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Veto promised for Republican anti-trans sports ban

A national law that further stigmatizes these children is completely unnecessary and would only put students at greater risk

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U.S. Capitol Dome (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – The White House issued a statement Monday objecting to the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act, HR 734, a bill by U.S. House Republicans that would categorically bar transgender student athletes from competing on teams consistent with their gender identity.

“If the president were presented with HR 734, he would veto it,” according to the statement, which argues the proposed legislation “targets people for who they are and therefore is discriminatory.”

HR 734 was introduced in February by U.S. Rep. Gregory Steube (R-Fla.) and marked up by the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee last month. Even if it passes the lower chamber, the measure is unlikely to reach President Joe Biden’s desk for a veto given Democrats’ majority control of the U.S. Senate.

“At a time when transgender youth already face a nationwide mental health crisis, with half of transgender youth in a recent survey saying they have seriously considered suicide, a national law that further stigmatizes these children is completely unnecessary, hurts families and students and would only put students at greater risk,” the administration wrote in the statement.

“Schools, coaches and athletic associations around the country are already working with families to develop participation rules that are fair and that take into account particular sports, grade levels and levels of competition,” the statement says.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled a draft policy that would prohibit schools from issuing blanket bans on the participation of trans student athletes in school sports.

The policy provided for exceptions in certain circumstances, however, provided schools’ athletics eligibility criteria provides for the consideration of factors like differences between sports, grade levels and the levels of competition.

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Congress

House ethics complaint filed over GOP staffer’s anti-trans email

“You’re disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t email me or anyone from my office ever again!” 

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Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), in 2012. (Screenshot/YouTube San Diego City Beat)

WASHINGTON — A federal government employee has filed a complaint to the U.S. House Ethics Committee over an email they received from Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), which contained combative and anti-trans language. 

The Washington Blade has seen the correspondence between the parties, in which the confrontation was apparently kicked off when the congresswoman’s top aide received an email that included the sender’s preferred pronouns in the signature box, triggering his reply.

Donnellan wrote, “As a father, it is disgusting that anyone would ever tell my son or daughter that something is wrong with them and they should take sterilizing hormones or have surgery to cut off their genitals.”  

“The fact that you support that ideology by putting pronouns in your signature is awful,” he said, adding, “You’re disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t email me or anyone from my office ever again.” 

A senior government official told the Blade in a written statement that the email was not out of character for Donnellan:

 “I’ve heard from two colleagues several months apart about two separate transphobic emails, using identical language, from Matthew. Unfortunately these emails—though inconsistent with the typical collegiality one would expect from a Chief of Staff on the Hill—is likely a reflection of both increased partisanship on the Hill and a rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from the right.

“Not only is this virtual, hate-filled temper tantrum unbecoming of a Chief of Staff, inappropriate, and unprofessional, it also hurts his boss’s constituents. DC is built on congressional staff, members of Congress, and executive officials being able to put aside their differences to find unlikely areas of commonality where they can work together. 

“Even some of the most progressive members, like [U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Jerry Nadler (N.Y.)] have partnered with some of the most conservative members, like [U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio)], respectively, when they can find common ground. 

“Matthew’s refusal to work with an agency department or office just because a staffer has pronouns in their signature isn’t just hateful—it means he’s cutting off opportunities to deliver results for his boss’s constituents, especially in a divided Washington.”

Donnellan told the Blade by email that his response to the government employee is “a reply I send to anyone who uses pronouns or pushes gender ideology in any way.” 

“No one is ‘born in the wrong body’ and it’s horrific to tell anyone that they need genital mutilation surgery or sterilizing drugs,” he said. “People who push gender ideology, actively or passively, are awful and should be confronted every single time.”

“If the blunt reality of the terrible things that they are pushing is offensive to them then they should strongly reconsider what it this they believe and the harm that they are doing rather than simply trying to conform to liberal luxury beliefs,” Donnellan said. 

Addressing the complaint filed against him, Donnellan said, “I haven’t heard anything from Ethics and doubt that I will, they generally don’t waste their time with sheltered progressives being forced into the real world for the first time.”

A House Ethics Committee spokesperson declined to comment when asked if they could confirm receipt of the complaint.

Asked whether Miller might object to the way that she and her Congressional office are represented with these confrontational email exchanges, Donnellan said his boss’s “motto is ‘cut the bull’, and gender ideology is some of the biggest bull there is.”   

On Friday, the congresswoman’s son Chris Miller placed third in the Republican primary contest for West Virginia’s gubernatorial race, where the state’s Attorney General Patrick Morrissey secured his party’s nomination in a decisive victory with 33 percent of the vote. 

Leading up to the election, trans issues had emerged as a dominant focal point as the GOP candidates squared off against each other, with Miller’s campaign attacking Morrissey with allegations that he had profited from “the trans agenda” and backed a drug company that “helps turn boys into girls” when working as a healthcare lobbyist in Washington.  

In one ad that was paid for by a super PAC chaired by his father, Miller said the pronouns used by Morrissey are “money-grubbing liberal,” an interesting charge to level at the conservative Republican attorney general of West Virginia (even notwithstanding the fact that those three words are not pronouns but, rather, nouns and verbs.)

Declaring preferred pronouns in workplace email signatures has become commonplace in both the public and private sector, whether for purposes of sending an affirming message to transgender and gender expansive employees and officers or to mitigate the chances that either they or their cisgender counterparts might be unintentionally misgendered. 

The Biden-Harris administration has pushed for agencies to adopt the practice along with other measures and policies to advance the rights and wellbeing of trans and gender expansive employees across the federal government. 

In a 2021 announcement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s issuance of updated guidance on the agency’s email signature block, Michael Watts, director of civil rights for the U.S. Forrest Service, noted that “There are plenty of gender-neutral names out there, or names from other cultures that might not give you enough information to know their gender.” 

While the inclusion of pronouns was not made mandatory at USDA, he urged employees to “strongly consider taking this small but important step toward supporting inclusiveness in the workplace.” 

“The use of pronouns in our email signatures and getting into the habit of including pronouns in our introductions doesn’t really cost us anything,” Watts added, arguing that the move constitutes “a meaningful exchange to others and makes it easier for people to be respectful in how they address each other.”

“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. 

Official guidance published by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which is responsible for administering policies across the U.S. federal civil service, stipulates that agencies should “take steps to provide the option for employees to include the pronouns they use in employee systems and profiles, including email signature blocks, employee directories and employee profiles.”

Some have gone further, such as by adding pronouns to email signatures for all employees, as the U.S. Department of State did in 2023, while others like USDA have established, as official policy, that “employees are encouraged to include their pronouns in the first line of their email signature block (e.g. he/him/his). Signature blocks are a simple and effective way for individuals to communicate their identified pronouns to colleagues, stakeholders, and customers.”

“For example,” the USDA writes, “adding pronouns to signature blocks also has the benefit of indicating to the recipient that you will respect their gender identity and choice of pronouns.”

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Bill to support LGBTQ+ seniors in rural areas reintroduced

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation & should be able to access services and care”

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U.S. Capitol Building (Photo Credit: Washington Blade/Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) reintroduced legislation to increase access to needed services and resources for LGBTQ+ seniors who live in rural areas this week.

The Elder Pride Act would bolster the capacity and ability of Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) located in rural communities to better serve and support LGBTQ+ seniors who often require affirming care, services, and supports that are often underfunded and scarce in many parts of the country.

Recent surveys show that between 2.9 million and 3.8 million LGBTQ+ people live in rural American communities.

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation, including rural areas. We all deserve to be able to age in our communities with the services and supports we need to remain independent,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in the press release announcing the reintroduction of the legislation. “We commend Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) on reintroducing the Elder Pride Act. And we honor the contributions of our many LGBTQ+ trailblazers whose tireless advocacy allowed us to reintroduce this critical bill. We look forward to working alongside Reps. Bonamici, Pocan, and Davids, and our LGBTQ+ pioneers nationwide to pass this legislation.”

“LGBTQI+ seniors should be able to access services and care that meets their unique needs, regardless of where they live,” said Rep. Bonamici, Chair of the Equality Caucus’ LGBTQ+ Aging Issues Task Force.”Those who live in rural areas frequently face increased barriers, which Congress can break down. The Elder Pride Act will increase resources for programs and services that will improve the lives of LGBTQI+ elders.”

“The Elder Pride Act will improve the overall health and social and economic well-being of LGBTQI+ older adults and seniors living with HIV in rural areas by better equipping senior service providers with resources to address the unique needs of these communities. I’m pleased to introduce this important legislation with my colleagues and co-leaders on the Equality Caucus, Reps. Pocan and Davids,” Bonamici added.

“Rural LGBTQI+ seniors have been lacking access to necessary services and care for too long,” said Pocan, Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. “The Elder Pride Act creates opportunities for LGBTQ+ seniors in rural communities, benefiting everyone in the region. I look forward to advancing this important legislation.”

“Many of our LGBTQ+ elders fought tirelessly for equality in a world that refused to accept their identity,” said Rep. Davids. “While they overcame tremendous odds to give future generations the rights they deserve, our elders, particularly those in rural communities, continue to face discrimination when accessing long-term care and healthcare. I am proud to support the Elder Pride Act because who you are and who you love should never increase your risk for isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as you age.”

The Elder Pride Act complements the Older American Act, which was updated under Bonamici’s leadership, by establishing a rural grant program designed to fund care and services for LGBTQI+ seniors. The grant would also support programs that:

• provide services such as cultural competency training for service providers;

• develop modes of connection between LGBTQI+ older adults and local service providers and community organizations;

• expand the use of nondiscrimination policies and community spaces for older adults who are members of the LGBTQI+ community or another protected class; and,

• disseminate resources on sexual health and aging for senior service providers.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be found here, and the full text can be found here.

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House GOP bars earmarks after controversy over LGBTQ projects

The alteration is related to an uproar during last year’s annual government funding process, when House members included three LGBTQ projects

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade/Michael Key)

By Jennifer Shutt | WASHINGTON — U.S. House lawmakers will no longer be able to request earmarked funding for some nonprofits under a change in eligibility made by the Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

The alteration is related to an uproar during last year’s annual government funding process, when House Republicans, who are in the majority, included three LGBTQ projects in one of their spending bills and then stripped that funding during a tense public markup.

The change to eligibility in the House affects nonprofits that fall under the Economic Development Initiative account within the Transportation-HUD spending bill, one of the dozen funding bills that are written by congressional appropriators.

The new guidance laid out by Chairman Tom Cole doesn’t apply to House lawmakers seeking funding for nonprofits in the other accounts eligible for earmark requests.

It also doesn’t affect how the earmark process will work on the Senate side. That means there is another avenue for lawmakers to secure funding for LGBTQ projects if they decide to make those requests and the Senate spending panel chooses to include it in its version of the bill.

“Similar to previous reforms made in this Congress, this change aims to ensure projects are consistent with the community development goals of the federal program,” Cole wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter.

Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, became chairman of the powerful spending panel earlier this month after the former chairwoman, Kay Granger of Texas, decided to leave that leadership post early.

Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro, ranking member on the committee, released a written statement, saying the change “is a seismic shift, as nearly half of all the 2024 House-funded EDI projects were directed to non-profit recipients.”

“In order to accommodate the extreme Republican wing, Republicans are trying to root out any help for the LGBTQ+ community,” DeLauro wrote. “They are willing to hurt their own religious organizations, seniors, and veterans.”

The eligibility change, she wrote, would exclude House lawmakers from requesting funding for “YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, and other groups vital to our communities.”

Three LGBTQ projects

House Republicans originally included $1.8 million in funding for the William Way LGBT Center in Philadelphia, $970,000 for the LGBT Center of Greater Reading’s Transitional Housing Program in Pennsylvania and $850,000 for affordable senior housing at LGBTQ Senior Housing, Inc. in Massachusetts in their Transportation-HUD spending bill released last summer.

All three projects were requested by House lawmakers, the first step in the earmark process.

The projects were funded under the Economic Development Initiatives account that at the time was eligible for earmarks in the Housing and Urban Development section of the Transportation-HUD spending bill.

Cole, then-chairman of that subcommittee, removed the three projects through a so-called manager’s amendment that made numerous changes to the bill during committee debate.

While manager’s amendments are standard and typically bipartisan, the removal infuriated Democrats on the committee, who urged their GOP colleagues to reconsider during a heated debate last July.

Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan said at the time removing the funding was an insult to LGBTQ Americans as well as their families and allies.

“The fact that you would take away members’ earmarks simply because they refer to the LGBTQI+ community is insane, is bigoted,” Pocan said in July.

The final batch of spending bills Congress approved in March, following House-Senate negotiations, was slated to include $1 million for the William Way LGBT Center in Philadelphia, since the Pennsylvania senators also requested funding. But that was removed from the bill after it had been released, setting off a confusing blame game among lawmakers.

The final Labor-HHS-Education spending bill approved in March included $850,000 for LGBTQ Senior Housing, Inc., MA, for services for older adults within the Administration for Community Living account within the HHS section of the bill.

That funding in Massachusetts had been stripped from the House’s Transportation-HUD bill by GOP lawmakers, but was also requested by the state’s two senators and included in the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill within that chamber.

That final spending bill also included $400,000 for the Garden State Equality Education Fund, Inc., for trauma-informed strategies to support LGBTQ+ youth in New Jersey, within the Innovation and Improvement account for the Department of Education.

That funding was never requested by House lawmakers, but was asked for by the state’s two senators.

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Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.

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The preceding article was previously published by The DC Bureau of States Newsroom and is republished with permission.

States Newsroom is the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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House passes spending bill as Greene threatens to oust Johnson

With respect to anti-LGBTQ riders submitted by Republican members, more than 50 were ultimately stripped from the bill

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) speaks at a press conference on Sept. 20, 2023. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives averted a government shutdown on Friday with a vote of 286-134 to pass the $1.2 trillion spending bill, over the objections of hard-right members like U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

The congresswoman subsequently filed a motion to remove House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who is himself an ultraconservative legislator. The move marked the second time in six months that the party has called for a vote to oust their own leader.

“Today I filed a motion to vacate after Speaker Johnson has betrayed our conference and broken our rules,” said Greene, who refused to say whether she would call up the resolution to call for a snap vote, which likely means the matter will be delayed until after the two-week recess.

Greene and Johnson are at odds over the content of the minibus appropriations package, with the congresswoman calling it a “Chuck Schumer, Democrat-controlled bill” that does not contain conservative policy demands on matters like immigration and LGBTQ issues.

Related

The speaker, meanwhile, proclaimed, “House Republicans achieved conservative policy wins, rejected extreme Democrat proposals, and imposed substantial cuts while significantly strengthening national defense.”

With respect to anti-LGBTQ riders submitted by Republican members, more than 50 were ultimately stripped from the bill, which the Human Rights Campaign celebrated as “a victory,” crediting lawmakers for their “bipartisan, bicameral negotiations.”

Of the 52 anti-LGBTQ riders, only one survived in the $1.2 trillion package passed on Friday: A ban on flying Pride flags at U.S. embassies.

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Padilla, FCC introduce bill to improve 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers LGBTQ-affirming counseling, which is accessible by pressing three

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U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), joined by U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, introduced a measure on Thursday to improve the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Calls are currently routed to mental health professionals and local public safety officials based on the caller’s area code — even though, as the lawmakers and officials noted during their announcement — in many cases, the area code, especially for cell phone numbers, does not match the location from which they are calling.

Under the new proposal, Padilla said, “We’re going to be in a position to be able to provide care as quickly and as safely as possible.”

“In the same way that 911 calls in the case of an emergency are routed to local providers, local first responders, so ambulances can come out and help quickly when you call 911, 988 should be tied to a caller’s location, not their area code,” he said.

Calling Padilla, Tillis, and Cárdenas “great champions of mental health,” Rosenworcel noted, “that’s not our stock and trade” at the FCC.

“We are people who deal with technology and communications,” she said, “but we came to realize that we could work with Congress to make sure that everyone in this country who’s going through a crisis has someone to call and someone who can listen — and that’s why in 2022, we set up 988, the easy-to-remember three digit number for anyone who is in crisis.”

A press release from Padilla’s office explains the details for how the update to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline will work:

“The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) announced today seeks to address the discrepancies and inefficiencies of the current system by proposing the adoption of a rule that would require a georouting solution to be implemented for all wireless calls to the 9-8-8 Lifeline while balancing the privacy needs of individuals in crisis. 

Georouting refers to technical solutions that enable calls to be directed based on the location of the caller without transmitting the caller’s precise location information. These solutions would permit wireless calls to the 9-8-8 Lifeline to be directed to nearby crisis centers based on factors such as the cell tower that originated the call rather than the area code of the wireless device used to place the call.”

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers LGBTQ-affirming counseling, which is accessible by pressing three.

A 2023 survey by the Trevor Project, which included more than 28,000 LGBTQ participants aged 13-24, found that 41 percent had seriously considered suicide within the past year and 56 percent wanted — but were unable to get — mental health care within the last year.

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Nicole Berner becomes first LGBTQ judge on 4th Circuit

Berner becomes the 1st openly LGBTQ person to ever serve on the 4th Circuit & the 3rd LGBTQ woman to serve on any federal appellate court

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Nicole Berner speaking at American Constitution Society virtual symposium on The Future of Labor Law in a Post-COVID Economy, Dec. 22, 2020. (Screenshot/YouTube ACS)

WASHINGTON — Following the U.S. Senate’s 50-47 vote on Tuesday supporting her nomination, Nicole Berner will become the first LGBTQ judge to serve on the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals, which adjudicates cases appealed from courts in the Mid-Atlantic region.

An attorney who previously worked as general counsel for the Service Employees International Union and as a lawyer for Planned Parenthood, Berner is the 11th confirmed LGBTQ judicial appointee who President Joe Biden nominated.

The Biden-Harris administration has now confirmed as many queer jurists with lifetime tenure to serve on U.S. federal courts as former President Barack Obama did over the course of two terms in office.

“The civil rights community celebrates Nicole Berner’s historic confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit,” Maya Wiley, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement.

“Ms. Berner is a brilliant lawyer who has defended and advanced our civil and human rights, including the rights of working people, reproductive rights and the rights of LGBTQ people,” she said. “Her commitment to equal justice is evidenced throughout her life and legal career, and we look forward to her service on the bench.”

“Ms. Berner also becomes the first openly LGBTQ person to ever serve on the 4th Circuit and just the third openly LGBTQ woman to serve on any federal appellate court in the nation,” Wiley said. “Her confirmation adds crucial lived experience to the court and sends a powerful signal to young LGBTQ lawyers, law students and other potential future judges that they belong on the federal bench.”

Democratic U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland had supported Berner’s nomination.

“Nicole Berner has shown her outstanding qualifications and readiness to join the federal judiciary,” Cardin said. “Since we first recommended her to President Biden, we have been impressed with her spirit and expertise and her willingness to stand up for worker rights, families and underrepresented communities throughout her legal career.”

Van Hollen said, “For decades, Nicole Berner has represented working families and historically underrepresented communities. Her vast qualifications and accomplishments clearly show that she is dedicated to the rule of law, fairness and the principles of democracy — but more than that, her character has shown her to be a champion of those too often left behind by the legal system.”

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Pride in Mental Health Act to aid at-risk LGBTQ youth introduced

Pride in Mental Health Act would strengthen resources in mental health and crisis intervention for at-risk LGBTQ youth

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U.S. Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) speaks at the International LGBTQ Leaders Conference on Nov. 30, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) introduced the Pride in Mental Health Act on Thursday, legislation that would strengthen resources in mental health and crisis intervention for at-risk LGBTQ youth.

“Accessing mental health care and support has become increasingly difficult in nearly every state in the country,” said Butler, who is the first Black LGBTQ senator. “Barriers get even more difficult if you are a young person who lacks a supportive community or is fearful of being outed, harassed, or threatened.”

“I am introducing the Pride in Mental Health Act to help equip LGBTQ+ youth with the resources to get the affirming and often life-saving care they need,” she said.

“Mental health care is health care,” said Smith. “And for some LGBTQ+ youth, receiving access to the mental health care they need can mean the difference between living in safety and dignity, and suffering alone through discrimination, bullying, and even violence.” 

The Minnesota senator added that data shows LGBTQ students are experiencing “an epidemic” of “anxiety, depression and other serious mental health conditions.”

For example, a 2023 study by The Trevor Project found that 54 percent of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of depression, compared to 35 percent of their heterosexual counterparts.

Joining the senators as cosponsors are Democratic U.S. Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Bob Casey (Penn.), Peter Welch (Vt.), Alex Padilla (Calif.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.). Baldwin was the first LGBTQ woman elected to the House in 1999 and the first LGBTQ woman elected to the Senate in 2013.

Leading the House version of the bill are LGBTQ Democratic U.S. Reps. Sharice Davids (Kan.), Eric Sorensen (Ill.), and Ritchie Torres (N.Y.), along with 163 other House members.

Organizations that have backed the Pride in Mental Health Act include the Human Rights Campaign, GLSEN, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Education Association (NEA), National Center for Transgender Equality, Seattle Indian Health Board, PFLAG National, The Trevor Project, American Psychological Association, Whitman-Walker Institute, InterACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, National Alliance on Mental Illness, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Mental Health America, and Center for Law and Social Policy.

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House passes TikTok ban, forces divestiture by Chinese parent firm

Before TikTok, the U.S. took action over national security concerns with Grindr. In 2020, the app was sold by China-based Beijing Kunlun Tech

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Screenshot/YouTube NBC News

WASHINGTON — In a bipartisan vote of 352-65 on Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives cleared a bill that would force a divestiture of TikTok by its Chinese parent company ByteDance or ban the video sharing platform’s use in the U.S.

While the legislation faces an uncertain path to passage in the U.S. Senate, Wednesday’s vote provided additional evidence of the extent to which lawmakers are concerned about U.S. national security risks that could stem from TikTok.

More specifically, as recent years have seen relations between the U.S. and China become more fraught than they have been since the two countries first established diplomatic ties in 1979, questions have been raised about the access government leaders in Beijing might have to data from America’s 150 million TikTok users who are active on the platform each month.

Concerns have also been raised about whether and how the platform’s content moderation policies, algorithmic recommendation engine or other features might be manipulated to advance Chinese interests — including, potentially, by sowing political strife in the U.S. or manipulating or undermining American elections.

Many of these claims are speculative, lacking the type of evidence that might be required if they were presented in a court of law. Nevertheless, for purposes of forcing a divestiture through an act of Congress or a decision by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, they are sufficient.

CFIUS is a nine-member interagency panel that adjudicates questions of whether business transactions between foreign buyers and U.S. targets may raise national security concerns. Since 2020, the committee has investigated TikTok because the platform was created by ByteDance’s 2017 purchase of U.S. startup Musical.ly.

The probe led to negotiations over a deal in which American user data from TikTok would be sold to U.S. based multinational computer technology company Oracle, which would vet and monitor the platform’s algorithms and content moderation practices — but Axios reported on Monday that talks between TikTok and CFIUS have stalled for months.

Parallels to Grindr case

Grindr’s IPO at the New York Stock Exchange (Screen capture: YouTube/NYSE)


As directed by CFIUS, in 2020, Grindr, the location-based app used primarily by gay and bisexual men and transgender or gender diverse communities, was sold by the Chinese-based Beijing Kunlun Tech to San Vicente Acquisition, a firm that was incorporated in Delaware.

According to Ruters, Kunlun’s failure to notify CFIUS when the company purchased Grindr in 2018 was likely one of the reasons the committee decided to force the divestiture and thereby unwind an acquisition that, by that point, had been consummated for two years.

While CFIUS does not share details about the specific nature of national security risks identified with transactions under its review, reporting at the time suggested concerns with Grindr had to do with the Chinese government’s potential to blackmail Americans, potentially including American officials, with data from the app.

Cooley LLP, an international law firm with attorneys who practice in the CFIUS space, notes that the committee uses a “three-part conceptual framework” to assess national security threats:

  1. What is the threat presented by the foreign person’s intent and capabilities to harm U.S. national security?
  2. What aspects of the U.S. business present vulnerabilities to national security?
  3. What would the consequences for U.S. national security be if the foreign person were to exploit the identified vulnerabilities?

The firm writes that “issues that have raised perceived national security risks range from the obvious (e.g., foreign acquisitions of U.S. businesses with federal defense contracts) to the seemingly benign (e.g., foreign minority investments in offshore wind farm projects or online dating apps.)

Cooley additionally notes that CFIUS considers vulnerabilities such as “whether the U.S. business deals in ‘critical technology,’ ‘critical infrastructure’ or ‘sensitive personal data’” and threats such as “the foreign buyer’s/investor’s track record of complying with U.S. and international laws (e.g., export controls, sanctions and anti-corruption regimes.)”

Some critics argue CFIUS has been overzealous in enforcing investment restrictions against Chinese buyers, but assuming this may be true — and putting aside questions of whether U.S. national security concerns are best served by this approach — China’s foreign direct investment has “declined considerably,” according to another global law firm with a substantial CFIUS practice, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP.

The firm notes heightened scrutiny has been applied particularly in cases of “Chinese investment in the U.S. biotechnology industry,” while Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld highlighted CFIUS’s expanded jurisdiction over Chinese investments in U.S. real estate — noting, however, that the committee’s increased authority is “unlikely to satisfy members of Congress and state legislators who want to prohibit investments in agricultural and other land by investors from ‘countries of concern’ such as China.”

Two years after the finalization of Grindr’s divestiture in 2020, the company went public on the New York Stock Exchange and enjoyed a 400 percent rise in its stock price. Its current value is $1.75 billion.

TikTok is privately owned, but Angelo Zino, a vice president and senior equity analyst at CFRA Research, told CNBC that the platform’s U.S.-only business “could fetch a valuation north of $60 billion” if Congress passes the bill to force its divestiture from ByteDance.

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House Democrat’s office quotes anti-LGBTQ advocacy group

The office of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez quoted remarks from National Center on Sexual Exploitation, a group with a history of anti-LGBTQ advocacy

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U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) (Left) meeting with her constituents, 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)

WASHINGTON — A press release issued on March 7 by the office of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) included quoted remarks from the CEO of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, a group with a history of anti-LGBTQ advocacy that was previously named Morality in Media.

Aides to the congresswoman did not immediately return a request for comment on how the move appears to conflict with her history of supporting the LGBTQ community and reputation as one of its most loyal allies in Congress.

The release concerns a bipartisan, bicameral bill that was introduced by Ocasio-Cortez to fight the proliferation of non-consensual, sexually explicit “deepfake” media — created by “software, machine learning, artificial intelligence, or any other computer-generated or technological means” — by establishing a federal civil right of action for victims.

Remarks by NCOSE CEO Dawn Hawkins that were included in the announcement from Ocasio-Cortez’s office are inoffensive and germane to the legislation. For instance, she said “it is past time that our laws catch up and hold the perpetrators of this abuse accountable,” calling the measure “a critical step forward” in securing “justice for survivors through civil remedies.”

Primarily focused on opposing pornography, NCOSE has sought to distance itself from the avowed anti-LGBTQ positions that were held by the organization and its leadership in the past, but there is ample reason to doubt the narrative that the group underwent an ideological evolution.

Hawkins authored a statement on behalf of her organization in December 2023 that promised to fight against the sexual exploitation of LGBTQ victims and expressed “deep regret that there were moments in our organization’s history prior to our leadership change in 2011, when remarks were made that were indeed anti-LGBTQ+.”

The statement also noted that “our former namesake, Morality in Media (MIM), was associated with actions that starkly contrast with our current values,” including possible advocacy against Disney’s extension of benefits to employees’ same-sex partners and a press statement “arguing that homosexuality is connected to crime.”

Casting doubt on the sincerity of these statements, along with Hawkins’ proclamation that “we do not tolerate statements and actions by current employees that spread harmful misinformation and hate towards any particular group or individual,” are the following facts:

  • NCOSE’s current general counsel Benjamin Bull, previously served as chief counsel of the far-right legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group.
  • During an interview with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, Bull praised a 2013 decision by the Supreme Court of India that re-criminalized LGBTQ sex.
  • Amherst College professor Hadley Arkes, a conservative political scientist with longstanding ties to NCOSE — he was listed as a board member on the group’s 2022 990 form — supports the discredited practice of conversion therapy, which is banned in 20 U.S. states. When delivering public remarks in 2021, he said, “We’ve had many people who, with therapy and conversion, just have come out away from that life.”
  • Arkes also opposes same-sex marriage. During the same event in 2021, he compared the decision by gay and lesbian couples to wed with the choice to shoot heroin. Close to the end of his two-hour lecture, the professor conceded that, “I think I’ve said enough to offend everybody tonight.”
  • Hawkins organized a conference in South Africa in 2022 whose keynote address was delivered by Errol Naidoo, an anti-LGBTQ minister who has blamed abortion and the “homosexual agenda” for”a culture of death” in his country and was quoted in a Nigerian newspaper as saying “I hate gays. It runs against God’s wishes.”
  • Also delivering a presentation during the conference was Sharon Slater, president of Family Watch International. The SPLC lists the organization as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, noting that Slater has claimed LGBTQ people are more prone to disease, more promiscuous, and likelier to engage in pedophilia.
  • Slater has also defended the criminalization of LGBTQ conduct by African countries like Uganda and forged close relationships with proponents of these policies like Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, who supported the law passed last year that imposes prison sentences for homosexuality (and the death penalty, in certain cases).

Along with the bill introduced last week by Ocasio Cortez, the DEFIANCE Act, NCOSE is a major supporter of the Kids Online Safety Act — another bipartisan legislative effort to combat the sexual exploitation of minors along with other harms facilitated by Big Tech and social media companies.

Earlier iterations of KOSA drew opposition from LGBTQ and civil rights groups over concerns that, for instance, the law might suppress affirming or pro-LGBTQ online content or prevent queer youth from accessing online communities.

On Feb. 15, however, a coalition of seven national LGBTQ organizations wrote a letter to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who introduced KOSA along with Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), informing him that they would no longer oppose the bill.

Signed by GLAAD, GLSEN, the Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG National, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and The Trevor Project, the letter thanked Blumenthal for “hearing our concerns” and “updating the legislation to address potential adverse consequences for LGBTQ+ youth.”

For years, Congress has sought to pass legislation to curb the power of market-dominant tech platform companies and hold these firms accountable for harms they have facilitated. More recently, many lawmakers have agreed on the need for a bipartisan federal privacy law and regulations targeting emerging technologies like artificial intelligence — but so far have failed to pass any.

Support among Republicans and Democrats for bills like KOSA and the DEFIANCE Act were bolstered by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on online child sexual exploitation at the end of January, where the senators grilled the CEOs of TikTok, Discord, Snap Inc. (Snapchat), X (formerly Twitter), and Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram).

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled U.S. House is preparing to vote on a bill that would force the divestiture of TikTok by its Chinese parent company ByteDance or ban the popular video sharing platform in the U.S.

While the measure would have to overcome opposition from Senate Democrats to pass, bipartisan support comes because of the national security risks presented by TikTok along with concerns about the harms suffered by American users — even though the evidence for some of these claims is scant, unclear, or disputed.

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Santos to run for Congress again

Santos’s announcement came in a post on X, which began by criticizing the president’s State of the Union speech

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Former U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

QUEENS, N.Y. – Former U.S. Rep. George Santos of New York, who was the first out LGBTQ Republican elected to Congress and one of only three members who was expelled by their colleagues for reasons other than supporting the Confederacy’s rebellion, has announced a bid to return to Congress.

As a former member, he retains lifetime access to the U.S. House chamber, and therefore was able to declare his run for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.) during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Thursday night.

Santos’s announcement came in a post on X, which began by criticizing the president’s speech. “I just witnessed a weak, frail president deliver spin and lies to the American people,” he wrote, and decided to run again “after a lot of prayer and conversation with my friends and family.”

The former congressman then traded barbs in posts on X with LaLota, who had called for Santos’s expulsion from the time it was first revealed that he had fabricated much of his personal and professional history.

After Santos was handed a 23-count federal indictment for fraud in October, LaLota joined the renewed effort to oust him, which on Dec. 1 led to a 311-114 vote for expulsion. His criminal trial in Long Island is scheduled to begin in September. He has pleaded not guilty.

Santos and LaLota will face off in the Republican primary election for New York’s First Congressional District on June 25.

“To raise the standard in Congress, and to hold a pathological liar who stole an election accountable, I led the charge to expel George Santos,” LaLota wrote in a post on X. “If finishing the job requires beating him in a primary, count me in.”

Santos’s former district, New York’s 3rd, which covers the North Shore of Long Island, stretching across northern Nassau County and into parts of Queens, is competitive.

Following the expulsion vote, a special election was held on Feb. 13, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi reclaimed the seat that he held from 2002 to 2009 before losing to Republican Ed Mangano — who, incidentally, was convicted of bribery and fraud in 2019 and is now serving a 12-year prison sentence.

Likewise, LaLota’s district, New York’s 1st, which is located in eastern Long Island, has been a swing district since 2010. NPR notes that “Santos’ lingering presence in New York politics might be a reminder to voters that he won office with strong backing from many of the state’s most influential GOP officials.”

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