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Charges against ENDA protesters to be dropped

Demonstrators must stay away from Pelosi’s office



Charges filed against (from left) Jay Carmona, Samantha Ames, Chas Kirven and Michelle Wright following a sit-in protest last month in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office will be dropped if they abide by certain conditions. (DC Agenda photo by Chris Johnson)

Charges against Capitol Hill demonstrators who last month targeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accusing her of failing to advance the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, will be dropped provided they abide by certain conditions.

Jay Carmona, Samantha Ames, Chas Kirven and Michelle Wright pleaded not guilty in D.C. Superior Court Tuesday to misdemeanor charges of unlawful entry. They were arrested March 18 following a sit-in protest in Pelosi’s office in the Cannon House Office Building. The group refused to leave despite police orders to do so.

The group demanded that Pelosi move a transgender-inclusive version of ENDA to the House floor by the end of March. The demonstrators said they wanted a vote on the bill — even if it lacked the necessary votes for passage — to best determine where lawmakers stand.

Representing the protesters in court was Claire Morris Clark, an attorney for D.C. law firm Schertler & Onorato.

Clark said the U.S. attorney general’s office would drop the charges if demonstrators met the terms of the agreement by their next scheduled court appearance, Oct. 6.

If the protesters meet the terms of the agreement, Clark said, they wouldn’t have to appear in court. Any violators would be required to make an appearance and potentially face additional penalties.

One term of the agreement is that demonstrators arrested March 18 must stay away from Pelosi’s office in the Cannon House Office Building unless invited in writing. Another term is that the protestors must not be arrested under probable cause before Oct. 6.

Additionally, Clark said the two protesters who are D.C. residents, Carmona and Ames, must complete 60 hours of community service. Clark noted that because Kirven and Wright aren’t D.C. residents, the D.C. government doesn’t have jurisdiction to require them to meet this term of the agreement.

Clark said another term of the agreement is that protesters cannot engage in activity in the U.S. Capitol that the U.S. attorney’s office deems disruptive.

But she noted that Judge Harold Cushenberry said in court he wouldn’t enforce this part of the agreement because he didn’t think the agreement clearly defined what the U.S. attorney’s office might find disruptive.

The protesters who consented to the agreement said they were happy with the outcome of the proceedings.

Ames, a queer D.C. resident, said she’s “actually quite excited” to do the community service assigned to her as part of the agreement. She planned to fill her time with Transgender Health Empowerment in D.C.

Noting that the ENDA protesters who were arrested weren’t transgender, Ames said being arrested as a transgender person is “so much more dangerous.”

“Working for an organization that does community service that is working making that right and working toward making the prisons safer for transgender folks in the area is, I think, something that I should feel fortunate to have the opportunity to do,” she said.

Carmona, a lesbian D.C. resident, called the court agreement “just another step” toward “getting ENDA passed for equality.”

“So, I think I don’t really feel a sense of joy or accomplishment so much as I feel like we just took another step,” she said. “It’s definitely not party time.”

Noting that an early version of ENDA was first introduced in the U.S. House in 1974, Carmona said that LGBT people have been waiting “close to 40 years for basic employment protections, and we’re not going to wait another 40.”

Clark said after the protesters’ court appearance that the agreement was a “very good outcome.”

“The U.S. attorney’s office has a couple different mediums where they’ll try and work things out, and this is the best one,” she said. “It doesn’t require a guilty plea. It’s a very good deal.”

The protesters also expressed satisfaction with the result of their protest. Ames said she thought the protest led to showing sufficient votes exist to pass ENDA, despite claims to the contrary.

As she was being handcuffed at the end of her protest March 18, Ames said a member of Pelosi’s staff asked her if she thought there were enough votes to pass ENDA.

“And I said, ‘Yes,” Ames said. “And she said, ‘We don’t.’ And I said I really wish we could have had this conversation earlier because I would have liked to have this conservation with her.”

Following her arrest, Ames said media reports emerged quoting Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) as saying that enough support existed in the House to pass ENDA.

“So the fact that that was starting the next day — I don’t want to make this about egos, I want to make this about ENDA — but it would seem that it got something accomplished,” she said.

Present in the courtroom Tuesday to show support for the ENDA protesters was Lt. Dan Choi, who was arrested the same day after chaining himself to the White House fence in opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and Robin McGehee, co-chair of, which helped coordinate the protests.

Choi said he wanted to show his support for the ENDA protesters because the shared experience of being arrested following their respective protests is “in a lot of ways, like being in combat.”

“We have waged war against inequality,” he said. “Sometimes, as soldiers, you don’t have a lot of money, you don’t have a lot of trappings of what we have in terms of political power — but we have each other, and until we have full equality, this is a battle that none of us are going to step away from.”

Asked whether further acts of civil disobedience could occur to further LGBT civil rights, Choi replied, “Of course,” and said that he personally plans to take part in such protests.

“Until we have that American promise of equality and access to truth and truthful living manifest to everyone, it has to continue,” he said.

McGehee said is planning further acts of civil disobedience to push for LGBT civil rights.

“We will be back and we will continue to organize non-violent civil disobedience throughout D.C. and other areas across the United States until we’re equal,” she said.

McGehee declined to offer any details, but said she expects the next such event will occur in D.C. before the end of April.

“Our goal with GetEqual is to create the lunch-counter moments that so clearly defined the civil rights movement around racial justice,” she said. “In an equality movement, we believe that we need to create those images that highlight the injustices that are clearly out there.”



Texas governor signs bill banning transgender youth healthcare

Senate Bill 14 to take effect on Sept. 1



Landon Richie, a 21-year-old political science major and a leading transgender activist, protesting at the Texas Capitol in May. (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

By Alex Nguyen and William Melhado | Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Friday a bill that bars transgender kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, though the new law could face legal challenges before it takes effect on Sept. 1.

Senate Bill 14’s passage brings to the finish line a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas, which opposes any efforts to validate transgender identities. Trans kids, their parents and LGBTQ advocacy groups fiercely oppose the law, and some have vowed to stop it from going into effect.

Texas — home to one of the largest trans communities in the U.S. — is now one of over a dozen states that restrict transition-related care for trans minors.

“Cruelty has always been the point,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “It’s not shocking that this governor would sign SB14 right at the beginning of Pride [month]; however this will not stop trans people from continuing to exist with authenticity — as we always have.”

Authored by New Braunfels Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell, the law bars trans kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, treatments many medical groups support. Children already receiving these treatments will have to be “weaned off” in a “medically appropriate” manner. The law also bans transition-related surgeries for kids, though those are rarely performed on minors.

Those who support the law claim that health care providers have capitalized on a “social contagion” to misguide parents and push life-altering treatments on kids who may later regret their decisions. SB 14’s supporters have also disputed the science and research behind transition-related care.

But trans kids, their parents and major medical groups say these medical treatments are important to protecting the mental health of an already vulnerable population, which faces a higher risk of depression and suicide than their cisgender peers. At the same time, doctors say cutting off these treatments — gradually or abruptly — could bring both physical discomfort and psychological distress to trans youth, some of whom have called it forced detransitioning.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center pledged on May 18 to fight SB 14 in court. They have yet to file a lawsuit.

“Transgender people have always been here and will always be here,” Ash Hall, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said Friday. “Our trans youth deserve a world where they can shine alongside their peers, and we will keep advocating for that world in and out of the courts.”

This legal threat is not new; some of these groups have sued several other states over their restrictions. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice also joined the legal fight against Tennessee’s ban.

While the lawsuits are tailored to each state, Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal and the director of its Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project, told the Texas Tribune last month that a major common challenge to the laws hinges on the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the argument that these laws are stopping trans kids from accessing the same medical treatments that are still available to their cisgender peers.

Buchert added that the lawsuits’ immediate goal is generally to get a preliminary injunction to stop these laws from taking effect, a tactic that has seen some success.

“It’s one thing to see some of the things that state legislators do, but it’s a completely different thing when you’re under the white-hot spotlight of judicial scrutiny,” she said.

And prior to SB 14, the ACLU and Lambda Legal successfully sued Texas last year to halt state-ordered child abuse investigations of parents who provide their trans kids with access to transition-related care. Impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton later appealed the decision in March, but the 3rd Court of Appeals has yet to issue a ruling on it.

“It’s a privilege to be able to fight,” Buchert said about the ongoing court challenges that Lambda Legal is involved in.

Editor’s note:

In a late Friday evening phone call, Landon Richie, with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told the Washington Blade:

“Today Governor Abbott signed cruelty into law. Legislation that purports to ‘protect youth’ while stripping them of the life-saving, life-giving care that they receive will cost lives, and that’s not an exaggeration. Trans kids deserve not only to exist, but to thrive as their authentic selves in every facet of their lives, and we will never stop fighting to to actualize a world where that is undisputed. Despite efforts by our state, trans people will always exist in Texas, as we always have, and we will continue to exist brilliantly and boldly, and with endless care for one another.”


The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter 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.


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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge rules Tenn. drag ban is unconstitutional

Law was to have taken effect April 1



(Bigstock photo)

U. S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker of the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee declared Tennessee’s anti-drag Adult Entertainment Act to be unconstitutional.

Parker’s ruling comes after a two-day trial last month. A Shelby County-based LGBTQ theatre company, Friends of George’s, had sued the state of Tennessee, claiming the law unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Parker ordered a temporary injunction halting the just enacted Tennessee law that criminalizes some drag performances, hours before it was set to take effect April 1. In his 15 page ruling ordering the temporary injunction Parker wrote:

“If Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene, it must do so within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution. […] The court finds that, as it stands, the record here suggests that when the legislature passed this statute, it missed the mark.”

Attorneys for the theatre company had argued that drag performances were an artform and protected speech under the first amendment.

In his 70 page ruling Friday, Parker wrote:

“After considering the briefs and evidence presented at trial, the court finds that — despite
Tennessee’s compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of
children — the Adult Entertainment Act (“AEA”) is an UNCONSTITUTIONAL restriction on
the freedom of speech.”

“The court concludes that the AEA is both unconstitutionally vague and substantially
overbroad. The AEA’s ‘harmful to minors’ standard applies to minors of all ages, so it fails to
provide fair notice of what is prohibited, and it encourages discriminatory enforcement. The
AEA is substantially overbroad because it applies to public property or ‘anywhere’ a minor
could be present.”

Read the entire ruling:

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LGBTQ literature advocacy org to host celebrity panel

Discussion to be moderated by writer Sa’iyda Shabazz, ‘Glee’ actor Chris Colfer



‘Glee’ actor Chris Colfer will be one of four panelists at a virtual event hosted by Pride and Less Prejudice on Saturday, June 3. (Photo by Kathclick/Bigstock)

Affectionately known by fans of the show as the “fashionable soprano,” Chris Colfer’s character in “Glee” came out as gay to his father in the fourth episode of the Golden Globe-winning musical drama series. Colfer paused in between fragments of sentences to catch his breath as his pupils, set atop his recognizable rosy cheeks, dilated.

“Being a part of…the glee club and football has really shown me that I can be anything,” he said. “And what I am is…I’m gay.”

Colfer, who is also author of young adult fiction series “The Land of Stories,” will be one of four panelists at a virtual event hosted by LGBTQ organization Pride and Less Prejudice (PLP) on Saturday, June 3. At the event, panelists will discuss queer visibility in authorship and the importance of queer people telling queer stories. 

“We selected [them] because we’re trying to look at the intersection between TV, film, podcasts, [and] books because it’s all media and it’s all really great avenues for queer people telling their own story,” said Rebecca Damante, co-founder and outreach coordinator of the organization.

PLP began in 2019 when Damante had conversations with her mother about her experiences as a queer person and how she came to terms with her sexuality in high school. Although she watched shows such as “Glee” and “Pretty Little Liars” that had great queer representation, she knew that “it would’ve made a huge difference” if she had seen this as a kid.

“I was a huge reader as a kid and my mom had a lot of great books in our library about interfaith families and adoption,” said Damante. “I come from an interfaith family and have family members who are adopted, so she had diverse books in that way but never really had LGBTQ inclusive books.”

This motivated the mother-daughter duo to start an organization that donates LGBTQ-inclusive books to classrooms from pre-K to third grade.

They posted a Google form to social media that was reposted by GLAAD, where Damante had interned, and amplified by LGBTQ activist Kristin Russo. Teachers would put in requests for books and this allowed PLP to start an email chain that they could also use to solicit donations. 

It wasn’t until Damante posted to Pantsuit Nation, a Facebook group that rallied Hillary Clinton supporters during her 2016 presidential run, that PLP garnered interest from hundreds of teachers. This led to a celebrity campaign video where actors Nicole Maines, Theo Germaine, and Darryl Stephens, among others, emphasized the importance of LGBTQ literature in classrooms. 

Since 2019, the organization has raised more than $140,000 in grants and donations and donated over 8,000 books. 

Dylan Moss, a kindergarten teacher in Albany, N.Y., is among those who have benefitted from PLP’s efforts. 

During a quest for more diverse and inclusive books for his classroom, he stumbled upon PLP’s website between 2020 and 2021 and reached out to the organization. Since then, he has been actively involved in PLP’s efforts and is now a member of the advisory committee that helps to create lesson plans that accompany the books.

“Biases start to get formed [in kindergarten], so I like to help [my students] create better narratives,” said Moss in a Zoom interview. “It’s easier to learn it now than to take away all the negative biases they have from everyday society, family, and just being around other humans.”

Moss also added, over email, that when discussing diverse topics in the classroom, conversations are aligned with social studies standards. 

“I’d rather [my students] understand that people are different and that there’s a reason we’re different and that we should love that we’re different,” he said on Zoom. “You don’t have to go deep into the ideas necessarily. You can just give them the basis of what you’re saying and kind of let them take it from there.” 

For Lisa Forman, Damante’s mom and co-founder and executive director of PLP, approaching education this way is not only a form of allyship and advocacy, it’s “standing up for what’s right.”

The first half of the 2022-2023 school year saw 1,477 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles, 26% of which had LGBTQ characters or themes, according to data from Pen America, an organization that advances human rights and literature causes in the United States and worldwide. 

In 2022, the Washington Blade reported that a Loudoun County, Va., school board voted to remove “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” an illustrated autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe that contains descriptions and comic book style drawings of sexual acts that Kobabe uses to tell the story of the journey and struggle in discovering the author’s gender identity.

“As much as these books are for the queer kids in the classroom, they’re for every kid,” said Forman. “We’re doing this not just for the queer kids…we want to normalize the idea of being queer in the classroom.”

Looking to the upcoming celebrity panel, Damante wants to leave attendees feeling inspired enough to own their narratives, whether they identify as queer or not. 

“If teachers are able to see the impact of these queer stories then they’ll understand why it’s important for them to share the books,” she said. 

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