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.”
Rep. Cicilline on future of LGBTQ rights & life after Congress
Looking beyond Congress, Cicilline said he is eager to continue advancing “equality and justice for our community”
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Speaking with the Washington Blade by phone on Tuesday from Rhode Island, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) was optimistic about the outcome of the debt ceiling negotiations that have roiled Capitol Hill, the White House, and Wall Street for weeks.
“My sense of it is there are enough Democratic and Republican votes to get it to the president’s desk,” said the congressman, who would fly back to Washington in the evening with the expectation that a vote would be held the following day.
Even amid the chaos and back-and-forth travel this week, Cicilline was ready to look back on the landmark legislative accomplishments of his distinguished career in politics, which have included groundbreaking advancements for LGBTQ rights.
And despite the ascendancy of anti-LGBTQ attacks from the right, including from much of the Republican caucus, he told the Blade there is ample reason to be optimistic that the chamber’s pro-equality work will continue in his absence.
As announced back in February and effective on Thursday, Cicilline will retire from Congress to lead his state’s largest philanthropic organization, the Rhode Island Foundation, having represented its 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House since 2011.
A former attorney, Cicilline was tapped to lead the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law as well as the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism.
Particularly in recent years, the congressman became one of the most powerful House Democrats, elected to leadership in 2017 as a co-chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee and picked in 2021 by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to serve as one of the nine members tasked with managing the House’s second impeachment of former President Donald Trump.
Among other legislative achievements, Cicilline is widely credited with leading the House’s passage, twice, of the biggest civil rights bill since the 1964 Civil Rights Act – the Equality Act, which would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in areas from education and housing to employment and public accommodations.
While the Senate failed to pass the Equality Act, Cicilline said, “I’m handing that work off to [U.S. Rep.] Mark Takano [D-Calif.], who I know will take it over the finish line” once Democrats win control of the House again.
The congressman told the Blade that he hopes his leadership on this bill will be remembered as a key part of his legacy – and was adamant that its passage through both chambers is now a question of “when” rather than “if.”
“The majority of Americans support the Equality Act, and a majority of voters in every single state support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people,” so “this is about the Republican conference in Congress catching up with the American people,” Cicilline said.
Congress is beginning to look more like America in at least one respect, though. After his first election to the House, Cicilline was one of only three openly LGBTQ members serving in Congress (having already made history in 2003 as the first openly gay mayor of a state capital, Providence, R.I.).
Today, “I’m leaving with 10 colleagues in the House and two in the Senate,” he said, “so that’s great progress.”
“The calvary has arrived” with “young new members who are going to lead the next wave of this fight” such as openly LGBTQ U.S. Reps. Robert Garcia (Calif.), Becca Balint (Vt.), Eric Sorensen (Ill.), and Ritchie Torres (N.Y.), Cicilline said.
Echoing comments from his final speech on the House floor last week, the congressman also expressed his faith and confidence in party leaders with whom he has worked closely, including Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)
Tonight, I addressed the House of Representatives for the final time as a Member of Congress.— Congressman David N. Cicilline (@RepCicilline) May 24, 2023
As a lifelong Rhode Islander, it is only fitting that my final message is one of HOPE — hope for our democracy and our Congress.
Hopes and expectations for the current Democratic conference’s ability to deliver on behalf of LGBTQ Americans were buttressed late last year by passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation co-led by Cicilline that codified fundamental rights for same-sex couples that might otherwise be erased if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns or weakens its constitutional protections for marriage equality.
How to combat the rightwing crusade against LGBTQ and especially trans Americans
However prepared Cicilline believes his colleagues are to meet the moment, the congressman is also up to speed on the unprecedented challenges presented by the current political climate with respect to LGBTQ rights.
This year, state legislatures have introduced hundreds of bills targeting trans Americans, which endeavor to restrict their access to everything from lifesaving healthcare to public bathrooms. At the same time, anti-trans rhetoric has escalated to such an extent that a rightwing pundit speaking at CPAC said “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely,” which some interpreted as a call for genocide against the community.
Legislatively, Cicilline said it is all part of a cynical political strategy adopted by Republicans. Having concluded that their crusade against same-sex marriage was no longer winnable, the party sought another way to fight against LGBTQ rights, eventually polling anti-trans positions and messaging that successfully motivates “the most extreme parts of their political base,” he said.
“Our Republican colleagues have weaponized the trans community in such a way that they think it’s politically advantageous to attack even trans kids,” which is “really horrific” especially considering the potential for tragic real-world consequences, including targeted violence against the trans community, Cicilline said.
“I hope people who are seeking public office will be conscious of that and will be responsible, but unfortunately, I think there are some who are so driven by their desire for power, that they’re prepared to do almost anything to get there,” the congressman added.
Some conservatives hope their polarization of and fear mongering about trans issues will drive a wedge, providing sufficient incentive or a permission structure for LGB Americans to turn their backs on the trans community, Cicilline said, but “That’s not gonna happen.”
“We are standing in lockstep with our trans brothers and sisters, and we’re just not going to allow them to be attacked in this way,” he said.
Broadly speaking, Cicilline said elected Democrats must “stand up for the queer community, speak out, condemn this kind of [anti-LGBTQ/anti-trans] legislation, and let the American people see the contrast” between the Democratic Party, which “stands for inclusion and has fought for LGBTQ+ equality” and the GOP, which is pushing “these very toxic and dangerous and un-American attacks on the LGBTQ community.”
The congressman noted that working against the interests of LGBTQ Americans is nothing new for congressional Republicans. “With just a couple of exceptions,” he said, the House GOP caucus voted against the Equality Act’s nondiscrimination protections, which stem directly from America’s most basic foundational values of fairness and equality.
“So that means I have colleagues in the Congress of the United States on the Republican side who fundamentally rejected the legislation that would grant me and others in my community full equality as citizens of this country, [colleagues who would] allow discrimination to continue against our community,” Cicilline said.
When it comes to navigating interpersonal working relationships with anti-LGBTQ Republicans in the chamber, though, “I frankly don’t really care how they feel about us,” the congressman said. “That’s irrelevant to me.”
Cicilline to continue advocating for LGBTQ Americans after Congress
In addition to the Equality Act, Cicilline said that if Democrats recapture control of the House, he expects to see renewed momentum for a bill that he authored, the Global Respect Act, and another for which he was an original cosponsor, the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act. Both were passed by the House but not by the Senate and therefore remain “unfinished business,” he said.
The Global Respect Act, Cicilline said, “will allow the U.S. to impose visa sanctions on anyone who commits gross human rights violations against the LGBTQ community,” while the latter bill would mandate that federal surveys must include data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Other legislative efforts that Cicilline has led, in areas from antitrust to foreign policy to gun violence, also include some “unfinished business” – bills that might see movement in the next Congress that carry the potential, in many cases, to measurably impact the lives of all Americans.
For instance, Cicilline, who has been at the vanguard of Congress’s work modernizing and strengthening antitrust law, remains hopeful about the eventual passage of six bills that he introduced in 2021, all designed to increase competition in digital markets.
These would curb the monopolistic power of dominant tech platform companies whose business models center engagement as the primary mechanism to drive advertising revenue – even though, as these firms are aware, content that tends to earn more engagement tends to be that which is incendiary, offensive, hateful, false, or misleading, violent or otherwise outrageous.
Looking beyond Congress, Cicilline said he is eager to continue advancing “equality and justice for our community” at the Rhode Island Foundation, building upon the organization’s existing work “supporting the organizations that are doing really important work to support the LGBTQ community.”
Cicilline acknowledged that leading an “explicitly non-partisan organization” will be a departure from his work in Washington – though perhaps not to the extent one might imagine.
“You know, our community remains, in this country, a marginalized community,” the congressman said. “In fact, it’s the only community, still, in America, that it’s legal to discriminate against.”
At this point, rather than pivoting back to discussing the need for passage of the Equality Act, Cicilline instead explained that because of the lack of national nondiscrimination protections, he is even more eager to include the LGBTQ community in the foundation’s work advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Liberal PAC poll shows Floridians oppose DeSantis policies
Respondents were asked their opinion of recent laws being signed by Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis that targets LGBTQ+ Floridians
SACRAMENTO -A recent Cedar Key Progress poll of 400 Floridians, conducted May 18-22, 2023 by Civiqs, found that Floridians oppose LGBTQ+ book bans and Ron DeSantis’s attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.
In a series of questions, respondents were asked their opinion of recent laws being signed by Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis that targets LGBTQ+ Floridians, especially LGBTQ+ youth and educational instruction.
Do you support or oppose laws removing books mentioning gay and transgender people and history from public school libraries?
Neither support nor oppose 7%
Do you support or oppose laws banning diversity, equity, and inclusion programs from colleges and universities?
Neither support nor oppose 7%
The Cedar Key Progress group is also sponsoring six billboards during June’s LGBTQ+ Pride month 2023 to be positioned along six major throughfares across the state including:
Titusville, Brevard County
East side, Northbound U.S. 1, north of Golden Knights Blvd
Tallahassee, Leon County
West side, Lake Bradford Road north of Hutchinson St
Yulee, Nassau County
US 17 south of Harts Road
Pensacola, Escambia County
South side of I-10 west of Alt US 90
Summerfield, Marion County
US 27 south of SE 132nd St
Winter Haven, Polk County
Cypress Gardens Blvd south of Old Helena Rd
Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point partners with registered sex offender
Bergstrand served time for attempted “coercion and enticement” after trying to persuade “a minor female” to “engage in sexual activity”
NASHVILLE – Far-right extremist radio chat show host and Turning Point USA CEO Charles J. Kirk, in statements he made this past week at the TPUSA’s second-annual Pastors Summit, told attendees that conservatives and others needed to boycott Target for “their support for grooming kids.”
Kirk also attacked Target, telling a packed audience of religious leaders: “If you love God, you must hate evil.”
One of the TPUSA summit’s corporate sponsors was Shawn Bergstrand, currently CEO of Bismarck-based Rightside Up Apparel, who is also a registered sex offender in North Dakota Rolling Stone magazine reported.
Bergstrand, served time in federal prison for attempted “coercion and enticement” after trying to persuade “a minor female” to “engage in sexual activity.”
In a statement to Rolling Stone, TPUSA spokesman Andrew Kolvet said that TPUSA Faith “was not aware of this incident” but emphasized that, as an “exhibit sponsor,” Bergstrand was not a speaker, organizer, or “professing doctrine from the stage.”
Charlie Kirk decried the sexualization of children at his Pastors Summit this week.— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) May 27, 2023
One of the event’s corporate sponsors is run by a man convicted of "coercion and enticement" of a minor.https://t.co/abUPkTCiWl
Kirk, who decried the sexualization of children at his pastors summit, responded on Twitter saying: “What a joke. Let’s set the record straight. First, I’ve never met this person. He was one of many exhibitors at our event. He’s not a “corporate sponsor” but rather a small business trying to market his company.
I’m told from the team that coordinates exhibitors that he’s a nice person who did something wrong over a decade ago, and unlike Target, he repented and the experience led him to his faith. Good for him. That’s the Gospel.
Lastly, he doesn’t hide what happened. He tells his story on his own website, and the jerks at Rollingstone [sic] took that public testimony and called it “exclusive,” just to unfairly smear him and play gotcha with me and TPUSA Faith. Rollingstone [sic] should be ashamed. Trash outlet that publishes trash hit pieces about an event they didn’t witness and know nothing about.
Rolling Stone also noted: Kirk responded to Rolling Stone’s coverage of his group’s new crusade. “First of all, it’s not my Turning Point,” Kirk insisted of his organization. “It’s the Lord’s Turning Point.” He added: “I am both a Christian and a nationalist, but most importantly, I’m a Christian.”
Bergstrand did not respond to requests for comment from the magazine, but his address on North Dakota’s sex offender registry matches the registration address for Bergstrand and Rightside Up in a corporate registry maintained by North Dakota’s secretary of state. Bergtrand’s photo on the offender registry also matches video of the apparel CEO from RightsideUp’s website.
Kirk has launched attacks on progressive politicians in a similar vein as his attacks on Target. Last November, in a lengthy tirade on Twitter, Kirk, while loosely channeling an InfoWars host Alex Jones style-attack, went after California State Senator Scott Wiener, (D-SF District 11) implying that the veteran lawmaker endorses and supports child molestation.
Kirk’s attack on the senator commenced with: “Thousands of pedophiles in California are going free after just a few months in jail, thanks to the state’s radically reduced penalties for child molestation. One reason so many of these predators are going free so early is California lawmaker Scott Wiener.”
Editor’s Note: It needs to be made clear, California has NOT reduced penalties for child molestation.
Senator Wiener responded to Kirk’s attacks saying on Twitter:
Charlie Kirk — one of the biggest attention-seeking liars around — is spreading bald-faced lies about me. These statements are absolutely false & defamatory. These are the lies bigots have always spread about LGBTQ people — lies that lead to violence against our community.
LA Times poll: Trump’s big lead over DeSantis with California GOP
“The former president’s rise shows his ability to use the media to galvanize the voters most likely to back his third White House bid”
BERKELEY, Calif. – Former President Trump has vaulted back to a big lead in California over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, as the party’s voters brush aside his legal travails, a new poll finds.
The latest UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies/Los Angeles Times poll finds that Trump now leads DeSantis 44% to 26%, a reversal of where they stood in February. A dozen other Republicans were included in the poll, but none got more than 4%. Almost 9 in 10 California Republicans say investigations into Trump are more about politics than law and justice.
Read the entire story here: (Los Angeles Times)
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 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:
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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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.
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