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CBS Sunday Morning: Liz Cheney says GOP is at critical juncture

There is a GOP “cult of personality” around Trump, presenting a moral test that the Republican Party is “failing”

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Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney (Screenshot/CBS Sunday Morning)

WASHINGTON – (CBS News) Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection and its attempt to overturn Donald Trump’s election loss, talks with CBS News’ Robert Costa about what the upcoming hearings will reveal to the American people about the threat to democracy.

She also says there is a GOP “cult of personality” around Trump, presenting a moral test that the Republican Party is “failing.”

Liz Cheney on Jan. 6 insurrection and the “ongoing threat”

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California Politics

Recognizing & celebrating lesbians: Mayor Pro-Tem of El Cerrito

Lesbian Visibility Week stands as a vibrant affirmation of solidarity with lesbian/queer women within the LGBTQ+ community

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Mayor Pro-Tem of El Cerrito, California, Carolyn Wysinger. (Photo Credit: Carolyn Wysinger)

EL CERRITO, Calif. – Carolyn Wysinger is a distinguished figure in both local politics and the LGBTQ+ community having risen as a prominent voice advocating for inclusivity and diversity. Her first term as Mayor Pro-Tem of El Cerrito, California is marked by a robust commitment to visibility and engagement in political arenas.

First elected to the El Cerrito City Council in 2020, Wysinger’s trajectory in politics has been underpinned by her resolve to bring LGBTQ+ voices to the forefront of decision-making. Her work emphasizes the crucial role of allies in combating anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, advocating for a political landscape that welcomes all voices, particularly those from marginalized communities.

Carolyn Wysinger shown here as the latest newly elected member of the El Cerrito City Council in 2020.
(Photo courtesy of Carolyn Wysinger)

Before venturing into politics, Wysinger made significant contributions to the cultural and educational sectors. A lifelong resident of Contra Costa and a proud graduate with a B.A. in English from California State University, Long Beach, with a M.F.A. from Antioch University, she has also been a vital part of the literary world. Her book, “Knockturnal Emissions: Thoughts on #race #sexuality #gender & #community,” provides insights into diverse identities and has been featured on essential reading lists at several universities.

Wysinger’s influence extends beyond her literary achievements. She has organized notable queer events such as LA’s NFL Sunday Funday and the Long Beach Blue Party, and she has held leadership roles with organizations such as the NIA Collective, San Francisco Pride, and the Human Rights & Relations Commission of Richmond. Her appointment to various committees, including the Economic Recovery Task Force of San Francisco and the Legislative Committee of the California Democratic Party, showcases her broad impact across social and political spheres.

Her community engagement is highlighted by her affiliations with the Sierra Club, NAACP, Black Women Organized for Political Action, and her involvement in the Philonise and Keeta Floyd Institute for Social Change. These roles reflect her deep commitment to addressing systemic inequalities and fostering community solidarity.

In addition to her political and social endeavors, Wysinger is known in her community as an educator who has profoundly impacted the lives of her students at Richmond High School, where she taught English Language Learning, African-American Literature, and led several student groups, including the Black Student Union and LGBTQ Student club.

Wysinger’s Take on Lesbian Visibility Week

In an exclusive interview with The Los Angeles Blade, Wysinger shared her robust insights on the significance of representation and the ongoing struggles and victories of the LGBTQ community during Lesbian Visibility Week.

Wysinger, a steadfast advocate for equal representation in politics, emphasized the necessity of proportional representation of women, including LGBTQ individuals and people of color. “Having a proportional amount of women represented in politics to the constituents is extremely important. We need this not only for women but for everyone in the community,” she explained, underlining the intersectionality of representation.

The current political climate has seen a surge in anti-LGBTQ laws, but Wysinger remains optimistic due to the strong network of allies within California. “It is great to know we have so many allies in California who are fighting in their respective offices to bring equity to our community,” she said.

This network includes notable figures such as London Nicole Breed, the Mayor of San Francisco and State Controller Malia Cohen, who have been pivotal allies, supporting Wysinger as a woman of color in her political journey.

Wysinger also addressed a common narrative that discourages women within the LGBTQ community from seeking elected office. She is committed to dismantling this mindset, attributing her success in leadership to the support from various political queer groups, including Equality California.

Reflecting on the evolution of LGBTQ visibility, Wysinger highlighted the stark contrast between the representation she observed growing up between the Bay Area and Louisiana and the visibility in today’s media.

“Lesbian Visibility Week is something that we did not have back in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s when we were being so heavily targeted. This week is a reminder of what we have done in the community and that we are here. It is so important to highlight the queer women who are on the front lines of what we are fighting right now,” Wysinger said.

Wysinger credits her nieces and nephews as a significant inspiration, underscoring the importance of nurturing the future generation of leaders and allies. Her message to the younger generation and to her younger self is resonant with empowerment: quoting a line from the television sitcom “A Different World,” delivered by famed Black comedian Whoopi Goldberg, Wysinger said, “You are a voice in this world, and you deserve to be heard.”

Through her leadership and advocacy, Wysinger continues to champion the visibility and representation of lesbian and queer women, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable future.

Lesbian Visibility Week

Lesbian Visibility Week, extending the celebration from a single day that began in 2008 to a full week, stands as a vibrant affirmation of solidarity with LGBTQI women and non-binary individuals within the community. This special week  spanning April 22-28not only celebrates lesbian identity but also underscores the importance of inclusivity and support for all women, particularly those from marginalized communities.

Graphic design by Chiamaka Ejindu

The initiative for Lesbian Visibility Week was catalyzed by concerning findings from the Pride Matters survey conducted by Pride in London in 2018, which revealed that gay women are almost twice as likely to conceal their sexual orientation in the workplace compared to their gay male counterparts. This stark disparity highlights the urgent need for greater visibility and acceptance of lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer women both in professional environments and in daily life.

Organized with the support of the Diversity Umbrella Foundation, Lesbian Visibility Week aims to create a more inclusive society where LBTQ women can openly express their true selves without fear of discrimination. Whether it’s at work, at home, or in social settings, the week promotes a culture of understanding and acceptance.

The significance of Lesbian Visibility Week is also reflected in the efforts of DIVA Media Group, Europe’s leading LGBTQ media organization, which reaches an audience of 250,000 users monthly, in partnership with EL*C (Euro Central Asian Lesbian Committee), ILGA World, GLAAD, Curve and LGBT Foundation. Feedback from the community indicates a persistent feeling of being misunderstood and under-supported, further emphasizing the necessity of this observance.

Through a series of events, educational activities, and community engagements, Lesbian Visibility Week not only celebrates the contributions and diversity of lesbian women but also fosters a dialogue about the challenges they face. By doing so, it strives to be a powerful voice for unity, lifting up voices that are too often silenced and paving the way for a more equitable society.

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Smithsonian staff concerned about future of LGBTQ programming

Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III appeared before a hearing led by Republicans flagging concerns re: “the Left’s indoctrination of our children”

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The Smithsonian Institution, located in Washington D.C. on the National Mall, is the world's largest museum and research complex, with 21 museums, 9 research centers, and affiliates around the world. (Photo Credit: Smithsonian Institution)

WASHINGTON — Staff at the Smithsonian Institution are concerned about the future of LGBTQ programming as several events featuring a drag performer were cancelled or postponed following scrutiny by House Republicans, according to emails reviewed by the Washington Post.

In December, Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III appeared before a hearing led by GOP members of the Committee on House Administration, who flagged concerns about the Smithsonian’s involvement in “the Left’s indoctrination of our children.”

Under questioning from U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.), Bunch said he was “surprised” to learn the Smithsonian had hosted six drag events over the past three years, telling the lawmakers “It’s not appropriate to expose children” to these performances.

Collaborations with drag artist Pattie Gonia in December, January, and March were subsequently postponed or cancelled, the Post reported on Saturday, adding that a Smithsonian spokesperson blamed “budgetary constraints and other resource issues” and the museums are still developing programming for Pride month in June.

“I, along with all senior leaders, take seriously the concerns expressed by staff and will continue to do so,” Bunch said in a statement to the paper. “As we have reiterated, LGBTQ+ content is welcome at the Smithsonian.”

The secretary sent an email on Friday expressing plans to meet with leaders of the Smithsonian Pride Alliance, one of the two groups that detailed their concerns to him following December’s hearing.

Bunch told the Pride Alliance in January that with his response to Bice’s question, his intention was to “immediately stress that the Smithsonian does not expose children to inappropriate content.”

Lonnie G. Bunch III, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, appears before a Dec. 2023 hearing of the U.S. Committee on House Administration (Screen capture: Forbes/YouTube)

“A hearing setting does not give you ample time to expand,” he said, adding that with more time he would have spoken “more broadly about the merits and goals of our programming and content development and how we equip parents to make choices about what content their children experience.”

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20 bills die as Iowa Legislature adjourns-attacks on LGBTQ+ fail

Iowa becomes the latest state to adjourn Sine Die without passing a single piece of explicitly anti-LGBTQ+ legislation

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Iowa's state capitol building in Des Moines. (Photo Credit: State of Iowa)

By Erin Reed – DES MOINES, Iowa – In the latest in a series of victories for trans and queer people in statehouses across the United States, Iowa’s legislature has adjourned sine die without passing a single piece of explicitly anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

This is despite more than 20 bills being introduced targeting LGBTQ+ individuals, including some introduced and prioritized by the governor herself.

Other states, which have historically shown a willingness to pass LGBTQ+ legislation, have also failed in efforts to pass such legislation this year, including Florida, Georgia, and West Virginia. This is leaving some to wonder if anti-trans and anti-queer politics are beginning to run into resistance, at least in the lead-up to the 2024 election fight.

This year, Iowa was at the center of numerous debates over anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, particularly targeting transgender individuals. One bill aimed to remove transgender people from the state’s civil rights code and declare them “disabled.” 

Another proposal, known as the “pink triangle bill,” would have required special gender markers on the birth certificates and driver’s licenses of transgender people. One bill would have redefined “equal” to no longer mean “same” or “identical” for transgender people.

A further measure sought to ban transgender individuals from restrooms that match their gender identity. Nonetheless, all of these bills failed to pass as the legislature reached its closing hours.

This is not due to a lack of effort by a handful of Republican legislators who saw this as their priority issue. In the final moments of the session, sensing defeat, Republicans attempted to pass an anti-transgender birth certificate bill by introducing an amendment to ban such certificates onto a bill supporting the loved ones of fallen veterans.

Perhaps realizing that such a move would likely be seen as politically unpopular, they withdrew the amendment before the legislature adjourned.

Over 20 bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community that were introduced this year died. Counting rollover bills from the previous year, Iowa Safe Schools states that number is as high as 39 bills that have been defeated.

The only bills to pass was a broad “religious freedom restoration act,” which could allow broad discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and many other classes of people using religion as a shield, as well as a DEI ban. Though both bills have negative impacts on LGBTQ+ people, neither bill contained the targeted provisions seen in several others that were introduced this year.

Iowa has been the site of fierce resistance to anti-LGBTQ+ legislation this year. For one piece of legislation removing transgender people from the state civil rights code, over 300 people lined up in the hallway to speak out against the bill. When the bill was defeated in committee, cheers could be heard throughout the hallway.

Responding to that bills defeat at the time, Damian Thompson of Iowa Safe Schools stated, “From what I can tell, opposition was overwhelming, before the hearing, during the hearing, and after the hearing.” He later added, “This is the kind of response we need to see with every anti-LGBTQ legislation. We need the entire community united in opposition. What they are trying to do, we’ve seen it, they are trying to divide us. The LGB against the T, and it’s not going to work.”

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Crowd in opposition to HB2082 stripping civil rights from transgender people, source: Oliver Weilein

Iowa is not the only state to witness significant victories over anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans legislation this year. Earlier, all explicitly anti-LGBTQ+ bills—20 in total—were defeated in Florida, prompting a statement from local HRC advocates that “The tide is turning.”

Similarly, over 20 bills failed in West Virginia, leading to celebrations. In Georgia, every anti-LGBTQ+ bill also failed, despite similar last-minute attempts to amend anti-LGBTQ+ legislation into entirely unrelated bills.

Although attacks on trans and queer individuals have encountered significant obstacles in Iowa and other states historically targeting LGBTQ+ people, some states are advancing with particularly severe legislation.

These states include TennesseeAlabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, all of which have introduced bills that would ban transgender people from bathrooms, allow individuals with religious objections to adopt LGBTQ+ children, and more.

Meanwhile, Ohio is moving forward with a bathroom ban that could affect transgender adults in colleges, and Utah has already passed a sweeping bathroom and locker room ban this year. Additionally, the United States presidential election is already witnessing political attacks on transgender individuals, which may intensify in the coming months.

For transgender Iowans, however, any further attacks will have to wait until the outcomes of the 2024 election cycle are clear. Early indications from Iowa suggest that such attacks may not be politically popular in the state.

For example, Moms For Liberty candidates were defeated in 12 of 13 highly contested school board elections in the state in 2023. Additionally, Pella, Iowa—a town that favored Trump by over 35 points—defeated a local book ban.

If similar election results occur in 2024, then attacks on LGBTQ+ individuals may continue to falter in the state, giving its trans and queer residents a moment to breathe as they begin the long battle to roll back harsh laws targeting LGBTQ+ people enacted in recent years.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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

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600+ national polls shows Biden & Trump are tied

The 2024 national popular vote polling average between Biden and Trump is a significant indicator of the political divide

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Then President Donald Trump debating Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden on Sept. 29, 2020. (Screenshot/YouTube PBS News Hour)

WASHINGTON – As the 2024 election contest heats up in a presidential race that is seeing a rematch between Republican frontrunner former President Donald Trump and incumbent Democratic President Joe Biden, the divide in the American nation is a nearly dead even between the two candidates according to The Hill.

The 2024 national popular vote polling average between Biden and Trump is a significant indicator of the political divide. As of Sunday Trump led with a polling average of 45.3% to Biden’s 44.4% with Trump having only a 0.9% lead based on over 600 polls. The majority of the polls were conducted between April 1 and April 19 the Hill reported.

Trump, who is standing trial on low level felony charges this week and next in New York City over his alleged payment of hush money to an adult film actress during the 2016 campaign race for the White House has not seen a dip in polling as a result of that and other criminal trials he faces.

Biden on the other hand is still not resonating well with independent and younger voters angered with his support of Israel over the ongoing war in between Hamas and Israel and his handling of the economy which is still confronting high prices, inflation, and astronomical housing costs. The president is also under fire for the handling of the migrant crisis on the Southern border.

Factoring into the race is the emergence of the third party candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., which the latest national NBC News poll shows the third-party vote — and especially Kennedy— cutting deeper into former President Donald Trump’s support than President Joe Biden’s, though the movement the other candidates create is within the poll’s margin of error.

Trump leads Biden by 2 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup, 46% to 44%, in the new NBC News poll. Yet when the ballot is expanded to five named candidates, Biden is the one with a 2-point advantage: Biden 39%, Trump 37%, Kennedy 13%, Jill Stein 3% and Cornel West 2%.

The big reason why is that the poll finds a greater share of Trump voters in the head-to-head matchup backing Kennedy in the expanded ballot. Fifteen percent of respondents who picked Trump the first time pick Kennedy in the five-way ballot, compared with 7% of those who initially picked Biden.

For a complete breakdown by poll and analysis, explore Decision Desk HQ and The Hill’s coverage here: (Link)

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Anti-trans British pediatrician backpedals on her review on HRT

Dr. Cass’s latest statements are likely to cast more doubt on the study, which disregarded substantial evidence on trans care

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National Health Service Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital, a National Health Service hospital in England. (Photo Credit: Francis Tyers/NHS)

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – In the latest twist over the Cass Review, a controversial report released in England last week targeting transgender care, the review’s leader has seemingly walked back recommendations and findings that have already led to a crackdown on transgender care in the United Kingdom.

Dr. Hillary Cass, in an interview with LGBTQ+ organizations, reportedly stated that puberty blockers and hormone therapy should be made available at differing ages based on individual need, and that current policies in England often result in those medications being offered too late. This stands in stark contrast to the report itself, which presents much more restrictive findings and recommendations on trans youth care that have been used to ban treatments in the UK and cited by far-right organizations behind bans in the United States.

The Cass Review was commissioned and produced in England in the wake of political attacks on transgender people in the United Kingdom after clinic closures and skyrocketing wait times. The “independent” review was lead by Dr. Hillary Cass, who reportedly followed several anti-trans organizations on social media and who met with Governor DeSantis’ medical board and offered information in their efforts to ban care in Florida, leading to some to question that independence. Last week, the final review was published, leading to bans on puberty blockers in the country, citing the report as justification for doing so.

The report disregarded a substantial amount of evidence for transgender care as not “high quality” enough and then described the evidence surrounding transgender care as weak, despite other reviews, major medical organizations, and the largest psychological organization in the world finding the evidence compelling enough to support gender affirming care. This has led to a group of over 100 Irish academics decrying the review in a group letter. The report made a series of recommendations, such as Recommendation 8, which states that hormone therapy is available for 16-year-olds but should be administered with “extreme caution,” and encourages clinicians to delay the treatment until age 18 unless there are “clear rationales” for earlier intervention. It also called for significant restrictions on puberty blockers, limiting them to research studies only. These recommendations and Cass’s findings have been used to justify severe crackdowns on transgender care.

See recommendation 8 here:

Recommendation 8, Cass Review.

Now, in an interview first reported on twitter by TransSafetyNow, Dr. Hillary Cass appears to substantially walk back much of her review, interpretations of that review, and even attempts to brush off her meetings with political appointees in the DeSantis administration who met with her to obtain information they would later attempt to use to ban trans care there. In the interview with UK-based LGBTQ+ organization The Kite Trust, Dr. Hillary Cass is asked if she believes it is OK to prescribe puberty blockers. Her answer is significantly out of alignment with her report:

In the data the Cass Review examined, the most common age that trans young people were being initially prescribed puberty suppressing hormones was 15. Dr. Cass’s view is that this is too late to have the intended benefits of suppressing the effects of puberty and was caused by the previous NHS policy of requiring a trans young person to be on puberty suppressing hormones for a year before accessing gender affirming hormones. The Cass Review Report recommends that a different approach is needed, with puberty suppressing hormones and gender affirming hormones being available to young people at different ages and developmental stages alongside a wider range of gender affirming healthcare based on individual need.

Her answer aligns more closely with the current provision of transgender care in many countries, where individual needs and circumstances are prioritized for each patient. However, this is not the tone of the report, which has been used to advocate for significant restrictions and even outright bans. In the United States, the report has been cited by the Heritage Foundation (retweeted) and the Alliance Defending Freedom, organizations that have been actively involved in bans on trans care. In the United Kingdom, the report has even prompted an inquest into adult trans care, raising concerns about its potential impact on this care as well.

Some have accused her answers in the interview as being an attempt to deflect criticism. This is particularly evident in her response regarding a meeting with Dr. Patrick Hunter, a Catholic Medical Association doctor who was tapped by Governor Ron DeSantis in the United States to ban transgender care. Following the publication of the Florida reviews and standards of care, which bears a resemblance to the Cass Review, lawsuits revealed that the review was deceitfully conducted. Evidence, including a PowerPoint document, showed that the decision to ban trans care had been made before the review had even begun. Documents produced by the lawsuit also revealed that Dr. Cass had taken a meeting and exchanged emails with the Florida team.

Dr. Cass, in the latest interview, denies any wrongdoing, stating:

Patrick Hunter approached the Cass Review stating he was a paediatrician who had worked in this area. The Cass Review team were not aware of his wider connections and political affiliations at this time and so he met the criteria for clinicians who were offered an initial meeting. This initial contact was the same as any paediatrician who approached the study. The Cass Review team declined any further contact with Patrick Hunter after this meeting. Patrick Hunter and his political connections has had no influence on the content of the Cass Review Report.

Related

However, in a new email made exclusively available to “Erin In The Morning,” Dr. Cass’s denial of impropriety does not appear to tell the whole story. Although she claims that she was not aware of his political affiliations, we learn that the meeting was actually set up by Dr. Riittakerttu Kaltiala, a member of the Cass Advisory Board (declared in her conflicts of interest) whom Dr. Patrick Hunter says has worked with him many times in the past. In this email, we also learn that Dr. Cass followed up with information she wanted to share with the board.

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Email from Dr. Patrick Hunter about meeting with Dr. Cass.

Furthermore, Dr. Cass’s claim that this was the only meeting between members of the Cass Review team and medical board members appointed by Governor DeSantis to ban care is contradicted by a court deposition citing “regular meetings” with Dr. Kaltiala, the member of the Cass Review Advisory Board who arranged the meeting between Dr. Cass and Dr. Hunter.

https://glad-org-wpom.nyc3.cdn.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/doe-v-ladapo-plaintiffs-trial-brief.pdf?cshp_omh_redirect_404=1 deposition document discussing Hunter's communications with Dr. Ritta Kaltiala and Michael Biggs and SEGM.
Deposition of Dr. Roman in Florida Case

The interview is likely to further embroil the Cass Review in scandal both in the United Kingdom and internationally. It seems to represent a significant attempt to deflect criticism from the report by softening some of its conclusions. Moreover, the defensive tone of the report regarding those who influenced its production and meetings with politically charged appointees, who themselves have faced scrutiny over unethical and deceitful practices in reports on transgender healthcare, is bound to raise eyebrows.

However, it remains to be seen whether politicians in England or in red states in the United States, who are aggressively seeking any pretext to restrict care, will pause their efforts even with Dr. Cass tempering the implications of her report.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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

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Support for Biden among LGBTQ adults persists despite misgivings

70% of all LGBTQ respondents and 81% of those who identify as trans said the Democratic Party should be doing more for queer and trans folks

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Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

SAN FRANCISCO — A new survey by Data for Progress found LGBTQ adults overwhelmingly favor President Joe Biden and Democrats over his 2024 rival former President Donald Trump and Republicans, but responses to other questions may signal potential headwinds for Biden’s reelection campaign.

The organization shared the findings of its poll, which included 873 respondents from across the country including an oversample of transgender adults, exclusively with the Washington Blade on Thursday.

Despite the clear margin of support for the president, with only 22 percent of respondents reporting that they have a very favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of Trump, answers were more mixed when it came to assessments of Biden’s performance over the past four years and his party’s record of protecting queer and trans Americans.

Forty-five percent of respondents said the Biden-Harris administration has performed better than they expected, while 47 percent said the administration’s record has been worse than they anticipated. A greater margin of trans adults in the survey — 52 vs. 37 percent — said their expectations were not met.

Seventy precent of all LGBTQ respondents and 81 percent of those who identify as trans said the Democratic Party should be doing more for queer and trans folks, while just 24 percent of all survey participants and 17 percent of trans participants agreed the party is already doing enough.

With respect to the issues respondents care about the most when deciding between the candidates on their ballots, LGBTQ issues were second only to the economy, eclipsing other considerations like abortion and threats to democracy.

These answers may reflect heightened fear and anxiety among LGBTQ adults as a consequence of the dramatic uptick over the past few years in rhetorical, legislative, and violent bias-motivated attacks against the community, especially targeting queer and trans folks.

The survey found that while LGBTQ adults are highly motivated to vote in November, there are signs of ennui. For example, enthusiasm was substantially lower among those aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 39 compared with adults 40 and older. And a plurality of younger LGBTQ respondents said they believe that neither of the country’s two major political parties care about them.

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Court docs raise concerns over right-wing TikTok investor influence

Federal lawmakers have moved forward with a proposal that would force ByteDance to divest TikTok or ban the platform’s use in the U.S.

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Jeff Yass (Screen capture: Susquehanna International Group/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – The role played by Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass in the creation of TikTok might be far greater than was previously understood, according to new reporting that raises questions about the extent of the right-wing megadonor’s influence over matters at the intersection of social media, federal regulations, and electoral politics.

In 2012, Yass’s firm, Susquehanna International Group, spent $5 million for 15 percent of the short-form video hosting platform’s Chinese-owned parent, ByteDance. In the years since, as TikTok grew from a nascent startup to a tech giant with 1.5 billion active monthly users and an estimated $225 billion valuation, Yass and his firm pocketed tens of billions of dollars.

Beyond the size of Susquehanna’s ownership stake, little was known about its relationship with ByteDance until documents from a lawsuit filed against the firm by its former contractors were accidentally unsealed last month, leading to new reporting by the New York Times on Thursday that shows Susquehanna was hardly a passive investor.

In 2009 the firm used a proprietary, sophisticated search algorithm to build a home-buying site called 99Fang, tapping software engineer and entrepreneur Zhang Yiming to serve as its CEO. The company folded. And then, per the Times’s review of the court records, in 2012 Susquehanna picked Yiming to be the founder of its new startup ByteDance and repurposed the technology from 99Fang for use in the new venture.

Importantly, the documents do not provide insight into Yass’s personal involvement in the formation of ByteDance. And Susquehanna denies that the company’s search algorithm technologies were carried over from the real estate venture — which, if true, would presumably undermine the basis for the lawsuit brought by the firm’s former contractors who are seeking compensation for the tech used by ByteDance.

Questions about Yass’s influence come at a pivotal political moment


In recent weeks, federal lawmakers have moved forward with a proposal that would force ByteDance to divest TikTok or ban the platform’s use in the U.S. altogether, citing the potential threats to U.S. national security interests stemming from the company’s Chinese ownership.

The bill was passed on March 13 with wide bipartisan margins in the House but faced an uncertain future in the Senate. However, on Wednesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) announced plans to fold the proposal into a measure that includes foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, likely bolstering its chances of passage by both chambers.

Last month, shortly after meeting with Yass at his home in Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump changed his longtime stance and came out against Congress’s effort to break up or ban TikTok. The timing led to speculation about whether the billionaire businessman was behind Trump’s change of heart, perhaps by contributing to the cash-strapped Republican presidential nominee’s electoral campaign or through other means.

Meanwhile, Yass has emerged as the largest donor of the 2024 election cycle. A coalition of public interest and government watchdog groups have called attention to the vast network of right-wing political causes and candidates supported by the billionaire, often via contributions funneled through dark money PACs that are designed to conceal or obscure the identities of their donors.

The Action Center on Race and the Economy, Make the Road, POWER Metro: Faith in Action, Free the Ballot, and Little Sis launched a website called All Eyes on Yass that features research into the various causes he supports, along with insight into the networks connecting the entities funded by his contributions.

Broadly, in Pennsylvania they fall into five categories: Advocacy against reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights via the Pennsylvania Family Institute, lobbying on behalf of oil and gas industry interests by the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, anti-union groups supported by Commonwealth Partners, a privately owned registered investment advisory firm/independent broker-dealer, the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, which seeks to privatize public schools and defeat proposed increases to the minimum wage, and the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, which advocates for lowering taxes on corporations and the rich.

Additionally, All Eyes on Yass reports that the billionaire has given massive contributions to Club for Growth along with direct spending to support the electoral campaigns of right-wing Republicans including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Josh Hawley (MO); U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (Colo.), and former U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.).

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GOP AGs abused power demanding trans medical records

U.S. Senate Finance Committee says GOP attorneys general of Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, & Texas used “abusive legal demands”

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U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing room, located in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. (Photo Credit: U.S. Senate Finance Committee)

WASHINGTON — In a 10-page report released on Tuesday by staff for the Democratic majority of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, the Republican attorneys general of Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, and Texas are accused of using “abusive legal demands” to collect the medical records of transgender patients in furtherance of the AGs’ “ideological and political goals.”

According to the document, which is titled “How State Attorneys General Target
Transgender Youth and Adults by Weaponizing the Medicaid Program and their Health Oversight Authority,” the AGs used specious or misleading legal pretexts to justify their issuance of civil investigative demands to healthcare providers.

For example, the office of Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti framed the request as part of a probe into the potential misuse of Medicaid funds, while the offices of Indiana AG Todd Rokita and Missouri AG Andrew Bailey cited suspected violations of consumer protection laws. The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, which demanded records from “at least two hospitals located in Texas as well as at least two medical providers” in Washington and Georgia, did not disclose why the requests were issued.

The report found that information requested by the AGs’ offices included “invasive items such as unredacted physical and mental health records, photographs of children’s bodies, correspondence to hospitals’ general email addresses for LGBTQIA+ patients, and lists of people referred for transgender health care.”

In response, and in what the committee called “a grave violation of patient privacy and trust,” some providers turned over “near-complete, patient-identifiable” information while others used legal processes available to them such as privacy protections in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to share fewer details with the AGs’ offices.

The report noted that Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville had “failed to object in any material manner to the Tennessee Attorney General’s sweeping request and then caused undue terror to young patients and their families by supplying the Tennessee Attorney General with some of the records requested and then, again, by erroneously notifying some patients of medical record disclosures that had not occurred.”

News concerning Vanderbilt’s receipt of and compliance with the demands from Skrmetti’s office was made public in June, sparking widespread concern and panic among many of the center’s trans patients and their families. Some, according to the report, experienced suicidal ideation and emotional distress including depression and anxiety.

A plaintiffs’ lawsuit was filed in July over VUMC’s failure to redact personally identifying information from the medical records. The following month, the center disclosed plans to comply with an investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights.

In a statement to NBC News, Michael Regier, the medical center’s general counsel and secretary, said the hospital disputes the findings published in the committee’s report and had submitted “a detailed letter outlining our concerns about its proposed findings before it was released.” 

“We made every effort to both protect our patients and follow the law,” Regier said, adding that “At no point did we violate privacy laws, and we strongly disagree with any suggestion that we did.”

However, the committee’s report notes that by contrast, providers in other states like the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis refused to turn over patient records, citing privacy concerns and HIPPA regulations. And after staff for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the committee chair, had requested and reviewed copies of correspondence between VUMC and the Tennessee AG’s office, they concluded that the documentation “sheds light, for the first time, on the full extent of VUMC’s acute and repeated failures to protect its patients.”

For example, the report explains that after Skrmetti’s office issued the initial request to VUMC, it followed up with two additional civil investigative demands for “confidential information across 18 categories without any bounds on the number of patients or people implicated” ranging from “employment contracts for physicians to volunteer agreements for the
VUMC Trans Buddy Program to communications to and from a general email address.”

In response, the hospital shared “65,000 pages of documents, including the medical records of 82 transgender patients.” The information that was provided pursuant to receipt of Skrmetti’s office’s third civil investigative demand is unknown.

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Drug policy reform pushed at National Cannabis Policy Summit

“We’ve come a long way,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) told the audience on Wednesday. “And now we have a long way to go”

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U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), second from left (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

WASHINGTON – Speaking at the 2024 National Cannabis Policy Summit on Wednesday, congressional leaders pledged their support for proposals to remedy the harms of America’s War on Drugs while protecting cannabis users and cannabis businesses that are operating under a fast-evolving patchwork of local, state, and federal laws.

Overwhelmingly, the lawmakers who attended the conference at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in D.C. or delivered their remarks virtually were optimistic about the chances of passing legislative solutions in the near-term, perhaps even in this Congress.

Participants included U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), along with U.S. Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who co-chairs the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and was honored at the event with the Supernova Women Cannabis Champion Lifetime Achievement Award.

Republicans included an aide for U.S. Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) who was featured in an afternoon panel discussion about the cannabis policy landscape on Capitol Hill.

Each of the members have long championed cannabis-related policy reforms, from Merkley’s SAFER Banking Act that would allow cannabis businesses to access financial services (thereby affording them the critically important protections provided by banks) to Lee’s work throughout her career to ameliorate the harms suffered by, particularly, Black and Brown communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of marijuana and the consequences of systemic racism in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

America is now at an inflection point

The lawmakers agreed America is now at an inflection point. Democratic and Republican leaders are coming together to support major drug policy reforms around cannabis, they said. And now that 40 states and D.C. have legalized the drug for recreational or medical use, or both, the congress members stressed that the time is now for action at the federal level.

Last summer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a formal request to re-categorize marijuana as a Schedule III substance under the rules and regulations of the Controlled Substances Act, which kicked off an ongoing review by the Biden-Harris administration. Since the law’s enactment in 1971, cannabis has been listed as a Schedule I substance and, therefore, has been subject to the most stringent restrictions on and criminal penalties for its cultivation, possession, sale, and distribution.

Merkley acknowledged that re-scheduling would remedy the Nixon administration’s “bizarre” decision to house marijuana under the same scheduling designation as far more harmful and addictive drugs like heroin — and noted that the move would also effectively legalize biomedical research involving cannabis. However, the senator said, while re-scheduling “may be a step in the right direction, it’s not de-scheduling” and therefore would not make real inroads toward redressing the harms wrought by decades of criminalization.  

Likewise, as she accepted her award, Lee specified that she and her colleagues are “working night and day on the legalization, not re-scheduling.” And her comments were echoed by Warren, who proclaimed in a prerecorded video address that “de-scheduling and legalizing cannabis is an issue of justice.”

Congressional Republicans have blocked legislation to legalize marijuana, the Massachusetts senator said, “and that is why the scheduling is so important,” as it might constitute a “tool that we can use to get this done without Republican obstruction.”

(Photo Credit: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration)

Warren, Merkley, and Schumer were among the 12 Senate Democrats who issued a letter in January to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration requesting transparency into its re-scheduling process while also, more importantly, demanding that the agency fully de-schedule cannabis, which would mean the drug is no longer covered by the Controlled Substances Act.

However, in a possible signal of political headwinds against these efforts, their Republican colleagues led by U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) responded with a letter to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram “highlighting concerns over HHS’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule III-controlled substance.” The GOP signatories, all of whom serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also sought to “underscore the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) duty under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to ensure compliance with the United States’ treaty obligations under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.”

As Norton noted during her prepared remarks, elected Democrats are not necessarily always on the same page with respect to expanding access to economic opportunity facilitated by cannabis. For instance, though President Joe Biden had promised, during his State of the Union address this year, to direct his “Cabinet to review the federal classification of marijuana, and [expunge] thousands of convictions for mere possession,” Norton blamed Biden along with House Republicans for provisions in the federal budget this year that prohibit D.C. from using local tax dollars to legalize cannabis sales.

A non-voting delegate who represents the city’s 690,000 residents in the House, Norton called the president’s position “deeply disappointing,” particularly considering his record of supporting “D.C. statehood, which would allow D.C. to enact its own policies without congressional interference” and grant its residents voting representation in both chambers of Congress. She added that the majority of Washingtonians are Black and Brown while all are held responsible for “the obligations of citizenship including paying federal taxes.”

Norton said the city should also have the power to grant clemency for crimes committed in the District, including cannabis-related crimes — power that, currently, can only be exercised by the president.

Efforts to reform harmful cannabis regulations

Some Republican lawmakers have been at the forefront of efforts to reform harmful cannabis regulations. For instance, a participant in a mid-afternoon panel pointed to the CURE Act, a bill introduced by U.S. Reps. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) that would prohibit the federal government from denying security clearances based on applicants’ past or current use of cannabis.

While securing statehood for D.C. and de-scheduling cannabis via legislation or administrative action are perhaps, at least for now, a heavy lift, Merkley pointed to promising new developments concerning his SAFER Banking Act.

The Oregon senator first introduced the measure, then titled the SAFE Banking Act, in 2019, and he said the legislation’s evolution into its current iteration was difficult. “Regulators don’t want to be told what to do,” Merkley said, and negotiations with these officials involved “nitty-gritty arguments over every word.”

Pushback also came from one of Merkley’s Democratic colleagues. In September, Warnock, who is Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator, voted “no” on the 2023 version of the SAFER Banking Act, writing: “My fear is that if we pass this legislation, if we greenlight this new industry and the fees and the profits to be made off of it without helping those communities” most harmed by the War on Drugs “we will just make the comfortable more comfortable.”

Warnock’s statement followed his pointed remarks expressing concerns with the legislation during a Senate Banking Committee hearing.

“Let me be very clear,” he said, “I am not opposed to easing or undoing federal restrictions around cannabis. And I would support all of the provisions and reforms in this legislation if paired with broader cannabis reforms that substantively address the issue of restorative justice. This bill does not do that.”

At this point, however, the latest version of the SAFER Banking Act has advanced out of committee and earned the support of Senate leaders including Schumer and much of the Republican conference.

“This is the moment,” he said. “Let’s not let this year pass without getting this bill — the safer banking bill — through the House, through the Senate, and on the president’s desk.”

In her remarks, Lee also discussed the importance of business and industry-wide reforms like those in Merkley’s bill.

“We have to make sure that the cannabis industry is viewed by everyone, especially our federal government, as a legitimate business,” Lee said. “Legitimate, which deserves every single aspect of financial services that any legitimate business deserves and has access to.”

Like Warnock, the congresswoman also highlighted how these financial and business considerations intersect with “equity issues,” as “those who have been most impacted by this horrible War on Drugs” must “become first in line for the businesses and for the jobs and for the economic opportunity the cannabis industry provides.”

Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act

Reflecting on her experience introducing the Marijuana Justice Act in 2019, which was Congress’s first racial justice cannabis reform bill, Lee remembered how “everyone was like, ‘why are you doing this? It’s politically not cool.’” Her legislation sought to end the federal criminalization of marijuana, expunge the criminal records of those convicted of cannabis-related crimes, and reinvest in communities that have suffered disproportionately from the War on Drugs.

The congresswoman said she explained to colleagues how the bill addressed “many, many layers” of often-intersecting problems linked to federal cannabis policy, telling them: “This is a criminal justice issue, a racial justice issue, an issue of equity, a medical issue, a veterans’ issue, and an issue of economic security.”

Two years later, with a 220-204 vote, the House successfully passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, a comprehensive bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and to the Senate by then-U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). The measure included Lee’s Marijuana Justice Act.

“This bill is the product of many, many years of advocacy for federal cannabis reform and equity,” she said in a statement celebrating the bill’s passage. “Make no mistake: This is a racial justice bill. It’s about the thousands of people of color who sit in jail for marijuana offenses while others profit. It’s about finally repairing the harms of the War on Drugs on communities and families across the country.”

“We’ve come a long way,” she told the audience on Wednesday. “And now we have a long way to go.”

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The impact of the Supreme Court’s Idaho ruling on trans people

The ruling is complicated & will have an immediate impact for trans youth in Idaho and could have national repercussions

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U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: Architect of the U.S. Capitol)

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – On Monday, news broke that the Supreme Court of the United States will allow Idaho to enforce its ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, a felony ban that makes trans care punishable by up to 10 years in prison for doctors who provide it to those under 18. 

The ruling was not based on the merits of gender-affirming care or its constitutionality; rather, it addressed broad injunctions and a lower court’s ability to block a law fully at the earliest stages — a pet issue for some conservative justices who chose to take decisive action when transgender lives were at stake.

The immediate impact of the ruling is clear: transgender individuals will be barred from obtaining gender-affirming care in Idaho, except for only two plaintiffs, despite no rationale for how a ban is supposed to work for everyone but those two plaintiffs when doctors are broadly barred from providing care. In other states where anti-trans laws are being litigated, the impacts are more nebulous, and the ruling could impact many other issues as well.

The case in question stems from a challenge to Idaho’s felony ban on gender-affirming care. In December 2023, a federal judge ruled that the ban was likely unconstitutional, ruling in favor of two transgender minor plaintiffs using pseudonyms.

The judge stated that the right to obtain medically necessary care for your children is “deeply rooted in this nation’s history and traditions,” using the logic from the anti-abortion Dobbs decision against transgender care bans as an apparent preemptive strike at such language being utilized to justify bans on trans care should the case ever reach the Supreme Court.

The judge then issued a broad preliminary injunction that prevented the state from enforcing the law on anyone while the court process played out.

It was the breadth of the injunction that came under dispute in the Supreme Court, not issues directly related to the constitutionality of transgender care. Attorneys for the state of Idaho argued that the injunction was too broad and that the state should be allowed to enforce the law on everyone except for the plaintiffs.

This would force anyone seeking care to seek individual exceptions and rulings from federal courts, an expensive endeavor. On the other hand, attorneys for the plaintiffs pointed out that the broad injunction was necessary: the plaintiffs were using pseudonyms to preserve their anonymity.

Without a broad preliminary injunction, doctors would be unlikely to continue offering care, thus making it impossible for the plaintiffs to access that care even with a ruling in their favor, and in doing so, they would have to forfeit their anonymity.

The majority of the court sided with reversing the injunction and allowing the law to go into effect for everyone but the plaintiffs, with a plurality signing onto Justice Gorsuch’s opinion stating that the ability of judges to issue broad preliminary injunctions should be muted.

They had little to say about the constitutionality of the law itself, except for Justices Kavanaugh and Barrett, who wrote in their separate concurrence that they believe the state may a likelihood of success on the merits [Update: Law Dork’s Chris Geidner states that the “merits” here, as Kavanaugh described it in his opinion, are about the scope of the injunction, and so it may not necessarily signal Kavanaugh and Barrett’s votes on the challenges to the gender-affirming care bans].

Instead, the real impact of this case will likely be on justices issuing broad preliminary injunctions to block statewide laws in the early stages of a constitutional challenge; it should not immediately impact any anti-trans laws being decided on the merits.

Of course, this provides little consolation to transgender young people in Idaho, who will have to go without access to their medication in the state even though two courts have ruled that the law blocking them is likely unconstitutional. It also raises questions about other broad preliminary injunctions nationwide on transgender topics: we likely cannot expect each student to take their school to federal court every time they want to challenge an individual bathroom ban in their local high school, for instance.

These questions have a significant impact on transgender individuals but will not only affect transgender people. They will arise anytime a state passes a law that is broadly enjoined at the preliminary stage by lower courts. This issue has surfaced in many other cases, from ghost guns to the mifepristone case, where sometimes broad preliminary injunctions are viewed favorably by the same justices who just ruled negatively on them for transgender individuals.

The impact of the ruling will likely be initially muted for transgender people nationwide. While it will have a significant impact in Idaho, there are no cases currently pending on transgender healthcare where a broad federal preliminary injunction is in place, other than in Idaho.

The case in Arkansas, for instance, has moved well beyond the preliminary injunction stage and has been ruled unconstitutional on the merits. However, numerous other cases are still being litigated, and states are enjoined on a wide range of topics, many of which have been broadly enjoined while awaiting a final constitutional ruling on the law. It remains to be seen if any of these broad injunctions are similarly challenged.

It is also important to note that this will not impact any rulings made under state-level litigation. For instance, in Montana, a ban on gender-affirming care is enjoined from enforcement using the state constitution’s right to seek “safety, health, and happiness in all lawful ways,” as well as an explicit right to privacy.

Meanwhile, in Ohio, a state challenge is currently underway using a provision in the state constitution that bars the state from issuing penalties for obtaining or providing healthcare. These state challenges will be insulated from anything that happens at the Supreme Court level.

Still, the ruling will mean further hardship for transgender youth in Idaho, and could signal that the Supreme Court is willing to take drastic action when it comes to transgender healthcare, even if that action is not directly related to the merits of the healthcare bans themselves. The Supreme Court could address the issue on the merits at any time, and it seems increasingly likely that it will in the near future.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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

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