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Overview of 2022 anti-LGBTQ+ bills as the count now tops over 300

As Republican politicians continue to push for limits to LGBTQ+ rights, many LGBTQ+ people & their allies promise to continue fighting

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Graphic via The Human Rights Campaign

WASHINGTON – In May 2021, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) officially announced the worst year for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in recent history. At the time, state lawmakers introduced over 250 bills – from anti-Trans sports legislation to religious refusal measures – in statehouses across the country, 17 of which were enacted into law. 

Now, LGBTQ+ rights in states seem to be taking even more of a hit. According to HRC, over 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have surfaced in 36 Legislatures. As the legislation increases – 41 such measures were introduced in 2018 – so does the number of bills passed and enshrined into state law, though LGBTQ+ advocates often challenge the laws in court.  

The legislation overwhelmingly targets Trans youth, according to the organization, from blocking participation in sports to baring access to gender-affirming care. Lawmakers have also attempted, and in some cases passed, legislation limiting how LGBTQ+ issues can be taught in schools and keeping Trans kids from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. 

“2022 is on track to surpass last year’s record number of anti-transgender bills,” Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the HRC, told the Blade, calling the “legislative attacks” on Trans youth “craven, baseless, and an effort to create more division, fearmonger, and rile up radical right-wing voters at the expense of innocent kids.”

Proponents of the bills say they are to “protect” parental rights, children and religious freedom. However, LGBTQ+ advocates and people continue to denounce the legislation as discriminatory and harmful. 

This year, one of the most talked-about anti-LGBTQ+ measures was Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last month. The legislation will ban classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 if it survives legal challenges. 

Days after DeSantis signed the bill, the first lawsuit against the measure emerged, arguing the statute “would deny to an entire generation that LGBTQ people exist and have equal dignity.”

“This effort to control young minds through state censorship —and to demean LGBTQ lives by denying their reality — is a grave abuse of power,” the lawsuit says.

Since Republican sponsors successfully pushed the bill through, other states have followed in Florida’s footsteps. Ohio, for example, introduced its version of the legislation roughly a week after DeSantis’ signature. 

In Alabama, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed an anti-Trans bathroom bill with a last-minute amendment to keep educators from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in grades K-5. Ivey didn’t stop there, also signing a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors. 

Like Florida, LGBTQ+ advocates were quick to announce legal challenges to the legislation. Some of the most prominent LGBTQ+ and civil rights organizations – including the HRC, GLAD and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) – announced a legal challenge in federal court against Alabama’s gender-affirming care ban. 

In terms of legislation introduced, Tennessee has far outpaced other states, according to LGBTQ+ rights organization Freedom for All Americans. The group’s legislative tracker found over 30 bills limiting LGBTQ+ rights in the state – including a “Don’t Say Gay” bill and a ban on LGBTQ-themed literature in schools. But, unlike other Republican-controlled states, none have made it out of the statehouse. 

Arizona has also been a hotspot for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, with at least 17 bills, according to Freedom for All Americans. In March, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed two bills limiting the rights of Trans people in the state – one banning some types of medical care for Trans youth, and the other preventing Trans students from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity.

“Across the country, moderate Republicans are struggling—and too often failing—to stop the takeover of their party by dangerous extremists,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), told the Blade at the time, adding: “We are in danger of watching large segments of our nation give way to authoritarian extremism.”

In other states, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation became law without support from its governor – Democratic or Republican. In fact, two Republican governors vetoed anti-Trans sports bills in late March.  

Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills in 2022 (Graphic via The Human Rights Campaign)

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, both Republicans, vetoed legislation that barred Trans youth from participating in sports. Cox said the bill had “several fundamental flaws and should be reconsidered,” while Holcomb said the measure was in search of a problem. 

In the end, however, the Utah House overturned Cox’s veto days later. Holcomb’s veto still stands. 

“This [Utah] bill focuses on a problem of ‘fairness’ in school sports that simply does not exist — but its negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of trans and nonbinary youth are very real,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project. “These youth already face disproportionate rates of bullying, depression, and suicide risk, and bills like this one will only make matters worse.”

In recent weeks, two Democratic governors vetoed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation from their Republican-controlled legislatures. 

Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed legislation that would ban Trans girls from playing on sports teams in Kentucky schools that match their gender identities from sixth grade through college. GOP lawmakers quickly overturned the decision

“Shame on the Kentucky General Assembly for attacking trans kids today,” said Chris Hartman, executive director for the Fairness Campaign. Shame on our commonwealth’s lawmakers for passing the first explicitly anti-LGBTQ law in Kentucky in almost a decade.” 

Kansas Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed last weekend two anti-LGBTQ+ measures, the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” and the “Fairness in Women’s Sports” Acts. 

GOP lawmakers in Idaho decided last month to effectively kill a bill criminalizing gender-affirming care, one of the most extreme proposals in the country. It would have made it a felony — punishable by up to life in prison — to provide minors with hormones, puberty blockers or gender-affirming surgery.

In a statement, Idaho Senate Republicans said they “stongly” oppose “any and all gender reassignment and surgical manipulation of the natural sex” on minors. But they also wrote that the controversial legislation “undermines” a parent’s right to make medical decisions for their children.  

“We believe in parents’ rights and that the best decisions regarding medical treatment options for children are made by parents, with the benefit of their physician’s advice and expertise,” the senators wrote. 

Texas is one of the 14 states with no anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, as the state only holds legislative sessions in odd years. However, the Lone Star State has made headlines for anti-Trans orders from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. 

Abbott, in February, directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate reports of gender-affirming care on minors as “child abuse.” The order followed an official opinion from state Attorney General Ken Paxton that called the treatment a form of “child abuse” under Texas law. 

Since, two Texas judges have ruled against the policy – one in district court and the other after an appeal. Still, Paxton vows to keep fighting for the order in court. 

But even as Republican politicians continue to push for limits to LGBTQ+ rights, many LGBTQ+ advocates, people and allies promise to continue fighting against the discriminatory efforts – whether in court or on the streets. 

“The Human Rights Campaign strongly condemns these harmful, potentially life-threatening bills and will continue to use every tool at our disposal to fight for the rights of transgender youth and all LGBTQ+ people,” Oakley said.

In a January 2022 poll by The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth under 25, and Morning Consult, over two-thirds of LGBTQ youth said recent debates over state laws that target transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

 “These results underscore how recent politics and ongoing crises facing the globe can have a real, negative impact on LGBTQ young people, a group consistently found to be at significantly increased risk for depression, anxiety and attempting suicide because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society,” Amit Paley, CEO of The Trevor Project, said in a statement.

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California Politics

Californians urged to know their voting rights before Super Tuesday

As Election Day fast approaches, all Californians should be aware of their rights and legal protections as they fulfill their civic duty

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Calif. Attorney General Rob Bonta, Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes, and California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley N. Weber. (Photo Credit: State of California)

OAKLAND, Calif. – California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber, Ph.D. are encouraging all Californians to understand their rights as a voter, learn more about the state’s voting protections, and make a plan to vote before the Presidential Primary Election on March 5, 2024.

As Election Day fast approaches, all Californians should be aware of their rights and legal protections as they fulfill their civic duty.

“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “Knowledge is power; I implore all Californians to know their rights as voters and plan to make their voices heard at the polls. It is important for everyone to do their part to help ensure our democracy prospers. The California Department of Justice is committed to protecting the rights of all voters in our state.”  

 “This year, we observe the 60th Anniversary of Freedom Summer, an effort to empower those whose voting rights had been denied for decades,” said California Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber, Ph.D. “In today’s political environment, it’s important to affirm that you have explicit enumerated rights as a voter in California, and that the Attorney General and I are committed to protecting those rights.”

Prior to the Presidential Primary Election, it is important to make sure you have a plan to cast your ballot by March 5, 2024. You can visit vote.ca.gov for more helpful information on the election, including where to find your polling place. As soon as you receive your ballot, you may cast your vote by mail or through other options made available in your area by county elections officials. You can also track your vote-by-mail ballot by signing up with the Secretary of State’s Office here for text, email, or voice status alerts.

On Election Day, it is important for California’s voters to know their rights. The California Voter Bill of Rights is available on the Secretary of State’s website in nearly 30 different languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese, Arabic, Armenian, Bengali, Burmese, Gujarati, Hmong, Ilocano, Indonesian, Laotian, Mien, Mongolian, Nepali, Persian, Punjabi, Syriac, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. This is an important tool for understanding your rights as a Californian voter.

 In California, you have the following rights: 

  • The right to vote if you are a registered voter, without having to present a government-issued photo ID at the polls;
  • The right to vote if you are a registered voter even if your name is not on the list through use of a provisional ballot;
  • The right to vote if you are still in line when the polls close;
  • The right to cast a secret ballot;
  • The right to get a new ballot if you have made a mistake;
  • The right to get help casting your ballot;
  • The right to drop off your completed vote-by-mail ballot at any polling place;
  • The right to get election materials in a language other than English;
  • The right to ask elections officials questions about election procedures; and
  • The right to report any illegal or fraudulent election activity.

If you believe you have been denied any of these rights or are aware of any election fraud or misconduct, please call the Secretary of State’s confidential toll-free Voter Hotline at (800) 345-VOTE (8683). Under California law, voters are protected from, among other things, election interference, voter intimidation, and electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place. California law enforcement agencies are empowered to enforce California’s election laws, including during voting that occurs between now through Election Day. More information on California laws protecting the rights of voters can be found in a law enforcement bulletin available here

Every vote matters, and the California Department of Justice and Secretary of State’s Office remain committed to ensuring that all elections in the state are safe, fair, and accessible to every voter.

On Election Day, the California Department of Justice is on call to provide additional assistance to the Secretary of State’s Office in enforcing California’s election laws where needed through a team of attorneys and administrative staff located across the state.

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New Biden campaign hire: First LGBTQ national organizing director

Prior to her role with the DNC, Rustum was national relational organizing director for the Biden-Harris 2020 presidential campaign

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Photo of Roohi Rustum via LinkedIn

WILMINGTON, Del. — The Biden-Harris reelection campaign announced on Wednesday that Roohi Rustum has been tapped to serve as its national organizing director, becoming the first woman of color and the first LGBTQ person to serve in this role for a general election presidential campaign.

Rustum, who is Bangladeshi-American, was most recently the interim national organizing director for the Democratic National Committee, where she led early organizing efforts for the campaign in Arizona and Wisconsin and also directed “get out the vote” initiatives for key 2023 races like Kentucky’s gubernatorial and Virginia’s state legislative elections, which saw sweeping Democratic victories.

Prior to her role with the DNC, Rustum was national relational organizing director for the Biden-Harris 2020 presidential campaign, and she also worked on the organizing infrastructure for Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign.

“This campaign will prioritize face to face voter contact and run a strong, present, brick and mortar operation — while also employing the best lessons from 2020 and 2022 on effective campaigning in online spaces,” said Biden-Harris 2024 Battleground States Director Dan Kanninen. “I can’t think of anyone better to build a field army that can do both than Roohi.”

Along with Rustum’s new role, the campaign announced on Wednesday that Alana Mounce will serve as its political director, and Meredith Horton will be national director for voter protection and access.

“I’m thrilled to have these battle-tested operatives join our team. This is a team with unparalleled expertise, creativity, and grit that will be critical to winning this November,” Biden-Harris 2024 Campaign Manager Julie Chavez-Rodriguez said.

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Politics

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s stepping down

Aides said that McConnell’s decision was unrelated to concerns about his health, which followed two instances last year in which he froze

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (Photo Credit: Office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell)

WASHINGTON – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the longest serving Senate leader in history, announced on Wednesday that he will step down from his position in November but will continue serving the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2027.

Aides said that McConnell’s decision was unrelated to concerns about his health, which followed two instances last year in which he froze when delivering public remarks after suffering a concussion from a fall.

The Senate leader is facing pressure to endorse former President Donald Trump’s run for a second term in the White House, which a GOP colleague told the Guardian is likely to come despite the rift between the men that deepened in 2020 when McConnell refused to co-sign the lie that President Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate.

“I am unconflicted about the good within our country and the irreplaceable role we play as the leader of the free world,” McConnell said in his announcement from the Senate floor, in what appeared to be an acknowledgment of his ideological differences with Republicans who support Trump’s brand of isolationist foreign policy.

Serving in the Senate since 1985, McConnell was first elected as the Republican leader in 2006 and has since won each of the consecutive nine elections, most recently staving off a challenge from U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) last November.

McConnell opposed LGBTQ rights throughout his career

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

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

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

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

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California Politics

MAGA Republicans trying to oust Newsom, again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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California Politics

Equality California announces 2024 state legislative package

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

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

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

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

Equality California is sponsoring the following bills:

Improve Access to Gender-Affirming Care

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

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

Support LGBTQ+ Families

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

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

Strengthen Data Equity 

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

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

Support Unhoused LGBTQ+ Youth

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

Protect Access to Health Care

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

Combat Systemic Discrimination

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

Improve Inclusive Emergency Preparedness and Response

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

Launch California LGBTQ+ Commission

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

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Virginia Lt. governor misgenders trans lawmaker in Senate session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Politics

Trump’s CPAC speech did not target the trans community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Michael Knowles targets trans people & LGBTQ families at CPAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuberville promotes anti-transgender sports ban at CPAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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