GOP blitz on LGBTQ issues exposes fractures in Texas Democrats
Defections sparked feelings of betrayal & promises of retribution, particularly as Republicans in the Legislature presented a unified front
By James Barragán | AUSTIN – Democrats in the Texas Legislature have struggled to keep a united front against a barrage of conservative Republican priorities, including proposed limits on drag performers, school library books that discuss sex, and medical treatments for young transgender Texans.
That difficulty has led to eye-catching defections by some Democrats, exposing fractures within the party on LGBTQ rights and the proper role of discussions about sex and gender in public.
Nowhere was that divide more evident than in Rep. Shawn Thierry’s 12-minute speech on the House floor earlier this month defending her vote in favor of a bill that would ban hormone therapy and puberty blockers for transgender Texans under the age of 18. The Houston Democrat’s voice quivered as she recounted grappling with the issue before casting a vote she felt represented her constituents.
“Certainly, the topic of gender and body dysphoria in children requires careful consideration, caution and compassion,” Thierry said in her speech. “It remains my legislative duty and moral obligation to vote the conscience and core values of my constituency. I will do this today with an open heart and clear mind.”
To advocates for transgender Texans, including medical experts who say gender-affirming care is important to the youths’ well-being, Thierry’s vote on Senate Bill 14 was a stark betrayal.
To political observers, it highlighted an ongoing challenge for the Democratic Party, whose base includes liberals and moderates as well as older voters whose beliefs on sex and gender are being recast and challenged.
“The Democratic Party is giving voice to constituencies that were formerly shushed and quieted, so issues like how to treat gender dysphoria are new issues, and I do think the average person is sort of unclear about those issues and how to respond to them,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. “They’re uncomfortable with them.”
Thierry’s speech, which repeated conservative talking points that advocates for transgender Texans challenged as false, drew the brunt of criticism from fellow Democrats, but she was not alone in breaking with the party. Longtime Democratic Reps. Harold Dutton of Houston and Tracy King of Batesville also voted for SB 14, as did Rep. Abel Herrero of Robstown.
On other hot-button issues, longtime Dallas Democratic Sen. Royce West voted in favor of a bill regulating drag shows, while nearly a dozen House Democrats voted for a bill to ban books deemed “sexually explicit.” The vote on books came despite the state party’s chair criticizing the bill as part of a Republican attempt to “ban huge catalogs of literature every two years.” Some of the targeted books deal with helping kids understand their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Ten House Democrats voted with Republicans to pass Senate Bill 15, which was sold as an effort to “protect women’s sports” from transgender competitors by requiring college athletes to compete on sports teams that align with their sex assigned at birth.
To LGBTQ advocates, the votes showed that many lawmakers, and much of the state’s population, remain unfamiliar with the lives of transgender Texans.
“On both sides of the aisle, people don’t understand transgender issues and transgender people in Texas,” said Andrea Segovia, senior field and policy adviser for the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “Having these few Democrats vote for the bill is a clear representation of that.”
While her group has spent years talking to lawmakers about transgender Texans and their needs, she said this year’s session shows that education efforts need to continue.
“The movement forward is more education, more working on ‘Where are those gaps of information? Why is it that this talking point from the opposition worked better than ours?’” she said. “There’s a lot of homework from our part that we plan to do to figure out how we can come back better and stronger for our people.”
“Internal tug-of-war” among Democrats
Jillson said Republicans have a built-in advantage — a center-right base that is older, whiter and more conservative, allowing for an easier consensus on social issues.
Democrats, on the other hand, have a base that includes a broader range of age, race and religious affiliation.
“For Democrats, it’s much more difficult,” Jillson said, adding that positions taken by some lawmakers who represent more conservative constituencies may clash with activists who support LGBTQ rights.
Segovia said Republicans have been winning the messaging war. By the time she and fellow activists try to explain how puberty blockers and hormone therapy work and the benefits they provide to a population at higher risk of depression and suicide, opponents have already scared lawmakers and the general public into voting to ban such procedures, she said.
“The opposition uses a bumper sticker to make their point, and we come back and we say a paragraph,” Segovia said. “It’s always a disadvantage.”
Former state Rep. Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat and an LGBTQ advocate, echoed Segovia’s concerns and said some lawmakers were not doing deeper research to look past talking points.
“The Texas Legislature is reflective of the population of Texas. … If they’re hearing scary stuff from different sources and they’re not balancing it out with facts and real people, that’s a problem, that’s not being true to yourself,” she said. “You want people to vote their districts and their conscience, but you don’t want them to vote against science.”
Matt Mackowiak, a GOP political consultant, said Republicans have identified social issues that resonate with the public and taken positions that are more in line with the general Texas population.
“If these bills were as extreme and radical as the left says, you would have Republican defections, and you’re not seeing that,” he said.
Mackowiak said he’s seen more Democratic defections than expected, and he thanked those lawmakers for crossing the aisle on difficult issues. But he said he would expect liberal Democrats to take them to task during next year’s primary elections.
“Did these Democratic House members that came to their own decisions, did they misjudge their own electoral vulnerability, or did they swim with the tide?” he said.
Older Democrats also have an influence on their party, said Jeronimo Cortina, a political scientist at the University of Houston. In heavily Hispanic South Texas, Democrats have historically enjoyed support based on social programs to improve health care, provide benefits to seniors and lift people out of poverty. But that support has been counterbalanced by a largely conservative populace with close ties to the Catholic Church and, increasingly, evangelical churches.
Many of those churches oppose abortion and the growing acceptance of LGBTQ people in society.
Black voters, historically the most reliable base for the Texas Democratic Party, also face a similar issue, Cortina said. Black churches organize the highly successful “souls to the polls” efforts that whisk voters from their churches to polling locations during elections. But some of those churches, he added, are not welcoming to LGBTQ Texans.
“Not all Christian denominations can be defined as welcoming churches on issues of homosexuality or broadly LGBTQ+ issues. That complicates how these representatives voted in terms of that,” Cortina said. “It’s an internal tug-of-war between progressive Democrats and more traditional conservative Democrats.”
Nine of the 11 House Democrats who crossed party lines to vote for banning “sexually explicit” books were either Black or hailed from South Texas. All 10 who voted for the bill on transgender college athletes fell in the same categories.
Those votes have led to anger and frustration from liberal Democrats who say they’ve tried to address concerns lawmakers expressed about these bills.
“The argument that ‘I wasn’t aware’ or ‘I didn’t know’? It’s trash at this point,” Segovia said.
What makes a “real Democrat”?
Joel Montfort, a Democratic political consultant, offered to help any candidate considering a primary challenge to Thierry after her vote in favor of SB 14, saying she was not a “real Democrat.”
Montfort also criticized Theirry’s vote to ban sexually explicit library books.
“To see a Democrat backpedal and buy into the GOP propaganda just like she did with book banning, it’s all just nonsense,” Montfort said. “You’re not really a Democrat then. You’re not paying attention to your constituents’ rights.”
But some Democrats defended their colleagues. State Rep. Eddie Morales, an Eagle Pass Democrat who voted against SB 14, said Thierry should be recognized for her courage.
“She carefully laid out her analysis and reasoning,” Morales said on social media. “Republicans have the votes to pass this bill without her vote. Yet she voted her [conscience] knowing she was opening herself up to attacks from within her own base.”
Morales, one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, voted for the book ban bill, restrictions on drag artists and requiring transgender collegiate athletes to join sports teams based on their sex assigned at birth. He said he voted against the ban on gender-affirming care after meeting the family of a transgender teen.
Democratic leaders have taken a careful approach to addressing the division within their party. The chair of the House Democratic Caucus, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio, stayed out of the fracas, saying lawmakers are responsible for their own votes.
“When a member takes a vote on this House floor, they are voting consistently with the values and the principles of their district,” Martinez Fischer said. “Every member has to go home and explain these votes, and everybody takes a vote knowing that they have to come back and get reelected.”
Disclosure: Southern Methodist University and University of Houston have been financial supporters 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.
The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.
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Queer, Armenian, global health leader; now political candidate
“I have seen the power of how an issue can advance when an LGBTQ+ person is in the room. That is what we need. That is how we make change”
BURBANK, Calif. – Dr. Jirair Ratevosian, announced Thursday that he has entered the race to replace Rep. Adam Schiff as a member of the U.S. House representing California’s 30th Congressional District.
Ratevosian, 42, was born in Hollywood, CA, to a Lebanese mother and an Armenian father. He grew up in Sun Valley. Awarded a Johns Hopkins University post-graduate doctoral degree with concentration in public health policy, the Democratic candidate has devoted his life to his two passions: politics and physical science.
In 2018, Ratevosian was selected as a “40 under 40 Health Leader” for his achievements in tackling health disparities in the United States and was one of 50 LGBTQIA+ experts in U.S. national security and foreign policy recognized by “Out in National Security” in 2021.
During the 2020 presidential election he served as a national security advisor on COVID-19 and other health security matters to the Biden-Harris campaign and then after the election worked on the Biden Administration transition team.
When asked by the Blade to list some of his proudest achievements he highlighted the following:
- Led coalition to repeal the US HIV immigration ban policy in 2008
- Worked with Congressional staff to reauthorize PEPFAR in 2013
- Worked to expand focus and funding for PEPFAR’s work targeting men who have sex with men
- He penned an op-ed with Ambassador Dr. John N. Nkengasong, who leads, manages, and oversees the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) for the U.S. Department, about the ways anti-LGBTQ laws impact HIV: Legal and Policy Barriers for an Effective HIV/AIDS Response – The Lancet
- Worked on legislation to decriminalize HIV transmission for Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA.)
- Fought against the anti-homosexuality law in Uganda (2009 and 2023)
- Worked as the first U.S. State Dept. Health Equity Policy Advisor
Until recently, Ratevosian served as a Senior Advisor for Health Equity Policy at the U.S. Department of State and worked for the Office of U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy.
Ratevosian is proud of his heritage, attributing a part of his success to his early education through the Armenian school system in Los Angeles. If elected to Congress, he tells the Blade that he will continue to be an advocate for and amplifier of Armenian voices.
“I stand here to tell you that I am running for Congress because I am a product of what I have learned thanks to the success of that education system and the family support around me. I have a strong desire to make an impact on the Armenian community. We are facing a war. We are facing all the same challenges as other communities here in the district are as well, he said.
“I know that nobody pushes more for Armenian issues than Armenian people. We have relied on the generosity of Adam Schiff and others who have carried Armenian issues, but it is time for an Armenian voice to lead on Armenian issues. I am excited about the opportunity to be the person that our community needs to be able to take those issues to Congress on day one and focus on them. I would love to be able to start an Armenian congressional caucus and to inspire more meeting Americas to run for public office,” he continued.
Ratevosian told the Blade that he is also motivated by the ideal “American dream” that his grandfather had when he immigrated here to start a new life for himself and his family, free from Soviet rule.
“I’m running because my grandfather’s American dream is far from reach for many people,” Ratevosian told The Blade.
🚨Big personal news: I'm proud to announce I'm running for Congress because my grandfather's American dream is far from reach for many. Follow @JirairForCA and RT our video. 👇🏽👇🏽👇🏽👇🏽https://t.co/VjU6OJtnfb #RepresentationMatters #PeopleFirst #JirairforCA #CA30— Dr. Jirair Ratevosian (@JRatevosian) May 25, 2023
“Like many immigrant families, mine came to America for a second chance. My mom’s side was from Lebanon. My dad’s side was from Armenia. I was the first to be born here. My parents took whatever jobs they could to provide for us and put us through school. As soon as I was legally able to work, I did at the age of 15 as an ice cream scooper at Baskin and Robbins. Now my parents have watched their kid going from an ice cream scooper to the U.S. State Department as a senior political appointee.”
But, he explained, the streets he grew up on “are not the same streets anymore.” With housing prices and inflation surging, many in the county find it harder and harder to make ends meet.
“That shot my grandparents had is no longer available to a lot of people,” he lamented.
“I am in this race because there is so much work to be done to ensure that everybody has a fair shot to choose their own dreams. My grandfather was a shoe cobbler. They were able to afford healthcare. My parents were able to put us through school. They lived a happy and normal life. I think if my grandfather were alive now, he would be disappointed in the way healthcare costs are going up, and the way we treat our planet, the way we treat people experiencing homelessness, the way housing costs have gone up. I don’t even know if they could afford that same Kingsley Street apartment that they had in Hollywood for 25 years before they passed away. These are the things that I think are making families struggle.
“Of course, child care and student loans are also out of control. I still have $20,000 worth of student loans from my master’s degree 15 years ago. Even though I had a job in corporate America and was making good money and paying off my loans, I still have $20,000 in student debt. If we don’t fight to reverse and address these issues straight on, we won’t be able to bring that dream back to people.
I am also really looking forward to bringing the support that businesses need to get back on their feet post Covid and really flourish again. I want to work to be able to revitalize our city.”
Openly gay candidate
Ratevosian is making it a point to run as an openly LGBTQ+ candidate – a choice that some of his advisors have cautioned against, fearing that the Armenian community might not accept his sexual orientation.
He has decided to forgo this advice, choosing instead to put his faith in the acceptance of the Armenian people.
“I am confident people will see me for the work that I have done and the values that I have had. They will see me for the focus areas of my entire life, the focus on the most vulnerable and disenfranchised people all around the world in all corners of Africa and Asia. They will see me for my decency, for the way I treat people with honor and respect. I know the Armenian people will embrace me and that we can change hearts and minds along the way.”
Ratevosian is additionally confident that he can change hearts and minds thanks to his own coming out journey, wherein his mother had tremendous trouble accepting him, at first.
“It was one of those radio silent moments when you can hear your own heart beating,” Ratevosian said, recalling the moment he told his parents he was gay.
After coming out, his mother would not speak to him for the longest period of time since he was born.
“Before that, if I didn’t speak to my mother every day, she was worried the worst had happened to me. Then, not speaking to her for a few weeks felt like years.”
Finally, his mother did find it in her heart to accept her son, and Ratevosian was proud to report that she stood hand in hand with his fiancé at Ratevosian’s graduate school commencement ceremonies.
“I teared up,” said Ratevosian, recalling the moment that signified so much change in his mother and also the change he hopes to impart to others who might be like-minded in the district.
“I think together we can advance our culture’s beliefs. If people like me don’t come out, then how are we ever going to make change?
“I want to fight for these issues that are very much still alive in Southern California and across the United States. There are a record number of Anti-LGBTQ bills passed by Republicans across the country. I don’t know why but for some reason, republicans are more concerned with banning drag shows that fighting climate change or reducing poverty. But even in our district, we know hate and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment are still alive and well. This is why I am fighting, and this is why representation matters.”
From 2011-2014, Jirair served as Legislative Director in the House of Representatives, overseeing budget, appropriations, foreign policy, and health portfolios for U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA).
As co-chair and co-founder of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, Rep. Lee leads the effort to advance legislation that addresses the HIV/AIDS pandemic while educating Members of Congress about the virus, its impact, and affected populations.
“I have always had an interest in HIV in all my jobs,” Ratevosian told the Blade. “When I came to Washington, I wanted to get more involved in HIV policy. She (Lee) was the champion for HIV policy.
“I watched her in action. She was the best teacher anyone could have in terms of fighting for progressive values in fighting for healthcare and fighting poverty.”
Jirair’s extensive work in HIV legislation took a personal turn when he met the love of his life and now fiancé, Michael Lghodaro, who is a person living with HIV.
“HIV work is who I am,” Ratevosian told The Blade, “literally because of the work it has done to shape the way I live my life and the way I love the people I love.”
“The reason why I am healthy, and I am staying HIV negative, and we have a wonderful relationship is because he is able to access his HIV medication.”
This personal association with the disease fueled Ratevosian to fight in favor of the Repeal HIV Discrimination Act bill with Lee.
“The bill provided federal incentives for states to repeal their archaic laws that criminalize HIV transmission,” said Ratevosian.
He is also a backer of the U=U campaign, an informational campaign about how effective HIV medications are in preventing sexual transmission of HIV.
U=U he explained means “Undetectable = Untransmittable,” indicating that if a person with HIV is on HIV meds (antiretroviral therapy, or ART) with a consistently undetectable HIV viral load, the virus cannot be transmitted to a sex partner.
His contributions to the Biden-Harris administration led to the reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the signing of landmark foreign aid legislation to support Haiti, and the establishment of the bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus.
“The job to fight HIV is far from over,” said Ratevosian. “I will be fighting to get more Ryan White money for our cities. We have amazing new technologies for HIV prevention that I want all communities to benefit from, including minority communities.”
Editor’s Note: The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, administered by the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration, provides grants to cities, states, counties, and community-based groups. The grants help provide care, medication, and essential support services to people with HIV, HIV-related health outcomes, and reduce HIV transmission.
He also regularly rides in the AIDS/LIFECYCLE ride, a 7 day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, co-produced by and benefiting the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
Ratevosian shared an important message of positivity to fellow ethnic LGBTQ+ aspiring leaders:
“Your time is now. I am inspired that there are a record number of LGBTQ+ leaders in office, but those numbers are far from the true representation of diversity in our community and the diversity of our country. If anyone is reading this story and is inspired, then they should do the same. Pursue a place in office, whether it is federally or locally, or somewhere in between. I have seen the power of how an issue can advance when an LGBTQ+ person is in the room. That is what we need. That is how we make change.”
LA Times Poll: Majority of Californians say Feinstein is unfit to serve
The Times reported that opinions diverge on whether she should resign: Fellow Democrats say she should step down, Republicans oppose
BERKELEY, Calif. – According to a new UC Berkeley/Los Angeles Times poll released Thursday, a two-thirds majority of California voters say the state’s octogenarian Democratic U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein is unfit to serve.
The LA Times reported that opinions diverge, however, on whether she should resign: Fellow Democrats say she should step down, but many Republicans oppose that because Gov. Gavin Newsom would get to appoint a successor. The UC Berkeley/Los Angeles Times poll was conducted cross party, racial and geographic lines.
In an interview with CBS News LA affiliate KCAL on May 16, Washington D.C.-based Los Angeles Times political reporter Benjamin Oreskes said that he and a small group of reporters had met with Feinstein in a Capitol hallway after the senator’s first vote back after a nearly three-month long absence. According to Oreskes she seemed confused and at times made statements that ran contrary to events that had ocurred.
Concern over Feinstein’s mental acuity has been a mounting concern in California and national Democratic Party circles. During her extended absence due to a shingles viral condition, advancement of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees through the Senate Judiciary Committee was complicated, as the committee split had been a 10 to 10 margin without her.
Republicans were unwilling to accept a request from the Senate Majority Leader, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to appoint a temporary replacement for her on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
There has been increasing calls by prominent Democrats for Feinstein to resign, including Jonathan Lovett, a co-founder of Crooked Media, and a former speechwriter for President Barack Obama, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) who tweeted their demand she step aside.
“It’s time for [Feinstein] to resign,” fellow California Democrat Khanna wrote in a tweet, becoming the first member of Congress to publicly demand that the senior senator step down.
“We need to put the country ahead of personal loyalty. While she has had a lifetime of public service, it is obvious she can no longer fulfill her duties. Not speaking out undermines our credibility as elected representatives of the people,” he added.
Feinstein had announced on Valentine’s Day earlier this year that she would not seek reelection.
DeSantis stumbles into 2024 race with chaotic announcement
Moments after their conversation kicked off- the audio cut out due to technical glitches that persisted for nearly half an hour
WASHINGTON – More than 300,000 Twitter users were logged in at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday to hear Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis begin his 2024 presidential campaign in an announcement address featuring the social media platform’s owner, Elon Musk.
Moments after moderator David Sacks kicked off their conversation, however, the audio cut out due to technical glitches that persisted for nearly half an hour as the event was steadily hemorrhaging listeners.
Those who joined or rejoined the event at various times after about 6:30 p.m. ET might be forgiven for thinking the topic was Musk rather than DeSantis, who is widely considered the candidate likeliest to unseat former President Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s frontrunner for the nomination.
At one point, for instance, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) entered the chat to tell the polarizing billionaire tech entrepreneur, “I’m one of your biggest fans” and brag, “I’m one of the first members of Congress to own a Tesla,” the electric carmaker founded by Musk.
Following reports on Tuesday of DeSantis’ unorthodox plans to announce his run for president, pundits saw a golden opportunity for the Florida governor to generate buzz around his campaign, which seemed to lose momentum leading up to its official launch.
Responding to questions from Sacks, DeSantis defended Florida’s spate of anti-LGBTQ policies, like last year’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which criminalizes classroom discussion of LGBTQ subjects and, earlier this month, was broadened to cover more grade levels.
LGBTQ groups, Democratic Florida lawmakers, and other critics argue the law was written with discriminatory intent, to create a chilling effect that will discourage educators from creating welcoming environments for LGBTQ students.
Disney came out against the measure, kicking off an ongoing spat with DeSantis, who said on Wednesday that the company “obviously supported injecting gender ideology in elementary school.”
The governor also objected to what he characterized as the media’s misleading coverage of Florida’s adoption of policies restricting the educational materials made available in schools.
LGBTQ groups air objections to DeSantis’ presidential run
In advance of Wednesday’s conversation with Musk, DeSantis filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission formally declaring his plans to enter the race as LGBTQ and other civil rights advocacy groups registered their objections to his candidacy as well as to Florida’s policies under his leadership.
“Dangerously out of step with average Americans’ views on freedom and equality, DeSantis has weaponized his position as governor to target and punish anyone he considers his political enemy, including LGBTQ+ families,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said in a statement Wednesday.
Following Tuesday’s statement from the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which called DeSantis a “transphobic bigot” who has “no place in government — let alone the White House,” the LGBTQ Victory Institute on Wednesday said his entry into the race is “bad news for America — and even worse for anyone who’s part of a community he’s targeted while in office as governor.”
Over the weekend, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for Florida because of “DeSantis’ aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion programs in Florida schools.”
HRC and Equality Florida followed suit on Tuesday with a jointly issued travel notice that cites the potential impact of the state legislature’s recent passage of six anti-LGBTQ bills, several of which have already been signed into law.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to specifically address the travel advisories during Tuesday’s press conference, but said Florida Republicans “have attacked diversity. They’ve attacked inclusion efforts. They’ve limited the teaching of Black history. And they’ve launched attacks on the LGBT youth, immigrants, educators and women’s reproductive freedom.”
“That’s what you have seen from lawmakers in Florida,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that the Biden-Harris administration will “continue to speak out against discriminatory policies.”
DeSantis to announce presidential bid on Twitter live with Musk
“Transphobic bigots like Ron DeSantis have no place in government, let alone the White House, ‘ said the LGBTQ Victory Fund
MIAMI – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will reportedly announce plans to run for president in 2024 during a live conversation with Elon Musk Wednesday evening on Twitter Spaces.
The unorthodox move might generate renewed interest in DeSantis, who was long expected to enter the primary race against former President Donald Trump, who remains the Republican frontrunner, but seemed to lose momentum as the official launch of his campaign drew nearer.
It also comes on the heels of DeSantis’s signing, last week, of a slate of anti-LGBTQ bills including an expansion of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which criminalizes classroom discussion of LGBTQ subjects.
Musk, who has a trans daughter from whom he has been estranged, has expressed his affinity for DeSantis in the past while also courting other public figures known for expressing transphobic views, such as the comedian Dave Chappell.
The polarizing and often pugilistic billionaire was widely blamed for allowing anti-LGBTQ and especially transphobic abuse to proliferate on Twitter since he purchased the social media platform last year.
On Twitter, Musk has occasionally complained about or mocked the use of personal pronouns by trans and nonbinary people, and he was widely criticized last year for promoting a false and baseless anti-LGBTQ conspiracy about the violent attack of Paul Pelosi.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund denounced DeSantis’s candidacy on Tuesday ahead of his announcement, writing, “Transphobic bigots like Ron DeSantis have no place in government, let alone the White House,” the LGBTQ Victory Fund wrote in a statement issued Tuesday.
“Not only does Governor DeSantis’ appalling record against LGBTQ+ people and communities of color disqualify him from the Presidency, the rhetoric he will spew on the campaign trail as he and Donald Trump race to the bottom will have long-term consequences for our community and LGBTQ+ kids in particular.
“LGBTQ+ leaders are our best defense against hate, which is why his announcement is a rallying cry to the LGBTQ+ community and our allies that we must redouble our efforts to elect pro-choice LGBTQ+ candidates in 2023 and 2024. On Election Day, our message must be resounding: we are not going back.”
Newsom demands answers about censorship of text books
Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has declared war against what he has labeled “woke propaganda” to include school curriculum/books
SACRAMENTO – In a letter released this past Saturday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is demanding that publishers inform the state’s agencies if textbooks being published conform to Florida’s standards, and to find out whether any of the companies designing California’s textbooks are “the same ones kowtowing to Florida’s extremist agenda.”
In a tweet on his personal account that included an image of the letter, Newsom wrote: “You don’t get to rewrite history in a back room. You don’t get to erase basic facts around segregation, the holocaust, or Rosa Parks’ story. The extremists in Florida and textbook companies that are colluding with them are about to be exposed.”
You don't get to rewrite history in a back room.— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) May 21, 2023
You don't get to erase basic facts around segregation, the holocaust, or Rosa Parks' story.
The extremists in Florida and textbook companies that are colluding with them are about to be exposed. https://t.co/63tAp67f0Q
On his official Twitter account the governor also noted: “Parents have a right to know what’s happening to undermine kids’ education.”
The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, in an investigative report published on April 19, 2022, revealed for example that the Florida Department of Education rejected more than 50 mathematics textbooks — about 40% of those submitted — for failing to meet Florida’s new learning standards or because they “contained prohibited topics” that included references to critical race theory.
Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has railed against what he has labeled “woke propaganda.” In April he signed HB7, into law what he has branded the “Stop WOKE Act,” which restricts how race is discussed in schools, colleges and workplaces, and sparked a nationwide debate over censorship, critical race theory and diversity training.
DeSantis has waged an unceasing culture war against progressives whom he has branded “socialists,” to include unrelenting attacks on LGBTQ+ Floridians, targeting schools and healthcare providers for transgender people.
Recent changes in the criteria for textbook standards by the Florida DOE coupled with conservatives groups actively banning books in public libraries and in schools has altered materials and events covered in the curriculum supported by text books, history and the maths in particular.
Last week, CNN reported that Florida’s DOE rejected nearly 35% of social studies textbooks submitted by publishers for approval, including those that referenced social justice and “other information that was not aligned with Florida Law,” the state’s Department of Education announced Tuesday.
Regarding K-12 social studies instructional materials, 66 of 101 submitted materials were approved and met state standards for every grade level, the department said.
The examples of rejected material provided by the department include:
- Removing a paragraph that references how parents should talk with their children about the National Anthem and explaining “Taking a Knee” to protest police brutality for grades K-5.
- Removing a section about social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement for grades 6-8.
- Changing “social justice issues” to “key principles” when discussing what is in the Hebrew Bible for grades 6-8.
- Changing a reference to “socialist economy” that said, “They may promote greater equality while still providing a fully functioning government supervised economy,” to “planned economies” that have “slow development and fewer technological advances because they move slowly around planning and approval, while limiting human incentive” for grades 6-8.
Governor Newsom’s letter:
Anti-LGBTQ GOP Sen. Tim Scott enters 2024 presidential race
The junior senator from South Carolina will face off against the state’s former Republican governor, Nikki Haley
NORTH CHARLESTON – Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), who filed paperwork on Friday with the Federal Election Commission to run for president in 2024, kicked off his campaign for the GOP primary with an announcement address Monday morning in Charleston.
The only Black Republican member serving in the Senate, Scott developed a strident anti-LGBTQ record since entering national politics in 2010 with his first election to the House, during which time he told Newsweek homosexuality is a “morally wrong choice, like adultery.”
Today, Scott remains opposed to same-sex marriage, writing on his Senate bio that South Carolinians “have voted overwhelmingly to protect the traditional definition of marriage, and I stand with their decision.”
Last year, Scott cosigned a letter with 20 other Senate Republicans urging the GOP caucus to oppose the Respect for Marriage Act unless it contained provisions allowing for discrimination against LGBTQ couples. Scott, 57, is single and never married, which has led to some speculation about his sexual orientation.
In February, with GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, Scott introduced legislation that would cut funding for any elementary or middle school in the country that changes a student’s pronouns, gender markers, or access to sex-based accommodations like locker rooms without first obtaining consent from their parents or legal guardians.
Having developed a reputation as a fiscal and social conservative who is well-liked by his Republican Senate colleagues, Scott hopes to build a coalition of establishment types and evangelical conservatives who are skeptical or critical of the party’s 2024 frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.
According to Vox, Scott is polling around 1 percent, but he will be able to transfer $22 million from his Senate campaign coffers to help fund his presidential bid and has begun aggressively buying up television ads in early primary states as campaigns get underway in the next few months.
The junior senator from South Carolina will face off against the state’s former Republican governor, Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration. Haley, who appointed Scott to fill the Senate seat vacated by Jim DeMint in 2012, announced her bid for president in February.
Caitlin Byrd, senior politics reporter for the Post and Courier, noted on Twitter that South Carolina Democrats are broadcasting mobile billboards that echo the same arguments they used to oppose Haley’s candidacy, seeking to portray the candidates’ platforms as indistinguishable from Trump’s.
DeSantis at Iowa GOP fundraiser: Drag hurts military enlistment
DeSantis told attendees “drag queens” were one of the reasons young people didn’t want to enlist in the United States armed forces
SIOUX CENTER, Iowa – Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis attended the Feenstra Family Picnic, a GOP fundraiser for Republican Congressman Randy Feenstra on Saturday May 13 and during his speech told attendees “drag queens” were one of the reasons young people didn’t want to enlist in the United States armed forces.
In addition to his remarks on the drag community DeSantis also bragged about ending the Disney Corporation’s self-rule telling attendees that company’s “don’t get their own governments- not on our watch.” He then pivoted to education issues saying that parents rights must not be abrogated by school districts and boards.
Telling the audience that schools should not have “pornographic materials in the school libraries, a veiled reference to LGBTQ+ affirming books that have essentially been banned by his administration which he referred to as a “book ban hoax.” He also stressed that his administration had ensured that Florida’s students weren’t indoctrinated by what he termed “woke” ideology.
After covering immigration issues and the southern border he then spoke about “restoring the integrity of majority of institutions in this country.” Then speaking about the state of the U.S. Military after reviewing his service in the U.S. Navy during the Iraq war, the governor accused the armed services of losing their way- specifically saying that the military was “politicizing” by integrating societal issues and changes such as “gender ideology” referring to transgender service. He then stated that recruiting videos that showed “drag performers” was “fundamentally wrong.”
DeSantis’s comments reflected the severe backlash the U.S. Navy has received after appointing an active-duty drag queen to be a “digital ambassador” in a new effort to attract recruits as it is not expected to meet recruiting goals this year the Hill reported earlier this month. The Navy designated Yeoman 2nd Class Joshua Kelley as the first of five Navy Digital Ambassadors in a pilot program.
Kelley, whose stage name is Harpy Daniels and who identifies as non-binary, joined the Navy in 2016 and said their experience as a sailor has “been a blessing.” “This experience has brought me so much strength, courage and ambition to continue being an advocate and representation of queer sailors,” Kelley said in an Instagram post.
Although he has not officially declared himself a 2024 presidential candidate, DeSantis’ expected official announcement of a run for president could be nearing as soon as this week. The Florida Republican has ramped up his veiled attacks of former President Donald Trump in the past several weeks including during Saturday’s appearance.
“Unfortunately, due to the Tornado Warnings in Des Moines, we are forced to cancel today’s outdoor Rally at the Lauridsen Amphitheater,” the former president said in a post on Truth Social, a few hours before his scheduled event. “Stay tuned, we will reschedule soon. Be safe out there!” Trump’s rally was set to coincide with DeSantis’ appearance the Feenstra Family Picnic.
The fundraising breakfast to benefit Iowa’s 4th district U.S. Congressman Randy Feenstra, was attended by state Republican heavy-weights lawmakers and influencers including Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds.
Reynolds, who has a mixed history on LGBTQ+ rights on March 3, 2022, signed into law a bill that bans transgender girls and women from participating on designated female sports teams. Previously in 2018 Reynolds called same-sex marriage a “settled” issue and said that she did not consider herself obligated to follow the Iowa Republican Party platform provision against same-sex marriage.
Before leaving for Iowa on Friday, DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1580 legislation which allows health care providers and insurance companies in Florida to deny care or reimbursement for care if it opposes their ethical or religious beliefs. Equality Florida and Planned Parenthood have stated that the law will give physicians and providers legal protections to discriminate against patients.
Still awaiting the governor’s signature is Senate Bill 1438, legislation that while not specifically mentioning drag performances, authorizes state government officials within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) to suspend or revoke the liquor license of any establishment that admits minors to a live, adult performance. A person who admits a child to such a show would face a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and up to a year in prison.
LGBTQ+ advocacy groups charge that the vague language will allow arbitrary and selective enforcement against drag performers.
The ACLU of Florida condemned the passage of Senate Bill 1438 (SB 1438) and its companion bill, House Bill 1423. Kara Gross, ACLU of Florida’s legislative director and senior policy counsel, responded in a statement:
“Parents, not politicians, have the right to decide how to raise their children and what they are allowed to view. This harmful bill effectively revokes the rights of parents to determine what content is appropriate for their own families, even their teenagers. As if book bans and curriculum censorship weren’t enough, the Florida Legislature is now imposing its views on parents and families at the cost of LGBTQ+ people.
“Make no mistake: SB 1438 is a blatant attempt to erase drag performers and silence the LGBTQ+ community.
“The unclear and vaguely worded bill will impact businesses and venues that host plays, musical performances, art exhibits, and other forms of expression that the state may subjectively deem inappropriate. Will parents be able to take their families to the opera if there are singers performing in roles that require cross-dressing? What about Shakespeare performances? Furthermore, all it would take is a teen with a fake ID for a business owner to lose everything. We have grave concerns that businesses may end up self-censoring rather than running afoul of the law and risk losing their license or becoming entangled with the criminal legal system.
“With this bill, Gov. DeSantis and certain politicians are imposing their personal beliefs on Floridians by punishing private businesses that support the LGBTQ+ community. The Governor likes to tout that he is ‘pro-businesses,’ but this bill is anything but that. This is an extreme governmental overreach of power. This is not democracy. This is not freedom.”
AAPA conference cancels anti-trans Bari Weiss after complaints
The LA Blade learned American Academy of Physicians Assistants is still going forward with Nashville panel on “Lifestyle Choices”
NASHVILLE, TENN. — Organizers of this week’s gathering of the nation’s physician assistants tonight announced they had canceled the appearance of Bari Weiss, the anti-transgender author and editor of The Free Press, after what the organization called “member concerns.”
The news comes just days before more than six-thousand PAs are expected to gather in Nashville for their 2023 conference, with a focus on the future of healthcare, and a panel titled, How Lifestyle Choices Impact Your Brain Health and Overall Wellness, that Weiss was booked to moderate.
“As a result of the recent inquires and some member concerns we have received and responded to, we have made several accommodations and changes for conference, including a moderator adjustment,” said the American Academy of Physician Assistants in an email to members obtained by the Los Angeles Blade.
“Specifically, the Board of Directors took action to cancel Bari Weiss. AAPA’s Board recognizes and values the diverse perspectives and viewpoints of our members which are based on their personal experiences and we have taken seriously each and every member voice we have heard,” according to the email.
Weiss, a former opinion writer for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Tablet magazine, has called herself a “left-leaning centrist.” But transgender activist Andrea James calls her “a key figure in promoting and platforming gender critical and anti-transgender views.” Her work at The Free Press has been virulently anti-trans and in support of exclusionary activists, quacks and TERF groups.
The unexpected cancellation reached the trade organization’s LGBTQ Caucus just as its board members were meeting to organize a counter-meeting, off-site, during Weiss’s appearance, its president-elect, Shani Wilson, told the Los Angeles Blade tonight.
“Our board was very excited and actually surprised that it happened so quickly,” said Wilson. “We had thought that AAPA gave their answer, which is, ‘No, we’re not changing anything. This is about free speech,’ which is what they told our board. But our caucus’s multiple colleagues, students, fellow constituent organizations like ours and people in peer leadership across the country, had all written in and called AAPA to express their concern, their deepest dismay about their choice.”
Among those who sounded the alarm, Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, where she works to advance the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people in a variety of civil legal contexts such as healthcare access, immigration, and family law.
Why the hell is the transphobic Barry Weiss being invited to speak to the AAPA? Her witch hunt against the Washington University Clinic that led to an attempted ban on ALL gender affirming care seems at odds with your past positions. pic.twitter.com/dTdQEpehXl— Alejandra Caraballo (@Esqueer_) May 10, 2023
“I know how valuable PAs are,” said Devon Ojeda, the senior national organizer for the National Center on Transgender Equality, and a former healthcare worker. They saw Caraballo’s tweet and immediately got to work to put pressure on AAPA, which evidently worked.
“These are just anti-trans extremists that are pushing an agenda that has nothing to do with the quality of healthcare,” Ojeda told the Blade. But they say they’re not done yet.
“So, we’re going to have more discussions with the AAPA, to thank them for removing her from this platform. But we’re going to ask for more change than that because this wasn’t right in the first place,” said Ojeda, who pointed to the use of the words, “lifestyle choices” in the title of the panel Weiss was booked to moderate.
“This is not just a lifestyle, this is not a choice,” said Ojeda. “We don’t ask to be trans. We are born trans and there’s nothing wrong with us. It was very, very gross to see it on the Internet. I just could not stand that a professional organization would do such a thing, and we’re just not going to tolerate it. We’re already tolerating, with the extremists ones, the far right wing extremists that pretend to be experts. We can’t have that in actual professional organizations, they should not be allowed.”
Wilson noted leadership is no stranger to controversial choices. “They also had invited Ben Carson to speak at a prior event,” she told the Blade. And the selection of Nashville, Tenn. for this week’s conference raised hackles. As the Blade has reported, Tennessee’s Republican governor signed a law banning gender-affirming care for the state’s trans youth, a measure attacked by both the Justice Department and LGBTQ groups. And Tennessee is also home to a drag ban, which last month was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge.
“It’s not safe in so many different ways,” Wilson said, speaking of Nashville, given that the LGBTQ Caucus includes physician assistants who are transgender. “We had been working for the last two weeks to try to figure out what we could do to make sure that we had a safe space for people,” she said. “We were going to go to the Lipstick Lounge, which is the local gay bar, but it was an hour’s walk. We can’t have people walking outside for an hour. What if something happens to them?”
Before becoming president-elect, Wilson herself has survived controversy, too. Accusations of sexual harassment and retaliation by the former head of the Rochester, N.Y. Police Accountability Board against Wilson were found to be unfounded and unsubstantiated last fall.
“Being a young, queer black woman, doing anything in a position of leadership is difficult,” she said. “You become the target of a lot of terrible things. And, you know, I no longer am in Rochester. I’ve moved on. But, you know, I am happy about the work that I did there. And the Police Accountability Board still exists. I’ve moved on and I am doing the work that needs to be done.” Wilson’s comments to the Blade on the investigation that cleared her name and led to the ouster of Dwyer Reynolds were her first on that matter.
The Blade reached out to spokespersons for Weiss and for the AAPA Sunday evening but did not receive a reply as of press time.
Governor Newsom releases balanced revised budget plan
Plan closes a $32 billion shortfall protecting key investments in education, health care, public safety, housing, homelessness, & climate
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today released his May Revision proposal, a balanced budget plan that maintains critical investments to address our biggest challenges while preparing for continued economic uncertainty due to global economic issues.
The Governor’s budget closes a projected $32 billion budget shortfall while protecting key investments in the issues that matter most to Californians, including education, health care, housing and homelessness, public safety, and climate action.
Following two years of unprecedented growth, revenues have fallen short of monthly estimates since the 2022 Budget Act was enacted last June. California has planned for this potential shortfall, with the Governor and Legislature paying down the state’s prior debts, building unprecedented reserves and prioritizing one-time investments.
“In partnership with the Legislature, we have made deep investments in California and its future – transformative efforts that will benefit generations of Californians, and that this budget will continue to guide as we navigate near-term ups and downs in revenue,” said Newsom. “As we prepare for more risk and uncertainties ahead, it’s critical that we keep the state on a solid fiscal footing to protect Californians and our progress in remaking the future of our state.”
With unprecedented investments over the past two state budgets, in addition to federal funding targeting infrastructure and inflation reduction, California will invest more than $180 billion over the next several years in clean energy, roads, bridges, public transit, water storage and conveyance and expanded broadband service. These investments will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs while building the infrastructure to make our state better connected, safer and more prepared for our future.
While the May Revision does not forecast a recession, it recognizes increased risks to the budget since January that could significantly change the state’s fiscal trajectory in the near term. Taking this into account, the plan reflects $37.2 billion in total budgetary reserves, including $22.3 billion in the Budget Stabilization Account.
In addition to addressing the budget shortfall, the May Revision maintains investments in key priorities for Californians. This includes:
PROTECTING HEALTH CARE ACCESS. Following Governor Newsom’s actions to expand health care access and reduce costs, the May Revision maintains billions to continue implementing these measures – programs like CalAIM to transform Medi-Cal, extending health care to low-income Californians of all ages regardless of immigration status, making insulin more affordable through CalRx, and more.
TACKLING HOMELESSNESS. Governor Newsom has invested $15.3 billion to address homelessness – up from $500 million when he took office and more than ever before in state history. The May Revision maintains billions of dollars for aid to local governments, encampment resolution grants, and more. With this funding will come new accountability – no more status quo.
INCREASING HOUSING SUPPLY. In the last four years, California invested more to increase housing supply than ever before in state history while holding local governments accountable. The state continues to deploy a comprehensive set of strategies – improving state financing, targeting housing investments, providing technical assistance, eliminating regulations, and leveraging land use tools. The state adopted a legally binding goal that local governments must plan to build approximately 2.5 million new units by 2030, and 1 million of these units must be affordable.
CALIFORNIA’S CLIMATE COMMITMENT. California is advancing a $48 billion multi-year commitment to implement its world-leading agenda to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, protect communities from harmful oil drilling, deliver 90% clean electricity by 2035, and more. It also proposes the development of a Climate Resilience Bond to increase and sustain investments in our climate initiatives.
KEEPING CALIFORNIANS SAFE. The May Revision sustains over $800 million in record-level public safety investments, including supports for victims’ services, officer wellness and training, non-profit security grants, efforts to combat fentanyl, and more.
UNIVERSAL TRANSITIONAL KINDERGARTEN. The May Revision continues to fully fund the first and second years of expanded eligibility for TK, creating a whole new grade.
FREE MEALS FOR EVERY STUDENT. California is investing $1.6 billion for all students, regardless of income, to access two free school meals per day – up to 12 million meals per day statewide.
Assembly Member Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization reacted to the governor’s revised plan:
“I am especially pleased to see $67.3 million in funding for example to clean up 6,425 parkways polluted by the former Exide facility. Our children and all community members deserve clean communities,” said Santiago.
“Additionally, we have worked non-stop to alleviate poverty by investing in basic essentials that help ALL Californians weather the soaring prices of today’s inflation storm. Despite the $31.5 billion budget deficit announced by the May Revise, we will continue to prioritize investments in programs that uplift our most vulnerable Californians. That means we must work even harder for affordable healthcare and food for all, protect renters, increase historic funding levels to combat homelessness and the housing shortage with accountability and real results, fight pollution in our communities and to continue making higher education debt free for us.
A budget is a statement of our values and our budget must continue to prioritize families and disadvantaged communities so they can afford food, housing, and gas. Let’s get to work!”
Senator Scott Wiener also weighed in on another portion of the governor’s revision:
“If we don’t address the transit fiscal cliff, we will see massive and devastating transit service cuts, deeply harming the millions of Californians who rely on transit to get to work, school, or the grocery store. I’m disappointed the Governor’s revised budget proposal continues to cut billions in transit capital funding and disappointed the proposal continues to lack any funds to address the fiscal cliff,” said Wiener. “Public transportation isn’t optional, and failing to address the massive budget shortfalls our transit systems face would be disastrous for our state’s climate goals and Californians’ ability to get around. I’m grateful the Governor is committing to work with the Legislature to address this critical issue, and I look forward to collaborating to protect public transportation and the vital services it provides Californians.”
Wiener’s office noted in a statement:
“With federal pandemic relief funds due to expire soon, transit agencies across the state are facing a projected budget shortfall estimated at $6-8 billion over the next 5 years. The problem affects major agencies up and down the state like LA Metro and BART. Without state funding, agencies will be forced to begin service cuts later this year, with MUNI projected to begin cutting 20 bus lines later this summer. In the worst case, service cuts lead to further loss of revenue and more service cuts, in a death spiral that would devastate the transportation system for years to come.
Senator Wiener has worked in partnership with the California Transit Association, business leaders, regional transit leaders, environmental advocates, and transit advocates and allies on a budget ask for California’s public transit systems, which was announced in April. The proposal would cover the projected shortfalls with minimal impact to the State’s General Fund, mostly by increasing flexibility within existing transit capital programs, directing diesel tax revenues to transit operations, directing currently unallocated cap and trade revenues to transit operations, and directing a portion of the increase in federal highway funding to address fiscal shortfalls. These proposals would cumulatively have a General Fund impact of just $213 million in next year’s budget.
Senator Wiener continues to work with regional partners like the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and a variety of transit and allied advocacy groups on identifying a suite of sources to address state and regional needs.
Additional details on the May Revision can be found here: (Link)
Watch Governor Newsom’s state budget presentation here: (Link)
New AMA president: anti-trans healthcare restrictions ‘interference’
“We see the attack on reproductive care, reproductive access, & transgender healthcare as a continuum of government overreach”
WASHINGTON – Doctor Jesse Ehrenfeld sat down with the Washington Blade on Tuesday, weeks ahead of the start of his tenure as the American Medical Association’s first openly gay president and amid an onslaught of legislative attacks targeting trans Americans’ access to healthcare.
“We see the attack on reproductive care, reproductive access, and transgender healthcare as a continuum of government overreach into patient-physician decision making,” Ehrenfeld said.
“We simply will not stand for the government coming in to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship,” such as by passing these laws that “outlaw what we know to be appropriate, evidence-based clinical guidelines-based care,” he said.
An anesthesiologist who served as the Joseph A. Johnson Jr. Distinguished Leadership Professor of anesthesiology, surgery, biomedical informatics & health policy at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine, much of Ehrenfeld’s professional background has been focused on matters of healthcare access, particularly for LGBTQ patients.
Ehrenfeld directs a $560 million philanthropic organization, Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment, while also serving as a consultant for the World Health Organization’s Digital Health Technical Advisory Group. He was special adviser to former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who served during the Trump administration.
For his research on “understanding how can we use technology to work better for LGBTQ people,” in 2018 Ehrenfeld became the inaugural recipient of the NIH’s Sexual and Gender Minority Research Investigator Award.
He and his team did much of the work for that project at Vanderbilt’s Program for LGBTQ Health, which he co-founded and led for several years “before I took on my current clinical role in Wisconsin.”
“At the end of the day,” Ehrenfeld said, “we’re really about improving access to health care for LGBTQ people, which is a lot of the work that I have been involved in at the AMA and is a core piece of what we’re trying to do nationally through our policy activities.”
In testimony before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee in 2019, Ehrenfeld told lawmakers: “I would like to state unequivocally that there is no medically valid reason—including a diagnosis of gender dysphoria—to exclude transgender individuals from military service.”
Last year, far-right anti-trans pundit Matt Walsh targeted Vanderbilt’s Transgender Health Clinic on his podcast, leading conservative lawmakers in Tennessee to call for investigations of the institution based on information the university claims was “misrepresented” or taken out of context.
“It’s deeply personal for me,” Ehrenfeld said. “Almost everybody that I helped recruit and hire at Vanderbilt, their personal information was shared online. Their names were on TV. And that has had a chilling effect [both] there and in many places across the country, as there have been attempts to intimidate and threaten practitioners who are providing what we know is evidence based appropriate care.”
A big moment for Ehrenfeld and the AMA
Ehrenfeld will be inaugurated as AMA president on June 13, midway through Pride month. It will be an exciting time, he said. “The AMA will have our first contingent walking in the Chicago Pride Parade…so, my husband and the family and the kids will all be there with a bunch of AMA colleagues celebrating at the end of June.”
“It’s an exciting moment for the organization, but I think also for the community for a bunch of reasons,” Ehrenfeld said. “One is, you know, to be an out person in a very visible role, I think sends a message to patients in the community as well as LGBTQ physicians and other healthcare workers, that their needs are being heard in a way that hasn’t always happened,” notwithstanding “challenges that are happening in many places on the legislative level.”
On a personal level, he said, “growing up, I didn’t have a lot of LGBTQ role models in college and medical school who I saw as defining a career pathway for me.” This meant “I would often question, ‘would I have a role? Was there a place for me as an out person in medicine, in leadership, doing policy work, trying to make the community healthier and improve access to health care?’”
Ehrenfeld said his leadership of the AMA marks an “important moment” in the organization’s history, demonstrating what is now possible for LGBTQ people who historically were denied these types of opportunities.
Anti-trans laws worsen systemic issues in healthcare
“The AMA opposes any policy “that creates a barrier between a patient and their doctor making a decision that’s in the patient’s best interests,” Ehrenfeld said, which includes “efforts to ban care for transgender people” at the state and federal level. “We stand for the science, the evidence, [and] the clinical guidelines that we know lead to better outcomes for patients.”
Even beyond healthcare restrictions that are passed legislatively, “we have a lot of backseat drivers trying to tell doctors what to do,” Ehrenfeld said, like “insurance companies who put up barriers around prior authorization for getting approval for care and services.”
“Those things are real and they cause people to give up trying to get the care they need,” he said.
Six states have passed laws criminalizing certain healthcare interventions for the treatment of gender dysphoria, which carry the specter of felony charges for healthcare providers. These, Ehrenfeld said, are the most “heartbreaking” for him personally.
Survey data says one in five physicians is experiencing signs of burnout, with an increase beginning with the COVID-19 pandemic, Ehrenfeld said. “That burnout is only exacerbated when you find yourself practicing in a place where a law is passed that tells you how to practice or [tells you] that you can’t practice.”
“That causes moral injury to a physician who finds an untenable choice: provide the care that they know is in the patient’s best interests, or break the law and [potentially] go to jail,” Ehrenfeld said. “And that stress is real. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t hear from a colleague who says I can’t take it anymore.”
Beyond impacts felt by individual healthcare workers, “we’ve seen a drop in the number of physicians who are applying for training positions in states where care is being restricted,” he said. “When, suddenly, you don’t have specialists and internists and primary care providers working in a state, that impacts care for everybody.”
Anti-trans legislative restrictions on healthcare are increasingly targeting adults, too. Florida’s S.B. 254, which would allow the state to take children away from parents who facilitate their access to best-practices treatments for gender dysphoria, would also bar all Floridians from accessing gender affirming care via telehealth, or that which is administered by nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants.
“Telehealth is particularly important for a lot of LGBTQ people because of access distance challenges and the need to seek care in places that often is not immediately local,” Ehrenfeld said.
“There’s this cascading effect of, unfortunately reducing access to care that’s very concerning to me and to the AMA,” he said.
When laws proscribe healthcare interventions that “we know to be appropriate,” Ehrenfeld said, “we use every avenue available” – from pressuring the National Governors Association to filing lawsuits and amicus briefs in coordination with other stakeholders as well as “work on the policy side at the federal level and with our state partners.”
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