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Former Republican U.S. House members call for Equality Act passage

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Former U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – In a letter addressed Tuesday to party leaders on Capitol Hill, 11 former Republican members of Congress urged federal lawmakers to pass anti-discrimination legislation to protect members of the LGBTQ community.

Former U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), Claudine Schneider (R-R.I.), Bob Dold (R-Ill.), Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.), Chris Shays (R-Conn.) and Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.) all signed the letter.

“The status quo is not working for LGBTQ Americans nor is it emblematic of our country’s founding values of freedom, fairness, and equality,” the signatories wrote in the letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Ros-Lehtinen told the Washington Blade that supporting and urging the passage of nondiscrimination legislation was “the right action to take.”

“That is why I am so proud to have spearheaded this letter, signed by 10 other former Republican members of Congress, encouraging lawmakers to pass this bill so that discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community will be a thing of the past,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

The Equality Act has been introduced in Congress multiple times dating back to the 1970s. Its latest iteration was introduced by U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in early 2021 and was later passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. 

“Equality is a founding principle of our country, and everyone knows discrimination is wrong,” Cicilline told the Blade. “I introduced the Equality Act to guarantee that every LGBTQ+ American would be protected from discrimination in all aspects of our lives. With so much anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being proposed and even passed in some state legislatures across the country, we must pass the Equality Act to end discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community once and for all.”

The current form of the legislation would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in a number of different areas including public accommodations, employment, housing and education. The bill has now awaited a vote in the U.S. Senate for nearly 16 months, where many see it as unlikely that the bill would be able to garner the 60 votes needed to withstand a potential filibuster and subsequent failure to move forward for President Biden to sign.

In lieu of federal legislation, the president has taken alternative, executive steps to codify LGBTQ protections into areas under his jurisdiction. On Wednesday, President Biden held an event at the White House where he signed an executive order aimed at combatting discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

“As President Biden said during his first joint address to Congress, the president has the back of LGBTQI+ people across the country,” the White House said in a statement marking the signing that took place during a Pride Month event. “That is why he [is] taking these bold actions and continuing to fight for full equality for every American — including urging Congress pass the Equality Act and provide overdue civil rights projections for LGBTQI+ people.”

The president’s executive order took aim at the continued practice of so-called conversion therapy and hundreds of discriminatory state laws passed in the last year. The order tasked entities under his command, such as the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, with combatting such legislation and harmful practices.

LGBTQ nondiscrimination advocates have similarly been able to make strides in certain areas in recent years without the Equality Act. 

The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County in 2020 ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was illegal in employment under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. However, multiple states still permit such discrimination in areas outside of employment. 

Ros-Lehtinen described how she believes passing comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation would make fairness and equity in all states a reality.

“The sad truth is that in our wonderful nation, it is still permissible to discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We need federal protections and not a patchwork of state laws that may or may not grant protection from this unfair discrimination. I urge the U.S. Senate to pass the Equality Act which will grant this protection.”

But despite the current wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation in numerous states, largely sponsored by members of her party, Ros-Lehtinen expressed continued optimism that a greater share of her party would soon support efforts to make nationwide LGBTQ protections omnipresent.

“I remain hopeful that members of my Republican Party will move away from extremist views and walk toward the light of acceptance and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “They are our family members, our neighbors, our work colleagues.”

And, as signaled by the language of the letter submitted to congressional leaders, her fellow signatories agree.

“Bipartisan leadership on this issue is possible,” the former congresspeople wrote. “Americans from all walks of life — across political party, demographics, and geography — support protections and are ready for Congress to act. The current Congress has momentum and the go-ahead from the public to outlaw LGBTQ discrimination once and for all.”

Additional reporting by Michael K. Lavers.

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Religious Extremism/Anti-LGBTQ+ Activism

American Library Association asks FBI to investigate threats

The letter also specified attacks on social media platforms. Many of these threats have been initiated specifically over LGBTQ+ books

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Chicago headquarters buildings of the American Library Association, (ALA) (Photo Credit: ALA)

CHICAGO – On Monday the executive board of the American Library Association (ALA) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray expressing concerns about the ongoing serious threats directed towards public and school libraries and library workers since last Spring and asking Wray to launch an FBI investigation.

While the ALA Executive Board didn’t state there was a direct connection between recent threats and opposition to library materials and programs, the board on behalf of its member libraires expressed deep concerns over the volume and intensity of the threats which have included violent disruptions of programs and verbal threats of physical harm.

The letter highlighted bombing or shooting threats that forced the temporary closures of Hawaii State Public Library System, Salt Lake City Public Library System, the Denver Public Library, the Fort Worth Public Library and the Nashville Public Library.

The letter also specified attacks on social media platforms over the past year. Many of these threats have been initiated specifically over LGBTQ+ books or books on race, along with violent threats and disruptions over drag queen story hours across the nation.

Notably, many of the disruptions and threats are promulgated by the Twitter account of Chaya Raichik, a former Brooklyn, New York real estate agent, who appears to be negatively obsessed with LGBTQ+ people.

When Raichik tweets to her 1.3 million followers, violence or threats of threats inevitably follow. The people acting on her tweets are very often members of the white supremacist group the Proud Boys, who analysts say have targeted nearly every event Libs of Tik Tok has tweeted about, and who rarely or never target events she doesn’t tweet about.

Raichik also zealously targets transgender people with special emphasis on spreading lies and propaganda as she has reintroduced Anita Bryant 1970’s era far-right anti-LGBTQ+ ideology and language, defining trans females and gay men as “groomers” which has reinvigorated anti-LGBTQ+ extremists.

“Libs of TikTok is synonymous with maliciously targeting LGBTQ organizations, people, and allies by posting lies, misinformation, and blatant hate,” said a GLAAD spokesperson to the Blade.

In addition to the FBI Director, with a copy forwarded to Merrick Garland, Attorney General of the United States, the ALA is cautioning its members, urging that the “safety of library workers and patrons must be a priority. We encourage directors, supervisors and managers to review their institution’s safety procedures with all staff so that everyone knows how to respond if they receive a threat or are threatened directly.”

Transcript of the letter:

LETTER OF CONCERN TO FBI re: threats of violence in libraries: September 27, 2022

September 27, 2022

The Honorable Christopher A. Wray
Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20535

Dear Director Wray:

We, members of the executive board of the American Library Association (ALA), are writing to register our concern over threats that are being directed at public libraries and library workers. In the past two weeks, bombing or shooting threats forced the temporary closures of Hawaii State Public Library System, Salt Lake City Public Library System, the Denver Public Library, the Fort Worth Public Library and the Nashville Public Library.

The bombing and shooting threats in these five metropolitan libraries come on the heels of other threats to library workers in school and public libraries, who have been increasingly targeted by violent disruptions of programs and verbal threats of physical harm, as well as attacks on social media platforms over the past year. In addition to documented instances reported in the media in recent months, library workers are reporting to ALA that they are receiving direct threats. We are concerned that these threats, some of which include the disclosure of personal details and false and defamatory claims, may lead to actual violence towards library workers.

Given the seriousness and proliferation of these threats of violence and other acts of intimidation increasingly taking place in America’s libraries, we are gravely concerned for the safety of library workers and the millions of Americans who visit libraries each day.

We appreciate your attention to our concern about these threats to libraries and library workers and ask that you initiate an investigation as to whether there is any connection among them.

Sincerely,

The Executive Board of the American Library Association

Cc: The Honorable Merrick Garland, Attorney General of the United States

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California Politics

Congressional candidate Christy Smith & EQCA’s Tony Hoang

Race to the Midterms 2: The Future of Democracy, Abortion Rights and Climate Change and on winning in November

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Here’s the unvarnished truth: if MAGA Republicans win the November 8 midterm elections, Donald Trump wins and we can kiss our democracy and our freedom goodbye.

Think this is an exaggeration?

No one really thought the US Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade and put politicians in charge of women’s bodies – but they did. No one thought there would ever be an actual coup attempt to overturn a legitimate election and a violent insurrection against the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 during the peaceful transfer of power — but we watched it live on TV in real time, as did the coup-prompting defeated president who was inciting the rioters. 

Will Congress’ January 6th Committee explain the unthinkable? Will the Department of Justice prosecute the evil domestic terrorists, including their cult leader? Or will we have to endure this chaos until either the Democrats safely secure both chambers of Congress or the MAGA Republican terrorists award their dark orange prince his hellish authoritarianism? 

It all depends on us turning out in massive numbers to vote for Democrats this November 8.  

There are patches of blue in the black sky. Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California, whom we interview for the second episode of Race to the Midterms, has quietly created a rainbow staff that reflects our diverse state. “We really want to make sure that we reflect the diverse communities that we serve, whether that’s around gender, gender identity, race and ethnicity,” Tony says during our Zoom interview. 

Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California, with U.S. Senator Alejandro ‘Alex’ Padilla, (D-CA)
Photo by Sam Garrett-Pate

Equality California Votes, their new 501.C4 political action committee, posted their first ad for out gay candidate Will Rollins (see our interview with Will in Episode 1). “Obviously, this is one of the most consequential election cycles in our lifetimes. And if we want to protect the pro-equality majority that we have in the House, that road runs through California. And so, CA-41, the district where Will Rollins is in, is one of the most important congressional flip opportunities in California.

His opponent, Congressman Ken Calvert, for 30 years has voted against things like lowering prescription drug costs for seniors, against abortion rights and reproductive freedom and LGBTQ equality.” 

This victory in the Palm Springs area would be a major LGBTQ victory, turning this red seat blue. 

“Going back to 1994, how Congressman Calvert came into office is that he was attacking a number of folks in our community, specifically Congressman Mark Takano, who has was not publicly out at the time but [Calvert] was using his LGBTQ identity in those attack ads. Obviously two decades later Congressman Takano is now an out member of Congress, proudly representing California,” Hoang says.

“But for us, the sweet irony of being able to flip this seat by taking out a member who has been 100% against our community for years and years with someone that is openly LGBTQ is something that we are definitely committed to and pouring a number of resources into. I think on top of that, one thing that we were proud of in the redistricting cycle is given that this district represents the Greater Palm Springs area, and we were really committed to ensuring that we could maximize the political power of LGBTQ voters and our pro-equality allies in this district.”

Hoang says Equality California is also working to win back reproductive rights. “We have been working hand in glove with their partners like Planned Parenthood and as well as others around California because we understand that abortion rights, reproductive rights, are LGBTQ rights. At the end of the day, we are talking about bodily autonomy and privacy. And we know after the Dobs decision, these attacks have been coming for quite some time.”

“But,” he continues, “as shown from the Supreme Court decision, they’re not going to stop with just abortion rights. They’re coming for LGBTQ rights. And for us, it’s important that we stand in solidarity with our partners in the reproductive movement. And so, as part of that, what we are educating quite a lot of California members and our allies about is specifically around Proposition One that would enshrine the right to abortion access and contraception in the California Constitution….And so for me, it’s been heartening to see all of our allies come together in this moment and really fight back against the hate that is out there.”

We also interviewed Christy Smith, candidate for the CA-27 — my second-ever endorsement was for Christy Smith. Christy ran for Katie Hill’s seat after Hill resigned. That race against Mike Garcia was so nail-bitingly close, she ran again. That race was also heartbreakingly close. But Garcia has become a full-throated Trump fanboy, hanging around with cultists like Marjorie Taylor Green. He was among the MAGA Republicans who signed the amicus brief to the US Supreme Court asking them specifically to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Christy Smith, candidate for California Congressional District-27
(Screenshot/YouTube The Time is Now with Karen Ocamb)

“Subsequent to that,” Christy says in our interview, “he’s one of the people who coauthored ‘The Life Begins at Conception Act, which — don’t let them fool you — is their roadmap for a national abortion ban. So, while my opponent now tries to hide in safe spaces and say, ‘Well, abortion is safe in California — why are you so upset?’ Really? They have clearly signaled — and Lindsey Graham the other day just doubled down on the fact that they plan to pursue a national abortion ban. 

“But even aside from that,” she continues, “we should never live in the kind of dystopian country where any person’s rights vary from state to state. And you and I both know — we saw that for a very long time with gay marriage rights in this country, right? Where depending on where you live determines whether or not you can marry the person they love.”

MAGA Republicans in Congress are “very comfortable operating in these spaces where they continue to chip away at fundamental rights to privacy and freedom,” she says. “My opponent is right there on those extremes with these people. And the extremes are where our government is heading.” Mike Garcia also voted against a bipartisan bill authored by Jan. 6 Committee members Reps. Zoe Lofgren from California and Liz Cheney from Wyoming that would help clear up and correct confusion underlying the belief system Trump touts as the “Big Lie.”

My opponent is so extreme, he refused to vote for it,” Christy says. “So, you can’t say that you stand for democracy when you’re literally actively working to take away – not only people’s freedoms  -but the structure of the democratic institutions and the structure that protect those freedoms.”

Flipping this seat is a necessity. 

Christy says that her top priorities if elected would be first addressing the needs of the North Los Angeles County communities she represents, especially transportation issues for commuters.

“We need to work on local and regional economic growth so people aren’t commuting so far to have gainful employment,” she says. “We really need to focus on an investment in our public schools. We are facing a national teacher shortage right now that could really devastate our public schools….If we don’t come to terms with the fact that we have got to pay our teachers better, support them well, and keep politics out of their classroom, it’s really going to be devastating to our kids and our schools.”

Christy is also keen on urgently addressing climate change, which she considers “our biggest national security threat.” 

And,” Christy says, “I agree with Tony. I think the LGBTQ community is next [on the GOP hit list. “That is really important work that we have to do to stem the tide of the very extreme movement that they’re trying to push on America.

“You will always have an ally in me,” she says to our LGBTQ people. “I came to the movement based on the work that my mom did. My mom was a home healthcare nurse and she was doing home health right at the time that the HIV/AIDS crisis gripped the country. And the stories that she would come home and share with me about what gay couples were going through and how their rights were being violated. And they were really left with so little support at a time of great crisis and need in their life. That just affirmed for me that everything that the LGBTQ community goes through are civil rights issues. And if we’re going to get to true equity and parity in this country and have a future that speaks to the needs of everyone, this movement very much needs to continue to have a seat at the table. And that is work that I’m invested in doing. And it’s more than just preaching to it — it’s actually practicing it. So, I’m very proud of the diversity of my team that reflects the Rainbow Coalition and will continue to do so while I’m in public life.”

Go to ChristyforCongress.org to find out more about how to elect Christy Smith to Congress. 
Go here for the first Episode of “The Time is Now: Race to the Midterms” with Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair Mark Gonzalez and CA-41 candidate Will Rollins.

Future of Democracy, Abortion Rights and Climate Change | Featuring Tony Hoang & Christy Smith:

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California Politics

Race to the Midterms: Christy Smith & Tony Hoang

Karen Ocamb & Max Huskins along with the Los Angeles Blade present a limited YouTube series “The Time is Now: Race to the Midterms”

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Screenshot/YouTube

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The unimaginable is happening. Two years ago, Marc Elias, founder of the voting rights and elections-watcher Democracy Docket, warned that “we are one or two elections from losing our democracy.”

Complete and comprehensive voting rights legislation was needed to prevent that. Nothing happened and now several states are running slates of Trump cultist election deniers and MAGA Republican are “flooding the system” with anti-voting lawsuits. “It’s getting worse. It’s not getting better,” Elias told MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace on Friday.

“The real threat to America’s electoral system is not posed by ineligible voters trying to cast ballots. It is coming from inside the system,” the New York Times Editorial Board wrote Friday, Sept. 23

“All those who value democracy have a role to play in strengthening and supporting the electoral system that powers it, whatever their party. This involves, first, taking the threat posed by election deniers seriously and talking to friends and neighbors about it. It means paying attention to local elections — not just national ones — and supporting candidates who reject conspiracy theories and unfounded claims of fraud. It means getting involved in elections as canvassers or poll watchers or precinct officers….And it means voting, in every race on the ballot and in every election.”

A warranted panic is slowly moving through minority communities across the country — but there is still little concerted national outreach to LGBTQ voters who have our very lives, rights and future at stake in the upcoming Nov. 8 midterm elections. Not that LGBTQ organizations and candidates don’t want to reach out – it’s just incredibly hard to break through all the news noise.

That’s why we — Karen Ocamb and (ally) Max Huskins — have teamed up with the Los Angeles Blade to produce a limited YouTube series “The Time is Now: Race to the Midterms.” Our intention is to bring visibility to candidates and organization leaders and encourage LGBTQ people to get engaged, donate, do whatever they can to ensure a huge turnout for both local and statewide candidates and ballot measures, as well as electing candidates who will keep the US House of Representatives and the US Senate in Democratic hands. 

If MAGA Republicans win, Trump wins and we can kiss our democracy and our freedom goodbye. Think this is an exaggeration? No one really thought the US Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade and put politicians in charge of women’s bodies – but they did. The unthinkable is happening. 

Meet Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California. During the height of the AIDS crisis, the disease was perceived to be isolated to the gay community and gay meant “white.” The result was that many people of color avoided seeking prevention and help. Today, California is a minority-majority state and EQCA has a rainbow staff that reflects that. “We really want to make sure that we reflect the diverse communities that we serve, whether that’s around gender, gender identity, race and ethnicity,” Tony says during the Zoom interview. 

Equality California Votes, their new 501.C4 political action committee, just posted their first ad for out gay candidate Will Rollins (see our interview with Will in Episode 1). “Obviously, this is one of the most consequential election cycles in our lifetimes. And if we want to protect the pro-equality majority that we have in the House, that road runs through California. And so, CA-41, the district where Will Rollins is in, is one of the most important congressional flip opportunities in California. His opponent, Congressman Ken Calvert, for 30 years has voted against things like lowering prescription drug costs for seniors, against abortion rights and reproductive freedom and LGBTQ equality.” 

It would be a “sweet irony” for LGBTQ voters to turn this red seat blue. 

Tony also talks about working with Planned Parenthood to explain why abortion rights is an LGBTQ issue and the importance of voting for Proposition One on the California ballot.

Tony is our first interview in tomorrow’s show. 

Full disclosure: since I am no longer a journalist, I get to express my own opinions and make endorsements. My first endorsement was for former EQCA executive director Rick Chavez Zbur, who I’ve known forever and who’s now running for the state Assembly. My second-ever endorsement was for Christy Smith

Meet Christy Smith, candidate for the CA-27. Christy ran for Katie Hill’s seat after she resigned. That race against Mike Garcia was so nail-bitingly close, she ran again. That race was also heartbreakingly close. But Garcia has gone from a dullard Republican to a major Trump fanboy, hanging around with cultists like Marjorie Taylor Green. He was among the MAGA Republicans who signed the amicus brief to the US Supreme Court asking them specifically to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

“Subsequent to that,” Christy says in our interview, “he’s one of the people who coauthored ‘The Life Begins at Conception Act, which — don’t let them fool you — is their roadmap for a national abortion ban. So, while my opponent now tries to hide in safe spaces and say, ‘Well, abortion is safe in California — why are you so upset?’ Really? They have clearly signaled — and Lindsey Graham the other day just doubled down on the fact that they plan to pursue a national abortion ban. 

“But even aside from that,” she continues, “we should never live in the kind of dystopian country where any person’s rights vary from state to state. And you and I both know — we saw that for a very long time with gay marriage rights in this country, right? Where depending on where you live determines whether or not you can marry the person they love.”

Flipping this seat is a necessity. 

But one of the aspects about Christy Smith that folks may not know is that she’s a policy nerd – and a policy nerd who likes to get things done. 

Here’s a quick clip of Christ talking about how climate change is a paramount national security issue. Please check back here Sunday for our full Episode 2 show of “The Time is Now: Race to the Midterms.”

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