Does a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade imperil LGBTQ+ rights?
Alarms were set off in legal circles as some argued that Obergefell v. Hodges – the same-sex marriage decision, would be in danger
WASHINGTON – The oral arguments before the justices of the United States Supreme Court had barely ended in the case brought by the state of Mississippi defending its law banning abortion after 15 weeks, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, when alarms were set off in legal circles as some argued that Obergefell v. Hodges – the same-sex marriage decision, would be in danger should the high court rule to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Florida State University law professor Mary Ziegler, appearing on NPR’s ‘Heard on All Things Considered,’ told host Mary Louise Kelly that there was a basis for concern on whether the court would actually overrule its precedents in other cases based on the questions and statements raised during the hearing by the conservative members of the court.
Asked by Kelly if she saw a legal door opening Ziegler affirmed that she did. Kelly then asked her; “Them taking up cases to do with that. What about same-sex marriage?”
Ziegler answered, “Yeah, same-sex marriage is definitely a candidate. Justices Alito and Thomas have in passing mentioned in dicta that they think it might be worth revisiting Obergefell v. Hodges – the same-sex marriage decision.
“And I think it’s fair to say that in the sort of panoply of culture war issues, that rights for same-sex couples and sexual orientation are still among the most contested, even though certainly same-sex marriage is more subtle than it was and than abortion was.
I think that certainly the sort of balance between LGBTIQ rights and religious liberty writ large is a very much alive issue, and I think some states may try to test the boundaries with Obergefell, particularly knowing that they have a few justices potentially willing to go there with them.”
As almost if to underscore the point raised by Professor Ziegler, during the hearing Wednesday, Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor pointed out that the high court has taken and “discerned” certain rights in cases from the Constitution.
Along with abortion, the court has “recognized them in terms of the religion parents will teach their children. We’ve recognized it in their ability to educate at home if they choose,” Sotomayor said. “We have recognized that sense of privacy in people’s choices about whether to use contraception or not. We’ve recognized it in their right to choose who they’re going to marry.”
In following up the cases cited by Justice Sotomayor, Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart, who was defending the state’s abortion law, whether a decision in his favor would affect the legal precedents in those cases cited by Justice Sotomayor.
In his answer to Justice Barrett, the state’s Solicitor General said cases involving contraception, same-sex marriage and sodomy wouldn’t be called into question because they involve “clear rules that have engendered strong reliance interests and that have not produced negative consequences or all the many other negative stare decisis considerations we pointed out.”
However, Lambda Legal Chief Strategy Officer and Legal Director, Sharon McGowan had a different take and interpreted remarks by Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to mean that the decisions in Lawrence v. Texas, which decriminalized private sexual intimacy between same-sex couples, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down remaining bans on the freedom of same-sex couples to marry, would actually justify overturning Roe v. Wade.
In a publicly released media statement McGowan noted:
“During today’s argument, Justice Kavanaugh suggested that two key Supreme Court decisions protecting LGBTQ civil rights—Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges—support overruling Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
‘To that we say, NOT IN OUR NAME. LGBTQ people need abortions. Just as important, those landmark LGBTQ decisions EXPANDED individual liberty, not the opposite. They reflected the growing societal understanding of our common humanity and equality under law.
“Just as the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education rejected the lie of ‘separate but equal,’ the Supreme Court’s decisions in Lawrence and Obergefell appropriately overruled precedent where it was clear that, as was true with regard to race, our ancestors failed properly to acknowledge that gender and sexual orientation must not be barriers to our ability to live, love, and thrive free of governmental oppression.
“Abortion rights are essential not only because abortion is basic healthcare, but because without access to abortion, people who need that healthcare cannot determine the course of their own lives and participate equally in society. They cannot decide how to structure their families, protect their own health, determine their educational and financial futures, and secure the futures of existing children.
“These landmark LGBTQ cases, which Lambda Legal litigated and won, and on which we rely today to protect our community’s civil rights, were built directly on the foundation of Casey and Roe. Our interests in equal dignity, autonomy, and liberty are shared, intertwined, and fundamental.”
On Sunday, the Blade spoke with Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national LGBTQ+ legal organization which represented three same-sex couples from Tennessee, whose case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court along with Obergefell and two other cases.
Minter is urging caution in how people interpret Wednesday’s arguments and remarks made by the justices.
“We should be cautious about taking the bait from anti-LGBTQ groups who falsely argue that if the Supreme Court reverses or undermines Roe v. Wade, they are likely to reverse or undermine Obergefell or Lawrence. In fact, that is highly unlikely, as the argument in Dobbs itself showed,” he said.
“The only reason Justice Kavanaugh mentioned Obergefell and Lawrence, along with Brown v. Board of Education, was to cite them as examples of cases in which the Supreme Court clearly did the right thing. All of those decisions rely at least as strongly on equal protection as on fundamental rights, and even this extremely conservative supreme court has not questioned the foundational role of equal protection in our nation’s constitutional law,” Minter stressed.
During an interview with Bloomberg magazine, David Cortman, of the Scottsdale, Arizona based anti-LGBTQ+ legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist hate group because of its anti-LGBTQ+ stance and public utterances, said “two things in particular distinguish abortion from those other privacy rights: the right to life and the states’ interest in protecting a child.”
Cortman, whose group urged the justices to allow states to ban same-sex marriages, said those other rights may be just as wrong as the right to an abortion. “But the fundamental interest in life that’s at issue in abortion means those other rights are probably not in any real danger of being overturned.”
But Cortman is of the opinion that there is little impetus among the Court’s conservatives to take up challenges to those cases.
However, the fact that the six to three make-up of the high court with a conservative majority which can imperil the rights of women in regards to their ability to render decisions over their healthcare and well-being has progressives’ clamoring for the public to pay closer attention and be more proactively engaged.
Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, in an emailed media public statement to the Blade underscored those concerns:
“Reports and analysis coming out of Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization are extremely disturbing and represent a threat to our individual constitutional rights to privacy and autonomy. There is no ‘middle ground’ on what the Constitution guarantees and what was decided decades ago with the Roe v Wade decision.
This is about liberty, equality, and the rule of law, not the political or partisan views of those sitting on the bench. The unprecedented decision to remove a constitutional right recognized by the Supreme Court 50 years ago would set back civil rights by decades. They cannot take this country back to a time when lives were destroyed or lost because women lived in a state without access to reproductive healthcare or bodily autonomy.
Abortion access is essential, and a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. Bans on abortion are deeply racist and profoundly sexist – the harshest impacts fall on Black and Brown women and pregnant people and on our families and communities.
If you think this decision will not affect you, think again: a wrong decision by the Supreme Court means you, too, will lose your bodily autonomy, your ability to own your own personal and community power. This is not just about abortion; it is about controlling bodies based on someone else determining your worthiness. This is a racial justice issue. This is a women’s issue. It is an LGBTQ issue. It is a civil rights issue. These are our fundamental rights that are at stake.”
Senate signs off on debt ceiling deal, bill heads to the president
The deal leaves neither side happy with the outcome. With today’s action the volatile debt ceiling issue has been pushed back until 2025
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate passed the debt ceiling and budget cuts package negotiated between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a late night session Thursday. After four months of contentious debate between Republicans and the White House, a large bipartisan majority of the Senate voted 63-36 to approve the bill, which passed the House on Wednesday night.
The deal leaves neither Republicans nor Democrats happy with the outcome. With today’s action and once the president signs the measure, the volatile debt ceiling issue that risked imploding the U.S. and global economy, has been pushed back until 2025 – after the next U.S. presidential election. Had the American nation defaulted it would have triggered a global recession and the loss of millions of jobs.
In a speech on the Senate floor after the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told the chamber, “By passing this bill we will avoid default tonight. America can breathe a sigh of relief. “From the start, avoiding default has been our north star. The consequences of default would be catastrophic,” he said. “For all the ups and downs and twists and turns it took to get here, it is so good for this country that both parties have come together at last to avoid default,” Schumer added.
The Hill reported that four Democrats voted against the measure: Sens. John Fetterman (Pa.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), along with Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Joining a total of 31 Republicans who also voted against the measure.
The Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) labeled the deal package a major win for Republicans.
“I think Speaker McCarthy should be congratulated on capturing a number of priorities,” McConnell said, pointing out that Congress enacted approximately $2.7 trillion in new spending on party-line votes when Democrats were in full control in 2021 and 2022.
“So, we’ve gone from one party spending $2.7 trillion in two years to a discussion about actually reducing government spending. So, I think the American people’s decision to change House has already yielded benefits for our country,” he said.
“All Americans should be offended by the manufactured crisis and hostage taking by Republicans threatening our nation’s economy, but the consequences of defaulting on our debt are too severe and would disproportionately fall on working class and low-income families. We cannot allow our country to default on its debt,” said U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.)
“While not ideal, this agreement protects our nation’s historic economic recovery and the progress we’ve secured over the past two years through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, the PACT Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act. Democrats prevented Republican-proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare programs that the American people have worked for, paid for, and rely on to survive,” the senator noted.
“And while I am pleased that the deal expands nutrition assistance to veterans, people experiencing homelessness, and former foster youth, I’m disappointed that Republicans continue to target programs that have kept families in need from going hungry—all under the pretext of insufficient work requirements. Republicans were more than willing to allow a catastrophic default that would have put millions of Americans out of work and decimated retirement savings. With today’s vote, the Senate thankfully helped avoid disaster, but it should have never come to this point,” Padilla added.
Rep. Cicilline on future of LGBTQ rights & life after Congress
Looking beyond Congress, Cicilline said he is eager to continue advancing “equality and justice for our community”
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Speaking with the Washington Blade by phone on Tuesday from Rhode Island, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) was optimistic about the outcome of the debt ceiling negotiations that have roiled Capitol Hill, the White House, and Wall Street for weeks.
“My sense of it is there are enough Democratic and Republican votes to get it to the president’s desk,” said the congressman, who would fly back to Washington in the evening with the expectation that a vote would be held the following day.
Even amid the chaos and back-and-forth travel this week, Cicilline was ready to look back on the landmark legislative accomplishments of his distinguished career in politics, which have included groundbreaking advancements for LGBTQ rights.
And despite the ascendancy of anti-LGBTQ attacks from the right, including from much of the Republican caucus, he told the Blade there is ample reason to be optimistic that the chamber’s pro-equality work will continue in his absence.
As announced back in February and effective on Thursday, Cicilline will retire from Congress to lead his state’s largest philanthropic organization, the Rhode Island Foundation, having represented its 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House since 2011.
A former attorney, Cicilline was tapped to lead the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law as well as the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism.
Particularly in recent years, the congressman became one of the most powerful House Democrats, elected to leadership in 2017 as a co-chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee and picked in 2021 by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to serve as one of the nine members tasked with managing the House’s second impeachment of former President Donald Trump.
Among other legislative achievements, Cicilline is widely credited with leading the House’s passage, twice, of the biggest civil rights bill since the 1964 Civil Rights Act – the Equality Act, which would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in areas from education and housing to employment and public accommodations.
While the Senate failed to pass the Equality Act, Cicilline said, “I’m handing that work off to [U.S. Rep.] Mark Takano [D-Calif.], who I know will take it over the finish line” once Democrats win control of the House again.
The congressman told the Blade that he hopes his leadership on this bill will be remembered as a key part of his legacy – and was adamant that its passage through both chambers is now a question of “when” rather than “if.”
“The majority of Americans support the Equality Act, and a majority of voters in every single state support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people,” so “this is about the Republican conference in Congress catching up with the American people,” Cicilline said.
Congress is beginning to look more like America in at least one respect, though. After his first election to the House, Cicilline was one of only three openly LGBTQ members serving in Congress (having already made history in 2003 as the first openly gay mayor of a state capital, Providence, R.I.).
Today, “I’m leaving with 10 colleagues in the House and two in the Senate,” he said, “so that’s great progress.”
“The calvary has arrived” with “young new members who are going to lead the next wave of this fight” such as openly LGBTQ U.S. Reps. Robert Garcia (Calif.), Becca Balint (Vt.), Eric Sorensen (Ill.), and Ritchie Torres (N.Y.), Cicilline said.
Echoing comments from his final speech on the House floor last week, the congressman also expressed his faith and confidence in party leaders with whom he has worked closely, including Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)
Tonight, I addressed the House of Representatives for the final time as a Member of Congress.— Congressman David N. Cicilline (@RepCicilline) May 24, 2023
As a lifelong Rhode Islander, it is only fitting that my final message is one of HOPE — hope for our democracy and our Congress.
Hopes and expectations for the current Democratic conference’s ability to deliver on behalf of LGBTQ Americans were buttressed late last year by passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation co-led by Cicilline that codified fundamental rights for same-sex couples that might otherwise be erased if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns or weakens its constitutional protections for marriage equality.
How to combat the rightwing crusade against LGBTQ and especially trans Americans
However prepared Cicilline believes his colleagues are to meet the moment, the congressman is also up to speed on the unprecedented challenges presented by the current political climate with respect to LGBTQ rights.
This year, state legislatures have introduced hundreds of bills targeting trans Americans, which endeavor to restrict their access to everything from lifesaving healthcare to public bathrooms. At the same time, anti-trans rhetoric has escalated to such an extent that a rightwing pundit speaking at CPAC said “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely,” which some interpreted as a call for genocide against the community.
Legislatively, Cicilline said it is all part of a cynical political strategy adopted by Republicans. Having concluded that their crusade against same-sex marriage was no longer winnable, the party sought another way to fight against LGBTQ rights, eventually polling anti-trans positions and messaging that successfully motivates “the most extreme parts of their political base,” he said.
“Our Republican colleagues have weaponized the trans community in such a way that they think it’s politically advantageous to attack even trans kids,” which is “really horrific” especially considering the potential for tragic real-world consequences, including targeted violence against the trans community, Cicilline said.
“I hope people who are seeking public office will be conscious of that and will be responsible, but unfortunately, I think there are some who are so driven by their desire for power, that they’re prepared to do almost anything to get there,” the congressman added.
Some conservatives hope their polarization of and fear mongering about trans issues will drive a wedge, providing sufficient incentive or a permission structure for LGB Americans to turn their backs on the trans community, Cicilline said, but “That’s not gonna happen.”
“We are standing in lockstep with our trans brothers and sisters, and we’re just not going to allow them to be attacked in this way,” he said.
Broadly speaking, Cicilline said elected Democrats must “stand up for the queer community, speak out, condemn this kind of [anti-LGBTQ/anti-trans] legislation, and let the American people see the contrast” between the Democratic Party, which “stands for inclusion and has fought for LGBTQ+ equality” and the GOP, which is pushing “these very toxic and dangerous and un-American attacks on the LGBTQ community.”
The congressman noted that working against the interests of LGBTQ Americans is nothing new for congressional Republicans. “With just a couple of exceptions,” he said, the House GOP caucus voted against the Equality Act’s nondiscrimination protections, which stem directly from America’s most basic foundational values of fairness and equality.
“So that means I have colleagues in the Congress of the United States on the Republican side who fundamentally rejected the legislation that would grant me and others in my community full equality as citizens of this country, [colleagues who would] allow discrimination to continue against our community,” Cicilline said.
When it comes to navigating interpersonal working relationships with anti-LGBTQ Republicans in the chamber, though, “I frankly don’t really care how they feel about us,” the congressman said. “That’s irrelevant to me.”
Cicilline to continue advocating for LGBTQ Americans after Congress
In addition to the Equality Act, Cicilline said that if Democrats recapture control of the House, he expects to see renewed momentum for a bill that he authored, the Global Respect Act, and another for which he was an original cosponsor, the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act. Both were passed by the House but not by the Senate and therefore remain “unfinished business,” he said.
The Global Respect Act, Cicilline said, “will allow the U.S. to impose visa sanctions on anyone who commits gross human rights violations against the LGBTQ community,” while the latter bill would mandate that federal surveys must include data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Other legislative efforts that Cicilline has led, in areas from antitrust to foreign policy to gun violence, also include some “unfinished business” – bills that might see movement in the next Congress that carry the potential, in many cases, to measurably impact the lives of all Americans.
For instance, Cicilline, who has been at the vanguard of Congress’s work modernizing and strengthening antitrust law, remains hopeful about the eventual passage of six bills that he introduced in 2021, all designed to increase competition in digital markets.
These would curb the monopolistic power of dominant tech platform companies whose business models center engagement as the primary mechanism to drive advertising revenue – even though, as these firms are aware, content that tends to earn more engagement tends to be that which is incendiary, offensive, hateful, false, or misleading, violent or otherwise outrageous.
Looking beyond Congress, Cicilline said he is eager to continue advancing “equality and justice for our community” at the Rhode Island Foundation, building upon the organization’s existing work “supporting the organizations that are doing really important work to support the LGBTQ community.”
Cicilline acknowledged that leading an “explicitly non-partisan organization” will be a departure from his work in Washington – though perhaps not to the extent one might imagine.
“You know, our community remains, in this country, a marginalized community,” the congressman said. “In fact, it’s the only community, still, in America, that it’s legal to discriminate against.”
At this point, rather than pivoting back to discussing the need for passage of the Equality Act, Cicilline instead explained that because of the lack of national nondiscrimination protections, he is even more eager to include the LGBTQ community in the foundation’s work advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Liberal PAC poll shows Floridians oppose DeSantis policies
Respondents were asked their opinion of recent laws being signed by Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis that targets LGBTQ+ Floridians
SACRAMENTO -A recent Cedar Key Progress poll of 400 Floridians, conducted May 18-22, 2023 by Civiqs, found that Floridians oppose LGBTQ+ book bans and Ron DeSantis’s attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.
In a series of questions, respondents were asked their opinion of recent laws being signed by Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis that targets LGBTQ+ Floridians, especially LGBTQ+ youth and educational instruction.
Do you support or oppose laws removing books mentioning gay and transgender people and history from public school libraries?
Neither support nor oppose 7%
Do you support or oppose laws banning diversity, equity, and inclusion programs from colleges and universities?
Neither support nor oppose 7%
The Cedar Key Progress group is also sponsoring six billboards during June’s LGBTQ+ Pride month 2023 to be positioned along six major throughfares across the state including:
Titusville, Brevard County
East side, Northbound U.S. 1, north of Golden Knights Blvd
Tallahassee, Leon County
West side, Lake Bradford Road north of Hutchinson St
Yulee, Nassau County
US 17 south of Harts Road
Pensacola, Escambia County
South side of I-10 west of Alt US 90
Summerfield, Marion County
US 27 south of SE 132nd St
Winter Haven, Polk County
Cypress Gardens Blvd south of Old Helena Rd
Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point partners with registered sex offender
Bergstrand served time for attempted “coercion and enticement” after trying to persuade “a minor female” to “engage in sexual activity”
NASHVILLE – Far-right extremist radio chat show host and Turning Point USA CEO Charles J. Kirk, in statements he made this past week at the TPUSA’s second-annual Pastors Summit, told attendees that conservatives and others needed to boycott Target for “their support for grooming kids.”
Kirk also attacked Target, telling a packed audience of religious leaders: “If you love God, you must hate evil.”
One of the TPUSA summit’s corporate sponsors was Shawn Bergstrand, currently CEO of Bismarck-based Rightside Up Apparel, who is also a registered sex offender in North Dakota Rolling Stone magazine reported.
Bergstrand, served time in federal prison for attempted “coercion and enticement” after trying to persuade “a minor female” to “engage in sexual activity.”
In a statement to Rolling Stone, TPUSA spokesman Andrew Kolvet said that TPUSA Faith “was not aware of this incident” but emphasized that, as an “exhibit sponsor,” Bergstrand was not a speaker, organizer, or “professing doctrine from the stage.”
Charlie Kirk decried the sexualization of children at his Pastors Summit this week.— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) May 27, 2023
One of the event’s corporate sponsors is run by a man convicted of "coercion and enticement" of a minor.https://t.co/abUPkTCiWl
Kirk, who decried the sexualization of children at his pastors summit, responded on Twitter saying: “What a joke. Let’s set the record straight. First, I’ve never met this person. He was one of many exhibitors at our event. He’s not a “corporate sponsor” but rather a small business trying to market his company.
I’m told from the team that coordinates exhibitors that he’s a nice person who did something wrong over a decade ago, and unlike Target, he repented and the experience led him to his faith. Good for him. That’s the Gospel.
Lastly, he doesn’t hide what happened. He tells his story on his own website, and the jerks at Rollingstone [sic] took that public testimony and called it “exclusive,” just to unfairly smear him and play gotcha with me and TPUSA Faith. Rollingstone [sic] should be ashamed. Trash outlet that publishes trash hit pieces about an event they didn’t witness and know nothing about.
Rolling Stone also noted: Kirk responded to Rolling Stone’s coverage of his group’s new crusade. “First of all, it’s not my Turning Point,” Kirk insisted of his organization. “It’s the Lord’s Turning Point.” He added: “I am both a Christian and a nationalist, but most importantly, I’m a Christian.”
Bergstrand did not respond to requests for comment from the magazine, but his address on North Dakota’s sex offender registry matches the registration address for Bergstrand and Rightside Up in a corporate registry maintained by North Dakota’s secretary of state. Bergtrand’s photo on the offender registry also matches video of the apparel CEO from RightsideUp’s website.
Kirk has launched attacks on progressive politicians in a similar vein as his attacks on Target. Last November, in a lengthy tirade on Twitter, Kirk, while loosely channeling an InfoWars host Alex Jones style-attack, went after California State Senator Scott Wiener, (D-SF District 11) implying that the veteran lawmaker endorses and supports child molestation.
Kirk’s attack on the senator commenced with: “Thousands of pedophiles in California are going free after just a few months in jail, thanks to the state’s radically reduced penalties for child molestation. One reason so many of these predators are going free so early is California lawmaker Scott Wiener.”
Editor’s Note: It needs to be made clear, California has NOT reduced penalties for child molestation.
Senator Wiener responded to Kirk’s attacks saying on Twitter:
Charlie Kirk — one of the biggest attention-seeking liars around — is spreading bald-faced lies about me. These statements are absolutely false & defamatory. These are the lies bigots have always spread about LGBTQ people — lies that lead to violence against our community.
LA Times poll: Trump’s big lead over DeSantis with California GOP
“The former president’s rise shows his ability to use the media to galvanize the voters most likely to back his third White House bid”
BERKELEY, Calif. – Former President Trump has vaulted back to a big lead in California over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, as the party’s voters brush aside his legal travails, a new poll finds.
The latest UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies/Los Angeles Times poll finds that Trump now leads DeSantis 44% to 26%, a reversal of where they stood in February. A dozen other Republicans were included in the poll, but none got more than 4%. Almost 9 in 10 California Republicans say investigations into Trump are more about politics than law and justice.
Read the entire story here: (Los Angeles Times)
Queer, Armenian, global health leader; now political candidate
“I have seen the power of how an issue can advance when an LGBTQ+ person is in the room. That is what we need. That is how we make change”
BURBANK, Calif. – Dr. Jirair Ratevosian, announced Thursday that he has entered the race to replace Rep. Adam Schiff as a member of the U.S. House representing California’s 30th Congressional District.
Ratevosian, 42, was born in Hollywood, CA, to a Lebanese mother and an Armenian father. He grew up in Sun Valley. Awarded a Johns Hopkins University post-graduate doctoral degree with concentration in public health policy, the Democratic candidate has devoted his life to his two passions: politics and physical science.
In 2018, Ratevosian was selected as a “40 under 40 Health Leader” for his achievements in tackling health disparities in the United States and was one of 50 LGBTQIA+ experts in U.S. national security and foreign policy recognized by “Out in National Security” in 2021.
During the 2020 presidential election he served as a national security advisor on COVID-19 and other health security matters to the Biden-Harris campaign and then after the election worked on the Biden Administration transition team.
When asked by the Blade to list some of his proudest achievements he highlighted the following:
- Led coalition to repeal the US HIV immigration ban policy in 2008
- Worked with Congressional staff to reauthorize PEPFAR in 2013
- Worked to expand focus and funding for PEPFAR’s work targeting men who have sex with men
- He penned an op-ed with Ambassador Dr. John N. Nkengasong, who leads, manages, and oversees the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) for the U.S. Department, about the ways anti-LGBTQ laws impact HIV: Legal and Policy Barriers for an Effective HIV/AIDS Response – The Lancet
- Worked on legislation to decriminalize HIV transmission for Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA.)
- Fought against the anti-homosexuality law in Uganda (2009 and 2023)
- Worked as the first U.S. State Dept. Health Equity Policy Advisor
Until recently, Ratevosian served as a Senior Advisor for Health Equity Policy at the U.S. Department of State and worked for the Office of U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy.
Ratevosian is proud of his heritage, attributing a part of his success to his early education through the Armenian school system in Los Angeles. If elected to Congress, he tells the Blade that he will continue to be an advocate for and amplifier of Armenian voices.
“I stand here to tell you that I am running for Congress because I am a product of what I have learned thanks to the success of that education system and the family support around me. I have a strong desire to make an impact on the Armenian community. We are facing a war. We are facing all the same challenges as other communities here in the district are as well, he said.
“I know that nobody pushes more for Armenian issues than Armenian people. We have relied on the generosity of Adam Schiff and others who have carried Armenian issues, but it is time for an Armenian voice to lead on Armenian issues. I am excited about the opportunity to be the person that our community needs to be able to take those issues to Congress on day one and focus on them. I would love to be able to start an Armenian congressional caucus and to inspire more meeting Americas to run for public office,” he continued.
Ratevosian told the Blade that he is also motivated by the ideal “American dream” that his grandfather had when he immigrated here to start a new life for himself and his family, free from Soviet rule.
“I’m running because my grandfather’s American dream is far from reach for many people,” Ratevosian told The Blade.
🚨Big personal news: I'm proud to announce I'm running for Congress because my grandfather's American dream is far from reach for many. Follow @JirairForCA and RT our video. 👇🏽👇🏽👇🏽👇🏽https://t.co/VjU6OJtnfb #RepresentationMatters #PeopleFirst #JirairforCA #CA30— Dr. Jirair Ratevosian (@JRatevosian) May 25, 2023
“Like many immigrant families, mine came to America for a second chance. My mom’s side was from Lebanon. My dad’s side was from Armenia. I was the first to be born here. My parents took whatever jobs they could to provide for us and put us through school. As soon as I was legally able to work, I did at the age of 15 as an ice cream scooper at Baskin and Robbins. Now my parents have watched their kid going from an ice cream scooper to the U.S. State Department as a senior political appointee.”
But, he explained, the streets he grew up on “are not the same streets anymore.” With housing prices and inflation surging, many in the county find it harder and harder to make ends meet.
“That shot my grandparents had is no longer available to a lot of people,” he lamented.
“I am in this race because there is so much work to be done to ensure that everybody has a fair shot to choose their own dreams. My grandfather was a shoe cobbler. They were able to afford healthcare. My parents were able to put us through school. They lived a happy and normal life. I think if my grandfather were alive now, he would be disappointed in the way healthcare costs are going up, and the way we treat our planet, the way we treat people experiencing homelessness, the way housing costs have gone up. I don’t even know if they could afford that same Kingsley Street apartment that they had in Hollywood for 25 years before they passed away. These are the things that I think are making families struggle.
“Of course, child care and student loans are also out of control. I still have $20,000 worth of student loans from my master’s degree 15 years ago. Even though I had a job in corporate America and was making good money and paying off my loans, I still have $20,000 in student debt. If we don’t fight to reverse and address these issues straight on, we won’t be able to bring that dream back to people.
I am also really looking forward to bringing the support that businesses need to get back on their feet post Covid and really flourish again. I want to work to be able to revitalize our city.”
Openly gay candidate
Ratevosian is making it a point to run as an openly LGBTQ+ candidate – a choice that some of his advisors have cautioned against, fearing that the Armenian community might not accept his sexual orientation.
He has decided to forgo this advice, choosing instead to put his faith in the acceptance of the Armenian people.
“I am confident people will see me for the work that I have done and the values that I have had. They will see me for the focus areas of my entire life, the focus on the most vulnerable and disenfranchised people all around the world in all corners of Africa and Asia. They will see me for my decency, for the way I treat people with honor and respect. I know the Armenian people will embrace me and that we can change hearts and minds along the way.”
Ratevosian is additionally confident that he can change hearts and minds thanks to his own coming out journey, wherein his mother had tremendous trouble accepting him, at first.
“It was one of those radio silent moments when you can hear your own heart beating,” Ratevosian said, recalling the moment he told his parents he was gay.
After coming out, his mother would not speak to him for the longest period of time since he was born.
“Before that, if I didn’t speak to my mother every day, she was worried the worst had happened to me. Then, not speaking to her for a few weeks felt like years.”
Finally, his mother did find it in her heart to accept her son, and Ratevosian was proud to report that she stood hand in hand with his fiancé at Ratevosian’s graduate school commencement ceremonies.
“I teared up,” said Ratevosian, recalling the moment that signified so much change in his mother and also the change he hopes to impart to others who might be like-minded in the district.
“I think together we can advance our culture’s beliefs. If people like me don’t come out, then how are we ever going to make change?
“I want to fight for these issues that are very much still alive in Southern California and across the United States. There are a record number of Anti-LGBTQ bills passed by Republicans across the country. I don’t know why but for some reason, republicans are more concerned with banning drag shows that fighting climate change or reducing poverty. But even in our district, we know hate and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment are still alive and well. This is why I am fighting, and this is why representation matters.”
From 2011-2014, Jirair served as Legislative Director in the House of Representatives, overseeing budget, appropriations, foreign policy, and health portfolios for U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA).
As co-chair and co-founder of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, Rep. Lee leads the effort to advance legislation that addresses the HIV/AIDS pandemic while educating Members of Congress about the virus, its impact, and affected populations.
“I have always had an interest in HIV in all my jobs,” Ratevosian told the Blade. “When I came to Washington, I wanted to get more involved in HIV policy. She (Lee) was the champion for HIV policy.
“I watched her in action. She was the best teacher anyone could have in terms of fighting for progressive values in fighting for healthcare and fighting poverty.”
Jirair’s extensive work in HIV legislation took a personal turn when he met the love of his life and now fiancé, Michael Lghodaro, who is a person living with HIV.
“HIV work is who I am,” Ratevosian told The Blade, “literally because of the work it has done to shape the way I live my life and the way I love the people I love.”
“The reason why I am healthy, and I am staying HIV negative, and we have a wonderful relationship is because he is able to access his HIV medication.”
This personal association with the disease fueled Ratevosian to fight in favor of the Repeal HIV Discrimination Act bill with Lee.
“The bill provided federal incentives for states to repeal their archaic laws that criminalize HIV transmission,” said Ratevosian.
He is also a backer of the U=U campaign, an informational campaign about how effective HIV medications are in preventing sexual transmission of HIV.
U=U he explained means “Undetectable = Untransmittable,” indicating that if a person with HIV is on HIV meds (antiretroviral therapy, or ART) with a consistently undetectable HIV viral load, the virus cannot be transmitted to a sex partner.
His contributions to the Biden-Harris administration led to the reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the signing of landmark foreign aid legislation to support Haiti, and the establishment of the bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus.
“The job to fight HIV is far from over,” said Ratevosian. “I will be fighting to get more Ryan White money for our cities. We have amazing new technologies for HIV prevention that I want all communities to benefit from, including minority communities.”
Editor’s Note: The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, administered by the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration, provides grants to cities, states, counties, and community-based groups. The grants help provide care, medication, and essential support services to people with HIV, HIV-related health outcomes, and reduce HIV transmission.
He also regularly rides in the AIDS/LIFECYCLE ride, a 7 day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, co-produced by and benefiting the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
Ratevosian shared an important message of positivity to fellow ethnic LGBTQ+ aspiring leaders:
“Your time is now. I am inspired that there are a record number of LGBTQ+ leaders in office, but those numbers are far from the true representation of diversity in our community and the diversity of our country. If anyone is reading this story and is inspired, then they should do the same. Pursue a place in office, whether it is federally or locally, or somewhere in between. I have seen the power of how an issue can advance when an LGBTQ+ person is in the room. That is what we need. That is how we make change.”
LA Times Poll: Majority of Californians say Feinstein is unfit to serve
The Times reported that opinions diverge on whether she should resign: Fellow Democrats say she should step down, Republicans oppose
BERKELEY, Calif. – According to a new UC Berkeley/Los Angeles Times poll released Thursday, a two-thirds majority of California voters say the state’s octogenarian Democratic U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein is unfit to serve.
The LA Times reported that opinions diverge, however, on whether she should resign: Fellow Democrats say she should step down, but many Republicans oppose that because Gov. Gavin Newsom would get to appoint a successor. The UC Berkeley/Los Angeles Times poll was conducted cross party, racial and geographic lines.
In an interview with CBS News LA affiliate KCAL on May 16, Washington D.C.-based Los Angeles Times political reporter Benjamin Oreskes said that he and a small group of reporters had met with Feinstein in a Capitol hallway after the senator’s first vote back after a nearly three-month long absence. According to Oreskes she seemed confused and at times made statements that ran contrary to events that had ocurred.
Concern over Feinstein’s mental acuity has been a mounting concern in California and national Democratic Party circles. During her extended absence due to a shingles viral condition, advancement of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees through the Senate Judiciary Committee was complicated, as the committee split had been a 10 to 10 margin without her.
Republicans were unwilling to accept a request from the Senate Majority Leader, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to appoint a temporary replacement for her on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
There has been increasing calls by prominent Democrats for Feinstein to resign, including Jonathan Lovett, a co-founder of Crooked Media, and a former speechwriter for President Barack Obama, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) who tweeted their demand she step aside.
“It’s time for [Feinstein] to resign,” fellow California Democrat Khanna wrote in a tweet, becoming the first member of Congress to publicly demand that the senior senator step down.
“We need to put the country ahead of personal loyalty. While she has had a lifetime of public service, it is obvious she can no longer fulfill her duties. Not speaking out undermines our credibility as elected representatives of the people,” he added.
Feinstein had announced on Valentine’s Day earlier this year that she would not seek reelection.
DeSantis stumbles into 2024 race with chaotic announcement
Moments after their conversation kicked off- the audio cut out due to technical glitches that persisted for nearly half an hour
WASHINGTON – More than 300,000 Twitter users were logged in at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday to hear Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis begin his 2024 presidential campaign in an announcement address featuring the social media platform’s owner, Elon Musk.
Moments after moderator David Sacks kicked off their conversation, however, the audio cut out due to technical glitches that persisted for nearly half an hour as the event was steadily hemorrhaging listeners.
Those who joined or rejoined the event at various times after about 6:30 p.m. ET might be forgiven for thinking the topic was Musk rather than DeSantis, who is widely considered the candidate likeliest to unseat former President Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s frontrunner for the nomination.
At one point, for instance, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) entered the chat to tell the polarizing billionaire tech entrepreneur, “I’m one of your biggest fans” and brag, “I’m one of the first members of Congress to own a Tesla,” the electric carmaker founded by Musk.
Following reports on Tuesday of DeSantis’ unorthodox plans to announce his run for president, pundits saw a golden opportunity for the Florida governor to generate buzz around his campaign, which seemed to lose momentum leading up to its official launch.
Responding to questions from Sacks, DeSantis defended Florida’s spate of anti-LGBTQ policies, like last year’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which criminalizes classroom discussion of LGBTQ subjects and, earlier this month, was broadened to cover more grade levels.
LGBTQ groups, Democratic Florida lawmakers, and other critics argue the law was written with discriminatory intent, to create a chilling effect that will discourage educators from creating welcoming environments for LGBTQ students.
Disney came out against the measure, kicking off an ongoing spat with DeSantis, who said on Wednesday that the company “obviously supported injecting gender ideology in elementary school.”
The governor also objected to what he characterized as the media’s misleading coverage of Florida’s adoption of policies restricting the educational materials made available in schools.
LGBTQ groups air objections to DeSantis’ presidential run
In advance of Wednesday’s conversation with Musk, DeSantis filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission formally declaring his plans to enter the race as LGBTQ and other civil rights advocacy groups registered their objections to his candidacy as well as to Florida’s policies under his leadership.
“Dangerously out of step with average Americans’ views on freedom and equality, DeSantis has weaponized his position as governor to target and punish anyone he considers his political enemy, including LGBTQ+ families,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said in a statement Wednesday.
Following Tuesday’s statement from the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which called DeSantis a “transphobic bigot” who has “no place in government — let alone the White House,” the LGBTQ Victory Institute on Wednesday said his entry into the race is “bad news for America — and even worse for anyone who’s part of a community he’s targeted while in office as governor.”
Over the weekend, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for Florida because of “DeSantis’ aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion programs in Florida schools.”
HRC and Equality Florida followed suit on Tuesday with a jointly issued travel notice that cites the potential impact of the state legislature’s recent passage of six anti-LGBTQ bills, several of which have already been signed into law.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to specifically address the travel advisories during Tuesday’s press conference, but said Florida Republicans “have attacked diversity. They’ve attacked inclusion efforts. They’ve limited the teaching of Black history. And they’ve launched attacks on the LGBT youth, immigrants, educators and women’s reproductive freedom.”
“That’s what you have seen from lawmakers in Florida,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that the Biden-Harris administration will “continue to speak out against discriminatory policies.”
DeSantis to announce presidential bid on Twitter live with Musk
“Transphobic bigots like Ron DeSantis have no place in government, let alone the White House, ‘ said the LGBTQ Victory Fund
MIAMI – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will reportedly announce plans to run for president in 2024 during a live conversation with Elon Musk Wednesday evening on Twitter Spaces.
The unorthodox move might generate renewed interest in DeSantis, who was long expected to enter the primary race against former President Donald Trump, who remains the Republican frontrunner, but seemed to lose momentum as the official launch of his campaign drew nearer.
It also comes on the heels of DeSantis’s signing, last week, of a slate of anti-LGBTQ bills including an expansion of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which criminalizes classroom discussion of LGBTQ subjects.
Musk, who has a trans daughter from whom he has been estranged, has expressed his affinity for DeSantis in the past while also courting other public figures known for expressing transphobic views, such as the comedian Dave Chappell.
The polarizing and often pugilistic billionaire was widely blamed for allowing anti-LGBTQ and especially transphobic abuse to proliferate on Twitter since he purchased the social media platform last year.
On Twitter, Musk has occasionally complained about or mocked the use of personal pronouns by trans and nonbinary people, and he was widely criticized last year for promoting a false and baseless anti-LGBTQ conspiracy about the violent attack of Paul Pelosi.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund denounced DeSantis’s candidacy on Tuesday ahead of his announcement, writing, “Transphobic bigots like Ron DeSantis have no place in government, let alone the White House,” the LGBTQ Victory Fund wrote in a statement issued Tuesday.
“Not only does Governor DeSantis’ appalling record against LGBTQ+ people and communities of color disqualify him from the Presidency, the rhetoric he will spew on the campaign trail as he and Donald Trump race to the bottom will have long-term consequences for our community and LGBTQ+ kids in particular.
“LGBTQ+ leaders are our best defense against hate, which is why his announcement is a rallying cry to the LGBTQ+ community and our allies that we must redouble our efforts to elect pro-choice LGBTQ+ candidates in 2023 and 2024. On Election Day, our message must be resounding: we are not going back.”
Newsom demands answers about censorship of text books
Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has declared war against what he has labeled “woke propaganda” to include school curriculum/books
SACRAMENTO – In a letter released this past Saturday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is demanding that publishers inform the state’s agencies if textbooks being published conform to Florida’s standards, and to find out whether any of the companies designing California’s textbooks are “the same ones kowtowing to Florida’s extremist agenda.”
In a tweet on his personal account that included an image of the letter, Newsom wrote: “You don’t get to rewrite history in a back room. You don’t get to erase basic facts around segregation, the holocaust, or Rosa Parks’ story. The extremists in Florida and textbook companies that are colluding with them are about to be exposed.”
You don't get to rewrite history in a back room.— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) May 21, 2023
You don't get to erase basic facts around segregation, the holocaust, or Rosa Parks' story.
The extremists in Florida and textbook companies that are colluding with them are about to be exposed. https://t.co/63tAp67f0Q
On his official Twitter account the governor also noted: “Parents have a right to know what’s happening to undermine kids’ education.”
The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, in an investigative report published on April 19, 2022, revealed for example that the Florida Department of Education rejected more than 50 mathematics textbooks — about 40% of those submitted — for failing to meet Florida’s new learning standards or because they “contained prohibited topics” that included references to critical race theory.
Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has railed against what he has labeled “woke propaganda.” In April he signed HB7, into law what he has branded the “Stop WOKE Act,” which restricts how race is discussed in schools, colleges and workplaces, and sparked a nationwide debate over censorship, critical race theory and diversity training.
DeSantis has waged an unceasing culture war against progressives whom he has branded “socialists,” to include unrelenting attacks on LGBTQ+ Floridians, targeting schools and healthcare providers for transgender people.
Recent changes in the criteria for textbook standards by the Florida DOE coupled with conservatives groups actively banning books in public libraries and in schools has altered materials and events covered in the curriculum supported by text books, history and the maths in particular.
Last week, CNN reported that Florida’s DOE rejected nearly 35% of social studies textbooks submitted by publishers for approval, including those that referenced social justice and “other information that was not aligned with Florida Law,” the state’s Department of Education announced Tuesday.
Regarding K-12 social studies instructional materials, 66 of 101 submitted materials were approved and met state standards for every grade level, the department said.
The examples of rejected material provided by the department include:
- Removing a paragraph that references how parents should talk with their children about the National Anthem and explaining “Taking a Knee” to protest police brutality for grades K-5.
- Removing a section about social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement for grades 6-8.
- Changing “social justice issues” to “key principles” when discussing what is in the Hebrew Bible for grades 6-8.
- Changing a reference to “socialist economy” that said, “They may promote greater equality while still providing a fully functioning government supervised economy,” to “planned economies” that have “slow development and fewer technological advances because they move slowly around planning and approval, while limiting human incentive” for grades 6-8.
Governor Newsom’s letter:
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