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Vice-President & local leaders discuss reproductive rights & Prop 1

The Vice-President has brought together leaders from across the nation who are fighting to protect reproductive health care & abortion access

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U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) speaking at event on reproductive rights, Oct. 17, 2022 (Photo Credit: Office of Sen. Alex Padilla)

LOS ANGELES – Mayor Eric Garcetti opened an event Monday afternoon which was organized as a conversation about protecting reproductive rights and the need for passage of Proposition 1, a California Ballot Proposition and State Constitutional Amendment that, if approved by voters, would establish a Constitutional right to reproductive freedom in California.

The event, facilitated by Vice-President Kamala Harris at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in LA, included discussions and remarks from Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA-37), Celinda Vázquez, Vice President of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA), Director Melanie Fontes Rainer, the Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Human Health & Services

California Attorney General Rob Bonta and California’s Senate President pro Tempore State Senator Toni G. Atkins, were also in attendance.

Sen. Padilla highlighted California’s leadership in protecting a woman’s right to choose and Proposition 1, which will appear on the November ballot in California and would codify the right to abortion access in the state constitution.

Padilla also raised the alarm about the increasing number of Republican state legislatures working to claw back women’s reproductive rights and the need to act urgently to stop them by codifying the right to an abortion into federal law.

“Abortion is a fundamental right in America,” said Senator Padilla. “While in California, the right to an abortion is currently safe, the worst thing we could do is grow numb to this crisis. For years, Republicans in Congress and in state legislatures have worked to strip away the reproductive rights of women across the country—and in June they got their wish. That’s why we must continue to grow our Democratic majorities so we can prevent a national abortion ban. We won’t give up the fight to codify Roe, and protect once and for all the right to an abortion.”

Rep. Karen Bass introduced and welcomed Celinda Vázquez, Vice President of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, on stage. Bass then praised Harris’ leadership and welcomed Harris on stage. Bass and Harris hugged. Bass, Vázquez and Harris then sat down to discuss abortion. 

The Vice President highlighted the administration’s efforts to preserve access to abortion and reproductive healthcare. HHS contacted pharmacies to describe “their legal requirement to administer medication as prescribed,” Harris said, and that DOJ has a task force to pursue “whatever litigation is appropriate.” 

“This is about freedom and liberty,” Harris said. “22 days, there is an election, that is a fact. We need to hold on to what we have, and we need two more senators,” Harris said adding, “We’re going to have to protect these rights by having national legislation,” Harris said. “We need people in Congress to recognize that responsibility.” 

The Vice-President has brought together leaders from across the nation who are on the frontlines fighting to protect reproductive health care and abortion access. Earlier this month, she traveled to Connecticut and Texas to participate in conversations with reproductive rights leaders, she chaired the Second Meeting of the Interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access, and she convened student leaders at the White House.

Since May, she has held more than 20 convenings and met with 180+ state legislators from 18 states to discuss protecting reproductive rights. The Vice President has also convened health care providers, constitutional law experts, faith leaders, state attorneys general, disability rights leaders, higher education leaders, students, and advocates.

Proposition 1 will appear on the November 8 General Election Ballot for California Voters. It was authored by the President Pro Tempore of the California State Senate, Toni Atkins, D-San Diego and co-authored by the Speaker of the California State Assembly, Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood.

Proposition 1 is a direct response to the June 2022 Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, ruling that the Constitution of the United States does not confer a right to abortion.

Watch the conversation here:

Transcript: Remarks by Vice President Harris in a Conversation on Protecting Reproductive Rights

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  How was that?  How was that for a welcome home?
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  It is good to be home.  It’s good to be home. 
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Well, we love having you in L.A.  Absolutely.  So, why don’t we get right to it?  This is an important moment in the time of our fight for rights.  So, tell us what it is like for you to be championing this issue?  How has it been?  I read off all of the meetings, all of the state legislatures.  You’re going around the country.  What’s it feel like?
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  It’s a combination of feelings that I think we all have about this.  And when I’m traveling the country, one of the feelings that I hear most is fear.  It’s fear.
 
But I’ll tell you, you know, here’s how I think about it: You know, people have asked me, “Well, what has caused you to focus a large part of your work on…” — as you said — “…the health, safety, and well-being of women and children?” 
 
And, as you know, I was raised by a mother who had two goals in her life: to raise her two children — my sister, Maya, and me — and to end breast cancer.  She was a breast cancer researcher, a scientist. 
 
And so, from my earliest days of life, I remember my mother being so passionate about women’s health and access to health, and it was always grounded, so much of her work, in the importance of women having dignity in the healthcare system — in the healthcare delivery system and — and having rights and having power over the decisions that were being made so that it would be theirs to make, whatever it was. 
 
And that’s how I was raised.  I mean, you know, I was raised hearing the phrase “mammary gland” all the time.  It was — it was just a common word in our household. 
 
And so, when I think about this issue and this fight right now, it’s an extension of that.  And so, to your point, I have been traveling the country in so-called red states and so-called blue states, talking with leaders on the ground — in particular a lot of state-elected leaders, legislators — about what we can do collectively to build up support for what we need to do, which is to empower women and restore their rights on this issue.
 
But it’s — really, it’s — it was unthinkable, I think, for so many of us.  We knew it might happen, but let — I mean, let’s just pause for a moment.  The highest court in our land, the United States Supreme Court, just took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America, from the women of America.
 
And if I may, I would like to put it in context to how I feel about this in the context of being Vice President.  So, as Vice President, in the last a year and a half, I have, as of now — my staff has counted — I have now met directly or by phone with 100 world leaders, presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, kings.  And here’s what I think we all know about what those experiences are like: The United States — we, as Americans — can walk in those rooms with a certain level of authority —
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  That’s right.
 
THE PRESIDENT:  — chin up, shoulders back — to talk in those rooms about the importance of democracy, the importance of rule of law, the importance of human rights.  And in that way, we have held ourselves out to be and have been considered a role model on these matters. 
 
But what we, as role models, all know is that when you are role model, people watch what you do to see if it matches what you say. 
 
And the point then is a realization that this issue is not only directly impacting the people of America, but when we think about autocratic governments around the world who can then look to their people and say, “Well, you want to hold up America and rights as an example of what we should do?  Well, look at what they just did.”  So, by extension, what just happened will invariably impact women around the world. 
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  That’s right.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, there’s a lot of fear.  But also, as we all know, we know how to fight.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Oh, yeah.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Because when you know what you stand for, you know what to fight for.  (Applause.) 
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Celinda.
 
MS. VÁZQUEZ:  We do know how to fight.  So, what steps is the administration taking to protect reproductive rights?
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, well — and, first, can I just say, it’s so good to be with the two of you on this stage?  It’s so good to be home. 
 
MS. VÁZQUEZ:  So good.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Celinda, you have been such an extraordinary fighter.  You and I’ve been in many of these rooms together in these past many, many months.  And I cannot thank you enough for being on the ground and the courage that it takes for our frontline folks, like you, to do what you are doing.  And to all of those who are here on the frontline, I applaud you.  Let us applaud them.  (Applause.) 
 
Because around the country and here, it is not without risk that you do what you do.
 
To Madam Congresswoman — (laughter).  It’s not a political event, I know.  (Laughs.)  You — you and I have worked together for so many years when I was AG and you were at the capitol — at the state capitol, and then in Washington, D.C.
 
You are a courageous, fearless fighter on so many of these issues.  And, in particular, what you have done throughout your career to be a strong voice for women, for children, for all communities, for the coalition: I thank you.  And it’s an honor to be on the stage with you as well.  (Applause.) 
 
And so, what we are doing as an administration is a number of things.  Through the Health and Human Services agency, led by a Californian, Secretary Xavier Becerra — (applause) — we are — we’ve been actually sending out a number of things that are really intended to make sure that there’s clarity in the midst of the confusion. 
 
And one of the things that HHS did that I think is very significant is sent out to pharmacies information about their legal requirement to administer medication as prescribed.  And — and I also applaud that agency for also having announced that they will investigate where there are any violations of the rules of conduct on that issue.
 
The Department of Education has been extraordinary.  Secretary Cardona has been doing some important work around making sure that that we protect students and their reproductive rights, including their ability to take leave from school for whatever reproductive healthcare they need, and make sure that there’s no discrimination in that regard.
 
The Department of Justice has been coordinating with a number of agencies as appropriate but has also set up, for example, a process of eliciting pro bono hours, because there are going to be so many folks who are on the ground doing the work who are not sure of the legal risks that they are taking in these various states.
 
They’ve also set up a task force, led by Vanita Gupta, who is a great civil rights lawyer, and they are pursuing whatever litigation is appropriate.
 
Also, through the Department of Justice, they’ve set up a hotline for providers, so there is an ability to report threats and things of that nature.
 
The FCC and the FTC are doing — the Federal Trade Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission — are doing important work to, one, check with the biggest providers to see what their privacy policies are and their data retention policies are.  And that’s extremely important. 
 
I think I have a website here, but I’ll tell you that the — that they’ve also set up a number for people to issue complaints and to register complaints around privacy violations, which is a big issue, because, of course, there are an assortment of mobile apps that folks use to monitor their menstruation cycle.  There are mobile apps that folks use to just get directions to go to a facility to get their healthcare, and we want to make sure that that information is not being violated. 
 
So, that is the kind of work that’s happening through our administration.
 
The President has signed two executive orders that relate to making a very clear statement that we intend to protect and defend the right that people have for travel and for access to emergency healthcare. 
 
The VA is doing great work, in terms of the number of women who are veterans, in ensuring that they will be able to have access to all of the care that they require — including the Department of Defense, because — think about it, if you’re a servicemember — and there are at least 300,000 women, I believe, who are in active service right now — you don’t have any choice where you’re deployed and could very well be deployed to a state where it’s been rendered illegal.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Right.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And so, they’re working through what they can do to ensure that the servicemembers are not subject to — to those kinds of threats to their healthcare and their independence.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Well, you know, Madam Vice President, this is kind of on the same lines of that.  I’m wondering what kind of stories you might be hearing from people.
 
You know, in another life, I worked in healthcare.  I’ve worked in the emergency room and also in primary care.  Every now and then, you hear a story in the news like a woman — a woman that has an ectopic pregnancy; or the 10-year-old girl; or a woman who is — if she carries the pregnancy to term, might not live.  As you’ve gone around the country, are you hearing stories like that?
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I am hearing those stories.  And those are the stories that are the public stories.  But as you and I know, what we’re hearing about only is just a fraction of what’s actually happening.  Many of you know: As a former prosecutor, the bulk of my career as a prosecutor, I was focused on violent — crimes of violence against women and children, and, in particular, I specialized in child sexual assault cases. 
 
The vast majority of those cases are not reported.  And the idea that laws would be passed, as it relates to people who have endured and survived such violation and violence, and to then say to them, “And you will also not have autonomy over your body on this issue” — it’s immoral.  It’s immoral.
 
As a former prosecutor having handled those cases, I can tell you the vast majority of those cases are not reported for a variety of reasons that have to do with the nature of it all, including it might be about a family member, it might be about someone who otherwise could harm that person or their family.
 
And what’s happening in these states on that and so many other related issues is abhorent: punishing women, criminalizing healthcare providers.  In fact, I’m going to — I don’t know if everybody in the audience can see this.
 
(The Vice President holds up a map.)
 
This is a map of the United States.  So, you don’t need to see — you don’t need to read the words to see the point that I’m going to make. 
 
So, you see all the different colors.  So, one of the colors on this map is — represents the states in which abortion is banned from conception with no exceptions.  One color is abortion banned from conception with an exception for rape, but not incest.  Another, banned from conception with exceptions for rape and incest.  There’s a 6-week ban on here, a 15-week ban, an 18-week ban.  You get the point.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Not incest?
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Absolute —
 
MS. VÁZQUEZ:  No.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  But absolute confusion —
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Yeah.  That’s (inaudible).
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — which also creates an environment that is ripe for misinformation, disinformation, and predatory practices.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Yeah.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, in addition to what I’m seeing around the country, there’s fear.  There’s also just absolute and utter confusion about what are — for any individual: What are my rights?  And that is something that, we as opinion leaders, of which there are so many here, we have to continue to use our voice and our platform in a way that informs people about their rights with an — with a full appreciation that it’s so confusing they may not be aware.
 
MS. VÁZQUEZ:  So, you’ve touched upon this, but how else do you see the fight for reproductive freedom impacting the everyday lives of Americans?
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  (The Vice President reaches for the map.)
 
MS. VÁZQUEZ:  Right, so —
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  (Laughs.)  So, okay.
 
MS. VÁZQUEZ:  — just a little expansion. 
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I love Venn diagrams.  Okay?  (Laughs.) 
 
MS. VÁZQUEZ:  Just a little expansion. 
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I really do.  I love Venn diagrams — you know, the three circles — sometimes there are more.
 
So I asked my team,  “Do — do me a Venn diagram on — from which states are we seeing attacks on reproductive healthcare, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights.”  You would not be surprised to know that there is a significant overlap.  Right? 
 
So that’s what — so when we talk about who’s being impacted, well, you know, if you read the Dobbs decision — or you don’t need to, I’ll just tell you — Clarence Thomas said the quiet part out loud: They’re coming for the right to conception, the right to marry the person you love.
 
But I do see in, then, this moment, another thing in that Venn diagram, which is the reminder about the importance of coalition building, of bringing together all those folks who have been fighting forever on reproductive healthcare and maternal mortality, something that Karen Bass has been a leader on, bringing together the folks that have been fighting forever on voting rights, bringing together all the folks who — who are responsible for the victory on marriage — but we still have so much more work to do — and building our coalition.
 
Because here’s the thing: There was a movement that was started generations ago that culminated in Roe v. Wade.  We are now the ones that are responsible for picking up that movement.  And as with any movement in our country that has been about progress and the expansion of rights, one of the most productive ingredients of those movements has been the coalition and our commitment to building that coalition and growing it, for a number of reasons, one is that we all have so much more in common than what separates us.  But the other is, almost everyone should understand what rights of theirs are subject to and now exposed to attack.
 
And on this point — my final point on this would be, we need to take back the flag on this.  Because this is absolutely about freedom and liberty. 
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Yes.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  This is about freedom and liberty, which are foundational notions for the existence of our country.  These are founding principles that we, as Americans, hold dear: freedom and liberty.  And that means all of us are susceptible.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  And for freedom and liberty, we need to hold on to the House and the Senate, I’m just saying.  (Applause.) 
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, it’s not a political event, but that doesn’t mean we don’t speak truth.  (Laughter.) 
 
So, in fact, so, 22 days, there’s an election.
 
REPSENTATIVE BASS:  Yes.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  That’s a — that’s a fact.  It is a fact that there is a bill in Congress that the congressmember was a part of leading — the Women’s Health Protection Act — which would codify, which means put into law, the protections of Roe v. Wade.
 
The Court took it away; Congress can put it back.
 
The President of the United States — our President, Joe Biden, has said he will not let this thing called the “filibuster” get in the way of signing that law.  All of those are facts.
 
It is also the fact that, in order for that bill to get to the President’s desk so he can sign it into law, we need two more senators.  We need to hold on to what we have, and we need two more senators.  That is a fact.
 
It is also fact, by the way, that in that same context, the President has said he will sign into law the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.  (Applause.) 
 
Two more senators.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  I could think of two.  (Laughter.)
 
You know, along with this, in terms of, you know, understanding that the Dobbs decision was about the right to privacy and, Madam Vice President, you know, I’m not a lawyer, but I do wonder, like: How far could they go?
 
I mean, you know, Jim Crow laws?  I mean, could business say, “Well, it’s my right to only allow certain people to come in”?  How far — what are the implications?
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I mean, I think you should — that everything that you can imagine, you should assume is possible.
 
It was unimaginable that the court of Thurgood Marshall would do what this court just did.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Right.  Right.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And — and that’s, again, why I think that the point that you made about, you know, who is vulnerable to this moment: Everyone is vulnerable to this moment.
 
And we just — we have to understand that, I think, in so many ways, we are living in unsettled times. 
 
You think about it on the global stage, there is a war in Europe.  You know, for 70 years, there was an assumption that, in spite of the differences among nations, that there was still certain international rules and norms, including the importance of sovereignty and territorial integrity.  But with Russia’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine, we see that we can’t necessarily take that for granted. 
 
Unsettled times.  Unsettled times.
 
The Voting Rights Act, guided by the United States Supreme Court in Shelby v. Holder, a decision they rendered in 2013, and then you look at what happened in 2020, which is historic numbers of people voted in the midst of a pandemic, including an historic number of young voters, and almost immediately thereafter — because that scared people —
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Right.  (Laughter.)
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — there are children here — they started passing laws making it illegal to give people food and water if they’ve been standing in line for hours to vote; passing laws making it intentionally more difficult for people to vote.  Unsettled times.
 
We thought the issue of voting rights had been settled. 
 
Unsettled times.  In this year of our Lord 2022, taking away a woman’s ability to make decisions about her own body.
 
So, I think we have to listen to the words of Coretta Scott King.  You’ve heard me paraphrase her so many times on this.  She famously said: The fight for civil rights — which is the fight for justice, it’s the fight for equality, fight for freedom — the fight for civil rights must be fought and won with each generation.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Yes.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Because let’s always remember that these rights will not be permanent if we are not prepared to be vigilant.
 
And in that way, this is so much about a democracy.  I think about democracy in this regard.  I think — I think of democracy as there’s a duality to it, in that, when it is intact, it is strong in terms of what it does to create a system that preserves and fights for rights, civil rights, human rights.  So, there’s an aspect to it that is about strength in terms of what it can do to lift people up.
 
On the other hand, it’s very fragile.  It’s extremely fragile.  It will only be as strong as our willingness to fight for it.  And so, fight we will.
 
MS. VÁZQUEZ:  You have touched upon many of these topics, but how are you seeing the intersection of attacks on — well, no, I think we already — we already did that.
 
But we have an expert here — our congresswoman worked on the floor — a maternal morbidity expert, and all of the things.  What — what is the administration doing to address the maternal mortality crisis, which, we know, we you’ve done a lot of work previously?
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Celinda.  Maternal mortality — and, again, I recognize and thank Karen Bass for her work as a leader on this for so many years.
 
In America today, Black women are three times more likely to die in connection with childbirth.  Native women, twice as likely.  Rural women, one and a half times likely.  And as it relates to, for example, the experience of Black women, it is unrelated to their educational level or their socioeconomic level.  It is very clear it literally has to do with the fact that when she walks into that clinic or that doctor’s office or that emergency room, she is not taken as seriously.
 
And so, there is a lot of work that needs to happen that also understands and appreciates that, for so many of these women — for example, women in rural America — are living in the midst of healthcare deserts.  There’s no hospitals.  I — I have somebody that’s very close to me whose relative just died, just weeks ago, in connecti- — during childbirth, and the baby died, in rural America.  Because there was nowhere, where she lived, to get her the kind of care that the complication required.  Right?
 
So, this is a big issue.  But the idea that in this country, at this time, it is still such an issue of the proportion.
 
And so, there are a number of things.  One, when I was in the Senate, we had a bill that would address the bias in the healthcare delivery system and require training of healthcare providers — of all types of healthcare providers.  And I wrote into it, in particular, that the trainers would include doulas, who — (applause) — yes — who provide some of the best care and could teach a few things to others.
 
We are doing the work as an administration of — you know, I’m very proud of this — we have lifted this issue up to the stage of the White House, actually convened a group of leaders to come to the White House to present on this issue. 
 
We have done the work of also extending in states Medicaid coverage and encouraging, in extension — can you believe?  Okay, so Medicaid — (applause) — Medicaid covers, but we’re changing this — only two months of postpartum care.  Two months.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  You better not have a problem. 
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  You just gave birth to a human being.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Right?
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, there is — so we’re extending it to 12 months — right? —
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Excellent.  That’s great.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — for all that that requires and it requires, you know, the details of pelvic examinations.  It requires the details of whatever kind of healthcare that might be, you know, in any level of the body.  Healthcare — for mental healthcare, physical.
 
And so, this is some of the work we are doing, and — and it’s a good start.  There’s more work to be done, also recognizing that the disparities exist based on also lack of access to transportation, lack of access to all types of healthcare, in addition to maternal healthcare.  Because there is so much of this that also can be attributed to unique stressors, right?
 
Take, for example, the fact that poverty is trauma inducing.  And what that might mean, in terms of the unique stressors that low-income women are facing that can have an impact on their pregnancy. 
 
And so, all of this work is being done by our administration in conjunction with the Congress.  We have the “Momnibus” — we called it the “Momnibus.”  An omnibus bill.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Yes.  Yes, that’s great.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And we —
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  That was a great effort.  Members of the Congressional Black Caucus that led that effort.  
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Exactly. 
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  You know, when you were talking about maternal mortality, especially amongst Black women, when Beyoncé and Serena Williams get into trouble —
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Right?
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  — when they’re in the delivery room, we know this is a huge problem.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  That’s exactly right.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  The idea that you have high rates of maternal death in the United States of America is an outrage in and of itself. 
 
How about a few words on contraception, in terms of what the administration has done?
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, we have done some good work in terms of making clear that there is a right to contraception.
 
But, you know, I mean, to your point about what’s at risk, they pulled it back, but you saw what happened with the University Idaho — right? — which was — which was the issue was that the university — they pulled it back, so it’s no longer the case — but had essentially said that they would not provide contraception at the university. 
 
And you mentioned earlier that the convenings that I’ve been doing, one of them was with university presidents.  And I brought them in because, of course, they’re — the 18- through 24-year-old population is most at risk on this issue.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Right.  That’s right.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And I brought them in and asked them, “Well, what’s your plan?” 
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  (Laughs.)  And they said? 
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And it was a good and productive meeting.
 
MS. VÁZQUEZ:  What did they say?
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  (Inaudible.)
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  It was a (inaudible) meeting.
 
But, you know, for example, “What’s the plan?”  And I’ve just recently convened a bunch of extraordinary college student leaders, just in the White House, in my office, last week.  Just brilliant.  They’re brilliant.  They’re so good.  Like, the future of our country is so bright if they’re leading.  And — and — (applause) — yes.
 
And so, they — but we were talking about — for example, universities, colleges, community colleges, any, you know, educational institutions for educating after high school — what are they doing about privacy protocols as it relates to their health clinics? 
 
What are they doing as it relates to absenteeism, because they may be in a state where she has to go to another state to receive her abortion care? 
 
What are they doing in terms of — many universities, for example, will have — this might not be the right word — but bereavement funds, right?  So if a student has a death in the family and they can’t afford the transportation, that there’ll be assistance with that. 
 
Well — well, maybe we should be considering the fact that there are going to be students who can’t afford to leave the state and pay tuition and pay for books and pay for dorms, right?  And how are they thinking about that approach?
 
And so those issues have come up.  In connection also has been the issue of contraception and what are they doing to ensure that they are complying with the law but, at the same time, doing everything they can to fulfill a right that their students have.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Well, Madam Vice President, I know you have so many places to go.  We would love to keep you here all day.  So we want you to come back again soon.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Of course.
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  But maybe you can share some final thoughts.  Final thoughts about today, where you’re going, where you been.
 
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, a few things.  You know, one of the — you know, the additional facts — if we don’t have the issue in California, we have an — we have extraordinary members of Congress.  Mayor Garcetti is here.  Rob Bonta, the Attorney General.  Alex Padilla, the senator.  Toni Atkins, who convened a bunch of state legislators for a previous meeting that I did in San Francisco.
 
But elections matter on this one, as with everything else.  When I’m traveling the country, I remind folks: Elections matter in terms of who your local prosecutor is.  If you’re in a state that has criminalized this, that matters. 
 
Who your governor is matters.  Governor Newsom has done an extraordinary job on this.  Because it’s going to be about whether, depending on the composition of their legislature, do they need to veto stuff that would be bad and restricting rights, or are they going to sign legislation that is about preserving and expanding rights where they’ve been taken away in particular.
 
And so, 22 days.  And the reality of it is that we’re going to have to protect these rights ultimately by having national legislation. 
 
And there’s only one path to getting there.  There’s only so much that the executive branch can do on this.  We have three coequal branches of government.  The Court has acted, and now we need Congress to act.  And so we need people in Congress to recognize that responsibility.
 
So I’d urge everyone to just remember that and to talk with your friends and your neighbors, in particular in states where these rights are being attacked, and to remind them.
 
And then my last point would be just to repeat: I think the coalition-building piece on this is so extraordinarily important.  You know, this is an intergenerational movement.  This is a movement among so many people who are allies, who are — who are in this together for so many reasons.
 
So let’s just stay committed to it all and know that this moment was meant for those of us who are here to recognize we cannot afford to throw up our hands on this; we got to roll up our sleeves.
 
Thank you all.  (Applause.)
 
REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Roll up our sleeves!  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  It’s an honor to have you here.  Thank you.
 
MS. VÁZQUEZ:  Gracias, Madam Vice President.

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Politics

Anti-trans Democrat loses Texas primary to queer woman

Incumbent Democrat Shawn Thierry, who cast a vote to ban gender affirming care in Texas, lost to Lauren Ashley Simmons, a queer woman

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Shawn Thierry, from a public feed, Texas House of Representatives & Lauren Ashley Simmons, LGBTQ+ victory fund

By Erin Reed | HOUSTON, Texas – Houston Democratic Texas House of Representatives incumbent Shawn Thierry was trounced in a primary runoff election on Tuesday.

Thierry was one of only a handful of Democrats across the country who broke ranks with her party and voted for a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, delivering a lengthy and misinformation-filled speech in doing so.

After her anti-trans vote, queer union organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons stepped forward to unseat her, earning dozens of influential endorsements from party leaders and organizations. On Tuesday night, Simmons left no doubt about her victory: she resoundingly won 65%-35%.

On May 12, Representative Thierry voted to pass a gender-affirming care ban for transgender youth, an exceedingly rare vote for a Democrat. In doing so, she spoke on the House floor, calling transgender girls “biological males” and arguing that conversion therapy was the true solution to gender dysphoria.

She also voted against every amendment intended to mitigate the harm the bill would cause transgender youth in the state. This led to a vote to censure Thierry by the Meyerland Area Democrats, who reported feeling betrayed by her earlier assurances that she was an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.

Thierry’s district, the 146th District of the Texas House of Representatives, is not a swing district. It includes predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Houston that tend to vote heavily Democratic. Previously, Thierry had beaten a Libertarian candidate 87%-13%, with no Republican running in the race. Thus, whoever wins the Democratic primary in the district is likely to represent the district in the Texas House of Representatives.

Enter Lauren Ashley Simmons, a queer union organizer who ran in opposition to Thierry’s anti-LGBTQ+ votes and activism. In her announcement that she would be challenging Representative Thierry in the primary, Simmons stated, “Our current representative has lost her way and now votes with Greg Abbott and Republicans to take away our rights, destroy our public schools, and hurt our kids.”

Simmons quickly garnered major endorsements, an uncommon feat for a primary challenger to an incumbent politician. Equality Texas, Victory Fund, and LPAC, all significant LGBTQ+ organizations, endorsed her.

She also secured major union endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Additional support came from Planned Parenthood, Harris County Young Democrats, and Run for Something. High-profile congressional endorsements included Congresswomen Jasmine Crockett and Lizzie Fletcher, as well as former Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

In the lead-up to the election, which was quickly becoming a referendum on whether anti-transgender politics could gain a foothold in the Democratic Party, Thierry did not tone down her anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. She participated in “faith walks” with major local churches supportive of her stance and relied heavily on Republican donations.

When asked about her anti-trans votes, she called gender-affirming care “Black genocide.” Thierry’s statements were decried by major community members, including Diamond Stylz Collier, who leads the Texas nonprofit Black Trans Women Inc. Collier called the comments disgusting, stating, “We have an increase of trans people dying of violence around the country and a real-life genocide happening in other parts of the globe.”

As votes poured in on Tuesday evening, it became clear that Simmons would be the victor. She secured a decisive majority, with the district voting 65-35 in her favor over Thierry. Reflecting on her victory, Simmons stated, “Thanks to your amazing support, we all won BIG last night! We are so grateful, and so proud of the strong message this decisive victory sends to those who seek political gain by using bigotry, hatred, and fear: STOP. Thank you!”

Increasingly, anti-trans influencers are attempting to make inroads into left-leaning politics, a strategy that has seen mixed results internationally. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the Labour Party has been notoriously poor on transgender rights.

In the United States, however, these efforts have met with far less success. Just yesterday in California, an attempt to place a gender-affirming care ban on the ballot was defeated. Similarly, in most states, Democrats have remained steadfast against anti-transgender legislation. Now, even in a conservative state like Texas, it is evident that there is little appetite within the party for sacrificing transgender rights, and doing so could jeopardize one’s political career.

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

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

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California Politics

Effort to put measure limiting trans youth’s rights on Calif. ballot fails

The group claimed it had gathered more than 400,000 signatures, falling short of the requisite threshold number for inclusion on the ballot

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Protect Kids California CEO & Roseville school board member Jonathan Zachreson, (right) with anti-LGBTQ+ Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and an unnamed delegate at the California GOP convention in Anaheim on Sept. 29, 2023. (Photo Credit: Zachreson/Facebook)

SACRAMENTO – The effort by the anti-LGBTQ+ conservative group Protect Kids California, headed by Roseville school board member Jonathan Zachreson, to collect some 550,000 valid signatures to place a transphobic trans youth proposal on the November 5 ballot has failed.

In a press release on Tuesday, the deadline set by the California secretary of state, the group claimed it had gathered more than 400,000 signatures, falling short of the requisite threshold number for inclusion on the ballot.

Protect Kids California submitted the proposed ballot initiative—presented as the “Protect Kids of California Act of 2024,” last September. The proposed ballot initiative would have:

  • Forced outing of transgender youth to their parents, ensuring that trans kids cannot have safety or privacy in schools if they are not ready to come out to family. Often these policies also include violations of privacy for the student when they discuss their gender identity with school counselors.
  • Banning of transgender youth from sports that match their gender identity, stigmatizing them and often forcing them out of sports altogether. Notably, these provisions typically fail to differentiate between high-stakes elite competitions and casual middle school teams. They also generally don’t provide for pathways to participation like hormone therapy, a method that has been researched and employed to address concerns of potential “unfair advantages” in competitions. California, which allows youth to access gender affirming care, will have youth who never underwent the puberty of their assigned sex at birth who would also be banned under this provision.
  • Banning gender affirming care for trans youth shown to be lifesaving. Gender affirming care is associated with a 73% reduction in suicidality and over 50 studies assembled by Cornell University show its benefits. California is one of several states that has recently moved to protect transgender youth and their medical care, and such a restriction would impact a large number of transgender kids in the state.

“We are relieved that anti-LGBTQ+ extremists have failed to reach the required signature threshold to qualify their anti-transgender ballot initiatives to the November 2024 ballot. Equality California will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ+ youth everywhere, and push back against any and all efforts by extremist groups who seek to discriminate against them,” said Tony Hoang Equality California Executive Director. “To every LGBTQ+ youth in California: know that you are loved and valued.”

A coalition of leading LGBTQ+ and allied organizations including Equality California, TransFamily Support Services, The TransLatin@ Coalition, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, ACLU California Action, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gender Justice LA, California TRANScends, Tranz of Anarchii Inc. issued the following statement in response to the failure of anti-LGBTQ+ extremists to qualify an anti-transgender initiative for the 2024 California General Election ballot:

“We are relieved that this dangerous initiative did not meet the required signature threshold to appear on the ballot.

This extremist proposal sought to ban essential healthcare for transgender youth, forcibly out transgender students without consent or regard for their safety, and ban transgender youth from accessing school facilities or playing sports that correspond with their gender identity.

Still, we know that this fight isn’t over. A handful of school districts across the state have already implemented their own harmful policies targeting LGBTQ+ youth, and we are grateful to California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the California Department of Education for challenging the discriminatory actions of such districts in court. We are also proudly supporting the SAFETY Act (AB 1955), by Assemblymember Chris Ward and the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, which will protect transgender students across California from harmful forced outing policies and provide them and their families with the resources and support they actually need to thrive.

We will never stop fighting for LGBTQ+ youth to be their authentic selves, feel protected and to be safe.” 

The anti-LGBTQ+ group placed partial blame for the failure on California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who the group had sued over the title and summary he assigned to its ballot measure that would strip rights from transgender minors.

The Bay Area Reporter noted the Liberty Justice Center filed a lawsuit February 13 in Sacramento County Superior Court on behalf of Protect Kids California that alleged Bonta’s personal beliefs led to a biased title and summary. Therefore, the center contended the ballot measure proponents should be given 180 additional days for signature gathering without discounting signatures already collected.

“Respondent [Bonta] has demonstrated that he personally, and in his official capacity, is opposed to any kind of notification by a public school to a parent or guardian that his or her child is exhibiting signs of gender dysphoria when the child asks the school to publicly treat him or her as the opposite sex with a new name or pronouns, and to allow the child to use the sex-segregated facilities of the opposite sex,” claimed the groups in their lawsuit.

But a Sacramento Superior Court judge sided with Bonta in a ruling that was first issued tentatively April 19 and was made final April 22. Judge Stephen Acquisto ruled that Bonta’s title and summary are accurate.

“Under current law, minor students have express statutory rights with respect to their gender identity,” Acquisto stated. “A substantial portion of the proposed measure is dedicated to eliminating or restricting these statutory rights. … The proposed measure would eliminate express statutory rights and place a condition of parental consent on accommodations that are currently available without such condition.

“The proposed measure objectively ‘restricts rights’ of transgender youth by preventing the exercise of their existing rights. ‘Restricts rights of transgender youth’ is an accurate and impartial description of the proposed measure,” Acquisto added.

The attorney general’s office has some leeway when it comes to determining ballot titles, the judge noted.

In a statement provided to the B.A.R. on April 24, after news that the decision had been made permanent, Protect Kids California attorney Nicole Pearson stated, “The mental gymnastics used to justify this prejudicial title and summary are not only an egregious abuse of discretion that entitles our clients to an appeal, but a chilling interpretation of law that jeopardizes the very foundation of our constitutional republic. We are reviewing our options for an appeal of these clear errors and will announce a decision shortly.”

Additional reporting by The Bay Area Reporter.

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Politics

Libertarian Party nominates gay presidential candidate for 2024

At the Libertarian National Convention Saturday, former President Trump was booed by the crowd after asking for the third party’s endorsement

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Libertarian Party nominees Mike ter Maat for Vice-President & for President Chase Oliver. (Chase Oliver Libertarian Party Campaign/Facebook)

WASHINGTON – After a contentious seven rounds of voting on Sunday, the Libertarian Party nominated Chase Oliver, a gay sales account executive and former U.S. Senate candidate, to run in the 2024 presidential election.

Oliver will represent America’s third largest political party, whose endorsement had been solicited by the leading Republican and Independent candidates, Donald Trump and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Libertarian candidates typically earn about one percent of the national vote share during presidential elections, though Gary Johnson earned three percent in 2016, and Jo Jorgensen secured more votes than comprised the margin of victory in some 2020 battleground states.

Oliver’s third-party candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Georgia in 2022 helped force a runoff election that was won by U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).

Both Trump and Kennedy spoke at the Libertarian convention over the weekend, but they only earned a respective 0.65 percent and two percent of the votes from the party’s 900 delegates. (Trump, a write-in candidate, would likely have been ineligible to receive the nomination since he is the presumptive GOP nominee.)

Taking aim at Trump as well as the Democratic nominee, President Joe Biden, Oliver said during his acceptance speech, “We know that the lesser of two evils continues to give us more evil. But we’re done with that, and so are the voters.”

At the Libertarian National Convention in Washington, D.C. on Saturday night, former President Donald Trump was booed by the crowd after asking for the third party’s endorsement. The reception was far less friendly than the ones Trump receives at his own rallies, with some libertarian voters appearing hesitant to support him. NBC News’ Julie Tsirkin reported:

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Politics

2024 Texas GOP convention: Republicans call for spiritual warfare

Delegates moved further right, preaching Christian nationalism & approving rules that would give them unprecedented control of elections

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Attendees at the Texas GOP Convention in San Antonio on May 24, 2024. (Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune)

By Robert Downen | SAN ANTONIO — From his booth in the exhibit hall of the Texas GOP’s 2024 convention, Steve Hotze saw an army of God assembled before him.

For four decades, Hotze, an indicted election fraud conspiracy theorist, has helmed hardline anti-abortion movements and virulently homophobic campaigns against LGBTQ+ rights, comparing gay people to Nazis and helping popularize the “groomer” slur that paints them as pedophiles. Once on the fringes, Hotze said Saturday that he was pleased by the party’s growing embrace of his calls for spiritual warfare with “demonic, Satanic forces” on the left.

From left: Conservative activists Steven Hotze and Jared Woodfill enter the Senate gallery during the afternoon session of Day 1 of the Ken Paxton impeachment trial in the Texas Senate on Sept. 5, 2023.
From left: Conservative activists Steven Hotze and Jared Woodfill enter the Senate gallery during the afternoon session of Day 1 of the Ken Paxton impeachment trial in the Texas Senate on Sept. 5, 2023. Credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

“People that aren’t in Christ have wicked, evil hearts,” he said. “We are in a battle, and you have to take a side.”

Those beliefs were common at the party’s three-day biennial convention last week, at which delegates adopted a series of new policies that would give the party unprecedented control over the electoral process and further infuse Christianity into public life.

Delegates approved rules that ban Republican candidates — as well as judges — who are censured by the party from appearing on primary ballots for two years, a move that would give a small group of Republicans the ability to block people from running for office, should it survive expected legal challenges. The party’s proposed platform also included planks that would effectively lock Democrats out of statewide office by requiring candidates to win a majority of Texas’ 254 counties, many of which are dark-red but sparsely populated, and called for laws requiring the Bible to be taught in public schools.

Those moves, delegates and leaders agreed, were necessary amid what they say is an existential fight with a host of perceived enemies, be it liberals trying to indoctrinate their children through “gender ideology” and Critical Race Theory, or globalists waging a war on Christianity through migration.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick speaks during the Texas GOP Convention Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during the Texas GOP Convention on Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

Those fears were stoked by elected officials in almost every speech given over the week. “They want to take God out of the country, and they want the government to be God,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Thursday morning.

“Our battle is not against flesh and blood,” Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, said Friday. “It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

”Look at what the Democrats have done,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Saturday. “If you were actively trying to destroy America, what would you do differently?”

Controlling elections

The Texas GOP’s conventions have traditionally amplified the party’s most hardline activists and views. In 2022, for instance, delegates approved a platform that included calls for a referendum on Texas secession; resistance to the “Great Reset,” a conspiracy theory that claims global elites are using environmental and social policies to enslave the world’s population; proclamations that homosexuality is an “abnormal lifestyle choice”; and a declaration that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.

The 2024 convention went a step further.

It was the first Texas GOP convention set against the backdrop of a civil war that was sparked by the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton and inflamed by scandals over white supremacists and antisemites working for the party’s top funders, West Texas oil billionaires Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks. This year’s convention was also sparsely attended compared to past years, which some longtime party members said helped the Dunn and Wilks faction further consolidate their power and elect their candidate, Abraham George, for party chair.

“What we’re seeing right now is a shift toward more populism,” said Summer Wise, a former member of the party’s executive committee who has attended most conventions since 2008, including last week’s. “And the [party’s] infrastructure, leadership, decision-making process, power and influence are being controlled by a small group of people.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his wife Senator Angela Paxton wave to conventioneers during the Texas GOP Convention Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, wave to attendees during the Republican Party of Texas convention in San Antonio on Thursday, May 23, 2024. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

That shift was most evident, she said, in a series of changes to the party’s rules that further empower its leaders to punish dissent. The party approved changes that would dramatically increase the consequences of censures — which were used most recently to punish House Speaker Dade Phelan for his role in impeaching Paxton, and against U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales for voting for gun safety legislation.

Under the changes, any person who is censured by the party would be banned for two years from appearing on GOP primary ballots — including judges, who are elected in partisan races but expected to be politically neutral once on the bench. The party also voted to unilaterally close its primaries, bypassing the Legislature, in a move intended to keep Democrats from voting in Republican primaries.

“It’s pretty hypocritical,” Wise said of the changes, which legal experts and some party members expect will face legal challenges. “Republicans have always opposed activist judges, and this seems to be obligating judges to observe and prioritize party over law — which is straight-up judicial activism.”

The convention came amid a broader embrace of Christian nationalism on the right, which falsely claims that the United States’ founding was God-ordained and that its institutions and laws should reflect their conservative, Christian views. Experts have found strong correlations between Christian nationalist beliefs and opposition to migration, religious pluralism and the democratic process.

Wise said she has seen parts of the party similarly shift toward dogmatic political and religious views that have been used “to justify or rationalize corrupting the institution and stripping away its integrity, traditions, fundamental and established principles” — as if “‘God wants it, so we can rewrite the rules.’”

“Being Republican and being Christian have become the same thing,” she said. “If you’re accused of being a (Republican in Name Only), you’re essentially not as Christian as someone else. … God help you if you’re Jewish.”

The “rabbit hole”

Bob Harvey is a proud member of the “Grumpy Old Men’s Club,” a group in Montgomery County that he said pushes back against Fox News and other outlets that he claims have been infiltrated by RINOs.

“People trust Fox News, and they need to get outside of that and find alternative news and like-minded people,” Harvey, 71, said on Friday, as he waited in a long line to meet Kyle Rittenhouse, who has ramped up his engagement in Texas politics since he was acquitted of homicide after fatally shooting two Black Lives Matter protesters.

Rather, Harvey’s group recommends places such as the Gateway Pundit, Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News or the Epoch Times, a far-right website that also had a booth at this year’s convention and is directly linked to the Falun Gong, a hardline anti-communist group.

Such outlets, Harvey said, are crucial to getting people “further down the rabbit hole,” after which they can begin to connect the dots between the deep-state that has spent years attacking former President Donald Trump, and the agenda of the left to indoctrinate kids through the Boy Scouts of America, public schools and the Democratic Party.

Harvey’s views were widely-held by his fellow delegates, many of whom were certain that broader transgender acceptance, Critical Race Theory or “diversity, equity and inclusion” initiatives were parts of a sinister plot to destroy the country and take over its churches.

The culprits behind the ploy differed — Democrats, socialists or “globalists,” to name a few. But their nefarious end goals loomed over the convention. Fearing a transgender takeover of the Republican Party of Texas, delegates pushed to explicitly stipulate that the party’s chair and vice chair must be “biological” men or women.

At events to recruit pastors and congregations to ramp up their political activism, elected leaders argued that churches were the only thing standing between evil and children. And the party’s proposed platform included planks that claim gender-transition care is child abuse, or urge new legislation in Texas that’s “even more comprehensive” than Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits the teaching of sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.

Kyle Rittenhouse shakes hands with conventioneers at a meet and greet during the Texas GOP Convention Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio.
Kyle Rittenhouse shakes hands with conventioneers at a meet and greet during the Texas GOP convention on Thursday in San Antonio. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

“Our next generation is being co-opted and indoctrinated where they should have been educated,” Rep. Nate Schatzline, R-Fort Worth, said at a Friday luncheon for pastors and churches. “We are in a spiritual battle. This isn’t a political one.”

For at least a half-century, conservative Christian movements have been fueled by notions of a shadowy and coordinated conspiracy to destroy America, said Mark Chancey, a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University who focuses on movements to put the Bible in public schools.

“It’s like the boogeyman that won’t go away, that gets summoned whenever a justification is needed for these types of agendas,” he said. “They say that somebody is threatening quintessential American freedoms, and that these threats are posed by some sort of global conspiracy — rather than just recognizing that we’re a pluralistic democracy.”

In the 1950s, such claims were the driving force behind the emergence of groups such as the John Birch Society, a hardline anti-communist group whose early members included the fathers of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Trump. After decades of dwindling influence, the society has seen a revival since Trump’s 2016 election. And in the exhibit hall last week, so-called Birchers passed out literature and pamphlets that detailed the New World Order’s secret plans for “world domination.”

Steve Oglesby, field director for the Birch Society’s North Texas chapter, said interest and membership in the group has been on the rise in recent years — particularly, as COVID-19 lockdowns and international climate change initiatives have spurred right-wing fears of an international cabal working against the United States.

“COVID really helped,” he said, adding that the pandemic proved the existence of a global elite that has merely shifted its tactics since the 1950s. “It’s not just communism — it’s the people pulling the strings.”

Throughout the week, prominent Republicans invoked similar claims of a coordinated conspiracy against the United States. On Friday, Patrick argued that a decadeslong decline in American religion was part of a broader, “Marxist socialist left” agenda to “create chaos,” including through migration — despite studies showing that migrants are overwhelmingly Christian. Attorney General Ken Paxton echoed those claims in his own speech minutes later, saying migration was part of a plan to “steal another election.”

“The Biden Administration wants the illegals here to vote,” he said.

Ella Maulding and Konner Earnest watch as Lt. Governor Dan Patrick speaks during the Texas GOP Convention Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio.
Ella Maulding and Konner Earnest watch as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during the Republican Party of Texas convention in San Antonio on Thursday, the first day of the gathering. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

As Paxton continued, Ella Maulding and Konner Earnest held hands and nodded their approval from the convention hall’s front row. Last year, the two were spotted outside of a Tarrant County office building where Nick Fuentes, a prominent white nationalist and Adolf Hitler fan, was hosted for nearly seven hours by Jonathan Stickland, then the leader of Dunn and Wilks’ most powerful political action committee. They eventually lost their jobs after The Texas Tribune reported on their ties to Fuentes or white nationalist groups.

Maulding has been particularly vocal about her support for Great Replacement Theory, a conspiracy theory that claims there is an intentional, often Jewish-driven, effort to replace white people through migration, LGBTQ+ acceptance or interracial marriage. Once a fringe, white nationalist worldview, experts say that Great Replacement Theory has been increasingly mainstreamed as Republican leaders, including some who spoke last week, continue to claim that migration is part of a coordinated effort to aid Democrats. The theory has also been cited by numerous mass shooters, including the gunman who murdered 22 Hispanic people at an El Paso WalMart in 2019.

Five hours after Paxton and Patrick spoke, Maulding took to social media, posting a cartoon of a rabbi with the following text: “I make porn using your children and then make money distributing it under the banner of women’s rights while flooding your nation with demented lunatics who then rape your children.”

David Barton

Kason Huddleston has spent the last few years helping elect Christians and push back against what he believes is indoctrination of children in Rowlett, near Dallas. Far too often, he said, churches and pastors have become complacent, or have been scared away from political engagement by federal rules that prohibit churches from overt political activity.

Through trainings from groups like Christians Engaged, which advocates for church political activity and had a booth at this year’s convention, he said he has been able show more local Christians that they can be “a part of the solution” to intractable societal ills such as fatherlessness, crime or teen drug use. And while he thinks that some of his peers’ existential rhetoric can be overwrought, he agreed that there is an ongoing effort to “tear down the family unit” and shroud America’s true, Christian roots.

“If you look at our government and our laws, all of it goes back to a Judeo-Christian basis,” he said. “Most people don’t know our true history because it’s slowly just been removed.”

He then asked: “Have you ever read David Barton?”

Since the late 1980s, Barton has barnstormed the state and country claiming that church-state separation is a “myth” meant to shroud America’s true founding as a Christian nation. Barton, a self-styled “amateur historian” who served as Texas GOP vice chair from 1997 to 2006, has been thoroughly debunked by an array of historians and scholars — many of them also conservative Christians.

David Barton, left, of WallBuilders talks with a delegate as he poses for photos at a Texas Eagle Forum reception at the Texas Republican Convention in Fort Worth on June 7, 2012.
David Barton, left, of WallBuilders, at a Texas Eagle Forum reception at the Republican Party of Texas convention in Fort Worth on June 7, 2012. Credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Despite that, Barton’s views have become widespread among Republicans, including Patrick, Texas Supreme Court Justice John Devine and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson. And his influence over the party was clear at last week’s convention, where his group, WallBuilders, maintained a booth and delegates frequently cited him.

This year’s platform, the votes for which are expected to be released later this week, included planks that urged lawmakers and the State Board of Education to “require instruction on the Bible, servant leadership and Christian self-governance,” and supports the use of religious chaplains in schools — which was made legal under a law passed by the state Legislature last year.

Warren Throckmorton, a former Grove City College professor and prominent conservative, Christian critic of Barton, told the Tribune that the platform emblematized Barton’s growing influence, and his movement’s conflicting calls to preserve “religious liberty” while attempting to elevate their faith over others. The platform, he noted, simultaneously demands that students’ religious rights be protected, and for schools to be forced to teach the Bible.

“What about the other students who aren’t Christians and who don’t believe in the Bible?” he said. “This is not religious liberty — it’s Christian dominance.

As Zach Maxwell watched his fellow Republicans debate and vote last week, he said he was struck by the frequency and intensity with which Christianity was invoked. Maxwell previously served as chief of staff for former Rep. Mike Lang, then the leader of the ultraconservative Texas House Freedom Caucus, and he later worked for Empower Texans, a political group that was funded primarily by Dunn and Wilks.

He eventually became disillusioned with the party’s right wing, which he said has increasingly been driven by purity tests and opposition to religious or political diversity. This year’s convention, he said, was the culmination of those trends.

“God was not only used as a tool at this convention, but if you didn’t mention God in some way, fake or genuine, I did feel it was seen as distasteful,” he said. “There is a growing group of people who want to turn this nation into a straight-up theocracy. I believe they are doing it on the backs of people who are easily manipulated.”

Disclosure: Southern Methodist University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Robert Downen’s staff photo

Robert Downen is a reporter covering democracy and the threats to it, including extremism, disinformation and conspiracies. Before joining the Tribune in 2022, he worked for five years at the Houston Chronicle. As a Hearst Media fellow, he developed what would become “Abuse of Faith,” a landmark investigation into child sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention that prompted a Department of Justice investigation.

Before coming to Texas, Robert was a business reporter in New York’s capital region, and the managing editor of six newspapers in his home state of Illinois. He is a 2014 graduate of Eastern Illinois University.

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

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California Politics

LGBTQ leaders launch SoCal Freedom to Marry Prop 8 Repeal

California voters will vote to take the defunct ban on same-sex marriage out of the state constitution in November

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Speakers at Thursday's press conference included: Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California; Eddie Martinez, Executive Director of Latino Equity Alliance & Huntington Park Council Member; Mario Trujillo, Mayor of Downey; Terra Russell-Slavin, Esq., Chief Impact Officer of Los Angeles LGBT Center; Mark Gonzalez, LACDP Chair Em. and Bamby Salcedo, President & Chief Executive Officer of TransLatin@ Coalition. (Photo Credit: Click Strategies)

By Rob Salerno | LOS ANGELES – Leaders of a coalition of LGBTQ advocacy groups hosted a rally at the Mi Centro LGBT Community Centre in Los Angeles Thursday to launch the Southern California referendum campaign to repeal the discriminatory definition of marriage in the state constitution in November.

“California is a beacon of equality. Our state should always protect fundamental civil rights for all people and fight discrimination wherever it exists,” Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California, told the launch rally. “The bottom line is that your freedom to marry is on the ballot in November. Let’s show the rest of the country that Californians stand up for freedom and equality.”

California voters narrowly affirmed Proposition 8, which added a ban on same-sex marriage to the state constitution, in 2008. The ban was eventually struck down under the due process clause of the US Constitution in decisions between 2010 and 2013, but the unenforceable ban remains in the state constitution.

But many observers are nervous that the extremely right-wing Supreme Court could reverse previous rulings that supported same-sex marriage, which could enable the ban to snap back into effect. These fears became acute when the Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision reversed decades of precedent by ending the right to abortion. 

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas openly suggested that the ruling implied that the Supreme Court should overturn previous decisions legalizing same-sex marriage and intercourse.

“We know that there is a well-funded, well-organized group of extremist people who want to chip away the gains we have gotten over the last few years,” Bamby Salcedo, President & Chief Executive Officer of TransLatin@ Coalition told the rally. “This freedom to marry initiative isn’t just for gay or lesbian people. It’s for all of us.”

Terra Russell-Slavin, Chief Impact Officer of Los Angeles LGBT Center, recalled how her organization campaigned the last time marriage equality was put to voters.

“We’re having many of the same conversations today we had in 2008, but this time, with Californians who are on the right side of history. With the majority of Angelenos and Californias who understand that we share a special bond as caretakers of our community. That’s what makes us family, and that’s what will make us win in November,” Russell-Slavin said. 

Speakers at the rally acknowledged that equality activists have had to do more outreach to minority communities in the years since Proposition 8 passed. 

Eddie Martinez, a Huntington Park city councilor and executive director of the Latino Equity Alliance, reflected on how queer Latinos reached out to parents, neighbors, and community leaders to build common cause after exit polling revealed that Latinos mostly supported the marriage ban.

“Latine LGBT activists and organizations knew it was time to be united and to educate our community about marriage equality,” he said. “We went to communities that voted up to 60% [for Prop 8] to have one-on-one conversations on marriage equality and other issues of importance to the Latine community, such as immigration and workers’ rights. Our fight was intersectional.” 

State legislators unanimously agreed to put a repeal question before voters last summer. 

Last week, the state Democratic Party announced it is supporting passage of the Freedom to Marry ballot measure.

California isn’t the only state considering a freedom to marry ballot question in November. Voters in Hawaii and Colorado will also be deciding on propositions to repeal their constitution’s marriage bans. 

“This is going to set the precedence for others to understand the importance of including these initiatives in their state constitutions,” Salcedo says. “We invite you to talk to your friends, talk to your neighbors, around your dinner table, to bring this issue to light because this is important to all of our communities.”

LGBTQ leaders launch SoCal Freedom to Marry campaign for Prop 8 Repeal

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Political commentary & analysis

Urgent concerns arise when congressional staff face ethics investigations

Ultimately, how can we hold elected representatives to a higher standard such that they model good behavior for their employees

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has a long established public record of vitriol and hate speech directed at LGBTQ+ people.(File photo Washington Blade/Michael Key)


WASHINGTON -Congressional staff tend to avoid engaging in conduct that could reflect poorly on the members they represent or that which would otherwise bring them out from behind the scenes and into the spotlight.

Last week, however, was the second time in which I broke a story about a chief of staff on Capitol Hill who found himself the subject of a complaint to the U.S. House Ethics Committee, the body whose primary responsibility is investigating reports of unethical and unlawful conduct by America’s elected representatives.

In the first, Marjorie Taylor Greene filed a report against Democratic Rep. Jake Auchincloss’s top aide because he had placed stickers over a transphobic sign that the far-right Georgia congresswoman had displayed outside her office. 

The second complaint came from an official with the Biden-Harris administration over an especially combative and anti-trans email that was sent by the highest-ranking deputy in a West Virginia Republican’s Congressional office.

The two cases are not otherwise analogous. As the emissaries of lawmakers who are responsible to their constituents, staff should be held accountable for out-of-bounds behavior like sending offensive emails to harass colleagues on Capitol Hill or in the federal government. 

By contrast, decorating a poster in the Longworth House Office Building without permission is hardly a crime that should be escalated to the Ethics Committee, particularly not when the poster is offensive to members of a marginalized community and was hung in the first place to provoke a colleague across the hall who has a trans daughter.

If a monthslong probe exploring whether a career Hill staffer had brought discredit upon the House of Representatives with his stickers was not absurd enough, it was kicked off by none other than Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has been guilty of that charge virtually every day since she was elected. (Recall, for instance, that she has called for violence against her political opponents, including by publishing a video on social media in which she said then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deserves the death penalty.)

A member of Congress wields a tremendous amount of power relative to even the seniormost Capitol Hill staff, a fact that was brought into sharp relief for Auchincloss’s chief of staff as he sought to defend himself against not just the committee’s investigation but also an affidavit by the Capitol Police in support of an arrest warrant along with threats and harassment so severe that his home was monitored by law enforcement.

The House Ethics Committee declined to comment when I reached out last week to confirm receipt of the complaint filed against the GOP staffer, just as they had refused to provide information about the status of the case initiated by Greene’s report.

The committee’s Senate counterpart is even more of a black box.

An article by the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan government accountability group, notes that in the recent indictment of New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, “the shocking details revealed by the allegations seemingly had no end.”

The evidence against him was sufficiently flagrant and longstanding, the article argues, to “beg the question: Is the Senate incapable of finding and rooting out potential corruption before it becomes a crime?”

Part of the problem, according to CLC, is that the Upper Chamber’s ethics committee provides no means by which a complaint can be seen through to its investigation and resolution. The public knows very little about what the committee does, perhaps because the committee does very little: a study in 2023 found that none of the 1,523 reports that were filed over a period of 15 years resulted in any formal disciplinary sanctions.

Obviously, full transparency is impossible when sensitive information must be kept confidential to protect the integrity of an investigation. However, and especially if we are going to continue seeing complaints against Congressional staff rather than the lawmakers they serve, the committees should provide more insight into their processes and decision making.

Measures could include safeguards designed to mitigate the risk of unfair outcomes when investigations are brought by members of Congress and target those who have far less power. A mechanism requiring the investigators to share more information about cases under their review, to the extent possible, would also be wise — because even when the alleged conduct by a staffer may warrant a complaint, time and resources might be better spent rooting out misconduct by members of Congress, which is almost always far more consequential. 

We should also contend with the question of whether ethics committees are ever the appropriate place to explore and adjudicate allegations against staffers, since members are fully capable of enforcing the rules in their offices. 

As demonstrated by the long and tortured process through which George Santos was finally booted from Congress, getting rid of an elected lawmaker is far more difficult than, say, firing a chief of staff. 

Ultimately, perhaps the right question is: how can we hold elected representatives to a higher standard such that they model good behavior for their employees as well as for their constituents and Congressional colleagues?

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Christopher Kane is the White House Correspondent and Capitol Hill reporter for the Washington and Los Angeles Blade newspapers.

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California Politics

Assemblyman Ward introduces AB 1955 to outlaw forced outing

“Across the country and here in California, LGBTQ+ young people are under attack from extremist politicians and school boards”

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Members of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, with Assemblymember Chris Ward speaking, at Equality California Advocacy Day 2023. (Photo Credit: Equality California)

SACRAMENTO – On Wednesday, the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, chair Sen. Susan Eggman, (D- San Joaquin County), and co-sponsor Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) introduced AB 1955: Support Academic Futures and Educators for Today’s Youth Act (SAFETY Act) to ensure all of the state’s students have a safe and supportive environment to learn, regardless of their gender identity.

The legislation introduced coincided with Harvey Milk Day, honoring the slain LGBTQ+ rights activist and politician. In 2009, the State of California established Milk’s birthday, May 22 as Harvey Milk Day. On this day, Californian’s remember his life, accomplishments, and the LGBTQ+ community’s continuing fight for recognition and equality under the law.

More than a dozen school districts in California have proposed and/or passed forced outing policies to require teachers to notify parents if their child identifies as transgender. 

Transgender, nonbinary, and other LGBTQ+ youth are at risk due to this recent growing trend of forced outing policies. These efforts have led to a measurable impact on the mental health of California’s LGBTQ+ students, and can lead to a rise in bullying, harassment, discrimination, and more.

Since July 2023, when the Chino Valley Unified School District school board passed their first forced outing policy, over 700 calls were made to the Rainbow Youth Project Crisis hotline by LGBTQ+ youth from the Chino area alone. Rainbow Youth CEO Lance Preston told the Blade in an interview last Fall: “That is how toxic even discussing these issues [forced outing] makes the environment for queer kids who live there.”

Among those opposed to the implementation of the forced outing policies is the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond and the State Attorney General Rob Bonta.

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond addressing the Chino Valley Unified School District school board, July 20, 2023.
(Photo by Kristi Hirst for the LA Blade)

Last summer the State Superintendent had traveled to Chino to state his opposition to the policy. Addressing the board, Thurmond cautioned the policy may “not only fall outside of the laws that respect privacy and safety for our students, but may put our students at risk because they may not be in homes where they can be safe.”

His words echoed a warning issued by California Attorney General Rob Bonta in a letter sent to Chino Valley Unified School’s Superintendent Norman Enfield and the Board. Bonta expressed serious concern over the proposed Parental Notification policy, emphasizing the potential infringements on students’ privacy rights and educational opportunities.

“By allowing for the disclosure of a student’s gender identity without their consent, Chino Valley Unified School District’s suggested Parental Notification policy would strip them of their freedom, violate their autonomy, and potentially put them in a harmful situation,” Bonta wrote. “Our schools should be protecting the rights of all students, especially those who are most vulnerable, and should be safeguarding students’ rights to fully participate in all educational and extracurricular opportunities.”

In October of 2023, San Bernardino California Superior Court Judge Michael Sachs issued a preliminary oral injunction against the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education’s mandatory gender identity disclosure policy, further halting the enforcement of the policy.

Chino Valley Unified joined several other Southern California school districts which passed similar policies. A Riverside County Superior Court judge denied a motion on Friday morning, Feb. 23, to issue an injunction seeking to stop the Temecula Valley Unified School District from enforcement of two controversial polices on transgender notification to parents or guardians and a ban on teaching of critical race theory.

Attorney General Rob Bonta listens intently to a member of the LGBTQ+ community in a August 2023 presentation. (Photo Credit: Office of the Attorney General)

School districts in San Diego County and Orange Counties have also passed similar policies.

The SAFETY Act will do three things one passed by the legislature and if signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, which is likely: Prohibit school districts from implementing forced outing policies, provide resources for parents and students to navigate conversations around gender and identity on their own terms, and ensure teachers or school staff are not retaliated against for refusing to forcibly out a student. 

Assemblymember Chris Ward who spoke with the Blade prior to the bill’s introduction stressed that the primary goal of AB 1955 is to take politics out of the classroom, have teachers teach not act as the gender police. “Nothing should ever prohibit the child-parent relationship nor dictate policies that are politically motivated,” he told the Blade.

“Had I not had a single supportive adult in my life, I never would have been able to find the strength to come out to my family, or to teach them what I had learned about who I am on my own,” said Kai, a Northern California-area LGBTQ+ youth. “Please don’t let another child endure the consequences of that support system being taken away due to forced outing policies. That’s why I support AB 1955.”

Equality California’s Executive Director Tony Hoang noted in response to the introduction of AB 1955:

“Across the country and here in California, LGBTQ+ young people are under attack from extremist politicians and school boards seeking to ban books, terrorize teachers, and make transgender youth afraid to be themselves at school. 

This critical legislation will provide resources for parents and families of LGBTQ+ students to support them as they have conversations on their own terms, protect LGBTQ+ students from isolation and bullying, and provide critical safeguards to prevent retaliation against teachers and school staff who foster a safe and supportive school environment for all students. 

Forced outing policies remove opportunities for LGBTQ+ students to build trust and seek out resources that best fit their coming out experience. LGBTQ+ youth and their families deserve to have these conversations at home and in a way that makes sure that students are safe and supported.”

“Under California law, schools are required to support and affirm LGBTQ+ students, which includes addressing students by the name and pronouns that match their identity and respecting their decisions about coming out,” said Becca Cramer-Mowder, legislative advocate at ACLU California Action. “By targeting transgender and nonbinary youth, forced outing policies violate state and federal anti-discrimination and privacy laws. The SAFETY Act strengthens existing protections that ensure that all California students are safe and treated fairly at school.”

Sen. Eggman, who cosponsored AB 1955, echoed Assemblymember Ward in a late afternoon phone call with the Blade Tuesday: “We need to take our time see what works best cooling down the forced outing momentum. The average parent just wants to have their kids safe. Our goal is not parental rights fight, schools should not be getting in between parents and kids- the goal is getting support so that all kids are safe.”

In a separate statement Eggman said:

“School campuses should be safe places for students to learn and grow as their authentic selves. The SAFETY Act is a critical piece of legislation that seeks to protect everyone on school campuses, especially LGBTQ+ students. When and how a person comes out is a conversation that should be reserved for a student and a parent, not arbitrarily forced on unsuspecting youth by a school administration.”

“Educating children works best with engaged parents and caring teachers working together to create a safe space for all children to learn,” said parent, former teacher, and Our Schools USA co-founder Kristi Hirst. “Forced outing policies harm children, condemn taxpayer dollars to be wasted on attorneys, and do nothing to improve public education in our state or across the country.”

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Political commentary & analysis

A new study doesn’t show trans surgery “increases suicide”

A new study made the rounds claiming that transgender surgeries increase suicide. A fact check shows this assertion is egregiously false

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Los Angeles Blade/EIM graphic

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – This weekend, multiple accounts and news stories were posted in far-right outlets claiming that a new study showed that “transgender surgeries dramatically increase the risk of suicide.”

The claim, based on a study published in a pseudoscience journal, as determined by Media Bias/Fact Check, was then amplified by leading anti-trans accounts on the Twitter platform, including Elon Musk himself. Upon further review, the article appears to have made critical errors that were quickly caught by expert researchers in the science of transgender care, including an egregious error in which the wrong control group was selected for the study.

The study, titled “Risk of Suicide and Self-Harm following Gender-Affirmation Surgery,” was published in the journal Cureus in April but was only recently discovered by anti-trans influencers. Importantly, Cureus is a journal known for pseudoscience and disinformation. A Media Bias/Fact Check review determined that the journal “may publish unverifiable information that is not always supported by evidence.”

The science journal watchdog organization Retraction Watch found that the journal “has retracted 56 papers” just two years after its inception. The journal is known for a poor-quality peer review process, and its motto is “peer review, not peer rejection.” Collectively, this increases the risk of major errors in publications from the journal.

The article looked at data from adults who had gender-affirming surgery and an emergency visit, comparing them with cisgender adults who had emergency visits. The study found that 3.5% of transgender adults who had surgery went to the emergency room for a suicide attempt, compared with 0.3% of cisgender controls.

The study concluded that those with gender-affirming surgery had a 12 times higher risk of suicide attempts than patients with no history of gender-affirming surgery. That number was then posted on social media and pasted into headlines proclaiming that gender-affirming surgery increases suicide rates.

Researchers into trans healthcare quickly noted a glaring error: the authors compared transgender people who have had surgery with cisgender people to determine that gender-affirming surgery raises suicide risks. To accurately assess whether transgender surgeries increase suicide risk, the correct control group would be transgender people who did not have surgery or, even more accurately, those who were denied surgery. It would be like judging the effectiveness of a new teaching method by comparing college students using the new method to those who never went to college, rather than to college students using the old method.

In fact, the study’s conclusions take on an entirely different light when considering what current research says about transgender suicide attempt rates. The Williams Institute released a study showing that 42% of transgender adults report having attempted suicide over their lifetimes.

The Journal of Interpersonal Violence put that number at 40%. A meta-analysis published in the Annals of General Psychiatry, which looked at 65 studies, found that the lifetime suicide attempt rate for transgender people is likely around 29%.

Even if one uses the lowest number from these studies, it is clear that transgender people who have had gender reassignment surgery actually have a 10 times lower rate of suicide attempts in this study. Of course, no causal claim can be made either way using this study because the study declined to include such a control group. If they had, one could expect very different headlines to emerge.

The comparison of transgender people who have had surgery with cisgender people rather than other transgender people is a relatively common mistake used to make incorrect claims about the effectiveness of transgender care.

Anti-transgender activists and politicians often cite, for instance, “the Swedish study” and incorrectly claim that it shows transgender care is ineffective, leading to a 19 times higher suicide rate. The study they cite, published in the journal PLOS One, used a similar control group of cisgender people. In that case, the control group selection was purposeful, used to evaluate health risks of transgender people compared to cisgender people. The author had to correct those misusing its findings, stating, “People who misuse the study always omit the fact that the study clearly states that it is not an evaluation of gender dysphoria treatment. If we look at the literature, we find that “several recent studies conclude that WPATH Standards of Care compliant treatment decreases gender dysphoria and improves mental health.”

Indeed, many studies show that transgender care saves lives and decreases suicidality. One study in the Annals of Plastic Surgery found that gender-affirming surgery “improved mental health outcomes” and “significantly reduced suicidal ideation.”

Another study in JAMA Surgery determined that suicidal ideation was lower among transgender people who had gender-affirming surgery compared to those who did not. They also found that “respondents who underwent all desired gender-affirming surgeries had significantly lower odds of past-year suicide attempts.”

Importantly, this study used the correct control group: transgender people who did not have all of their desired gender-affirming surgeries. A Cornell University review of gender affirming care looked at over 50 papers and determined that “gender transition is effective in treating gender dysphoria and can significantly improve the well-being of transgender individuals.”

Despite this, many anti-trans influencers and far-right media outlets amplified the incorrect claim that transgender surgery increases suicides. The Babylon Bee posted, “Risk of suicide increases 12x after ‘gender-affirming’ surgery … is anyone surprised?” Elon Musk then amplified the article, saying, “extremely concerning.” The post was viewed over 26 million times.

Anti-trans accounts such as Seth DillonChad Felix GreeneJonathan Kay, and Katy Faust also amplified the incorrect claim. Jordan Peterson used the study to claim that doctors were “butchers.” Far-right conservative media such as The Daily Wire and Breitbart made similar incorrect claims of increased suicide rates.

Disinformation around transgender care is easily weaponized by politicians relying on social media to justify their political decision-making processes. None of the posts about the study received any community notes on the Twitter platform, despite many being submitted to correct the error.

This is a serious failing of the Community Notes feature, which is supposed to correct misinformation. As a result, incorrect information about transgender care has been allowed to spread with little pushback, reaching tens of millions of people. Fact-checkers and those who run platforms should better protect their platforms against this kind of egregious disinformation.

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

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

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Politics

HRC invests $15 million in six battleground states

“Trump has promised to not just undo all the progress made by the Biden-Harris administration; but to erase LGTBQ+ people from federal law”

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Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — The Human Rights Campaign will target a record-high 75 million pro-LGBTQ voters nationwide with a public education and mobilization campaign ahead of the 2024 elections, which includes a $15 million investment in six key battleground states, the group announced on Monday.

The initiative will focus on voters in states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Nevada with “hired staff, field efforts, events, paid advertising, mobilization, and grassroots engagement,” HRC wrote in a press release announcing the campaign, which is titled “We Show Up: Equality Wins.”

HRC defines Equality Voters as constituents who are “united by the advancement of LGBTQ+ equality, and are younger, more racially diverse, and more female than the general electorate.”

Among those who would vote for third-party candidates if the election were held today — 22 percent, or 16.5 million people — survey results show half would support President Joe Biden if they reach the understanding that their third-party vote would support Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.

Along with re-electing Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, HRC’s campaign will work “to defeat escalating anti-trans attacks” and “electing historic LGBTQ+ and pro-equality candidates down-the-ballot,” the group wrote.

HRC will support LGBTQ candidates in California, Texas, New York, and Delaware with the aim of helping to elect a pro-equality majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.  

“Trump and his MAGA allies are promising a hate-filled agenda that hurts everyone who doesn’t look and live like them,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said. “They think they can bully and scare us and take away our fundamental freedoms. But the LGBTQ+ community has won these hard fights before — and we refuse to go back.”

HRC noted “Trump has promised to not just undo all the progress made by the Biden-Harris administration; but to erase LGTBQ+ people from federal law, further dismantle access to health care for transgender people, and dictate curriculum for school children.” 

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California Politics

Influential lesbian political couple killed in San Diego car crash

Moore and Wood were married in a ceremony at Oakland’s Lake Merritt a month prior to same-sex marriage being legalized in California

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Oakland political leader Peggy Moore, left, and her wife, Hope Wood, were killed Friday night in a vehicle collision in Southern California. (Photo: Moore/Facebook)

By Cynthia Laird, News Editor | SAN DIEGO COUNTY – Oakland political leader Peggy Moore and her wife, Hope Wood, died late Friday night, May 10, following a head-on collision on State Route 76 in unincorporated San Diego County. The news brought a flood of tributes on social media, as friends and colleagues remembered the couple.

According to multiple media reports, Moore and Wood were passengers in a Jeep Gladiator that was traveling westbound on the highway at 11:17 p.m. when a Chrysler 300 that was driving east swerved into the westbound lanes, striking the Jeep.

In addition to Moore and Wood, the driver of the Jeep was killed as was the driver of the Chrysler, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. A third car, a Toyota Camry, which was behind the Jeep, was involved in a minor side-swipe, according to the reports. It is not known why the Chrysler veered into oncoming traffic.

Moore, 60, had long been involved in Oakland politics. She managed the successful 2014 mayoral campaign for Libby Schaaf and served as a senior adviser to her. In 2016, she unsuccessfully ran for the at-large seat on the Oakland City Council, facing lesbian incumbent Rebecca Kaplan. Moore also worked as an organizer for Barack Obama’s winning 2008 presidential campaign.

In a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter Monday, Schaaf said that she was devastated by the loss of Moore and Wood. During her 2014 mayoral campaign, Schaaf said that she and Moore “spent all day, every day together for a year.”

“She molded me into the mayor I became — in the most beautiful ways our democracy needs more of,” Schaaf said. “She was centered in love.”

Schaaf said that she hosted a gathering at her home Saturday evening with her former campaign and City Hall staffers. “I was so shocked. I wanted to create a space to celebrate her and Hope,” she said. “It’s a devastating loss for me personally and for democracy.”

Schaaf added that Moore was the only member of her campaign team to come to work for her in City Hall as a senior adviser. Moore stayed until she launched her own City Council campaign, and then Schaaf said that she came back to City Hall for the last few months of Schaaf’s tenure. (Schaaf had been reelected in 2018 and left office in January 2023. She is currently running for state treasurer in 2026.)

Schaaf said that recently, Moore and Wood had been mostly living in Orange County to be closer to Wood’s family. Moore maintained an apartment in Oakland, Schaaf said. Moore had also been spending time with her family in Oklahoma City, which is where she celebrated her 60th birthday.

“I was on a Zoom call with her days ago,” Schaaf said.

Kaplan stated that Moore was a “dedicated community leader.”

“May her memory be a blessing,” she wrote in a text message. “Her death is a shock and a great loss.”

Congressmember Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) knew both women.

“I’m heartbroken to hear of the tragic loss of Peggy Moore and Hope Wood,” Lee wrote on X. “Peggy was a friend, an activist, and one of the best organizers I knew. Her passion and fight for justice and equality is what brought her and Hope together.

“Together they organized, changed hearts and minds, and helped to create a world where who you love doesn’t limit your freedoms,” she added. “Both Peggy and Hope made an impact on our community, on our city, on our state, and on our nation that will be felt for generations to come.”

“It is always tragic to lose a loved one, but the loss of Peggy Moore and Hope Wood is not just a personal loss to me, but a huge loss for our community. The dynamic duo have always fought to ensure there was representation and equity in every arena they worked within. We mourn the loss and appreciate their legacy, because their work will live on in the lives that they touched,” Shay Franco-Clausen, Political Director Equality California, said in a statement.

Started consulting firm

In 2019, Moore and Wood, 48, started Hope Action Change Consulting. On the site, they wrote that they fell in love while working on the 2008 Obama campaign.

“As women of color, we are experts at the dance of values in the workplace,” they wrote on the site. “We have lived outside the main streets of society in the intersections of our gender and our race, and we have learned to navigate a path through many streets where we have not been welcome. Despite the difficulties of this journey, we are full of optimism for where our path leads.”

Moore and Wood were married in a ceremony at Oakland’s Lake Merritt on July 29, 2013. It was a month prior that same-sex marriage returned to being legalized in California after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an appeals court decision that Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban passed by voters in 2008, was unconstitutional.

On Facebook, friends remembered the couple.

“We want you to know how much we loved you both,” Brendalynn Goodall, a member of the Alameda County Democratic County Central Committee, and her wife, Nancy Hinds, wrote. “The news of your passing has left us feeling shocked, numb, and incredibly sad. It’s hard to believe you are no longer here. You were more than just friends — you were family.

“We shared so many unforgettable memories and experiences together — from life’s ups and downs to discussions about politics, community, family, relationships, careers, and even our beloved pets,” added Goodall. “We were always there for each other, through thick and thin.”

Longtime DJ Page Hodel was also stunned by the news. “I am still doubled over … literally speechless over hearing the news of the tragic passing of our beloved Peggy Moore and her wife Hope Wood,” she wrote on Facebook.

Moore is also remembered for co-founding Sistahs Steppin’ in Pride, which took place in Oakland beginning in the early 2000s. Kaplan mentioned it as one of Moore’s accomplishments. For a decade, it brought the East Bay’s diverse queer women’s community together in celebration during the last weekend of August. Up to 2,000 queer women attended the event at its peak, Moore told the B.A.R. in 2011, the last year of the march.

The event had started as the East Bay’s version of the dyke march held in San Francisco and took place in conjunction with the old East Bay Pride. When that event stopped in 2003, Sistahs Steppin’ in Pride stepped up, so to speak, to make sure there was a queer presence in the East Bay.

The new Oakland Pride started in 2010. Last year, a combined Oakland Pride and Pridefest parade and festival were held in early September.

Wood was a former teaching fellow for Harvard Kennedy School’s Leadership Organizing, Action: Leading Change course and a UCLA teacher education program alumna, according to the couple’s consulting website. She had devoted more than two decades of her life to organizing across California and the United States.

Moore and Wood’s friend Lisbet Tellefsen organized an impromptu memorial Sunday, May 12, at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater where Moore and Wood were married. Schaaf said that she attended.

“There were lots of [people wearing] Sistahs Steppin’ in Pride and Moore for City Council T-shirts,” Schaaf said.

“She was an amazing leader for the LGBTQ+ community,” Schaaf added. “She brought her full self to everything she did.”

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The preceding article was previously published by the Bay Area Reporter and is republished with permission.

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