTQ rights that have animated national politics in this election cycle with the presumptive Republican nominee promising to weaponize the federal government against queer and transgender Americans as the president pledges to build on his record of expanding their freedoms and protections.

CNN hosted Thursday’s debate, with the network’s anchors Dana Bash and Jake Tapper moderating. ABC News will run the second debate scheduled for Sept. 10.

Setting the tone early into the program was Trump’s repetition of the lie that Democrats are so “radical” on matters of abortion that they “will take the life of a child in the eighth month, the ninth month, and even after birth.”

Biden, meanwhile, laid the blame at his opponent’s feet for appointing three U.S. Supreme Court justices during his term in office who overturned Roe v. Wade’s 51-year-old constitutional protections for abortion.

He also referenced the fallout from that ruling and the extreme restrictions passed by conservative legislators in its wake, arguing that Trump would not veto a federal abortion ban if Republican majorities in Congress were to pass one.

Trump also repeated falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election.

“Will you pledge tonight that once all legal challenges have been exhausted, that you will accept the results of this election,” Bash asked him, “regardless of who wins, and you will say right now that political violence in any form is unacceptable?”

The Republican frontrunner first responded by denying he was responsible for his supporters’ violent ransacking of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

After the CNN anchor pressed him twice to answer the first part of her question, Trump said, “if it’s a fair and legal and good election, absolutely” but “the fraud and everything else was ridiculous.”

“You appealed and appealed to courts all across the country,” Biden responded. “Not one single court in America said any of your claims had any merit, state or local, none. But you continue to provoke this lie about somehow, there’s all this misrepresentation, all this stealing — there is no evidence of that at all.”

The president continued, “And I tell you what, I doubt whether you’ll accept it, because you’re such a whiner.”

Advocacy groups hoped the debate would address LGBTQ issues

Leading up to the debate, advocacy groups urged the candidates to defend their records on and policy proposals concerning LGBTQ rights, with some arguing the discussion would advantage Biden’s campaign, as reported by The Hill’s Brooke Migdon.

As the community celebrated Pride this month, the Biden-Harris 2024 team made significant investments in paid media and the Out for Biden national organizing effort to court LGBTQ voters, who are expected to comprise a larger share of the electorate than ever before.

“This will be an enormous slight to our community if LGBTQ questions are not asked during this debate,” GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said. “Our community is deeply affected by where these candidates stand.” 

“The safety and freedom of LGBTQ people depends on your engagement with the candidates and ability to inform voters about their records and proposals,” she said.

Annise Parker, the outgoing president of the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, said “I certainly hope that the moderators bring up the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ issues, because there is a stark contrast between the two candidates.”

“I hope we see a substantive conversation on the records of these two men for the fight for a more equal society,” said Brandon Wolf, national press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign.

“A vast majority of people in this country support an America that treats people with dignity and respect; they support an America that prevents people from experiencing discrimination and harm simply because of who they are,” he said.

“That is where the American people largely are, and I hope we get an opportunity on that stage to see the contrast between these two candidates.” 

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Bobby Berk may hit campaign trail for Biden, speak at DNC

‘Queer Eye’ star attended White House Pride event

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Bobby Berk attends the White House Pride event on June 26. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Interior designer and television personality Bobby Berk talked with the Biden-Harris 2024 team on Tuesday about “going on the road, going on the campaign trail, and maybe speaking” at the Democratic National Convention, he told the Washington Blade on Wednesday.

“I had a great meeting” with the president’s team, he said during a brief interview just ahead of the White House Pride celebration, which was headlined by first lady Jill Biden.

“I’m very excited here to support an administration that has 100 percent support in our community, and for that matter, has supported everyone,” Berk said. “You know, that’s what’s so amazing about this administration is they are for everyone, not just for a select few.”

Berk, who appeared on the first eight seasons of Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” also commented on the significance of being invited to the White House for the administration’s Pride event. “It’s kind of the center of the earth,” he said.

“To have somebody like the first lady presiding over an event like this — showing the world, every country, that she accepts us, that the president accepts us, that the administration accepts us — I think it’s a very powerful message,” he said. “It says 1,000 words.”

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