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Why we are fighting our school’s internet ban in Texas

“We expect the public schools we attend every day to see us as human beings and not a political inconvenience”

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Screenshot/Houston Chronicle Instagram

By Cameron Samuels | KATY, Tx. – From my first days as a freshman at high school in Katy, a town in suburban Houston, it was obvious that school administrators have little concern for queer students.

Despite their responsibility to create an educational environment conducive to all students, it was apparent they would do little to address everyday problems like bullying and slurs. And for students hoping to find affirmation from online resources, there was a block on that content due to an “Alternative Sexual Lifestyles (GLBT)” internet filter.

This undeniably discriminatory policy remains in place today. Students struggling with their gender identity or sexuality rely on accessible internet content. For many students, that private and free access is only available at school, and denying such access is a deliberate effort to prevent students from supporting their emotional and mental well-being.

For the Katy Independent School District, and other school districts, to block the Trevor Project is especially dangerous. When a student is experiencing a mental health crisis, the ability to speak with someone on a suicide prevention lifeline is a matter of life or death.

Katy ISD claims that the Trevor Project must be blocked to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act, a federal law primarily intended to protect children from online predators. District officials say the website’s “chat capabilities” — no different than those on Facebook or Twitter — are the specific reason for the restricted access.

However, Facebook and Twitter are completely accessible. The assumption that people communicating on the Trevor Project are predatory is bigoted and homophobic, just as it’s more important to a student to offer life-saving support than to provide a portal to all the misinformation and hatred about queer people being propagated on major social media sites.

School officials have said sites with LGBTQ+ content are not part of the educational curriculum or common classroom activities. Yet they won’t explain how People magazine, ESPN, Gun Show Trader, or Breitbart meet this same standard.

These officials have also noted that suicide prevention resources exist outside of the Trevor Project, which is true, but irrelevant. If district officials are concerned a student is contemplating taking their own life, those officials would offer access to all resources — without exception — that might prevent a teen suicide.

Since June 2021, my classmates and I have been organizing to bring attention to the discriminatory actions by school districts like mine. We started an online petition that has gathered support from more than 1,000 community members. We have spoken at school board meetings and met with district officials who promised us they would unblock LGBTQ+ content. So far, they have only delivered us broken promises.

Given the ways that school administrators have chosen to implement the district’s internet policies, it’s clear to us that we are not seen in the same way as other students. To Katy ISD officials, our very existence is so inherently perverse that they would simply erase us.

Their message is that we ourselves, and our experiences, are neither “educational” nor “appropriate.” Blocking access to resources that support our mental health and intellectual development simply because we dare to accept who we are at this age is the definition of oppression. We recognize that they have specifically targeted us in an attempt to undermine our confidence.

Adolescence is a critical time for developing a healthy self-awareness. While legal equality for LGBTQ+ people has become more widespread over the past few decades, genuine tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion of our community has not.

There are harmful consequences for youth who lack just one supportive friend, who are deathly afraid to come out, and who feel completely alone and isolated by the identity that defines them. LGBTQ+ students deserve dignity and support for our own well being as much as any other student in this country. We have the basic human right to develop self-esteem and be welcomed in a diverse society. We expect the public schools we attend every day to see us as human beings and not a political inconvenience. 

There is no doubt the culture war in Texas is being waged against its own children, and we who are negatively impacted by the hateful policies of fanatical political leaders cannot be abstracted or disregarded. We demand to be seen and heard. The Lone Star State is a place of increasing ethnic and cultural diversity where we will continue to stand up for ourselves and for one another. We’re fighting back because we’re Texans and that’s what we do.

*********************

Cameron Samuels (they/them) is a senior in the Texas Katy Independent School District.

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WeHo ignores data on LASD in latest budget proposal

LASD misled city council on its contract & on crime rates, on June 27, the city will discuss rewarding them with a $1 million budget increase

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Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies back down protesters at LA Pride (Sean Carmitchel).

By Nika Soon-Shiong | WEST HOLLYWOOD – West Hollywood’s Public Safety Commission passed a motion to reallocate $3.2 million from the annual sheriff’s contract to much needed social services.

In exchange for recovering two out of 249 stolen phones, the council will discuss a $1,030,000 contract increase to support training for undercover sting operations. Zero cell phones were recovered from dimly lit, noisy nightclubs in the sting operations so far. The $22.15 million LASD contract will soak up one fifth of the city’s budget.  

One out of every five calls to the WeHo sheriff’s department is to address homelessness. An unprecedented campaign to reallocate dollars from LASD to social services has been supported by the 17th president of the NAACP, founder of CalEITC4Me, former mayors, and more.

As one resident shared in the outpour of public comments to the June 6 City Council meeting, “We need less money for cops, and more money for things like mental health, social services, and unarmed security.”The commenter said they’d witnessed armed LASD officers sitting around in their cruiser, not attending to a deceased elderly neighbor’s body and instead waiting for the coroner’s office to handle the situation.

The commenter also said they personally experienced being met with armed LASD officers just to report that their identity had been stolen. “I had to ask two [officers] to come to my unit and stare at my modem,” the commenter said. “All of this is such a waste! There is no reason to send highly paid and trained soldiers to do the type of work that a low-level bureaucrat could do.”

Let’s put the sheriff and social services budgets into perspective with two examples: the cost for an 18 month-guaranteed income pilot for LGBTQ+ residents versus three days of law enforcement at the city’s Pride events. 

WeHo announced a guaranteed income pilot delivering $1,000 per month to elderly LGBTQ+ residents. After a legal debate over the program’s discrimination against straight people, applications will re-open late June. Over a year after the pilot was announced, only 25 people will be selected. 

There was little debate around spending even more than the total guaranteed income payments for the LASD to patrol Pride. As one ACLU SoCal lawyer shared to City Council:

“Pride was, and still is, a protest. Instead, WeHo made Pride into a parade for the sheriff… The department is openly bamboozling you, the city, and other contract cities. We can all see it.”

Other commenters matched this sentiment, reflecting that voters are ready for change:

“Rainbow-wrapped cars do nothing for the community,” said one commenter. “WeHo filled Pride with deputy gangs,” said another.”

LA City controller candidate Kenneth Mejia’s historic lead in the recent primary demonstrates the demand for common-sense budgets backed by clearly communicated and transparent data. So far, Mejia has won almost double the votes of an established, career politician of 35 years, and has nearly the same vote tallies as the leading mayoral candidates, using a platform of financial education.

Sheriff & Protective Services Budgeted for: $22,155,636. Social Services budgeted for $6,5557,492
From 2022-23 West Hollywood Budget Breakdown.

It’s been a year since the city asked the WeHo sheriff to audit the department’s own performance. This summer, the city will spend $500,000 for an external auditing firm to audit the sheriff’s audit. The plan to “audit the audit” starkly reveals the level of trust this department has earned. 

It’s true that WeHo residents are not feeling safe. A community study showed that, in 2013, only 43% of residents felt very safe. A robust sheriff presence was the primary solution offered. Five years later, in 2018, even fewer felt very safe: only 26%.

It’s also true that there is no correlation between the rising costs of the sheriff contract and crime reduction. Who gave us this data? The sheriff’s department itself.  

Let’s remember that reducing the LASD contract does not even imply there will be fewer officers in WeHo. According to the LA County CEO, the LASD hired or promoted 1,900 new employees during the “hiring freeze” and is not prevented from assigning deputies to contract cities.

A group of Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputies stand in a crosswalk in West Hollywood. One of them is holding a bottle of water.
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Deputies at LA Pride in West Hollywood (Sean Carmitchel).

In Denver, a Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) Program sent mental health clinicians, paramedics, or emergency medical technicians to respond to low-risk calls coming into the 911 system. Most of the 15.6 million calls to the STAR team did not involve a safety concern or weapon.

The program reduced crime by 34%. We can let an alternative emergency response team take similar calls in WeHo, where each single LASD deputy could pay for three social service or mental health workers. For the cost of one officer, we could buy new iPhone 13s for each resident who was pickpocketed, and still have 109 phones left over at City Hall.

The $3.2 million LASD contract reduction could quadruple the number of unarmed Block by Block Security Ambassadors to 110 people. There could be a Block by Block Security Ambassador on every corner of the two square mile city.

Investing taxpayer dollars into the gigantic LASD bureaucracy has never been an effective solution to address homelessness or crime. Direct cash programs reduce crime. Alternative emergency response teams reduce crime. 

Perhaps this doesn’t matter when perception trumps reality. We have a chance to change both and set an example for other contract cities by investing in more effective –– and fiscally responsible –– solutions to public safety. 

There’s an ongoing petition for the city to reallocate $3.2 million from LASD to social services. 

The public has from June 23rd onwards to submit written public comments before the city’s budget is finalized at the June 27th City Council meeting.

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Nika Soon-Shiong is the Public Safety Commissioner for the City of West Hollywood.

Additionally she is the Founder @fund4gi, Director @ComptonPledge, Board Chair @onefairwage and a PhD Candidate @UniofOxford

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The preceding article was previously published by Knock LA and is republished by permission.

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To Biden: No Pride in detention of Transgender, queer communities

Jennicet Gutiérrez declines to attend White House Pride event

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LGBTQ+ immigrant rights activists participate in the Queens Pride parade in Jackson Heights, N.Y., on June 5, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Emilio Vicente)

Editor’s note: This is the letter that Jennicet Gutiérrez sent to the White House in response to the invitation she received to attend its Pride Month celebration.

June 13, 2022

Dear President Biden and Dr. Biden,

I received your invitation to the White House Pride Celebration on June 15, 2022, and with a clear conscience I am letting you know that I will not be attending this event. There should be no White House celebration when Trans and queer communities are suffering and being detained by your administration. There is no pride in detention. 

At the start of your administration you pledged to protect LGBTQ+ people worldwide, but it’s a commitment that you have failed to uphold at home. 

Almost a year ago, while you were holding a Pride reception, Trans and queer immigrant leaders from across the nation marched to the White House, demanding the release of trans people, people living with HIV, and any medical condition, from detention centers across the country. We are still seeking justice for Victoria Arellano, Roxsana Hernández, and Johana Medina, trans women who died because of the negligence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Our members across the country are marching and protesting this Pride Month with the same demand of ending the violence and killings of Trans people. There have been over two million deportations since you took office, setting you up to be the next deporter-in-chief. Your administration has used Title 42 as an excuse to deport immigrants seeking a better future, most of them Black and brown people and including Trans and queer immigrants, even as your administration is relaxing requirements for people traveling to the United States. More than 32 states have drafted bills that would criminalize trans youth and their families for providing life affirming healthcare. Transgender people and children are under attack by the same white supremacist forces that are plaguing our nation and we haven’t seen your administration’s response be enough in the face of these attacks.

The reality is that as this celebration is taking place, Trans people currently in ICE custody will be in unsafe conditions. You could easily stop their suffering by instructing the Department of Homeland Security to implement a policy of liberating Trans people, people living with HIV and other medical conditions, as well as other vulnerable people.

Ending Trans detention and using your executive powers to protect LGBTQ people would have a greater impact on our community and would save many lives rather than hosting an event to deliver a well-crafted speech with broken promises.

Respectfully,

Jennicet Eva Gutiérrez

13 de julio del 2022

Estimados presidente Biden y Dr. Biden, 

Recibí su invitación a la Celebración del Orgullo de la Casa Blanca el 15 de junio de 2022 y con la conciencia clara les hago saber que no asistiré a este evento. No debería haber celebración de Orgullo en la Casa Blanca cuando las comunidades trans y queer están sufriendo y siendo detenidas por su misma administración. No hay orgullo en la detención. 

Al comienzo de su administración, se comprometió a proteger a las personas LGBTQ + en todo el mundo, pero es un compromiso que no ha podido mantener en casa. 

Hace casi un año, mientras celebraban una recepción de Orgullo, líderes inmigrantes trans y queer de todo el país marcharon a la Casa Blanca, exigiendo la liberación de las personas trans, las personas que viven con el VIH y cualquier condición médica, de los centros de detención de todo el país. Todavía estamos buscando justicia para Victoria Arellano, Roxsana Hernández y Johana Medina, mujeres trans que murieron debido a la negligencia del Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE).

Nuestros miembros en todo el país están marchando y protestando este mes del orgullo con la misma demanda de poner fin a la violencia y los asesinatos de personas trans. Ha habido más de dos millones de deportaciones desde que asumió el cargo, lo que lo prepara para ser el próximo jefe-de-deportaciones. Su administración ha utilizado el Título 42 como una excusa para deportar a los inmigrantes que buscan un futuro mejor, la mayoría de ellxs personas Negras y personas de color, e incluyendo a inmigrantes trans y queer, mientras su administración está relajando los requisitos para las personas que viajan a los Estados Unidos. Además, más de treinta y dos estados han redactado proyectos de ley que criminalizan a los jóvenes trans y sus familias por proporcionarles atención médica que afirma su género y salvan sus vidas. Las personas transgénero y los niños están siendo atacados por las mismas fuerzas supremacistas blancas que están plagando nuestra nación y no hemos visto que la respuesta de su administración es suficiente frente a estos ataques.

La realidad es que a medida que se lleva a cabo esta celebración, personas trans actualmente bajo custodia de ICE estarán en condiciones inseguras y peligrosas. Usted podría parar fácilmente su sufrimiento instruyendo al Departamento de Seguridad Nacional para que implemente una política de liberación de personas trans, personas que viven con VIH y otras condiciones médicas, así como otras personas vulnerables. 

Poner fin a la detención trans y usar sus poderes ejecutivos para proteger a las personas LGBTQ tendría un mayor impacto en nuestra comunidad y salvaría muchas vidas en lugar de organizar una celebración de Orgullo para pronunciar un discurso bien elaborado con promesas incumplidas.

Respetuosamente, 

Jennicet Eva Gutiérrez

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Think twice about attacking Trans individuals this election cycle

Elected officials targeting trans people are harming their constituents. Morality, civility, & well-being of children demands they stop

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Los Angeles Blade file photo

By Lisa Turner | WASHINGTON – On May 25, 2022 Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law which requires students at public schools to use restrooms and locker rooms that match the sex listed on their birth certificates.

This is the second anti-transgender law passed in Oklahoma just this year, and is one of the latest examples of an avalanche of state-level legislation targeting the rights of LGBTQ and transgender Americans. More than 320 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country since 2021. 

The situation has turned dark in Ohio, where a bill was passed in the State House that would not only ban transgender girls and women from participating in high school or college athletics, but also includes a “verification” provision which would allow authorities to examine the genitals of student athletes suspected of being transgender. 

This comes on the heels of anti-transgender legislation becoming the law of the land in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, South Dakota, and Utah, among others. In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem even went so far as to run a national television ad touting her “leadership” on the issue. 

These attacks on transgender rights have also taken the form of executive action. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has instructed state agencies to investigate the parents of transgender youth for child abuse. His directive also requires teachers, doctors, and nurses to report the parents of transgender kids or risk losing their professional licenses. While this executive order in Texas has been temporarily stayed by a Federal court, governors in other states have already indicated they plan to take similar actions. 

The average person who sees news about laws or policies about transgender participation in sports or youth healthcare may think they seem reasonable, but these bills and policies are not reasonable, and are dangerously extreme. 

Conservative elected officials are using the rights of transgender youth as a wedge issue to divide voters and rile up their base. It is not surprising that the most recent and vocal governors signing anti-transgender legislation have Presidential aspirations. So, will it work? 

LPAC Action Network recently took the unprecedent approach of studying the attitudes of registered voters, both nationwide and in swing Congressional districts, when it comes to transgender rights and legislation. This study, conducted in partnership with Lake Research Partners and consisting of focus groups and polling, shows that the public disagrees with this wedge. 

Among the key findings:

● A majority of voters are concerned about discrimination and bias towards transgender people. 

● A plurality of voters say they are more likely to support a candidate who stands up for transgender rights and inclusivity. 

● Voters strongly identify with pro-equality values like freedom, respect, trust, opportunity, and belonging. 

● After seeing messaging rooted in those values, even more voters, a majority of 56%, say they are more likely to support a candidate who stands up for transgender rights and inclusivity. Even a plurality of 38% of Republicans say they are more likely to support pro-transgender candidates. 

Beyond public opinion, these actions targeting transgender youth are morally bankrupt. On the whole, transgender girls do not have an advantage in athletics. Transgender girls have been legally allowed to compete in women’s sports in California for almost ten years, to almost no controversy. And transgender children who in consultation with their parents and medical professionals receive gender-affirming care are simply receiving healthcare, they are not being abused. It is true, however, that transgender youth are uniquely vulnerable. They are more than twice as likely as their peers to report being bullied, and more than four times more likely to have attempted suicide. Bills and policies like these only further isolate and distress transgender youth. 

If restrictions on transgender children’s ability to compete in sports or access healthcare is not addressing actual societal issues, we must ask ourselves, what purpose do they serve? Who thinks they benefit? The answer seems clear: conservative politicians. 

There is a lot of pain in our country right now, especially among those of us who value human rights and freedom, due to the choice conservative politicians have made to target transgender people. It doesn’t have to be this way and it shouldn’t be this way. Our research shows advocates of equality can push back on this divisive, harmful, and dangerous strategy. And history, whether it be the example of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or marriage amendments, shows that in the long-term attacks on equality are ultimately counterproductive.

Elected officials who target transgender people are doing untold harm to their own constituents. Morality, civility, and the well-being of children demands they stop. But if that isn’t enough, hopefully political reality will make a difference.

*********************

Lisa Turner is the Executive Director of LPAC, the national committee supporting LGBTQ+ women candidates running for political office.

Turner served in the Obama Administration as a political appointee at USDA and HHS. She has worked on the national political scene for many years as a campaign consultant to numerous federal, state, and local candidates, campaign committees, and progressive donors.  Turner is a graduate of Old Dominion University and the UVA Sorensen Institute of Political Leadership. She currently serves as Chair of the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.

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