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Prop 8 trial spotlights clash of cultures

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Everyone packed into U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’s courtroom in San Francisco on Jan. 11 knew they were watching history.

On one side of the court sat lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies, partisan foes in Bush v. Gore. Now the straight pair pledged to prove that same-sex couples deserved the fundamental right to marry. For them, the meaning of the U.S. Constitution is at stake.

On the other side sat Republican attorney Charles Cooper and a handful of supporting lawyers. It was what some might consider a strange sight. After the passage of Proposition 8 in California, the loss of same-sex marriage in Maine, New York and New Jersey and the gloating by ProtectMarriage affiliates such as the National Organization for Marriage, the anti-gay forces looked weak. In fact, throughout the trial, they portrayed themselves as David fighting Goliath.

Retired philosophy professor Linda Hirshman, reporting for The Daily Beast web site, pronounced the matchup a modern day Scopes trial.

“In the confrontation between an irrefutable religious standard and a worldly empirical survey, the challenge to California’s prohibition on gay marriage reveals a fissure that runs throughout American history: Are we modern or are we medieval?” Hirshman wrote. “Do Americans live together in a social contract for our material well-being, or are we following ancient traditions of how to live, because tradition is a better teacher than reason? This issue does not surface often in the United States, but it did most powerfully almost 90 years ago in Scopes vs. the State of Tennessee, the ‘monkey trial.’ And it did so again this week.”

The Scopes trial pitted the teaching of secular science and intellectual freedom against traditional Bible-based Christian fundamentalism. It’s a clash as old as St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologiae” and as fresh as the 2005 debate over whether creationism should be taught alongside the theory of evolution in the Kansas public school system.

For Prop 8 supporters, the trial is now posited as if freedom of religion itself is at stake. In a Jan. 26 column, “Putting Religion on Trial?”, NOM president Maggie Gallagher wrote that Olson and Boies are trying to invalidate the religious beliefs of millions of voters who hold that homosexuality is a sin and marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman.

“The stakes are high. And the argument they will be asking the Supreme Court to endorse is this: Only bigotry, hatred and unreason explains why anyone cares about the idea that to make a marriage you need a husband and a wife — religious views of marriage are just anti-gay bigotry,” Gallagher wrote.

Anti-bigotry is one of the central elements to proving the case that lesbians and gays have historically been subjected to discrimination and deserve equal protection and due process under the U.S. Constitution. Walker, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court will decide if the plaintiffs proved that gays are a “discrete” minority, possess an “immutable” characteristic and are powerless to protect themselves in the political process.

“We said on the first day of [the] trial we would prove three things,” Boies said at a news conference after the evidentiary trial testimony ended Jan. 26. “Marriage is a fundamental right; that depriving gays and lesbians the right to marry hurts them and hurts their children; and there was no reason, no societal benefit, in not allowing them to get married.”

Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, said the arguments were compelling.

“Our side powerfully showed that California’s selective stripping away of the fundamental freedom to marry from a vulnerable minority lacked any legitimate reason, and harms families while helping no one,” he said. “Fourteen years and tens of millions of dollars after our Hawaii case, the anti-gay opponents had literally nothing new to put forward to defend the discriminatory denial of marriage.”

Olson and Boies entered reams of documents into evidence and put 17 witnesses on the stand. The plaintiffs spoke movingly about their loved ones and a slew of expert witnesses contributed a wealth of knowledge to the evidentiary record.

In some cases, the testimony was almost ironic. For instance, in his opening statement, Cooper said “the purpose of the institution of marriage, the central purpose, is to promote procreation and to channel narrowly procreative sexual activity between men and women into stable enduring unions. … [Marriage] is a pro-child societal institution.”

But Harvard University professor Nancy Cott noted that, “There has never been a requirement that a couple produce children in order to have a valid marriage. … And known sterility or barrenness in a woman has never been a reason not to allow a marriage. In fact, it’s a surprise to many people to learn that George Washington, who is often called the father of our country, was sterile.”

ProtectMarriage only called two of their five witnesses to the stand. So Olson and Boies introduced the depositions of the dropped witnesses into evidence, which appeared to bolster the plaintiffs’ case.

New Yorker contributor Margaret Talbot wrote that Boies’ cross-examination technique “was a little like watching your cat play with his food before he eats it.”

Indeed, Boies seemed to make mincemeat of official Prop 8 proponent Hak-Shing William Tam, who was called as a hostile witness. Tam stood by claims that gays were 12 times more likely to molest children, “based on the different literature that I have read.”

ProtectMarriage called California’s Claremont McKenna College political science professor Kenneth Miller, whose credibility as an expert on gay political power was mightily challenged by Boies on cross examination. Boies also read from a book Miller co-authored that ballot initiatives or “direct democracy can actually be less democratic than representative democracy.”

ProtectMarriage’s second witness, David Blankenhorn, was so combative, the judge reprimanded his demeanor. Boies had Blankenhorn, author of “The Future of Marriage,” go down a list of “possible positive consequences” of same-sex marriage and mark the statements with which he personally agreed.

Among the many positive statement with which Blankenhorn agreed were, “gay marriage would extend a wide range of the natural and practical benefits of marriage to many lesbian and gay couples and their children,” and “same-sex marriage would likely contribute to more stability and to longer-lasting relationships for committed same-sex couples.”

Chad Griffin, chair of the board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, said he was thrilled that the trial put “those who attempt to provide justification for discrimination” under oath for the first time.

“I think they found in a court of law, it’s quite different from on a political campaign where you can say anything and get away with it,” Griffin said. “In a court of law, you’re under oath and you actually have to tell the truth — and you have to answer to those truths under oath. And I think that proved difficult for the defendant-interveners in this case.”

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

“LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased”

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Florida State Capitol building

TALLAHASSEE – A Republican majority Florida House Education & Employment Committee passed HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion Senate bill SB 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the Press Secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 47% felt nervous and/or scared, 45% felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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California mom claims school manipulated child into changing gender identity

Jessica Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her

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Fox News host Laura Ingraham & Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet Dhillon with client, Jessica Konen (Screenshot Fox News)

A Northern California mother is claiming teachers in a small school district in the state manipulated her daughter into changing her gender identity and name in a legal claim. 

The claim, filed by the ultra-conservative Center for American Liberty on behalf of the mother, alleged “extreme and outrageous conduct” by the Spreckels Union School District, leading Jessica Konen’s 11-year-old daughter to change her gender identity and drive a wedge between them.

Specifically, the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, names two teachers – Lori Caldera and Kelly Baraki – at Buena Vista Middle who, in addition to teaching, ran the school’s Equality Club, later known as UBU (You Be You). Buena Vista is a part of the district. 

It comes after Abigail Shrier, the author of a book widely criticized as anti-trans, quoted what the two educators said last year at the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in a piece headlined “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids.” Caldera and Baraki spoke about the difficulty of running a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in a socially conservative community. 

After the article was published, the teachers were put on administrative leave, and the district hired a law firm to investigate, which is ongoing. The UBU club was suspended. 

Spreckels is a town of about 400 people in the agricultural Salinas Valley, approximately 90 miles south of San Francisco

According to the complaint, Konen’s daughter began attending Equality Club meetings after being invited by a friend when she started sixth grade at Buena Vista. After attending one session, she decided it wasn’t for her until Caldiera convinced her to come back. At the gatherings, Caldera and Baraki held LGBTQ-centered discussions and introduced students to different gender identities and sexualities. 

During her time in the club, Konen’s daughter began exploring her own gender identity and sexuality, choosing to wear more masuline clothes. At some point, she decided to change her name and pronouns, which she has since changed back to her original name and pronouns. 

Konen said she was aware her daughter was bisexual but did not know she began using a male name and gender pronouns until she was called into the school when her daughter was in seventh grade. The meeting caught both Konen and her daughter by surprise – Konen’s daughter had said she wanted to notify her mother, but she did not know the meeting was that day. 

Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her. 

However, when Shrier’s article was published and circulated around the small town, everything changed. At this time, Konen’s daughter was again using a female name and pronouns.

In the leaked recording from the LGBTQ conference, Caldera and Baraki were discussing how they kept meetings private, among other things. 

“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”

However, Caldera told the San Francisco Chronicle that the quotes were either taken out of context or misrepresented. According to Caldera, the stalking comment was a joke. She also defended their work, saying students lead the conversation and they provide honest and fair answers to their questions.
In addition, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association criticized the group bringing the lawsuit forward, according to the Associated Press: “We are concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities for their own political gain, which is evident in this complaint. The Center for American Liberty is concerned with pushing its own political agenda through litigation and has filed multiple lawsuits against various school districts and communities.”

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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