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Gay Republicans fought for acceptance in Texas GOP, see little progress

Gay Republicans who fought for acceptance within Texas GOP the past 3 decades told The Texas Tribune progress has been excruciatingly slow

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Dale Carpenter, outside his home in Dallas on July 8, was the state president of the Log Cabin Republicans in the 1990s but has since distanced himself from party politics. The group is the largest organization representing gay conservatives and advocating for inclusivity in the GOP. Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

By Eric Neugeboren | (The Texas Tribune) AUSTIN – In June 1998, a group of gay and lesbian conservatives, pushing for greater representation at the Texas Republican Party convention in Fort Worth, found themselves in a frightening clash with members of their own party.

Members of the Log Cabin Republicans were protesting at the gathering of party faithful after a state GOP official made offensive comments comparing the group to the Ku Klux Klan and pedophiles. The group was also protesting the rejection of their request to host a booth at the convention — the second time in a row they’d been denied — where they hoped to share information about their organization.

Counterprotesters surrounded the Log Cabin members, wielding signs with homophobic slurs and phrases like “The Gay Life = AIDS Then Hell.” They pushed and spat and shoved their fingers in the faces of the gay Republicans.

Richard Tafel, the former executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans which bills itself as the “nation’s largest Republican organization dedicated to representing LGBT conservatives and allies,” attended the Texas convention that year and recalls thinking he was in serious danger as they advocated for respect from members of their own party.

“We’re here to draw the line,” Tafel declared at the protest. “No more hatred, no more hatred in the name of God. And we won’t be silenced.”

Richard Tafel speaks at the Rally for Liberty in June 1998.
Richard Tafel speaks at the Rally for Liberty in June 1998. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

A counterprotester threw a sign at his face.

“It was a tornado of emotion, volatile and dangerous, ready to touch down and sweep us all away at any moment. I was afraid for my own safety and that of others,” wrote Dale Carpenter, a former president of Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, in a newsletter later that year.

Ultimately, no one was injured that day. But it was a vivid display of homophobia within the party.

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Gay Republicans who have fought for acceptance within the Texas GOP over the past three decades told The Texas Tribune progress has been excruciatingly slow. Many of them have left the party, even as the number of Log Cabin Republicans in Texas continues to grow.

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More than two decades later, this year’s Texas Republican convention made headlines again for its attitudes toward LGBTQ people. The party adopted a platform in June at its convention in Houston declaring that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice.” That party position comes after similar language had been stripped from the platform just four years earlier, representing a backward step for Log Cabin members who have for years been fighting for acceptance within their ranks.

Gay Republicans who have fought for acceptance within the Texas GOP over the past three decades told The Texas Tribune progress has been excruciatingly slow. Many of them have left the party, even as the number of Log Cabin Republicans in Texas continues to grow.

“I do not believe that we made any progress. In fact, I think the party got worse,” Carpenter, who is no longer involved in party politics, said of his time as the state’s Log Cabin president.

Since the group’s inception in 1989, the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas have been denied a booth at the state convention. And this year’s convention was no different. Booths are granted to all sorts of conservative interest groups, advocating for issues related to gun rights, anti-abortion issues and freedom from vaccines. A booth, in many ways, is symbolic of a seat at the table.

“Getting a booth also became a signal of party approval,” Carpenter said. “You have ‘arrived’ and are accepted in the GOP.”

Members of the state Log Cabin Kelton Dillard, Dale Carpenter and Steve Labinski, left to right, outside the Texas Capitol i…
From left: Kelton Dillard, Dale Carpenter and Steve Labinski, members of the state Log Cabin Republicans, outside the Texas Capitol in 1997. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

Beyond the official state party, which often represents the most hardline members and belief systems, mainstream conservatives in Texas have turned their attention in recent months toward anti-LGBTQ initiatives, oftentimes in the form of legislation related to school sports, curriculum and library books that address sexuality and gender identity.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order this year equating allowing minors to receive transgender care with child abuse. The Legislature also passed a bill last year banning transgender children from playing on public school sports teams that align with their gender identity.

And conservatives nationwide are taking aim at same-sex marriage. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said on his podcast last week that he believes the U.S. Supreme Court was “clearly wrong” when it legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. A majority of U.S. House Republicans last week voted against protecting the right to same-sex marriage. Only one Texas Republican voted for the measure.

State legislatures across the country have proposed more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills this year, many of which target transgender youth.

“​​It saddens me that in a state where our biggest issues are infrastructure, development and education, we have child poverty everywhere, school shootings that are happening, that we’re so focused on issues trying to limit the access to opportunities for trans youth,” said Christopher Busby, a former Log Cabin member who left the party in 2016.

The Texas GOP declined to comment for this story and referred all questions to the party platform. The Tribune reached out to prominent Texas Republican leaders for comment on the state party’s latest anti-LGBTQ platform plank. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan declined to comment. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn did not answer when asked about the party platform, instead deflecting to discuss the congressional action this week on marriage equality. Cruz said the party platform “is not rhetoric or language that I use” and that “the decisions of consenting adults concerning matters of sexuality are choices for individuals to make.”

All of them attended the convention with the exception of Abbott, who held a reception associated with the event.

Current Log Cabin members in Texas have admonished the party for the language in its platform. But they emphasize the party apparatus is not representative of all or even most Republicans, while pointing to incremental gains they’ve made within the state party.

“There are over 270 planks in the GOP platform,” said Michael Cargill, the president of the Austin Log Cabin chapter who recently resigned as acting chair of the state organization for reasons he said are unrelated to the recent platform. “There are only four planks that we disagree on.”

Notably, the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, which included about 350 dues-paying members in 2021, endorsed the Legislature’s bill targeting trans youth playing school sports. That position represents what earlier members describe as a shift within the group and a schism between current and former Log Cabin members.

Carpenter recalled that in the ’90s, the primary mission was to achieve acceptance of gay members within the state party. But after decades of nearly stagnant progress on that front, he thinks the group has shifted toward prioritizing common ground.

“We asked ourselves from time to time, are you gay first and Republican second, or are you Republican first and gay second?” he said. “I think in recent years, the mission may have shifted to primarily promoting the Republican party among LGBT people to help win elections. Current leadership seems [to be] ‘Republican first.’”

Dale Carpenter looks through photos from the 1998 Hate Crimes March in Austin in his home in Dallas, TX on July 8, 2022.
Dale Carpenter looks through photos from the 1998 Hate Crimes March in Austin. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

“I sort of lost hope” 

In 1990, the GOP party platform called homosexuality “biologically and morally unsound” and compared same-sex relationships to “necrophilia, pedophilia, bestiality, or incest.”

Paul von Wupperfeld, a gay man who lived in Austin at the time, considered himself politically right of center and in favor of limited government. Gay Republicans were hard to come by back then — many had become disillusioned with the Republican Party due in part to President Ronald Reagan’s handling of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s.

Inspired by other Log Cabin chapters that had formed more than a decade earlier, von Wupperfeld and others thought they could change the Texas GOP. He would serve as the first president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas. Today, he considers the effort an utter failure.

“We failed to moderate the Republican party,” said von Wupperfeld, now a 56-year-old Democrat who has not voted Republican since 2000. “I’m glad we tried, and I think we did the right thing by trying. We’re actually going the other way, faster and faster.”

Early on, the group had glimmers of optimism. In 1990, the Travis County GOP Convention was opened by a gay men’s chorus. Some of the GOP groups in major cities showed support for the Log Cabin Republicans.

But for every step forward, there was another fall backward.

Republicans started emphasizing social issues as religious conservatives took over the party. The Travis County GOP added language in its 1994 platform opposing “homosexual education” in public schools, according to a news article published after the change. The Galveston County GOP called for all HIV patients to be quarantined, a decision Log Cabin members said was intended to target gay people, who were disproportionately affected by the virus. The Houston Post wrote in a 1994 article that “The GOP — particularly in Texas — has become increasingly socially conservative, with the Christian right in firm control of the party apparatus.”

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Dale Carpenter at the San Antonio GOP Convention in 1996. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

The religious right movement was emboldened two years earlier in Houston. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan gave a speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention that would become known as “The Culture War Speech,” in which he warned that the nation was embroiled in a war “for the soul of America.”

“We stand with [President George H.W. Bush] against the amoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law as married men and women,” Buchanan said.

In 1995, von Wupperfeld had enough. He resigned as president of the statewide group.

“I didn’t believe it could succeed anymore,” von Wupperfeld said. “I sort of lost hope and got tired of the drama and the fighting internally and the fighting within the party.”

After von Wupperfeld left, Carpenter would take over the leadership role. He held the position for two years until 1997, until he too lost hope as his party was swallowed by social conservatives.

“We were just a few people in a few cities,” Carpenter said. “And we were up against thousands and thousands of very organized activists who really only cared about two things: abortion and homosexuality.”

The battle for a booth

The battle for a booth at the Texas Republican Party convention every two years has turned into a proxy war for acceptance within the state party.

To get a booth, a group submits an application to the party and then a committee of party officials votes on whether to approve the request. This year, Log Cabin came up short by one vote. Party chair Matt Rinaldi voted “present,” which meant he did not vote in favor or against, said Marco Roberts, the former state chair for Log Cabin who resigned in May.

Booths in the convention’s exhibit hall give interest groups and some elected officials a chance to meet with other politicians, delegates and members to advocate on issues. At this year’s convention, there were more than 75 booths at the exhibit hall, including ones for Texans for Vaccine Freedom and the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life.

Dale Carpenter faces the media at the Texas Supreme Court in June 1996.
Dale Carpenter faces the media at the Texas Supreme Court in June 1996. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

“Log Cabin were primarily interested in getting their message out to convention delegates in the hopes of having influence on the party itself,” Carpenter said.

Efforts to get a booth began in the 1990s, and the group came especially close in 1996. Kelton Dillard, a longtime treasurer for the state organization, had submitted a check to the state party to register for a booth. It cleared. But the party chair revoked the approval because they said the group was advocating for the practice of sodomy, which was illegal at the time.

The group sued the party. Days before the convention, a district judge ruled in favor of Log Cabin, ordering the state party to give the group a booth and print its advertisement in the convention handbook.

But the Texas GOP appealed to the state Supreme Court. In a ruling the day before the convention was set to begin, the court ruled the group could not have a booth at the convention.

The associate justice of the state Supreme Court who delivered the opinion was Greg Abbott.

He wrote that the decision to deny the group a booth was “an internal party affair rather than an integral part of the election process” and the Log Cabin group could not “maintain its state constitutional claims against the Party.”

Busby, the former Log Cabin member who left in 2016, said the party’s repeated refusal to grant a booth is “disheartening.”

Busby became involved in GOP politics in Texas in the 2000s. He helped reestablish the Log Cabin Republicans of Houston — after it previously had gone defunct — then became a precinct chair in Harris County and was the president of Houston Young Republicans.

Christopher Busby at City Hall in downtown Houston on Monday, July 11, 2022. Busby left an active role supporting the Republ…
Christopher Busby, at City Hall in downtown Houston on July 11, left an active role supporting the Republican Party and now considers himself more moderate. Credit: Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune

Busby left the Republican party largely because of former President Donald Trump, he said, but the state party’s stance on LGBTQ issues “didn’t help.”

“We are human, and humans have a need to feel welcomed into the social groups with which we identify,” said Busby, 33. “And for a long enough time you’re told you are not welcome, most people will hear those words and leave no matter how strongly they might want to identify with a group, no matter how strongly their values align. When you’re told you’re not part of the group, over and over again, eventually you reassign your identity values.”

Victories and losses

In more recent years, the Texas GOP has softened some of its homophobic language.

By 2012, the Texas GOP had abandoned a platform condemning sodomy. The Supreme Court had legalized sodomy nine years earlier, superceding Texas’ law banning it, which has still not been repealed.

In 2016, it removed its explicit endorsement of “reparative therapy,” a debunked and harmful treatment that claims to turn gay people straight, but still made a point of citing its availability “for self-motivated youth and adults.” The state party also retained the official position that said “homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that has been ordained by God in the Bible.”

Roberts, the first openly gay person on the Texas GOP platform committee, led the charge to remove the language in 2018. Texas Values, a conservative Christian organization, initially worked against him to preserve the plank.

Ultimately, the party delegates voted to soften the language while retaining the opposition to same-sex marriage — even as the U.S. Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage three years earlier.

It was seen as a win — a sign that the party was slowly but surely moving forward on the issue. That optimism evaporated this year.

Log Cabin members at Austin's Hate Crimes March in April 1998
Log Cabin members at Austin’s Hate Crimes March in April 1998. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

The addition of the anti-LGBTQ language in this year’s platform caught many people off guard.

As the platform committee was wrapping up its work, Matt Patrick, the committee’s chairman, proposed an amendment to add the language that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice.” Patrick did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Houston resident Jason Vaughn, a member of the platform committee who is gay, immediately objected to the change.

“This is meant to be insulting language, it does nothing for policy,” Vaughn, 38, said to the committee.

Vaughn’s objections were unsuccessful. The committee approved the change 17-14.

Two days later, the entire floor of delegates voted on the platform. One member of the platform committee, David Gebhart, called to remove the language, saying the Texas GOP “is not the Westboro Baptist Church.” He was booed. The platform plank passed overwhelmingly.

Roberts, who is now the interim chair of the Texas Conservative Liberty Forum, said he thinks this year’s change happened because Log Cabin wasn’t as involved in the platform process.

But he also sees some Republicans hardening their anti-LGBTQ stances, as anti-trans rhetoric becomes mainstreamed in the Texas GOP.

Dale Carpenter poses for a portrait outside of his home in Dallas, TX on July 8, 2022. In the 1990s Carpenter was the state …
“I do not believe that we made any progress. In fact, I think the party got worse,” Dale Carpenter, who is no longer involved in party politics, said of his time as the state’s Log Cabin president. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

“Some of the events that were very prominently featured in the news upset people, and gay people are associated with that, unfortunately, which is unfair, but it just is the case,” Roberts said.

Roberts is hopeful the party will remove the language at its next convention. Vaughn is less optimistic.

“There’s been a lot of progress if you get down with people actually having conversations,” Vaughn said. “If you want to talk about basic rhetoric, no, there’s not been a lot of progress.”

Dillard, the longtime treasurer of the state Log Cabin group, said there was some progress in his time with the group. He helped run the group’s political action committee and said that funding helped stop anti-gay legislation. He’s still a Republican but doesn’t support Trump.

He’s not too worried about the state of gay rights in the country. But he acknowledged the state party’s executive committee “has kind of gone back to being almost as nutty as they’ve ever been.”

Carpenter agreed that the Texas GOP’s views on LGBTQ issues are wildly out of touch.

“[The party’s] views have not changed, but the wider cultures have. That’s a very striking thing to me,” Carpenter said. “They are like a fossil from another age. And it’s on everything. I don’t believe they support a single thing that’s happened over the last 25 years.”

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

Politics

Trump to weaponize Feds against trans Americans if reelected

He detailed these plans in a video shared on the platform Rumble, which is popular among conservative and far-right users

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Donald Trump (Screenshot/Rumble)

PALM BEACH – Former president Donald Trump promised to weaponize the might of the federal government against transgender Americans if voters send him back to the White House next year.

He detailed these plans in a video shared on the platform Rumble, which is popular among conservative and far-right users.

Some would restore policies enacted during his administration by executive orders that were overturned by President Joe Biden, while other proposals were more extreme or would face an unclear path to implementation because they would require acts of Congress.

Trump began by inveighing against guideline-directed medical care for the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors – practices that are approved by every major mainstream American and international scientific and medical institution with relevant clinical expertise.

“I will sign a new executive order instructing every federal agency to cease all programs that promote the concept of sex and gender transition at any age,” Trump said, promising also to urge Congress to ban certain procedures for minors nationwide.

“I will declare that any hospital or healthcare provider that participates in the chemical or physical mutilation of minor youth will no longer meet federal health and safety standards for Medicaid and Medicare and will be terminated from the program immediately,” the former president said, referring again to healthcare interventions whose safety and efficacy has been demonstrated in hundreds of peer reviewed studies in scientific and medical journals.

Trump also said he would create a private right of action allowing for lawsuits against doctors and healthcare providers for administering or facilitating access to treatments for transgender and gender non-conforming youth.

“The Department of Justice will investigate big pharma and the big hospital networks to determine whether they have deliberately covered up horrific long term side effects of sex transitions in order to get rich at the expense of vulnerable patients,” Trump said.

The former president then looked beyond healthcare, promising to erase transgender people from schools and refuse to recognize them by the U.S. government.

“My Department of Education will inform states and school districts that if any teacher or school official suggests to a child that they could be trapped in the wrong body, they will be faced with severe consequences including potential civil rights violations for sex discrimination and the elimination of federal funding,” Trump said.

As part of credentialing for America’s teachers, messages promoting “the nuclear family” and child-rearing by “mothers and fathers” would be required, Trump said, adding that he would ask Congress to “pass a bill establishing that the only genders recognized by the United States government are male and female and they are assigned at birth.”

“The bill will also make clear,” Trump said, “that Title IX prohibits men from participating in women’s sports and we will protect the rights of parents from being forced to allow their minor child to assume a gender which is new and an identity without the parents’ consent.”

Trump concluded his message with the false assertion that gender dysphoria “was never heard of in all of human history” until “the radical left invented it just a few years ago.”

Transcript of Trump’s remarks:

The left wing’s gender insanity being pushed on our children is an act of child abuse. Very simple. Here’s my plan to stop the chemical, physical and emotional mutilation of our youth.

On day one, I will revoke Joe Biden’s cruel policies on so-called gender affirming care. Ridiculous. A preposterous test that includes giving kids puberty blockers, mutating their physical appearance, and ultimately performing surgery on minor children.

Can you believe this? I will sign a new executive order instructing every federal agency to cease all programs that promote the concept of sex and gender transition at any age. I will then ask Congress to permanently stop federal taxpayer dollars from being used to promote or pay for these procedures and pass a law prohibiting child sexual mutilation in all 50 states.

It will go very quickly. I will declare that any hospital or healthcare provider that participates in the chemical or physical mutilation of minor youth will no longer meet federal health and safety standards for Medicaid and Medicare and will be terminated from the program immediately.

Furthermore, I will support the creation of a private right of action for victims to sue doctors who have unforgivably performed these procedures on minor children. The Department of Justice will investigate Big Pharma and the big hospital network to determine whether they have deliberately covered up horrific long term side effects of sex transitions in order to get rich at the expense of vulnerable patients. In this case, very vulnerable.

We will also investigate whether Big Pharma or others have illegally marketed hormones and puberty blockers which are in no way licensed or approved for this use.

My Department of Education will inform states and school districts that if any teacher or school official suggests to a child that they could be trapped in the wrong body, they will be faced with severe consequences, including potential civil rights violations for sex discrimination and the elimination of federal funding. As part of our new credentialing body for teachers, we will promote positive education about the nuclear family, the roles of mothers and fathers, and celebrating rather than erasing the things that make men and women different and unique.

I will ask Congress to pass a bill establishing the only genders recognized by the United States government are male and female, and they are assigned at birth.

The bill will also make clear that Title IX prohibits men from participating in women’s sports. And we will protect the rights of parents from being forced to allow their minor child to assume a gender which is new and an identity without the parent’s consent.

The identity will not be new, and it will not be without parental consent. No serious country should be telling its children that they were born with the wrong gender, a concept that was never heard of in all of human history. Nobody’s ever heard of this. What’s happening today? It was all when the radical left invented it just a few years ago.

Under my leadership this madness will end. Thank you very much.

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GOP Trans City Councilwoman says she’s uniquely positioned

“If we aren’t a part of our government, we cannot be a voice of freedom- of reason if & when issues regarding our LGBTQ [identities] come up”

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Trenton N.J. City Councilwoman Jennifer Williams. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Williams)

Note: Other portions of Jennifer Williams’ interview with The Washington Blade were featured in a previous article alongside interviews with four other LGBTQ officeholders

TRENTON, N.J. – Jennifer Williams, who is the first LGBTQ person on the Trenton (N.J.) City Council and one of the state’s first openly transgender officeholders, connected with the Washington Blade last week to discuss topics including how she reconciles her gender identity with her membership in the Republican Party.

While Williams is grateful for her broad base of support, including from progressive Democrats, it perhaps did not come as a surprise considering her record as a longtime LGBTQ advocate and public servant who chaired the municipal Republican Party in Trenton and served on the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment for 14 years.

Plus, Williams said in emailed responses to questions from the Blade that her views on LGBTQ matters are closer to those held by Democrats than by Republicans.

“If I have to put my views on LGBTQ policy issues in one mainstream bucket, I would clearly be more aligned with national and New Jersey Democrats on our rights, equalities and freedoms than the Republican National Committee’s platform and what some GOP leaders espouse,” Williams said.

“That important difference between the two major parties is why it is integral that I stay and fight against anti-LGBTQ bigotry and discrimination,” she added.

Williams sees her position as an elected official who is both trans and a Republican as an opportunity to effectuate positive change from within her own party.

“Other LGBTQ folks may not understand why I try to advocate on the right and in the Republican Party,” she said. “But all I know is that until I am no longer the first LGBTQ or transgender person [whom] many Republican leaders meet, we will always have to worry about legislative actions or executive orders against us.”

Williams said she is in a unique position, and one that is imbued with a big responsibility:

“If I can be effective in helping some bad Republicans rethink their opinions of who we are,” she said. “Maybe we can get some of them to ‘tap the brakes’ on anti-LGBTQ legislation coming down the pike.”

“I have a ‘particular set of skills,’” Williams added, “And I feel called to use them to help protect our community.”

The Republican Party was founded in the mid-19th century by abolitionists who sought to fight for individual freedoms, liberties, self-determination and happiness, Williams noted, even if some GOP leaders do not demonstrate those values where it concerns LGBTQ people.  

LGBTQ Americans “really do need to be in the corridors of power and at the table where decisions are made,” Williams said. “Coming from the same home state as Marsha P. Johnson, who did so much for us so long ago, I know how important my being a [member of the] City Council can be.”

Of course, Williams said, she is not alone. LGBTQ officeholders across the country are putting into practice the idea that representation is crucially important in the fight for equal rights no matter who they are or where they have been elected, she said.

“If we aren’t a part of our government, we cannot be a voice of freedom and of reason if and when issues regarding our LGBTQ [identities] come up,” Williams said.

Despite the proliferation of state and local anti-LGBTQ bills, particularly proposals targeting the trans community, Williams sees reason to be hopeful.

“What is exciting is that we have gone from [Virginia state Del.] Danica Roem being the first transgender person to be elected to a state legislature just over five years ago to where now, she is running for [Virginia] Senate and there are at least eight other transgender legislators,” Williams said.

The visibility of LGBTQ officeholders tends to encourage other members of the community to run for public office, she said.

“That is wonderful, and I think is what we need to duplicate and triplicate wherever we can,” Williams said, adding that the LGBTQ Victory Fund “is working very hard at this.”

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Justice Dept. eyes criminal probe of Santos’ campaign finances

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, along with the rest of Republican leadership in the chamber, has addressed the controversies minimally

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(Screenshot/CBS News)

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department has asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to hold off on law enforcement activity over Republican Rep. George Santos (Ny.) as federal prosecutors conduct their own criminal probe into the congressman’s campaign finances.

The news, first reported Friday by the Washington Post, was confirmed Saturday by The Blade via a Justice Department source familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak with the press.

The attorney who filed the FEC complaint against Santos previously told The Blade that the agency would yield to the Justice Department if prosecutors initiate a criminal probe—indicating that in Washington the matter would be overseen by the Department’s Public Integrity Section. 

The Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James are also looking into Santos’s financial conduct, while the congressman has simultaneously been enmeshed in controversies over his compulsive lying, having fabricated virtually every part of his life and identity. 

As of this publication, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office has not responded to a request seeking comment. McCarthy, along with the rest of Republican leadership in the chamber, have addressed the controversies only minimally, telling reporters they have no plans to ask Santos to step down until or unless criminal proceedings against him are underway.

Santos voted for McCarthy’s bid for speakership in each of the 15 ballots that were required to unite the House GOP conference behind him due to the objections of a couple dozen ultra-conservative members who were able to delay the vote and extract painful concessions because of the party’s narrow control of the House majority.

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Ruben Gallego announces run for Kyrsten Sinema’s Senate seat

Sinema has often earned the ire of many of her Democratic colleagues for stymying progressive legislation- refusing to abandon the filibuster

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Democratic U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona announced plans to run for the Senate in 2024, setting up a possible three-way race if newly declared Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema decides to seek reelection for her seat representing the Grand Canyon State next year.

Gallego disclosed his forthcoming senatorial bid on Monday, sharing a video on Twitter in which the congressman accused Sinema of breaking her promises to Arizonans in favor of advancing the interests of multinational pharmaceutical companies and financial institutions.

A spokesperson for Sinema’s office declined to comment. On Friday, Sinema told Arizona Radio Station KTAR: “I’m not really thinking or talking about the election right now, although others are,” adding, I’m staying focused on the work.”

If elected, Gallego, whose announcement video was recorded in English and Spanish, would become Arizona’s first Latino senator.

Sinema became the first bisexual member and, after Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the second LGBTQ woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in 2012 and 2018, respectively.

Last year, she was widely credited for her role in the Senate’s passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, hailed as the most significant pro-LGBTQ legislative achievement since the 2010 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

However, since her election to the Senate, Sinema has often earned the ire of many of her Democratic colleagues for stymying progressive legislation by refusing to abandon the filibuster and tacking to the right on fiscal issues.

The Arizona Democratic Party executive board voted to censure Sinema last January for voting with Republicans to preserve the filibuster at the expense of a voting rights bill.

On Dec. 9, Sinema announced her decision to switch her party affiliation from Democrat to Independent, pledging not to caucus with Republicans and promising that “Nothing will change about my values or my behavior.”

Sinema has also come under fire during her tenure in the Senate for taking positions seen as favorable to the drug industry and Wall Street, seemingly in exchange for financial backing from these and other affiliated interests.

For instance, in 2021 The Guardian reported that “In the current Congress, Big Pharma appears to have zeroed in on Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat from Arizona, as one of their lead obstructionists to help kill or gut the Democrats’ drug pricing plan. In the 2020 election cycle, pharmaceutical political action committees suddenly funneled more money to her than they did the whole six years she served in the US House.”

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ACLU: 120 new anti-LGBTQ bills in the first few weeks of 2023

“Across the country, trans people & families are gearing up to fight back- prevent every one of these bills from becoming law”

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Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. (Screenshot/YouTube)

NEW YORK – Lawmakers across the country have introduced more than 120 anti-LGBTQ bills so far this year, according to a press release issued Thursday by the ACLU, America’s largest and best-known litigation and lobbying group for individual rights and civil liberties.

In a press release announcing the findings, the ACLU introduced a digital dashboard, which summarizes the proposed anti-LGBTQ policies, organizes the bills by category, and tracks their progress through state legislatures.

“These bills represented a coordinated effort to deny transgender people our freedom, our safety, and our dignity,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project.

“Across the country, trans people and our families are gearing up to fight back and prevent every one of these bills from becoming law,” he said in the press release.

Last year, the ACLU reports there were a record breaking 278 bills targeting LGBTQ people, of which 20 have become law. The group’s litigation team has fought against “bills across the country restricting access to gender-affirming health care, barring trans people from updating identity documents, and denying transgender students equal access to school facilities and activities, as well as defending inclusive policies from political and legal attacks.”

Additionally, the ACLU has brought lawsuits challenging book bans that target materials with LGBTQ characters or themes and represented parties in litigation over a Texas law that criminalizes parents who facilitate their trans children’s access to guideline directed, medically necessary healthcare treatments and procedures.

The number of new anti-LGBTQ legislative proposals seen in the first few weeks of 2023 is especially remarkable considering that some state legislatures have not yet begun filing new bills.

In a Washington Blade article published Wednesday, activist and legislative researcher Erin Reed said that in addition to the fact that lawmakers are now on track to eclipse last year’s record number of anti-LGBTQ bills, the proposals introduced so far this year have tended to be more extreme and cruel than in years past.

The ACLU has categorized them in seven primary focus areas: healthcare access, schools and education, free speech and expression, access to accurate IDs, Weakening Civil Rights Laws, Public Accommodations, and Other Anti-LGBTQ Bills.

The ACLU’s press release describes each of these types of legislative proposals:

  • Health Care Access
    • Lawmakers are targeting access to medically-necessary health care for transgender people. Many of these bills ban affirming care for trans youth, and can even create criminal penalties for providing this care. 35 bills target health care access for transgender people.
  • Schools & Education
    • State lawmakers are trying to prevent trans students from participating in school activities like sports, force teachers to out students, and censor in-school discussions of LGBTQ people and issues. 58 bills target LGBTQ rights in schools and educational settings.
  • Free Speech & Expression
    • Despite the safeguards of the First Amendment’s right to free expression, politicians are fighting to restrict how and when LGBTQ people can be themselves, limiting access to books about them and trying to ban or censor performances like drag shows. 19 bills target freedom of speech and expression for LGBTQ people.
  • Access to Accurate IDs
    • These bills attempt to limit the ability to update gender information on IDs and records, such as birth certificates and driver’s licenses. Four bills target the right to accurate identity documents for transgender people.
  • Weakening Civil Rights Laws
    • These bills attempt to undermine and weaken nondiscrimination laws by allowing employers, businesses, and even hospitals to turn away LGBTQ people or refuse them equal treatment. Seven bills seek to weaken existing civil rights laws.
  • Public Accommodations
    • These bills prohibit transgender people from using facilities like public restrooms and locker rooms.
  • Other Anti-LGBTQ Bills
    • These bills don’t quite fit in any of the other categories, but nonetheless target the rights of LGBTQ people. Examples include restrictions on marriage and bills preempting local nondiscrimination protections. Five bills target LGBTQ people and rights, including proposed amendments to define transgender people out of existence.
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Reports indicate George Santos was a drag queen in Brazil

Santos’ alleged financial malfeasance & potential violations of campaign finance laws have triggered investigations

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New York Congressman George Santos (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON — Embattled U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) was a drag performer in his native Brazil about 15 years ago, according to a Reuters article published on Wednesday that quoted two former acquaintances. 

Despite the online circulation of photos appearing to show the congressman dressed in drag, Santos denied the report on Thursday. 

“The most recent obsession from the media claiming that I am a drag queen or ‘performed’ as a drag queen is categorically false,” tweeted the New York Republican. “The media continues to make outrageous claims about my life while I am working to deliver results.” 

“I will not be distracted nor fazed by this,” added Santos.

Bruna Benevides of Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transsexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals), a Brazilian transgender rights group known by the acronym ANTRA, in a Jan. 1 tweet in response to a New York Times story about Santos said his drag name was Kitara Ravache.

Benevides has yet to respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment. A source in Rio de Janeiro said she had “never heard” that Santos was a drag queen when he lived in Brazil. 

Steven Grattan, a Reuters reporter in São Paulo, on Thursday posted to his Twitter page a video that appears to show Santos in drag in the Rio de Janeiro suburb of Niterói.

Santos has taken a hard-right stance on social issues, keeping company with his most extreme Republican colleagues who have increasingly targeted organizers of all-ages drag events with false accusations that performers are abusing or exploiting children.

In contrast with most House Republicans and the entirety of Republican leadership, these lawmakers have not distanced themselves from Santos amid the scandals that have unfolded over his apparent financial improprieties and compulsive lying about his life, identity, and career.

Several GOP U.S. House members, joined last week by more than a dozen Republican elected officials serving in or near Santos’s 3rd Congressional District in New York, have demanded Santos’s immediate resignation.

The congressman’s alleged financial malfeasance and potential violations of campaign finance laws have triggered investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. House Ethics Committee, the Federal Election Commission, and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, while Brazilian authorities have revived fraud charges that were brought against him in 2008 over a stolen checkbook. 

Also on Wednesday, two military veterans told CNN Santos had set up a GoFundMe to help finance lifesaving surgery for their pitt bull and then absconded with the money.

GoFundMe issued a statement to CNN on the company’s decision to remove the fundraiser from its platform:

“When we received a report of an issue with this fundraiser in late 2016, our trust and safety team sought proof of the delivery of funds from the organizer. The organizer failed to respond, which led to the fundraiser being removed and the email associated with that account prohibited from further use on our platform. GoFundMe has a zero tolerance policy for misuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing.”

The men said Santos stopped responding to their messages requesting access to the crowdsourced funds. They never received the money, and once the dog’s cancer reached an advanced stage they had to panhandle to afford to euthanize her.

Santos denied the report in a statement to CNN.

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story

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Latino Leaders Network honors gay San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria

Last year’s honorees were Albuquerque, New Mexico Mayor Tim Keller and San Antonio, Texas Mayor Ron Nirenberg

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San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria recieves the Antonio Villaraigosa Leadership Award at the Latino Leaders Network's Tribute to Mayors event on Jan. 18. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Openly gay San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria became the latest recipient of the Latino Leaders Network’s Antonio Villaraigosa Leadership Award during the organization’s Tribute to Mayors on Wednesday night.

The biannual event, which was held at the St. Regis hotel in Washington, D.C., was attended by more than 80 mayors – including Eric Adams of New York and Francis Suarez of Miami, who serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors – along with other elected representatives like Rhode Island Lieutenant Gov. Sabina Matos.

Also in attendance were high profile government officials including Julie Chavez Rodriguez, senior advisor to the President and director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, as well as Esteban Moctezuma and Batbayar Ulziidelger, ambassadors of Mexico and Mongolia to the U.S.

Upon receiving the award, Gloria expressed gratitude for the “open door policy” with which the Biden-Harris administration has welcomed input from the nation’s mayors, particularly with respect to issues concerning immigration. He said San Diego is a better and more prosperous city by virtue of its close proximity to the southern border.

Gloria also remarked on how “far we’ve come as a community,” noting his identity as an openly gay man with Puerto Rican, Filipino, Native American, and Dutch heritage who learned from his parents – who worked as a gardener and hotel maid – that one should “leave things better than you found them.”

Introducing Gloria was the award’s namesake, Villaraigosa, former Los Angeles mayor and California gubernatorial candidate, who said the latest honoree embodies the principle that, “when we break a glass ceiling and open up the door, we do that because we know we got there on the shoulders of others, and we say, ‘this door is open to all of us.'”

“When we celebrate mayors who bring us together and unite us at a time when the country is so divided, we should really celebrate,” Villaraigosa said.

The Latino Leadership Network presents the Antonio Villaraigosa Leadership Award to “a mayor from a city with a significant Latino population who has exhibited an outstanding commitment to bringing diverse communities together.”

Last year’s honorees were Albuquerque, New Mexico Mayor Tim Keller and San Antonio, Texas Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Former Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa.
Tucson, Ariz. Mayor Regina Romero.
Mickey Ibarra, chairman of the Latino Leaders Network.
Lidia S. Martinez, board member of the Latino Leaders Network.
White House Senior Advisor Julie Chavez Rodriguez.
Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez.
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Matt Schlapp’s accuser files civil action alleging sexual battery

An influential figure in conservative politics, Schlapp serves as chair of the American Conservative Union

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Matt Schlapp at CPAC (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – The Republican staffer who went public early this month with allegations of sexual assault against high powered conservative activist Matt Schlapp filed a civil lawsuit Tuesday against Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes, for $9 million.

According to the complaint, the couple and “others associated with and acting in concert with them” were engaged in “dishonest efforts” to “discredit Mr. Doe,” thereby causing him to suffer “damages, including and without limitation embarrassment, humiliation, stress, and reputational harm.”

Mr. Doe told NBC on Jan. 5 that when he was working for Herschel Walker’s senatorial campaign last October, Schlapp fondled him while the two were headed back to their hotel from an Atlanta bar.

An influential figure in conservative politics, Schlapp serves as chair of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

An attorney representing the Schlapps, Charlie Spies, issued a statement Tuesday denying the allegations in the civil complaint.

The “Schlapp family is suffering unbearable pain and stress due to the false allegation from an anonymous individual,” the statement reads. “No family should ever go through this and the Schlapps and their legal team are assessing counter-lawsuit options.”

Before joining the corporate law firm Dickinson Wright, Spies served as election law counsel to the Republican National Committee and as chief financial officer and counsel to Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) 2008 presidential campaign.

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Quantity, cruelty of anti-LGBTQ state bills raise alarm bells

“We really need to support local LGBTQ organizations- lift them up as much as possible,” particularly those in conservative & rural states”

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

WASHINGTON – When the Washington Blade connected with activist and legislative researcher Erin Reed on Tuesday to discuss the new anti-LGBTQ bills that have been introduced in statehouses across the country, it was just as the news of an especially hateful proposal came across her desk.

Senators in West Virginia had teed up an anti-trans law that would criminalize “displays” that “shall include, but not be limited to, any transvestite and/or transgender exposure, performances, or display to any minor.”

The move recalled anti-LGBTQ laws from the 1960s that criminalized the very existence of transgender and gender non-conforming persons as well as drag performers, while providing pretexts for police raids of LGBTQ establishments like the Stonewall Inn, Reed said.

For example, she said, many states once enforced dress codes that required people to wear at least three articles of clothing consistent with their sex assigned at birth.

Likewise, the West Virginia bill raises alarming questions about whether transgender parents and teachers in the state might be prosecuted, with a potential five-year prison sentence, said Reed, who is herself a transgender parent.

Additionally, the proposed legislation is “unconstitutionally vague,” written so broadly that it would presumably become illegal to screen the film “Mrs. Doubtfire” or perform certain Shakespearen plays for an audience of minors if the measure were to pass, Reed said.

Less than three weeks into 2023, state legislatures have introduced nearly as many anti-LGBTQ bills as were introduced in the entirety of last year – and qualitatively, many of these new bills are more hateful than anything we have seen in decades, Reed said.

“I see an increase in both the number and in the cruelty towards transgender people,” she said.

There are “new pieces of proposed legislation that go further than bills in 2021 and 2022,” such as by “banning gender affirming care through age 26 in Oklahoma,” and others that “target the drag community in ways that haven’t happened in 30 to 40 years.”

Fear and hate mongering over all-ages drag performances has been ratcheted up in the right-wing ecosystem, fueled by conservative media figures like Matt Walsh and Tucker Carlson, as well as social media accounts like Libs of TikTok and extremist militias, Reed said.

According to the ACLU, “As drag reality competitions and drag brunches become increasingly popular, backlash in the form of armed protests and intimidation of drag performers has followed.”

Consequently, Reed said, this year for the first time anti-LGBTQ legislation has included measures targeting drag performances – with, so far, a dozen new bills. And the concern is not just that many of these proposed laws are draconian, like Nebraska’s bill that would prohibit patrons younger than 21 from attending a drag show.

“Whenever I see those [laws] being proposed, I also see militant organizations storming in” to LGBTQ bars, schools, hospitals, and venues that host drag queen story hours, Reed said. “I see people trying to break into drag events and successfully doing so,” disrupting them with violence and intimidation, she said.

“What I read into [the impetus behind these laws] is these legislators want to change the uniform of the people doing the storming,” from militias comprised of far-right citizens to “people wearing badges.”

Making matters worse, Reed said, there are “lots of cases where drag events have asked for local protection and not received any protection whatsoever.”

Last month, organizers of a drag queen story hour-style event in Columbus, Ohio, had to cancel after they said police failed to work with them to protect participants from demonstrators affiliated with far-right groups like the violent neo-fascist Proud Boys. (Police dispute the organizers’ account of events.)

The ACLU notes that, “Amidst this wave of anti-drag legislation and violence, drag performers and host venues across the country are moving to higher security or cancel performances altogether.”

Looking at the slate of new statewide legislative proposals, many are a continuation of similar anti-trans themes that have emerged in recent years, but “we’re seeing scary attempts to escalate things,” Reed said.

For instance, bills that restrict or prohibit guideline-directed healthcare for transgender and gender non-conforming youth were introduced and passed in several states in 2021 and 2022, but new measures proposed this year would target adults as old as 26.

“It makes me wonder what their ultimate goal is,” Reed said. “To ban transitions entirely?”

Every mainstream medical organization with relevant clinical expertise recommends age-directed gender affirming care according to clinical practice guidelines that are supported by a bevy of research and updated regularly to ensure best practices.

Still, right-wing figures have demagogued the issue and characterized responsible medical care as “experimentation” and child abuse.

Reed noted there are some “new wrinkles” in anti-trans healthcare bans that have been proposed this year.

For instance, she said, Indiana proposed folding gender affirming care into practices that would be outlawed under a conversion therapy ban – thereby conflating supportive and medically necessary healthcare with an abusive, ineffective practice that has been rejected by mainstream science and medicine.

Across the board, Reed noted, there is an increasing reliance on executive authority. This was previewed toward the end of last year, she said, pointing to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s weaponization of the state medical board and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s weaponization of the Department of Family and Protective Services to, respectively, ban gender affirming care and prosecute parents for child abuse for facilitating their trans children’s access to gender affirming care.  

‘The fight is on the state level right now

Amid the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation, Reed emphasized the need for coordinated action by the U.S. Congress, the Biden-Harris White House, progressive and pro-equality legal actors, and state legislatures, as well as local and national LGBTQ groups.

She noted that pro-equality interests have focused significant time, attention, and money urging Congress to pass the Equality Act, which is commendable and necessary, while the courts can provide (and, often, have provided) a path toward effectuating pro-equality policy.

At the same time, Reed said, for the foreseeable future federal legislators are unlikely to find a path forward for any major bills impacting LGBTQ people, while relying on the judiciary – particularly with the U.S. Supreme Court as it is currently construed – is far from a safe bet.

By contrast, “at the state level, we’ve seen the GOP focus time and attention and money and efforts on changing state laws,” she said, adding, “it’s important that we do the same.”

Likewise, Reed said, “I also think we really need to support our local LGBT organizations and help lift them up as much as possible,” particularly those located in more conservative and rural states, which largely do not earn commensurate resources and support.

“In places like North Dakota and Oklahoma, South Dakota, and West Virginia, we need to help the people who live there,” Reed said, but also in blue states where significant progress toward LGBTQ equality has been made but there is still room for improvement. “Don’t neglect your own backyard.”

For instance, she said, the gay and trans panic defense is still legal in some progressive states.  

“One of the biggest problems for people in some of these states criminalizing [healthcare for trans people] is they don’t have resources to travel out of state,” Reed said, noting that POLITICO has reported on the plights of people who have been forced to flee states with anti-trans laws.

And while “We have to take care of those people,” Reed said, people should not be in a position where they must flee their home states. “We need federal action and federal protections,” she said.

Thankfully, there is some movement on pro-LGBTQ state bills. Reed said she has seen more this year compared to last year, which is “a bit promising.” She highlighted bills such as the proposal to protect gender affirming care in Maryland, access to bathrooms for trans youth in Minnesota, the ability to change information on birth certificates in West Virginia, and adoption by trans parents in Montana.

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Texts corroborate sexual assault allegations against Matt Schlapp

Schlapp has close ties to former president Donald Trump, in whose administration his wife served as communications director from 2017 to 2019

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American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Contemporaneous text messages shared with CNN appear to corroborate allegations of sexual assault against Republican activist Matt Schlapp, who chairs the organization that hosts the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

In the messages, which were exchanged in October, a GOP strategist who was working for Herschel Walker’s senatorial campaign consulted a friend for guidance on how to proceed after he says he was groped by Schlapp in the car after an outing in a bar in Atlanta.

Schlapp addressed the allegations through an attorney who told CNN: “The attack is false and Mr. Schlapp denies any improper behavior.”

The Republican staffer texted his friend that Schlapp was “pissed I didn’t follow him to his hotel room.”

“I’m so sorry man,” the friend responded. “What a fucking creep.”

“I just don’t know how to say it to my superiors thst heir [sic] surrogate fondled my junk without my consent,” the staffer wrote.

Schlapp has close ties to former president Donald Trump, in whose administration his wife served as communications director from 2017 to 2019 and whose false claims about the 2020 presidential election he has parroted.

The sexual assault allegations were first reported by the Daily Beast. The group that organizes CPAC, the American Conservative Union, did not immediately return a request for comment.

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