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Bloggers target HRC in push for ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

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Amid fears that momentum on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is slipping, advocates are pressuring the Human Rights Campaign to demand that President Obama publicly call for repeal this year.

A group of bloggers — led by John Aravosis of Americablog — are asking readers to flood HRC’s phone lines and e-mail inboxes with messages that Obama needs to publicly specify he wants Congress to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year and take the lead in working with lawmakers to ensure repeal happens.

Other bloggers who’ve joined the effort are Pam Spaulding of Pam’s House Blend, Andy Towle of Towleroad.com and gay activist David Mixner.

The bloggers say on their web sites they’re targeting HRC because it’s the most prominent and best-funded LGBT rights organization and it has the greatest access to the White House.

During his State of the Union address late month, Obama pledged to work this year with Congress and military leaders to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but didn’t specify a time for when he wanted repeal to happen. Efforts for repeal got a boost shortly thereafter when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen endorsed open service in testimony before Congress.

But in the short time since then, it’s become less clear whether Congress could achieve repeal this year. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she wasn’t sure whether the House would pass repeal legislation, and moderate members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have expressed support for the Pentagon’s review of the law without backing outright repeal.

The Politico recently reported that while supporters of repeal in Congress were excited about Obama’s State of the Union announcement, the White House hasn’t followed up with guidance on the issue.

Aravosis said he hopes the blogger initiative will restore momentum for repeal and prompt HRC to “stand up to the president and call him on the fact that he’s not doing enough.”

HRC issued an organizational response to the initiative, saying its goals are the same that have been outlined by the bloggers, which include pushing for full repeal this year.

“‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ has to be repealed this year,” says the statement. “That has been the Human Rights Campaign’s position from the start, and at this point there is no one in the White House who does not know it. We and the community to whom we are accountable agree: this is the year.”

HRC says it supports including repeal as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill while at the same time supporting the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, standalone legislation that would end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and replace it with a non-discrimination policy.

Obama has committed to repeal, HRC says, but has also made clear that votes in Congress are needed before an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” can happen.

“We have been lobbying the White House relentlessly and we’ve seen more movement in recent weeks than in the previous 16 years,” HRC says. “Our nation’s top defense officials testified, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ should be repealed. That did not happen in a vacuum. These events are just the start. There is a clear path to repeal, and that’s the one we’re on.”

But Aravosis said HRC’s statement is “actually a little dangerous” and the idea that HRC has “conveyed the message and, ‘We’ve had hearings so everything is on track,’ is absurd.”

“No one in town agrees with them,” he said. “The Hill is telling us that the White House is not telling them what to do, and that’s why they’re not moving ahead — because they don’t know what to do about whether they should or shouldn’t repeal this year.”

Aravosis said the HRC statement also isn’t sufficient because it suggests that the organization has done enough and the White House understands the issue.

“This means either HRC is powerless, or they’re not trying hard enough, and that’s what’s scaring me right now,” he said. “They’re suggesting they’ve done all they can, which suggests that HRC’s influence in the White House doesn’t amount to much, and that’s scary for all of us.”

The White House declined to comment.

UPDATE

Following this article’s publication, HRC spokesperson Trevor Thomas made the following statement to DC Agenda:

“Pointing out that support for repeal from the Republican Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is an incredibly important step forward is not to suggest that ‘everything is on track.’ To say that there is a clear path forward is not to suggest that path doesn’t have obstacles or that it won’t require a lot of concerted effort. We continue to press the White House in the ways that we believe are most effective and encourage others to continue pressuring the White House and Congress themselves. For every LGBT American and every ally, now is the time to contact their Representative and their two Senators and insist that [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] be repealed this year. That is what HRC is doing and that is what we are asking everyone to do.”

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

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 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 bill, Senate Bill 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 percent 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 Los Angeles 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 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — 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 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent 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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