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MAGA GOP nominee for Arizona secretary of state opposes LGBTQ rights

Finchem is no stranger to conspiracies & the far-right. Before heading to the Arizona Legislature, he had already joined the Oath Keepers

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Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem (L) with former Georgia Republican House Rep. Vernon Jones taken in Washington D.C. on January 5, 2021, the day prior to the Capitol insurrection. (Photo via the now deleted Twitter account of Rep. Finchem)

PHOENIX – Mark Finchem, a Republican Arizona state representative who won his party’s nomination in the race for Arizona Secretary of State, with the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, is a self-proclaimed member of the far-right extremist group the Oath Keepers.

Finchem is also completely opposed to LGBTQ rights and has endorsed allowing parents to seek professional counseling for their minor child with same-sex attraction or gender identity issues also known as conversion therapy.

Finchem has a long record of activism in far right extremist groups and political circles. While he has served since January of 2015 as a member of the Arizona House of Representatives representing District 11, he has also been actively engaged as a member of several far right groups and also has embraced the QAnon conspiracy theory.

His political positions on the equality rights of LGBTQ+ Arizonans is dismal. In a 2022 survey conducted by the Center for Arizona Policy, a vehemently anti-LGBTQ+ conservative lobbying group run by Cathi Herrod, who is among Arizona’s most anti-LGBTQ lobbyists.

Center for Arizona Policy
2022 Survey Questions For Arizona Candidates
Position Sought: Secretary of State
Question 2: Adding “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” or “gender expression” to the protected classes of race, religion, age, sex, and ancestry in nondiscrimination law.
Candidates’ Position: Oppose.
Question 4: Allowing biological males that identify as transgender to play on female sports’ teams.
Candidates’ Position: Oppose
Question 8: Allowing parents to seek professional counseling for their minor child with same-sex attraction or gender identity issues.*
Candidates’ Position: Support
Question 9: Protecting individuals and businesses from being required to provide services or use their artistic expression in a manner that violates their moral or religious beliefs.**
Candidates’ Position: Support.
*  This is in reference to the dangerous and disproven “Reparative Therapy”.
**Discriminatory “Religious Freedom” laws.

In March of 2020 Finchem voted yes in support of Phoenix Republican Nancy Barto’s “Save Women’s Sports Act” bill (HB 2706), which would prohibits transgender female students from sports designated for females. The language specified that it requires any interscholastic or intramural athletic team or sport sponsored by  an educational institution in Arizona to be designated by one of the following based  biological sex: Males, men, or boys; Females, women or girls; co-ed.

On several social media websites linked from his since-deleted former Twitter account Finchem has also embraced and asserted former President Donald Trump’s lie about the 2020 being “stolen.”

Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem (L) with former Georgia Republican House Rep. Vernon Jones taken in Washington D.C. on January 5, 2021, the day prior to the Capitol insurrection.
(Photo via the now deleted Twitter account of Rep. Finchem)

Finchem has been a self-identified as a member of The Oath Keepers since 2014, the anti-government, far-right militia composed of former and active military and law enforcement that purports to defend the U.S. Constitution.

CNN reported the group is perhaps best known for providing security for the January 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally preceding the Capitol riot. Eleven members, including its leader, were charged by the Justice Department with “seditious conspiracy” related to the Capitol attack.

According to CNN, Finchem’s most extreme content came on the social media platform Pinterest, which allows users to save, categorize and share posts called pins into digital mood boards. While Finchem has some light-hearted and conventional boards on food, fashion and dogs, he also has a board titled “Treason Watch List,” featuring photos of Jesse Jackson, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

In February of this year, Finchem along with Kelli Ward the osteopathic physician who has serves as the chair of the Arizona Republican Party were subpoenaed  by the U.S. House Jan. 6 Committee, regarding documents over actions reportedly taken among the Donald Trump supporters involved in sending slates of so-called “alternate electors” to Congress to be included in the electoral votes cast for president in the 2020 election.

In June in published reports by the Arizona Republic and Politico, Ward and her husband, Michael, received grand jury subpoenas from the Department of Justice regarding their involvement in a scheme to send fake electors to Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

Also in February, Finchem filed HCR 2033, which says that is it is the “justifiable position of the Arizona State Legislature that we set aside the results of the Maricopa, Pima and Yuma County elections as irredeemably compromised and reclaim the 2020 Presidential Electors.”

The lawmaker is also a rabid anti-vaxxer spreading dangerous misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic sharing a story last August riddled with misinformation on the coronavirus and vaccine on the platform Gab — a social media network popular with conservatives, the alt-right and some extremists.

Finchem labeled the vaccine a “crime against humanity,” implying it was a “bio-weapon” and wrote “It ain’t a vaccine!!! Call it what it is, a crime against humanity.”

In December of 2021, journalist Jake Dean at the Tucson alternative newspaper, the Tucson Weekly, in a lengthy political commentary laid out a synopsis of reasons Arizonans should not vote for the far-right lawmaker to become Arizona’s Secretary of State:

“Finchem is no stranger to conspiracies and the far-right. In fact, before heading to the Arizona Legislature, he had already joined the Oath Keepers—who played a leading role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the militia group is “founded on the belief that the federal government is part of an evil conspiracy intent on stripping Americans of their natural rights and freedoms.” Its members have encouraged violence in opposition. The founder of Oath Keepers has previously encouraged the murder of elected officials, including in 2015 openly calling for the late Sen. John McCain to be put to death by hanging.”
[…]
“He previously served as the Arizona coordinator for the Coalition of Western States—a group of legislators and activists who supported the armed occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. He also signed a letter of support to pardon arsonists who burned federal government land.”
[…]
“Following the horrific events of the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, Finchem denied any far-right involvement in the event—claiming that mainstream media was lying and that it was a Deep State PSYOP to construct a political narrative for Democrats. It was not. He also falsely accused contemporary Democrats as being the true members of the Ku Klux Klan who joined the rally.”
[…]
“Mark Finchem also parrots far-right conspiracies on vaccines. Sure, Finchem got COVID-19 himself. And yes, his mother lost her decades long battle with cancer soon after contracting the virus. But on his official Twitter in July, he warned President Joe Biden to take his “tweet as Arizona’s statewide ‘no trespassing sign.’ You and your vaccine henchmen have been forewarned.” I am unsure what exactly he is threatening here, but I believe you can read between the lines.”
 
“Finchem’s supply of money also comes from the right-wing extremists. One of his leading campaign funders is Daniel Brophy, a Wyoming-based political megadonor and brother of former State Sen. Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix. According to a local legal group, Sen. McGee herself once described her brother as having alt-right political views after he gave money to her political rival. When a woman who has proudly touted her anti-LGBTQ+ bonafides and was painted as a bygone example of the Arizona GOP by English newspaper The Guardian calls you alt-right, I am going to have to take her word for it.”
 
“Rep. Finchem also attended the premiere of a “documentary” called The Deep Rig about an alleged conspiracy in the 2020 election. The film featured Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan (who confirmed himself as “Anon” in the movie), former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, and other leaders of election conspiracies in Arizona. Finchem supported the film despite the fact that its director has a history of baseless conspiracies—including the dedication of an entire film to the argument that extraterrestrials were the cause of the Sep. 11 attacks on the Twin Towers”
[…]
“Given his evident belief in the conspiracies of the far-right, of course Finchem was at the insurrection on Jan. 6 himself. Despite claiming that he never made it closer than 500 yards to the Capitol building, footage of the event clearly shows the politician in attendance himself. He also tweeted in praise of the insurrectionists. Plus, the prominent “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander identified Finchem as the starting point of the anti-democratic movement in Arizona.”
 
“Not only was he there, but he then spread more conspiracies after the fact. In his newsletter following the attack in D.C., he claimed (falsely) that facial recognition technology had identified masses of leftist activists in the crowd. He also accused Antifa of responsibility for violence at the Capitol building, despite having no evidence for such claims. Further, even in the face of proof of him attending the event, he has repeatedly threatened to sue anybody attempting to connect him to the events at the Capitol.”

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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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Politics

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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California Politics

Field of candidates to replace Feinstein in U.S. Senate grows

In an interview with Nicholas Wu, Politico’s Congressional Reporter, Lee said she officially announce “when it’s appropriate”

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California U. S. Representative Barbara Lee, (Upper Center) with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) (Upper Right ) & other Democrats during balloting for selection of the Speaker of the House. (Photo Credit: Rep. Barbara Lee, (D-CA)/Facebook)

WASHINGTON – A day after Orange County Congresswoman Katie Porter announced her bid to replace California’s octogenarian senior U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, sources close to California U. S. Representative Barbara Lee told Politico that Lee is likely to also mount a challenge for the seat.

On Wednesday Lee informed her colleagues in a closed-door Congressional Black Caucus meeting that she intends to run to two sources familiar with the situation Politico reported Thursday.

Asked later Wednesday about her plans, Lee said in a brief interview with Nicholas Wu, Politico’s Congressional Reporter and Politics reporter, she’d officially announce “when it’s appropriate.”

“Right now, in respect to [Sen.] Dianne Feinstein and the floods and what I’m doing, I’m doing my work. And we’ll let them know when I intend to go to the next step. But now’s the time not to talk about that,” she said.

Porter’s announcement and Lee’s potential run comes on the heels of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank-Hollywood) who had appeared on Los Angeles Fox 11 and told The Issue Is host Elex Michaelson that should Feinstein retire in 2024 he will seriously consider replacing her in a campaign.

Politico also noted that while she lacks the fundraising might of Porter and Schiff, Lee is a revered figure in the Oakland-anchored district she has represented for decades. Her deep Bay Area roots could be an asset given that both Porter and Schiff represent southern California districts.

Feinstein, who was first elected to the Senate in 1992, is widely expected to retire instead of running for reelection in 2024. In recent years she has faced questions about her mental acuity an fitness for remaining in her Senate seat and over the past year has has stepped back from some official duties.

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Politics

Nassau County NY GOP demand Santos’s resignation

“He has no place in the Nassau County Republican Committee nor in elected office- We do not consider him one of our congresspeople”

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Nassau County GOP officials make an announcement about GOP Rep. George Santos (Screenshot/YouTube MSNBC)

WESTBURY, N.Y. — The Nassau County Republican Committee convened a press conference in New York on Wednesday to demand the immediate resignation of disgraced openly gay freshman GOP Rep. George Santos (Ny.).

“He has no place in the Nassau County Republican Committee nor in elected office,” said Joseph Cairo, chair of the county’s GOP political committee. “We do not consider him one of our congresspeople.”

“I join with you and my colleagues in saying Santos does not have the ability to serve in the House and should resign,” said Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-Ny.), addressing the audience virtually from Washington.

The comments were echoed by more than a dozen GOP elected officials who represent constituents in or near New York’s 3rd Congressional District, which is now represented by Santos and comprises much of Nassau County in Long Island along with a small portion of Queens.

Reporting over the past several weeks has revealed Santos had invented virtually every aspect of his biography and identity, while law enforcement agencies are looking into alleged financial malfeasance by the congressman and his campaign.

Cairo and other speakers noted the multiple investigations of Santos reportedly underway by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Santos’s office did not return requests for comment regarding Wednesday’s press conference. Shortly after the event, however, he told ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott that he would not resign.

Santos then published a brief statement on Twitter: “I was elected to serve the people of #NY03 not the party & politicians, I remain committed to doing that and regret to hear that local officials refuse to work with my office to deliver results to keep our community safe and lower the cost of living. I will NOT resign!”

About 150 protestors gathered around Santos’s in-district office on Sunday to demand his resignation, including Robert Zimmerman, his Democratic challenger in the 2022 midterm elections. 

On Monday, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, the Campaign Legal Center, filed a complaint against Santos and his campaign with the Federal Election Commission, while Democratic Reps. Ritchie Torres and Daniel Goldman of New York filed a complaint with the House Committee on Ethics Tuesday.

When House Republicans passed a rules package over the weekend that severely weakens the ability of the House Ethics Committee to investigate members of Congress, Santos called the move “fantastic.”

Several speakers on Wednesday admonished Santos for lying about his grandparents having survived The Holocaust, noting how hurtful that was for so many of his constituents who have personal and familial ties to the genocide.

Others lamented the ceaseless news coverage that has revealed more and more information about lies and misrepresentations Santos has made.

Hempstead, Ny Town Supervisor Don Clavin said, “You see a unified voice here. [Santos has] unified the county in their opposition to him. He’s a national joke, he’s an international joke, but this joke has got to go. Not tomorrow, not next week, today.”

“Our vetting process has to go much deeper,” Cairo said, adding that he was personally deceived by Santos, who claimed to have been a volleyball star at Baruch College – an institution where, The New York Times revealed several weeks ago, Santos was never enrolled.

Cairo said he has not spoken about Santos with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), “but all of our elected officials have spoken today and we’re calling for his resignation and we’ll pass that along to the Speaker.”

Charles Moran, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, America’s largest LGBT conservative group, shared a statement with The Washington Blade:

“We are closely following the evolving story on George Santos and are listening to our local Log Cabin membership, the GOP leadership in New York’s 3rd Congressional district, and ultimately, the voters themselves.

It has been widely reported that House GOP leadership will also be holding their own internal conversations about George’s continuing responsibilities in Congress, and we look forward to hearing their response.”

Nassau County GOP officials make an announcement about GOP Rep. George Santos:

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