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Democratic retirements could derail LGBT advances



U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh’s retirement could make it more difficult for congressional Democrats to advance LGBT-related bills. (Photo courtesy of Bayh’s office)

The surprise retirement announcement from Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) on Monday came as a political shock in Washington and fueled the notion that 2010 will be a bad year for Democrats.

While political experts are expecting Democrats to retain control of both the House and the Senate — albeit with slimmer majorities — pundits are saying pro-LGBT legislation would require an extra push from supporters following the election to make it through Congress.

Bayh formally announced Monday his intention to vacate his seat at the end of the year. Emphasizing his continued commitment to public service, Bayh said he wanted to retire in part because his desire to serve as a U.S. senator has waned.

“For some time, I’ve had the growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should,” he said. “There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress, too much ideology and not enough practical problem solving.”

Bayh’s retirement came as a surprise to many because he was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party and has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. The senator reportedly had $13 million in his coffers for a re-election campaign, and was the leader of a group of moderate Democrats that had pledged to work for centrist policies on Capitol Hill.

The Indiana senator hasn’t been at the forefront of LGBT causes during his tenure in Congress, but stepped up to the plate when support was necessary. Bayh voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006, and voted in favor of hate crimes legislation.

Michael Mitchell, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said Bayh’s record on LGBT issues is attributable to the fact that he comes from a state that’s somewhere between moderate and conservative in its political leanings.

“I think whoever takes his place is going to lean toward the more Blue Dog, or the more conservative side of the Democratic Party anyway,” Mitchell said. “It would be wonderful to see someone who’s pro-equality there, and we’ll see how that plays out.”

But Bayh’s retirement means an incumbent Democrat won’t be running for the seat, increasing the chances that a Republican could win the spot in November.

That’s why Sean Theriault, a gay government professor at the University of Texas, Austin, called Bayh’s decision to leave the Senate “bad news for the Democrats.”

“It takes a race that could have gone either way to a seat that the Democrats will most likely lose,” Theriault said. “More than that, though, the Senate is losing a good senator. Bayh was a legislator’s legislator. He knew how to work both sides of the aisle to get good legislation passed.”

Bayh’s retirement isn’t the only factor jeopardizing the Democratic majority in Congress this fall. Public dissatisfaction with Congress has many pundits predicting Republican wins.

In addition to the general climate turning against Democrats, issues in individual races could make for a challenging year for the party. The announced retirement of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) leaves little hope for a win against Republican Gov. John Hoeven in the Senate race this November. In Delaware, Republican congressman Mike Castle is favored to capture the Senate seat once held by Vice President Joseph Biden.

And in Illinois, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat, Alexi Giannoulias, is being dogged by his association with Broadway Bank, which reportedly engaged in questionable practices and is on the verge of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. takeover.

Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is facing low approval ratings in his home state, making him vulnerable to a Republican challenger.

Still, while political experts are predicting Democrats will lose seats, most are saying the Republicans won’t be able to take the majority in either the House or Senate. Theriault said before the announcement of Bayh’s retirement, he would have thought the Democrats would hold 54 seats after the election.

“Now, it might be down to 53,” he said, “At every turn, the Republican primary electorate is going to have to make the right decision, catch some breaks, and conditions would have to deteriorate even more than they have for the Republicans to have a shot at gaining control of the Senate.”

Dan Pinello, a gay government professor at the City University of New York, said the growing number of Democratic incumbents who are announcing their retirement means Republicans will see more opportunities, but determining whether the Republicans will take control of Congress is difficult because other factors could emerge to influence the election.

“Both domestic as well as international events can happen at such lightning speed to change the larger political environment that the outlook can vary from month to month in terms of what’s going to be happening come November,” he said. “It’s very dicey to make predictions so far ahead of the general election.”

Still, Pinello said predicting Democrats will lose seats in Congress is a “safe” bet to make, although a GOP takeover would take “a seismic change” similar to what happened in 1994 when Democrats lost control of both chambers of Congress.

Charles Moran, spokesperson for the Log Cabin Republicans, said he doesn’t think Republicans will take control of Congress this November, although he predicted Democratic losses because the party will have to spend money on races that it thought wouldn’t be competitive.

“It’s going to give the Republicans a competitive advantage in terms of reclaiming some of these seats,” he said. “I’m certainly not sugar-coating it. We have a really big hole to fill on the Republican side, but I definitely think this puts the Democrats in a precarious position.”

With decreased majorities in Congress, advocates are saying pushing pro-LGBT legislation through to the president’s desk would be a more difficult feat.

Pinello said if the Democratic majority falls behind 55 seats in the Senate, it could cause a problem when seeking 60 votes to end any filibusters on LGBT-related legislation.

“That becomes a problem if ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ comes up for repeal or, more importantly, the Defense of Marriage Act comes up for repeal,” he said. “I think potentially that becomes an insurmountable hurdle if Republicans remain as cohesive as they have been on the health care issue.”

Even with decreased majorities, Mitchell said advocates will “keep working” with Democratic allies to push through pro-LGBT legislation.

“Our organization worked specifically for the last 10 years as an organization working in the minority,” he said. “I think Obama will continue to help push some good legislation for us and do what he can, but that said, there needs to be a pro-equality Congress that can help us do that.”

Moran said while Democratic losses would mean the party would have to “re-evaluate some of their votes and some of their stances,” he would hope Democrats and Republicans who would vote for pro-LGBT legislation would maintain their support.

“More than anything, I think it’s just another example of how we’ve got to spend a lot of time as a community working to start changing some of the hearts and minds of the key individuals who maybe are sitting on the fence,” he said.

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Federal Government

Department of Education investigating BYU LGBTQ+ discipline policy

“They’ve wronged marginalized communities at BYU and they need to be held accountable for it” ~ former gay student at BYU



Bradley Talbot, a former gay student at BYU (Photo courtesy of Bradley Talbot)

PROVO, Ut. – The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation into policies at Brigham Young University (BYU) that discipline LGBTQ students, aiming to determine whether or not the private religious school, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), is violating their civil rights. 

The Education Department is investigating a complaint that came after BYU removed rules banning “homosexual activity” from its honor code in 2020, only to clarify weeks later that same-sex partnerships were still prohibited.

The probe, which opened in October of last year, will focus on Title IX, a law prohibiting universities from discriminating against students and others based on gender. 

Last year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order mandating every federal agency, including the Education Department, clarify that civil rights laws protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. However, religious schools have Title IX exemptions, making federal scrutiny rare.  

“It’s really significant that investigators are stepping in now,” Michael Austin, a BYU alumnus and vice president at the University of Evansville, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “It means there’s some reason to think the university has gone beyond the religious exemptions it has and is discriminating even beyond those.”

The investigation, headed by the Office of Civil Rights within the department, seems to be about whether faith-based exemptions apply even if the behavior is not directly related to education or expressly written in the honor code. BYU also bans alcohol, beards and piercings, among other things. 

BYU did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment. But a spokesperson told the Associated Press that the school does not anticipate any further action because “BYU is exempt from application of Title IX rules that conflict with the religious tenets” of the LDS.

Though the LDS has softened some of its rules around LGBTQ issues, the church remains opposed to same-sex marriage and sex outside of marriage. 

In a November 2021 letter to the Education Department, Kevin Worthen, president of BYU, argued that religious exemptions do apply to the school. The letter adds that all BYU students, faculty, administrators and staff “‘voluntarily commit to conduct their lives in accordance with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’”

The Department of Education responded to the letter, affirming that the university has some religious exemptions, but the department had to investigate if the complaint falls under those exemptions. 

An Education Department spokesperson confirmed the investigation to the Blade but declined further comment. 

Queer students at BYU celebrated the school’s removal of the anti-LGBTQ language in the honor code. Yet, the university announced weeks later that there was “some miscommunication” as to what the changes meant, clarifying that “the principles of the Honor Code remain the same.”

Bradley Talbot, a former gay student at BYU, was on campus during the apparent reversal, saying it “instilled a lot of fear and a lot of students.” 

“There are still a lot of feelings of betrayal and apprehension around it,” he told the Blade.

At BYU, students who hold hands or kiss someone of the same sex can face punishment, including expulsion. LGBTQ+ students face harsher discipline than heterosexual couples at the school. 

Talbot said he knew of “quite a few people” who lost their degrees and were kicked out during his time at BYU because of the gay dating ban. “People were turned in by roommates. Some people were turned in by their own parents,” he added. 

Courtesy of Bradley Talbot

The university’s clarification frustrated LGBTQ students, according to Talbot. In response, he organized a demonstration in March of 2021, lighting the “Y” that sits above BYU’s campus – one of the school’s oldest traditions – in rainbow Pride colors on the one year anniversary of the university’s letter sent to students that clarified the LGBTQ dating policy. 

“We did it to reclaim that traumatic day and spin in a positive light of support, love and unity to create more visibility and awareness,” said Talbot. “And also to take a stand that we weren’t going to put up with just being tossed around by BYU. We deserve to be a part of the BYU community and a part of the LGBTQ community.”

The school has since updated its policies, banning protests and other demonstrations on Y Mountain, where Talbot staged his demonstration, in December of last year. 

“Demonstrations should be consistent with BYU’s faith-based mission, intellectual environment and requirements described in the policy,” a statement added. 

Still, Talbot, who is now graduated, has hope that the Education Department’s investigation will “finally change” things at BYU. “This has been something that’s been going on for decades,” he said. “They’ve wronged marginalized communities at BYU and they need to be held accountable for it.”

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LGBTQ advocates fight on for trans athletes, but they may be losing the battle

Transgender women competing in women’s sports remains unpopular in polls



From left, Lia Thomas, Caitlyn Jenner and Michael Phelps. (Screen capture of Thomas via YouTube, Washington Blade photo of Jenner by Michael Key, photo of Phelps by kathclick via Bigstock)

In the wake of the NCAA changing its policies regarding transgender athletes and state legislatures advancing new legislation against trans inclusion in school sports, LGBTQ advocates continue the fight to ensure athletes can compete consistent with their gender identity, although they may be losing the battle.

As public polling has demonstrated, transgender athletes competing in sports — especially trans women in women’s sports — remains unpopular even among pro-transgender people. Key figures have emerged in recent days opposing transgender inclusion amid the focus on Lia Thomas, a recently transitioned swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania who has been smashing records in women’s aquatics.

Nonetheless, LGBTQ advocates charged with fighting for transgender rights are continuing the efforts. After a coalition of LGBTQ advocates sent a letter to the NCAA urging the organization to include a non-discrimination provision in its updated constitution, the Human Rights Campaign condemned the organization for refusing to keep the language, which appears to have the effect of allowing the sports division to decline to allow transgender athletes to compete consistent with their gender identity, and sent an action alert to supporters.

Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the NCAA “needs to show us their playbook for protecting LGBTQ+ and specifically transgender athletes from discrimination” as state legislatures advance legislation against transgender kids in sports.

“The NCAA has so far proven to be an unreliable ally to LGBTQ+ athletes across the country who depend upon the organization to protect them from discrimination and now they owe these athletes answers,” Madison said.

Instead of reaffirming non-discrimination protections, the NCAA announced a change in policy that goes in different directions but appears aimed at limiting participation of transgender women without taking full responsibility for it. On one hand, the NCAA delegates to the bodies governing individual sports the policies for transgender participation, but on the other hand requires transgender women to document having limited testosterone levels over a certain period of time.

The fight now continues in state legislatures as sports bills are among the latest crop of measures seeking to limit access for transgender people. After South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem made a push for legislation against transgender kids in sports at the start of the year, the state legislature responded by advancing such a measure. On Wednesday, a South Dakota House committee favorably reported out legislation already approved by wide margins in the Senate that would make biological sex the standard for sports in an attempt to limit transgender participation.

Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement upon the committee vote the legislation “has nothing to do with fairness — and everything to do with South Dakota politicians using transgender youth as pawns on a political chessboard.

“Proponents of this blanket ban are hard-pressed to find examples of transgender students making South Dakota sports less fair or safe,” Ames said. “Research from The Trevor Project makes clear that many already opt out of sports due to fear of bullying and discrimination.”

Although the issue of transgender women in sports has emerged in recent years as conservative activists found a way to challenge LGBTQ rights in a way that was palatable to the public, the fervor peaked as Thomas made headlines for breaking records in the pool.

After having previously competed in men’s aquatics, Thomas — after she transitioned — began competing in women’s events and was beating her competitors by wide margins. In one event in December, Thomas came in first in the 1,650-yard freestyle and 38 seconds ahead of her closest competitor. The NCAA rules would appear to have the effect of barring Thomas from further competition.

Public polling, which has shown strong support for LGBTQ rights in general, continues to show the sentiment is against transgender women competing in sports, although the outcome of the poll can change considerably depending on the wording of the question. One Gallup poll last year found only 34 percent of those surveyed supported transgender athletes participating on teams consistent with their gender identity, while 62 percent said transgender people should have to compete with other athletes of their gender designated at birth.

One LGBTQ strategist, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said the time may have come for LGBTQ advocates to admit a fait accompli if they want to seek broader civil rights protections in employment, housing and public accommodations with the Equality Act or other federal legislation.

“Advocates should just admit this is a very different issue than a trans person applying for a job or finding an apartment,” the strategist said. “Equality principles differ by situation — that’s why we have separate men’s and women’s sports in the first place. The same public opinion overwhelmingly supportive of the Equality Act is also clearly skeptical of a one size fits all federalization of all sports everywhere.”

Adding fuel to the fire are recent comments from key figures in athletics.

Caitlyn Jenner, who before she transitioned was an Olympic champion in the 1970s, has been among the more prominent voices to speak out against transgender women in sports and said on a recent appearance on Fox News it represents “a woke world gone wild.”

Jenner, who came out against transgender participation in sports during her unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign last year in the California recall election, said the NCAA “just kicked the can down the road” on the transgender sports issue and had choice words for Thomas.

“When you do transition and you do go through this, you have to take responsibility and you have to have integrity,” Jenner said. “I don’t know why she’s doing this.”

Michael Phelps, the decorated Olympic swimmer, also declined to support transgender athletes fully when asked about the issue during an interview on CNN, bringing up doping in sports in comparison.

“I don’t know what it looks like in the future,” Phelps said. “It’s hard. It’s very complicated and this is my sport, this has been my sport my whole entire career, and honestly the one thing I would love is everybody being able to compete on an even playing field.”

To be sure, advocates for allowing transgender people to compete in sports consistent with their gender identity also have their supporters in the sports world, including tennis legend Billie Jean King. On Monday, Dorian Rhea Debussy, who’s non-binary and one of 54 facilitators in the NCAA Division III LGBTQ OneTeam program, resigned in protest over recent NCAA actions.

“I’m deeply troubled by what appears to be a devolving level of active, effective, committed, and equitable support for gender diverse student-athletes within the NCAA’s leadership,” Debussy said. “As a non-binary, trans-feminine person, I can no longer, in good conscience, maintain my affiliation with the NCAA.”

Arguably, schools complying with the new NCAA policy and states enacting anti-transgender laws would be violating Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County finding anti-transgender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.

One federal court last year blocked a West Virginia state law against transgender participation in sports on that legal basis. No litigation, however, appears to be in the works at this time challenging colleges or the NCAA policy.

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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”



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, or by texting START to 678678. 

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