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National Trans Visibility March steps off in Orlando on its way to L.A.

The organizers of the third annual celebration moved the march out of Washington, D.C. for the very first time

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Marchers paraded through Orlando, Fla. Saturday as part of the National Trans Visibility March, the first one to be held outside Washington, D.C. — Photo by Dawn Ennis

ORLANDO – Hundreds of out transgender people and allies from across Florida and from as far away as Southern California gathered in Orlando Saturday to rally and to march, demanding justice, equality and acceptance. 

Chanting, “Trans Solidarity,” and “Hey Hey, Ho, Ho, Transphobia Has Got To Go!” participants in the 3rd annual National Trans Visibility March stepped off for their first march to be held outside Washington, D.C. This was also the first in-person parade since last year’s march was held mostly virtually, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There are so many of us who feel excluded from our cities and our communities,” said Ariel Savage of Riverside, Calif. 

“Visibility and support is crucial,” declared Savage, 24, in one of the stirring speeches to the crowd at a rally on the shores of Orlando’s Lake Eola, just prior to the march. “We are here today at the National Trans Visibility March because we are real and we have had enough!”

Ariel Savage delivers a speech prior to the National Trans Visibility March in Orlando, Fla. on Saturday. — Video by Dawn Ennis

“It just goes to showcase the collective love that we, as trans people, have for each other, and that even in a world that excludes us and locks doors on us, we keep marching and we keep breaking those doors down every day,” Savage later told the Los Angeles Blade. She’s the policy director at TruEvolution, a Riverside-based nonprofit focused on racial justice and providing health services and emergency housing for LGBTQ+ people. “The Inland Empire has a lot of work to do,” she said, calling it “not necessarily the most accepting environment.” This was her first visit to Orlando.  

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many trans people in one place before,” Savage said. “It feels very beautiful to be in a place where I’m not scared and I just feel excited and happy and at peace.”

Flynn, left, was accompanied by his mother, Michelle and her cousin, Rochelle, at the National Trans Visibility March in Orlando, Fla. — Photo by Dawn Ennis

Flynn, who is 14 and from Orlando, held a sign decorated in the blue, white and pink colors of the transgender flag that said, “I’m so proud to be me.” He marched with his mother, Michelle, and her cousin Rochelle, who is lesbian. Flynn said he’d known he was a trans boy since sixth grade but only recently came out to his mom. “Of course, I was confused, at first,” said Michelle, of Orlando. “But since then, I have educated myself and I’ve joined  parent groups and I support him fully.” 

Florida’s ban on trans student-athletes and similar laws in eight other states are worrisome for Flynn’s family, his mother said. “It does worry me as a mom, because I want to protect my kids. But I also want him to be who he is. I think it’s really important as parents to support our children.”
March organizers say they chose both this location, and the weekend of Orlando Pride, to show unity with the larger LGBTQ community. “Orlando has a spirit of heart and love, and we wanted it to be here to celebrate with them,” said NTVM executive director, CEO and founder Marissa Miller.

Marissa Miller, executive director, CEO and founder of the National Trans Visibility March, spoke at Friday night’s Torch Awards in Downtown Orlando, Fla. — Photo by Melody Maia Monet

Following the march, members of the transgender community and allies formed a special contingent in the annual LGBTQ Pride Parade through Downtown Orlando, holding aloft a huge Trans Pride flag.

Transgender marchers and allies held aloft a huge Trans Pride Flag, designed by Monica Helms, as they joined the LGBTQ Pride Parade in Orlando, Fla. — Photo by Josh Bell, Executive Director, One Orlando Alliance

Next year, the march moves to Los Angeles, according to Come Out With Pride’s  communications director, YouTuber Melody Maia Monet, who first brought the idea for combining the Orlando events to her board of directors. She’s been out 11 years and said she’s excited to see how Pride has evolved in her adopted hometown of Orlando.

Melody Maia Monet, center, held a sign saying, “Visible 4 Those Who Can’t Be” as she marched in Saturday’s National Trans Visibility March in Orlando, Fla. — Photo by Dawn Ennis

“What I really love is that we’re kind of moving away from the binary,” Monet said. “When you walk around this place, not just the National Trans Visibility March area, but all around Lake Eola Park, where we’re having Come Out With Pride, you’ll see people of basically every stripe under the rainbow, you know? So I think that is that is a great thing to see.”

Nonbinary marchers took part in Saturday’s National Trans Visibility March in Orlando, Fla. — Photo by Dawn Ennis
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Florida sues over new regulations protecting gender-affirming care

Florida’s ban on gender-affirming care for minors & restrictions for adults are also wrapped up in a legal challenge in a federal court

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Florida Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody. (Screenshot/YouTube FLGTV)

By Jackie Llanos | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Republican State Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a lawsuit Monday against new Biden administration regulations defending access to common medical treatments for transgender and gender non-conforming people.

The regulations that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued Monday state that blanket exclusions in services that single out transgender people are “presumptively discriminatory on the basis of sex.” Those guidelines for sex-based discrimination also encompass gender identity, according to the regulations.

The agency crafted specific provisions related to gender-affirming care “given the widespread discriminatory denial of care for such services and its direct connection to an individual’s transgender status.”

While the federal regulations are set to go into effect on July 5, Moody is asking the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Florida in Tampa to throw out the rules, which seemingly go against the state’s ban on gender-affirming care, such as puberty blockers, for minors and the restrictions for what kind of providers can treat trans adults seeking treatment for gender dysphoria.

For the duration of the case, Moody requested that the court issue a temporary injunction exempting Florida agencies from enforcing the rules.

Florida’s gender-affirming care landscape

“Florida passed a law to protect our children from dangerous, irreversible gender-transition drugs and surgeries,” Moody wrote in a Tuesday press release. “Now, Biden and his federal bureaucrats are trying to go around our child-protection law to force the state to pay for puberty blockers and gender-transition surgery for children. These rules trample states’ power to protect their own citizens and we will not stand by as Biden tries, yet again, to use the force of the federal government to unlawfully stifle Florida’s effort to protect children.”

However, the regulations from the federal agencies don’t state that a healthcare provider would have to give gender-affirming care to a trans patient. Instead, it states that providers should determine treatment on a case-by-case basis.

“Nothing in this rule impedes covered entities from taking nondiscriminatory actions based on current medical standards and evidence, such as making decisions about the timing or type of protocols appropriate for care. The rule does not (and cannot) require a specific standard of care or course of treatment for any individual, minor or adult,” the rules state.

But Florida’s ban on gender-affirming care for minors and the restrictions for adults are also wrapped up in a legal challenge in a federal court in Tallahassee. The trial for the case brought by transgender children, their parents and transgender adults took place in December but the judge has yet to rule.

Equality Florida, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, condemned the lawsuit in a statement to Florida Phoenix.

“DeSantis and Attorney General Moody’s lawsuit is another taxpayer-funded distraction so Floridians won’t notice that their insurance rates continue to skyrocket as Florida has the highest rate of inflation in the country and the lowest rate of teacher pay,” the group wrote. “Everyone deserves respect and the freedom to seek best-practice healthcare, but our Governor is hellbent on denigrating transgender Floridians and overruling parents’ ability to obtain essential care for their transgender child.”

Complaint arguments

Moody filed the 84-page complaint — with dozens of additional exhibits and other documents — on behalf of the state of Florida, Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, the Florida Department of Management Services and the Catholic Medical Association and its director Mario Dickerson.

The defendants were listed as: Department of Health and Human Services; Xavier Becerra, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; Melanie Fontes Rainer, in her official capacity as the Director of the Office for Civil Rights; Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Chiquita Brooks-Lasure, in her official capacity as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

In the complaint, she argues that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health and Human Services violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Spending Clause because the agencies didn’t have the power to change the definition of sex-based discrimination and tie federal funding based on states’ compliance with those rules.

“Under the OCR Rules, Florida now faces the untenable choice of surrendering its power to protect the health and safety of Floridians or losing billions of dollars in federal funding without adequate notice that this would be part of the bargain,” Moody wrote in the complaint.

The lawsuit also includes arguments that the regulations would violate the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) members’ freedom of religion and speech.

“CMA and its members hold the position that gender-transition procedures are unethical and dangerous. Providing, facilitating, referring for, or endorsing gender-transition efforts violates their medical views, their core religious beliefs, and their oath to ‘do no harm,’” Moody wrote in the lawsuit. “CMA’s members have medical and ethical positions contrary to the 2024 Rules’ requirements, and they also have overlapping religious objections. It is within CMA’s advocacy mission to advocate and litigate for its members’ right to the conscientious and faithful practice of medicine.”

Just last month, Moody joined other states in challenging new Biden administration rules protecting transgender people from discrimination in schools, colleges, and universities.

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Jackie Llanos

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

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

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

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

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Homeless trans woman in Miami beaten to death in her sleep

“Whenever a trans person is murdered with such brutality, the question should be asked about whether or not this was a hate-motivated crime”

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Andrea Dos Passos (Photo via Equality Florida)

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Gregory Fitzgerald Gibert, 53, who was out on probation, is charged with the second-degree murder of 37-year-old Andrea Doria Dos Passos, a Latina trans woman who was found deceased in front of the Miami Ballet company facility by a security guard this past week.

According to a Miami Beach Police spokesperson the security guard thought Dos Passos was sleeping in the entranceway around 6:45 a.m. Tuesday and when he went to wake her he discovered the blood and her injuries and alerted 911.

She was deceased from massive trauma to her face and head. According to Miami Beach police when video surveillance footage was reviewed, it showed Dos Passos lying down in the entranceway apparently asleep. WFOR 4 – CBS News Miami reported: In the early morning hours, a man arrived, looked around, and spotted her. Police said the man was dressed in a black shirt, red shorts, and red shoes.

At one point, he walked away, picked up a metal pipe from the ground, and then returned. After looking around, he sat on a bench near Dos Passos. After a while, he got up and repeatedly hit her in the head and face while she was sleeping, according to police.

“The male is then seen standing over her, striking her, and then manipulating her body. The male then walks away and places the pipe inside a nearby trashcan (the pipe was found and recovered in the same trashcan),” according to the arrest report.

Police noted that in addition to trauma on her face and head, two wooden sticks were lodged in her nostrils and there was a puncture wound in her chest.

Victor Van Gilst, Dos Passos’s stepfather confirmed she was trans and experiencing homelessness.

“She had no chance to defend herself whatsoever. I don’t know if this was a hate crime since she was transgender or if she had some sort of interaction with this person because he might have been homeless as well. The detective could not say if she was attacked because she was transgender,” said Van Gilst.

“She has been struggling with mental health issues for a long time, going back to when she was in her early 20s. We did everything we could to help her. My wife is devasted. For her, this is like a nightmare that turned into reality. Andrea moved around a lot and even lived in California for a while. She was sadly homeless. I feel the system let her down. She was a good person,” he added.

Gregory Fitzgerald Gibert booking photo via CBS Miami.

City of Miami Police arrested Gibert, collected his clothing, noting the red shorts were the same type in the video and had blood on them. Blood was also found on his shoes, according to police. He was taken into custody and charged. 

“The suspect has an extensive criminal record and reportedly was recently released from custody on probation for prior criminal charges. Police apprehended the suspect in the City of Miami and the investigation is currently ongoing. This case is further evidence that individuals need to be held accountable for prior violent crimes for the protection of the public. We offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the victim,” Miami Beach Mayor Steve Meiner said in a statement. 

Joe Saunders, senior political director with LGBTQ rights group Equality Florida, told the Miami Herald that “whenever a transgender person is murdered, especially when it is with such brutality, the question should be asked about whether or not this was a hate-motivated crime.”

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Gov. DeSantis denounces ‘weaponization’ of book challenges

‘They’re going to be holding many teachers accountable,’ he said signing a bill restricting nonparents to 1 book challenge per month

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

By Michael Moline | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The DeSantis administration plans to punish teachers and principals deemed to be exploiting public school book challenges to, in the governor’s view, “weaponize” Florida’s parental rights laws.

DeSantis leveled that charge Monday during a news conference in Pensacola. On Tuesday, he raised it again during a second news conference in Jacksonville, where he signed legislation restricting nonparents to one book challenge per month.

The challenges come under state law allowing anyone to complain about the content of classroom materials they deem objectionable or pornographic. The laws require removal of challenged books pending reviews that can take considerable time. DeSantis began trying to tone down the situation in February, in advance of the 2024 legislative session.

 Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a news conference on April 16, 2024, in Jacksonville. Source: Screenshot/DeSantis Facebook

“Manny, in the Department of Education, they’re going to be holding many principals or teachers accountable who are weaponizing this,” DeSantis said Tuesday, referring to Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr.

DeSantis cited Sarasota County teachers who “papered over every book in the classroom, saying, ‘Oh! You can’t have books! The state’s not letting me show you books! That’s a lie. That’s not true. That’s performative.

“And so, that’s somebody who’s entrusted to teach kids putting their political agenda over the best interests of the students’ education and their access to learning. That’s wrong; that’s not going to stand in the state of Florida. So, we don’t have time for your activism; we don’t have time for your nonsense. We have a process in place to empower parents,” the governor said.

Teachers told the Sarasota Herald Tribune in January 2023 that they feared prosecution if they put students in contact with unvetted books.

The Phoenix asked the administration for an explanation of any investigations launched or punishment inflicted on school employees but hasn’t heard back yet.

Rebuttal

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar issued a rebuttal in the form of a written statement.

“It’s important to remember that Gov. DeSantis’ full throated support is the reason why fringe groups who do not represent the majority of Floridians and often do not have students in the classroom have felt so comfortable removing books off shelves and making Florida the leader in the nation on book banning,” Spar said.

 Andrew Spar, president, Florida Education Association. Credit: FEA

“This rule does nothing to fix the vague language that caused the issue in the first place, no matter how much the Governor and Commissioner Manny Diaz try to shift blame. Schools, teachers, and media specialists have long been asking for guidance on this issue and once again, instead of providing students what they need, Florida’s elected and appointed officials decide to play the blame game instead of taking responsibility,” Spar continued.

The American Library Association has reported that the bulk of the book challenges nationally come from conservatives.

“Recent censorship data are evidence of a growing, well-organized, conservative political movement, the goals of which include removing books about race, history, gender identity, sexuality, and reproductive health from America’s public and school libraries that do not meet their approval,” the association says in a written statement on its website.

“Using social media and other channels, these groups distribute book lists to their local chapters and individual adherents, who then utilize the lists to initiate a mass challenge that can empty the shelves of a library,” the association continues.

Florida saw 2,672 titles challenged during 2023, it says.

Meanwhile, PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida during the 2022-2023 school year, which accounted for 40% of the national total.

One challenge per customer

The new law (HB 1285) restricts challenges by people without children in a school district to one per month, while parents and guardians remain free to issue unlimited challenges.

 Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. Credit: Florida Department of Education

That would still allow 12 challenges by nonparents per year, Diaz observed during Tuesday’s news conference. However, “Anyone who creates a cottage industry of going around the state and just creating challenges just to gunk up the system and put schools in arrears as far as reviewing these books, that person won’t be able to do it anymore,” Diaz said.

DeSantis complained that the news media have inflated challenges against classic books and biographies of important Americans while playing down other materials, including LGBTQ content, that he considers unsuitable for young kids or even pornographic.

“They’ve said, ‘Oh, you know, you’re not having Rosa Parks’ — and yet that’s on the summer reading list. Things about Hank Aaron, a book of the month from the Department of Education. So that’s clearly a bad-faith challenge, just trying to create a narrative,” DeSantis said.

“Some of those bad-faith actions have been done from people within the school system who are doing that to try to create a narrative. So, Manny will be able to hold those folks accountable because clearly there’s nothing in Florida law that would tell you to do that,” he continued.

Spar observed: “What Gov. DeSantis and Commissioner Manny Diaz always seem to forget when they attack public schools is that they have failed public schools through their punitive policies that have worsened the teacher and staff shortage and kept teacher and staff pay low. It is clear their political agenda is more important than the needs of Florida’s students.”

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Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.

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

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

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

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Settlement & clarification reached in Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law

The settlement restores ability of students, teachers, & others to speak & write freely about sexual orientation & gender identity

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Cameron Driggers (left) next to Jack Petocz (with bullhorn) led the statewide student protest against Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' law in March, 2022. (Photo by Alysa Vidal)

ORLANDO, Fla. — A settlement reached with the Florida State Board of Education, Florida Department of Education, and various school districts, and the attorneys and plaintiff’s clarifies what is allowed in Florida classrooms under the state’s notoriously controversial “Parental Rights in Education” law colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The Plaintiffs’ lawyers at Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed the agreement with the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit earlier today.  The agreement effectively nullifies the most dangerous and discriminatory impacts of the law,” and makes clear that the law must be applied neutrally and is no license to discriminate against or erase LGBTQ+ families.

Cameron Driggers and Jack Petocz, who led the statewide student protest against the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law in March, 2022, reacted in a text message to the Blade saying:

“LGBTQ+ students and allies are breathing a sigh of relief today in response to the news that litigation has successfully mediated some of the most extreme aspects of Governor DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. Just about two years ago, we led a state-wide school walkout all across the state of Florida in response to that bill. We knew then that it infringed on the basic civil liberties of students and teachers, and we look forward to future challenges to other pieces of authoritarian legislation.”

“The settlement restores the ability of students, teachers, and others in Florida schools to speak and write freely about sexual orientation and gender identity in class participation and schoolwork,” the legal teams noted in a statement. “It also restores safeguards against bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and reinstates Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs). Critically, the settlement also requires the State Board of Education to send today’s agreement to every school district, and to make clear that the settlement reflects the considered position of the State of Florida on the scope and meaning of this law.” the statement continued.

Specifically, the historic settlement agreement clarifies the following:

  • Classroom references. The law does not prohibit references to LGBTQ+ persons, couples, families, or issues, including: in literature, in classroom discussion (such as student-to-student speech or teachers responding to students’ questions), in students’ academic work product or teachers’ review of the same, in teachers identifying same-sex or transgender spouses or partners, or in any other context in which a teacher is not “instructing” on the subject of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Non-discrimination. The law does not target LGBTQ+ persons, couples, families, or issues.  Rather, it requires neutrality and prohibits “classroom instruction” on the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity, whether the subject addresses heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, cisgender identities, transgender identities, or otherwise. It would violate the law, then, to instruct that heterosexuality is superior to other sexualities, or that cisgender identities are superior to transgender identities.
  • Anti-bullying and acceptance. The law does not prohibit instruction or intervention against bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, nor does it require the removal of safe space stickers or elimination of safe space areas for the benefit of LGBTQ+ persons.
  • Extracurricular activities. The law does not prohibit Gay-Straight Alliances, including student attendance or participation by teachers or other faculty members.  The law also does not prohibit book fairs that include LGBTQ+ focused books, musicals or plays with LGBTQ+ references or characters, participation and expression by LGBTQ+ persons in other extracurricular events like school dances, or the wearing of clothing that is affiliated with LGBTQ+ persons or issues or that does not conform with one’s perceived gender identity.
  • Library books. The law does not apply to library books, so long as those books are not being used in the classroom to instruct on the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity. 
  • Third parties. The law does not apply to non-school-personnel, including parents, other family members, and guest lecturers, so long as the school is not delegating to such third party the role of providing classroom instruction on the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Related

“We made a promise to LGBTQ+ families, students, and educators across the state to ensure that they received equal dignity under the law, and to protect our schools from a censorship agenda that harms the education system as a whole,” said Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith.  “Florida has already endured nearly two years of book banning, educators leaving the profession, and safe space stickers being ripped off of classroom windows in the wake of this law cynically targeting the LGBTQ+ community. This settlement is a giant step toward repairing the immense damage these laws and the dangerous political rhetoric has inflicted on our families, our schools, and our state. The message to school districts, superintendents, and teachers alike is clear: Protect every student and respect every family.”

In early 2022, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 1557, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The Plaintiffs sued the next day, alleging that the law was impermissibly vague, was obviously motivated by hostility to LGBTQ+ persons and families, and created an enforcement system that enabled discrimination and discouraged efforts to fight it. The Plaintiffs claimed that the law violated their rights to equal protection, due process, and free speech.  The Plaintiffs litigated aggressively, and engaged in months of negotiations with the State’s lawyers to forge today’s historic settlement.

“This settlement is a huge victory for our community, both in Florida and nationally. It not only reverses the censorship and intimidation created by Florida’s “don’t say gay or trans” law, it codifies important new protections that were not previously clearly established, such as the right of teachers and staff to talk about LGBTQ people, to put safe space stickers in their classrooms, and to be open about their own LGBTQ identities or same-sex partners, just as straight teachers are able to be,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter in a phone statement to the Blade.  “I am thrilled to be part of this historic moment, which is a strong sign that the tide of anti-LGBTQ hatred and persecution is turning, thanks to the hard work of so many.” 

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf issued the following statement:

“This is more evidence: the tide is turning on the anti-LGBTQ+ agenda. In state legislatures and courtrooms in Florida and beyond, discriminatory policies are starting to collapse. The DeSantis administration was forced to acknowledge that their vague, broad law was having sweeping consequences. And this settlement makes clear that every student deserves a safe, welcoming school environment where their families are treated with the respect that they deserve – and that what applies to LGBTQ+ people must apply to others equally. Thank you to the legal team and courageous plaintiffs for challenging this discriminatory law.”

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Prosecutors: Hate crime charges in death of gay Tampa man

Following a thorough investigation, the evidence shows defendant was the aggressor & was motivated by the fact that the victim was a gay man

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John Walter Lay was shot to death Feb. 2 at the West Dog Park in Tampa by a shooter who had been harassing him for months, hurling homophobic slurs and threatening him. (Photo Credit: Equality Florida)

TAMPA, Fla. — The State Attorney’s Office announced Friday that it has filed second-degree murder charges against Gerald Declan Radford in the shooting death of a 52-year-old gay man at the West Dog Park in Tampa.

The defendant alleged self-defense, but following a thorough investigation, the evidence shows Radford was the aggressor and was motivated by the fact that the victim was a gay man. In addition, the state will be seeking an enhancement as a hate crime under Florida Statutes.

According to a statement released by Hillsborough County Florida State Attorney Suzy Lopez, Radford called 9-1-1 on the morning of February 2, 2024, and told dispatchers he shot a man in the dog park. When investigators arrived, Radford told them he and the victim were in a “scuffle” when he pulled his gun and shot the victim. There were no other eyewitnesses to the incident, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office continued its investigation.

Multiple community members came forward in the days and weeks following the shooting to report hearing Radford use bigoted slurs toward the victim, even talking about wanting to harm him while at the dog park. Detectives also learned the victim created a cell phone video 24 hours prior to the shooting warning his friends that Radford told him, “You’re gonna die.”

“We should all be able to enjoy a day at the dog park without the fear of gunfire. This victim also deserved to live free from fear and discrimination based on his sexual orientation. The evidence shows the defendant’s actions were motivated by hate, and he will be held accountable. My heart is with the victim’s family and large group of friends as we fight for justice together,” said Lopez.

The State Attorney also noted:

“Members of the community have actively shared concerns with our office regarding the length of time it has taken to reach a charging decision. It is important to note how difficult it can be to refute a Stand Your Ground claim in some cases because the only other witness to the incident is deceased. Throughout the course of this investigation, community members stepped forward with important information about ongoing tensions that helped add context to the incident. Combined with video recordings created by the victim before he was killed, investigators were able to build a strong case to bring to our office for prosecution.”

Lay’s sister, Sabrena Hughes, told the local Fox affiliate13 that the shooting followed two years of harassment and homophobic slurs directed at her brother by Radford.

Authorities also found a video on Lay’s phone. The video was taken like a selfie of the victim as he detailed a threat that was made to him by Radford, according to deputies. Lay claimed in the video that Radford told him, “You’re going to die.”

Reacting to the news of the arrest and the State Attorney’s comments, Equality Florida released a statement which read in part:

“With the arrest of Gerald Declan Radford, the question of guilt moves to the courts, but the verdict is already in on Florida’s notorious Stand Your Ground law: This law doesn’t just fail to protect; it actively endangers, turning what should be last-resort measures into first instincts, with tragic outcomes. The absence of a duty to retreat to safety is too often exploited to justify murder without consequence. […]

Equality Florida continues to advocate for an end to the state’s Stand Your Ground laws. When Florida set the precedent in 2005, warnings were loud and clear: These laws could lead to unjustified killings with little to no accountability. […]

At a time of great polarization, with gun violence proliferating and hate-motivated attacks escalating, we need laws that protect the public and prevent violence, not ones that encourage lethal escalation. In honoring Walt and the vibrant, diverse community he was a part of, we recommit to fighting for a future where no one fears being themselves and where laws promote safety, accountability, and justice for every Floridian.

Today, as we reflect on Walt’s life and the tragedy of his untimely death, we are reminded of the urgency of our mission and the importance of unity in our community. We stand together, demanding change and a return to values that protect and preserve life, not endanger it.”

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“The Tide Is Turning”: Dozens of anti-LGBTQ bills die in Florida

Over 20 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have died after the legislature adjourned leaving some wondering if energy is waning over anti-LGBTQ legislation

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Florida's Capitol Complex includes a 22-story executive tower with domed House and Senate chambers. The Historic Capitol is directly in front of the tower (to the east) with the House and Senate chambers to its north and south. (Photo Credit: State of Florida)

By Erin Reed | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – At 2:27 p.m. on Friday, March 8, the Florida Legislature adjourned sine die. With this adjournment, 21 of 22 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were effectively killed, leaving an anti-diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in education bill as the lone piece of legislation to pass this session.

This session featured some of the most severe bills ever proposed against transgender individuals, all of which are now officially dead. LGBTQ+ activists in the state now have the rest of 2024 to regroup, with hopes that the November general election will yield results against a legislature that has spent two years targeting transgender individuals in every aspect of life.

The bills that have failed include H599, a bill that would have expanded “Don’t Say Gay” policies to the workplace. It proposed banning government employees and any business with government contracts from sharing pronouns. Furthermore, it aimed to prohibit all nonprofits in the state from requiring education and training on LGBTQ+ issues—a significant issue for LGBTQ+ nonprofits, which would have been unable to operate within the state. That bill is now dead.

Another bill that died is H1639, a measure that would have mandated transgender individuals to have driver’s license sex markers matching their sex assigned at birth. It also aimed to penalize insurance providers offering gender-affirming care coverage and would have required health insurance plans to cover conversion therapy for transgender individuals. Although this bill did not pass, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has reinterpreted certain provisions that already exist, effectively banning changes to driver’s license gender markers in the state and threatening individuals with accurate markers with charges of criminal fraud. However, challenging an administrative action is simpler than challenging a law enacted by the legislature, and such actions can also be reversed by future administrations.

Further bills that made headlines which died include:

In a press release from the Human Rights Campaign, Geoff Wetrosky stated, “Despite years of relentless attacks and dehumanizing rhetoric, LGBTQ+ people and our allies have never given up the fight for Florida. And we are shifting the momentum. People across the state showed up by the thousands to speak out and push back against anti-LGBTQ+ bills; and they are to thank for pushing back the tide of hateful and discriminatory policy. The fight to free Florida from the grip of Governor DeSantis’ devastating and extreme agenda of government censorship and intrusion into people’s lives is far from over. And the devastation he and his allies have caused will last long after these politicians are gone. But the tide is turning. Perhaps the anti-LGBTQ+ fever in Tallahassee is beginning to break. The people will prevail.”

Not every bill was defeated in the state, which still has some of the harshest anti-transgender laws in the nation. The one bill that did pass, House Bill 1291, prohibits educating teachers on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) topics and bars “teaching identity politics.” Additionally, transgender drivers still face the potential revocation of driver’s licenses by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), and many transgender adults have lost access to gender-affirming care. The state also enforces a criminal bathroom ban that could jail transgender individuals for up to a year.

However, this is the first time in three years where the bills targeting LGBTQ+ people, and trans people in particular, seem to be losing steam, according to local organizers.

“The momentum is undeniably shifting against extremism,” Nadine Smith of Equality Florida said in a press release, “Extremist groups are collapsing amidst multiple scandals. Parents are mobilizing on behalf of their kids and to stop the dismantling of public education. We will build on this momentum and redouble our commitment to the fight. Together, we can put power back in the hands of the people.”

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) 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.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Florida

Seminole artist brings queer indigenous lives into focus

“Sometimes that visual existence as a queer person in our community is enough,” Battiest said. “Sometimes it just starts with you”

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NBC journalist Jay Valle with his partner of seven years, Spencer Battiest. (Photo Credit: Spencer Battiest/Facebook)

By John McDonald | FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – There was no big announcement or meeting called in Spencer Battiest’s coming out story. 

“They all just kind of knew,” said Battiest, who at the age of 21, came out to his immediate family. “I did it on my own time. I’m not one to make anyone feel uncomfortable, I don’t like to say: ‘Come sit down family, I have something to say to you.’ That’s not how we as Native people are. We don’t have those moments.” 

Instead, the award-winning singer/songwriter/actor sensed acceptance as he brought his boyfriend to tribal functions on the Seminole reservation. There, he gradually introduced family members to his truth.

“Sometimes that visual existence as a queer person in our community is enough,” Battiest said. “Sometimes it just starts with you.”

On March 9, Battiest will receive the Harvey Milk Medal at the eighth annual Diversity Honors at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Initially, Battiest said he felt unworthy of such recognition, but his partner of seven years, NBC journalist Jay Valle, pointed to the impact their relationship was having among Native Americans. 

“He had some really good words for me,” Battiest said. “He reminded me that I’ve taken him to every tribal function since we’ve been together. Fully and authentically being myself and sharing with my community and family the person that I love and share my life with — sometimes just being that can be inspiring to others.” 

Battiest started performing publicly as a 4-year-old in Broken Bow, Okla., singing at his grandfather’s church. By age 11 he was belting out the National Anthem before large crowds, an honor that continues today. 

In 2011, Battiest collaborated with his brother Doc to produce The Storm, a passion project that was critically acclaimed in the Native American music industry.

“I’ll forever sing that song no matter where I go in our career because that’s the history as taught to us by our grandparents, chairmens and family.”

Although he is half Choctaw from his father, Battiest is a member of the Seminole tribe — the Indigenous people of Florida who escaped European colonization and remain unconquered to this day. 

It is on his ancestral land that a shiny new Guitar Hotel was built and inside is a display dedicated to Spencer and Doc’s award-winning work.

“I wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for allies like Susan Renneisen [Hard Rock VP of Community Affairs & Special Events] who has watched me progress in my career since I was 14,” said Battiest. 

As a songwriter, Battiest doesn’t shy away from heartbreak, as evidenced in his album “Stupid In Love”, and prefers to keep lyrics gender-neutral for more universal appeal. 

“I write from a place of truth and honesty,” he said.  “As queer indigenous people, we’ve lived in a space where it hasn’t always been great.” 

Expressing vulnerability is part of the authenticity Harvey Milk proclaimed when he famously declared, “Hope will never be silent.” For Battiest that means striking the right balance. 

“I try to find harmony and peace in the life that I’ve lived and to be an example for anyone who sees me and that includes the struggle, insecurity and negative responses that come with being a queer person especially living out here in this state,” he said. “You have to find the harmony and peace that’s within yourself and for me that’s my family, tribe and partner.” 

Diversity Honors is scheduled for Saturday, March 9 at 7 p.m. and includes a cocktail reception, seated dinner and after party at the Guitar Hotel.

For tickets or more information, call (954) 463-9005, ext. 105 or visit www.diversityhonors.org.

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John McDonald is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Oregon. He has written for many publications over the course of a 29-year career that started as a high school football writer in Troy, Alabama. His memoir, Slice of Good Ol Boy Life, is available on Amazon. 

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Florida

19-year-old arrested for vandalizing Rainbow Crosswalk in his truck

Witnesses say they saw a vehicle doing multiple burnouts over the crosswalk at the intersection of NE 1st St. & NE 2nd Ave. in Delray Beach

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Mugshot of Dylan Brewer via Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. Video capture of vandalism via Delray Beach Police Department.

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – A 19-year-old man from Clearwater has been charged after Delray Beach police say he intentionally did burnouts in his truck vandalizing the city’s LGBTQ Pride crosswalk.

Dylan Brewer was charged with felony criminal mischief over $1,000 and reckless driving.

Fox 13 Tampa reported that on the night of Sunday, Feb. 4, witnesses say they saw Brewer doing multiple burnouts with his vehicle over the LGBTQ pride crosswalk at the intersection of NE 1st Street and NE 2nd Avenue in Delray Beach. On Monday morning, Brewer turned himself in at the Delray Beach Police Department and was taken to the Palm Beach County Jail.

WPLG News 10 reported surveillance video released by the Delray Beach Police Department shows the driver of a pickup truck, with a large flag on the back, performing burnouts in the intersection, located at Northeast First Street and Second Avenue.

Delray Beach police said in a news release that the “reckless action caused significant damage to the streetscape painting, which serves as a symbol of unity and inclusivity for the LGBTQ community.”

The February 4 incident is the second time the crosswalk was vandalized since its installation in June of 2021, at a cost of $16,000, to commemorate Pride month in solidarity with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community according to Rand Hoch, the president of the Palm Beach Human Rights Council.

Alexander Jerrich who was 20-years-old at the time of his arrest, damaged the crosswalk mural while he was part of a truck caravan to celebrate former President Trump’s 75th birthday that year.

He was charged with criminal mischief, reckless driving, and evidence of prejudice with a felony enhancement. Later Jerrich was sentenced to two years of probation, community service, and mental health treatment.

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Fla. teens stage ‘die-in’ protesting anti-trans drivers license policy

Speaking with the Washington Blade on Friday afternoon, Cameron Driggers and Jack Petocz relayed how they led the demonstrations

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Cameron Driggers (back row, far left) and other demonstrators protest outside the Gainesville, Fla. Department of Motor Vehicles (Photo credit: Youth Action Fund)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – On Friday, just days after the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles issued a policy prohibiting transgender residents from updating the gender markers on their drivers licenses, a group of teens coordinated “die-in” protests at DMVs across the state.

Speaking with the Washington Blade on Friday afternoon, Cameron Driggers and Jack Petocz relayed how they led demonstrations in Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and Gainesville that featured more than 200 participants including representatives from more than eight LGBTQ groups.

The 18 and 19-year-old college students serve as, respectively, executive director and deputy director of Youth Action Fund, “a collective of Gen-Z activists fighting against the far-right culture war raging throughout Florida.”

This latest front on the war against trans people in the state, Driggers said, represents “one of the scariest, most authoritarian developments in Florida in a long time.”

The state agency’s policy preempts legislation in the Florida House of Representatives that would implement the same restrictions, permitting Floridians to list only their sex assigned at birth on state-issued IDs.

In response, Driggers recognized that “we need to have an Act Up-style direct action where we put our bodies on the line,” a reference to the AIDS activist organization’s practice of staging “die-ins” to demand that the federal government and Reagan White House stop ignoring an epidemic that was ravaging gay communities in the 1980s.

Driggers said Friday’s demonstrations were each 37 minutes long, a nod to data from the U.S. Transgender Survey that 37 percent of respondents have experienced discrimination because their IDs have inaccurate gender markers.

“We really wanted the protests to tell a story,” Petocz said. “We had the individuals actually lying down and committing the die-in where they had mock gravestones with messaging like ‘RIP: Killed by the DMV’ or ‘killed by the DeSantis administration'” along with “general messages about trans resistance.”

At each site these demonstrators were joined by a narrator to “tell the story of why we are out there today to passersby, what we are fighting for in this moment, [and] what the DMV just committed.”

Asked whether their decision to emulate the protest methods of Act Up was grounded in the relationship between Florida’s anti-trans crusade and increased incidence of death by suicide in communities already beset with high suicide rates and mental health challenges, Petocz said yes — but added that it’s “multifaceted.”

“I also think that you have to look at it from the perspective of enabling hate — of enabling the kind of sentiment that contributes to widespread transphobia,” he said. “And when the state goes ahead and they amplify that sentiment and they actually endorse it, it definitely leaves way for additional hate and hate crimes.”

“Our trans brothers and sisters are most susceptible to hate crimes in this country,” Petocz added.

Driggers said that next up for the coalition that participated in Friday’s demonstrations is bringing their protest to the Florida House. He noted that the copycat legislation, which was filed by Rep. Douglas Michael Bankson, R-Apopka, and Rep. Dean Black, R-Jacksonville, is headed to committee for markup next week.

Meanwhile, they’re working with the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Florida on a letter writing campaign to urge the Biden administration’s Justice Department to investigate the policy, which appears both unconstitutional and authoritarian, Driggers said. They have 1,167 letters so far.

Driggers also noted that Simone Chriss, director of the Southern Legal Counsel’s Transgender Rights Initiative, is “getting testimony from people who experienced problems” following the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ issuance of the new policy a couple of weeks ago.

A new wave of youth activism

Friday was hardly the first time Driggers and Petocz have led a protest against anti-LGBTQ and other harmful policies in Florida.

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“Jack and I obviously been involved in activism for a very long time,” Driggers said. Their organization, which was just founded in November, awards $500 and $1,000 stipends for youth-led campaigns and individual advocates — while also lending their expertise in organizing to others through advisory services.

“We’ve worked through a variety of more institutional established organizations,” Driggers said. “And through that we’ve kind of identified a lot of shortcomings in the nonprofit industrial complex, if you will.”

“First among those, we think that there’s a structural lack of resources, and we’re often put on a pedestal and [told] ‘you’re gonna save us,’ but really, all that really means is they want us to be free labor, they want to knock on doors, they want to, you know, co-opt labor for the benefit of other organizations,” he said.

By contrast, with the Youth Action Fund, Driggers said, he and his friends have pioneered a new organizing model where “we tell people to come to us with their ideas, and then we work with them to make those ideas happen.”

For instance, Driggers said, when they were approached by students from Brevard County public High schools who objected to the district’s practice of banning books, Youth Action Fund was able to provide resources for them to acquire “speaking equipment, tables, literature” along with guidance on matters like how to “negotiate with their school board on how to get permits to protest.”

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School district adds clothing to illustrations in children’s books

Pressed by Moms for Liberty, Indian River County Florida school district adds clothing to illustrations in classic children’s books

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Judd Legum & Tesnim Zekeria | VERO BEACH, Fla. – Since its initial publication in 1970, millions of children have read In The Night Kitchen, the classic picture book by celebrated author Maurice Sendak.

The book is about a young boy who has a surreal dream about baking a cake that needs to be finished by morning. It was named a Caldecott Honor Book, one of the most prestigious awards in children’s literature. 

At least two copies of In The Night Kitchen are available in elementary school libraries in Indian River County, Florida. This concerned Jennifer Pippin, the chair of the local Moms for Liberty chapter, because the main character, Mickey, is sometimes depicted without clothes.

In an interview, Pippin told Popular Information that she believes the book may be “harmful to minors.” She was worried that if a “5-year-old picks up this book and has never seen a picture of a penis… [t]he parent wouldn’t be able to discuss this with the child.” This is an example of one of the offending images:

Pippin submitted formal challenges to the Indian River County School District seeking the removal of In The Night Kitchen, which she calls “pornographic.” Pippin challenged other books with drawings of figures without clothes, including Unicorns Are The Worst, a book about a goblin complaining about how much people like unicorns. The concern about Unicorns Are The Worst is this picture of a goblin’s butt:

Following Pippin’s challenges, which occurred in November and December of 2023, the books were removed from the library shelves. 

Pippin told Popular Information that, after filing the challenges, she had a meeting with Indian River County Superintendent David Moore and other school officials concerning the books. At the meeting, one of the officials suggested the school district “draw clothes on them to cover the nudity.” Pippin said that she “would be absolutely fine with that” because she challenged the books “for nudity.” Now, in the copies of In The Night Kitchen in Indian River County schools, Mickey is wearing “little shorts.” 

Pippin provided Popular Information with a photo of the altered image from In The Night Kitchen. Popular Information obtained a photo of the altered image from Unicorns Are The Worst from a source at a Indian River County elementary school. These are the censored versions of the two images:

In other cases, the Indian River County librarians were more creative. Another book Pippin sought to remove was Draw Me A Star by Eric Carle, who is best known for The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Pippin was concerned about this image of “two adults that were naked.” She said that her concerns were addressed when the district librarians drew “board shorts on the man” and “put the girl in a bikini.” 

Also targeted was the book No, David! because it included this image.

Once these images were altered, the books were returned to the shelves in the second week of January 2024.

Pippin said she challenged these books, in part, because she believed the unaltered books violated two Florida statutes. The first is Florida’s obscenity law, which prohibits distributing to minors “any picture…which depicts nudity or sexual conduct, sexual excitement, sexual battery, bestiality, or sadomasochistic abuse and which is harmful to minors.” Pippin claims the law prohibits all nudity in school library books. But the law actually only prohibits nudity, which is also “harmful to minors.” The term “harmful to minors” has a specific legal meaning. It only applies to content that appeals primarily to “prurient, shameful, or morbid interests,” is “patently offensive,” and is without “serious literary [or] artistic…merit” for minors. It’s hard to argue In The Night Kitchen or the other books challenged by Pippin meet this standard. 

Pippin claims the unaltered version of In The Night Kitchen also violates a new law, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis (R) in 2023, HB 1069. That law gives residents the right to demand the removal of any library book that “depicts or describes sexual conduct,” as defined under Florida law, whether or not the book is pornographic. In The Night Kitchen and the other books challenged by Pippin do not depict or describe sexual conduct. 

The alterations of the books in Indian River County were first flagged by the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which confirmed the school district’s actions through a public records request. 

David Flynt, the father of students in Indian River County schools, told Popular Information that he objected to Moms for Liberty’s efforts. Flynt questioned why Moms for Liberty was “sexualizing” an image “of a goblin’s bare backside.” The image “was not [included] to cause arousal, and was of a fictional character,” Flynt noted. He said that it was part of a pattern of censorship that was ultimately harmful to students. Flynt cited Pippin’s recent challenge of Sofia Valdez, Future Prez, the story of a young girl who seeks to improve her neighborhood. The basis of the challenge was that the main character’s grandfather is depicted wearing a pin in support of LGBTQ rights. This is the image that prompted the objection, with the pin circled in red:

That book has now been removed from the shelves of Indian River County schools pending review. In her challenge form, Pippin indicated that she had not read the book. 

Stephana Ferrell of the Florida Freedom to Read Project said that Moms for Liberty pushed the district to “deface an illustrator’s work to suit their sensibilities.” She said the group “regularly misrepresents the literary works of award-winning authors as pornography, and now silly, naked goblin butts.”

“[C]overing up an image, erasing a line, or pulling out a page is still suppression and robs the reader of the author’s full literary expressions,” Kasey Meehan, Program Director with the non-profit PEN America, said.

Pippin rejected these criticisms, saying that “covering up genitalia” was legally required and was not “defying the author’s work.”

Moms for Liberty’s other work in Indian River County

In August 2023, Indian River County’s Moms for Liberty succeeded in removing 35 books from school libraries after nearly 50 members read aloud explicit passages at a school board meeting. Many of these speakers were cut off by School Board Vice Chair Peggy Jones. In some cases, Jones requested that the speaker provide a content warning, citing concerns that there may be young children watching the meeting remotely with their parents. 

According to Pippin, this move was a deliberate attempt to circumvent the district’s book review policies. Previously, in 2022, only “five of the 156 books challenged by the Moms for Liberty chapter were removed by the School Board.” But, in July 2023, a new law went into effect that required books to be removed if a school board member stopped a parent from reading it aloud at a public meeting. As a result, the School Board unanimously voted to remove the books that Jones had interrupted while they were read aloud. Titles removed included Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

“It’s just the quickest, fastest way to get these books out of the hands of children,” Pippin told TC Palm. The review process, she said, was time-consuming.

Jones, however, said that she received death threats “every 10-15 minutes” after a clip of the board meeting went viral. She wasn’t alone: another School Board member was also receiving threats. Meanwhile, school district staff said they were flooded with “highly volatile and emotional emails” and calls following the meeting. In September 2023, the district announced that an additional 128 titles were removed for review. All of these books have been challenged by Moms for Liberty, TC Palm reports. Pippin has threatened to host “additional staged events if the books remained on the shelves.”

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The preceding article was previously published by Popular Info and is republished with permission.

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