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Casey to introduce LGBT anti-bullying bill & more



Casey to introduce LGBT anti-bullying bill

PHILADELPHIA — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) has announced plans to introduce federal anti-bullying legislation “in the next couple of days” that would be inclusive of protecting LGBT students throughout the country.

During a May 1 speech at the annual Equality Forum, Casey said the bill, which will be known as the Safe Schools Improvement Act, is necessary because data shows that bullying happens “most frequently to children who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

“We must enact legislation to do a better job of protecting children, especially those children who are being bullied every day because they’re gay or lesbian,” he said.

Casey said the bill would call on schools to develop policies to prohibit bullying and harassment and create a system to obtain and report data on the issue. Companion legislation to what Casey’s proposing exists in the House. The sponsor of the House version, which has 108 co-sponsors, is Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.).

After the speech, Casey told the Blade his legislation would be different from the Student Non-Discrimination Act that Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is poised to introduce in the Senate.

Casey said it’s important for the federal government to make clear that it’s going to pay more attention to the issue of bullying.

“As you know, it’s been a significant issue as it relates to gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender children for a long time — or children who happen to have parents who are gay or lesbian,” he said.

Casey said the legislation wouldn’t necessarily have language specifically relating to sexual orientation or gender identity but would have more of a “broader directive” toward all students.

Although he said it’s possible for anti-bullying legislation to pass this year, Casey said he’s “learned to be more realistic about how long bills can take.”

Hawaii passes civil unions bill

HONOLULU — In an unexpected development, Hawaii’s House of Representatives last week voted 31-20 to pass a civil unions bill providing the same rights and benefits of marriage to the state’s same-sex couples.

The vote came April 30 during the final hours of the legislative body’s session and after many political observers expected supporters to postpone a vote because they lacked sufficient support to override any veto by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

Lingle has not said whether she will sign or veto the bill. Opponents, led by the state Catholic Archdiocese, are demanding that Lingle veto the measure. Supporters need 34 votes to override a veto, three more than the number who voted for the measure on Thursday.

“The legislature’s passage of a civil union bill marks a major step forward in Hawaii’s journey toward fairness and equality, but falls short of the full security and equality protection that come only with the freedom to marry,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry.

Hawaii’s state Senate passed the bill earlier this year.

Wolfson played a role in efforts to push for same-sex marriage in Hawaii during the early 1990s, when same-sex couples filed a lawsuit asserting the state’s Constitution required recognition of same-sex marriage. In a highly controversial decision, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in favor of the couple’s suit, setting in motion a process where Hawaii could have become the nation’s first state to legalize gay marriage.

But opponents fought back, pushing through a ballot measure approved by the voters that amended the state’s Constitution in 1998 to ban gay marriage. The Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in 1993 has been credited with unleashing a nationwide backlash against same-sex marriage that led to ballot measures banning gay marriage in states across the country.

Wolfson and other LGBT activists have expressed hope that that backlash is subsiding, and that more states will soon approve same-sex marriage laws similar to those in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

Franken to introduce student non-discrimination bill

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is poised to introduce a bill that would bar discrimination against LGBT students in schools throughout the country, according to his office.

“We are hopeful that we can introduce our companion anti-bullying legislation soon,” Jess McIntosh, a Franken spokesperson, told the Blade last week.

In the House, the legislation is known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a gay lawmaker, introduced the measure in January. Polis said the legislation would give schools across the country tools to fight “everything from exclusion from prom, to banning clubs, to lack of actions addressing bullying situations.”

McIntosh said she couldn’t say when Franken would introduce the bill; she also couldn’t confirm whether the language in his bill would match the House version.

Daryl Presgraves, spokesperson for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which has been advocating for the bill, praised Franken for furthering the effort.

“Obviously, we’re very grateful to Sen. Franken for realizing that the Student Non-Discrimination Act is an important piece of legislation that will help make schools safer for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression,” Presgraves said.

Immigration reform could include UAFA: report

WASHINGTON — A recently published outline of principles Senate Democrats are seeking as part of upcoming comprehensive immigration reform calls for language that would address inequities faced by same-sex bi-national couples.

The 26-page draft proposal, posted online April 29 by Politico, devotes one line to expressing a desire for language to allow LGBT Americans to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for residency in the U.S. as part of the final immigration reform bill.

“It will eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws by permitting permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status,” says the draft.

The proposed language is similar to standalone legislation pending in Congress known as the Uniting American Families Act. The bill would change immigration law to assist an estimated 36,000 same-sex bi-national couples living in the United States.

The draft proposal’s authors are Senate Democrats leading the effort in the chamber for immigration reform: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, called the proposal “a very significant development” toward including UAFA in comprehensive immigration reform.

“It is a solid indication that lawmakers — in crafting their priorities for the bill — saw this as being one of those priorities,” he said.

Baldwin says OPM has pay-for info on DP bill

WASHINGTON — The only out lesbian in Congress told reporters last week that the administration has sent her information on finding funds to pay for domestic partner benefits legislation for federal workers.

Asked by the Blade on April 28 whether the U.S. Office of Personnel Management had yet provided the data as requested by lawmakers, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) replied, “To me.”

The legislation, known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, would make available to the same-sex partners of federal workers the same benefits available to the spouses of straight workers, including health and pension benefits.

“We’ll be able to pay for it,” said Baldwin, the bill’s sponsor. “I’m confident that we will be able to offset it so that it will meet statutory pay-go requirements.”

House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the legislation reported out the bill late last year. But supporters have said they wouldn’t move the bill to the floor unless OPM provided information on how to pay for the legislation’s cost — an estimated $63 million each year — within the agency’s existing budget.

Baldwin said for strategic reasons, she didn’t want to offer more information publicly on how OPM found the needed funds to pay for the legislation.


Federal Government

Lambda Legal praises Biden-Harris administration’s finalized Title IX regulations

New rules to take effect Aug. 1



U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (Screen capture: AP/YouTube)

The Biden-Harris administration’s revised Title IX policy “protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination and other abuse,” Lambda Legal said in a statement praising the U.S. Department of Education’s issuance of the final rule on Friday.

Slated to take effect on Aug. 1, the new regulations constitute an expansion of the 1972 Title IX civil rights law, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding.

Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County case, the department’s revised policy clarifies that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity constitutes sex-based discrimination as defined under the law.

“These regulations make it crystal clear that everyone can access schools that are safe, welcoming and that respect their rights,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said during a call with reporters on Thursday.

While the new rule does not provide guidance on whether schools must allow transgender students to play on sports teams corresponding with their gender identity to comply with Title IX, the question is addressed in a separate rule proposed by the agency in April.

The administration’s new policy also reverses some Trump-era Title IX rules governing how schools must respond to reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault, which were widely seen as imbalanced in favor of the accused.

Jennifer Klein, the director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said during Thursday’s call that the department sought to strike a balance with respect to these issues, “reaffirming our longstanding commitment to fundamental fairness.”

“We applaud the Biden administration’s action to rescind the legally unsound, cruel, and dangerous sexual harassment and assault rule of the previous administration,” Lambda Legal Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project Director Sasha Buchert said in the group’s statement on Friday.

“Today’s rule instead appropriately underscores that Title IX’s civil rights protections clearly cover LGBTQ+ students, as well as survivors and pregnant and parenting students across race and gender identity,” she said. “Schools must be places where students can learn and thrive free of harassment, discrimination, and other abuse.”

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Mich. Democrats spar over LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law

Lawmakers disagree on just what kind of statute to pass



Members of the Michigan House Democrats gather to celebrate Pride month in 2023 in the Capitol building. (Photo courtesy of Michigan House Democrats)

Michigan could soon become the latest state to pass an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime law, but the state’s Democratic lawmakers disagree on just what kind of law they should pass.

Currently, Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act only offers limited protections to victims of crime motivated by their “race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” Bills proposed by Democratic lawmakers expand the list to include “actual or perceived race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, physical or mental disability, age, national origin, or association or affiliation with any such individuals.” 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have both advocated for a hate crime law, but house and senate Democrats have each passed different hate crimes packages, and Nessel has blasted both as being too weak.

Under the house proposal that passed last year (House Bill 4474), a first offense would be punishable with a $2,000 fine, up to two years in prison, or both. Penalties double for a second offense, and if a gun or other dangerous weapons is involved, the maximum penalty is six years in prison and a fine of $7,500. 

But that proposal stalled when it reached the senate, after far-right news outlets and Fox News reported misinformation that the bill only protected LGBTQ people and would make misgendering a trans person a crime. State Rep. Noah Arbit, the bill’s sponsor, was also made the subject of a recall effort, which ultimately failed.

Arbit submitted a new version of the bill (House Bill 5288) that added sections clarifying that misgendering a person, “intentionally or unintentionally” is not a hate crime, although the latest version (House Bill 5400) of the bill omits this language.

That bill has since stalled in a house committee, in part because the Democrats lost their house majority last November, when two Democratic representatives resigned after being elected mayors. The Democrats regained their house majority last night by winning two special elections.

Meanwhile, the senate passed a different package of hate crime bills sponsored by state Sen. Sylvia Santana (Senate Bill 600) in March that includes much lighter sentences, as well as a clause ensuring that misgendering a person is not a hate crime. 

Under the senate bill, if the first offense is only a threat, it would be a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and up to $1,000 fine. A subsequent offense or first violent hate crime, including stalking, would be a felony that attracts double the punishment.

Multiple calls and emails from the Washington Blade to both Arbit and Santana requesting comment on the bills for this story went unanswered.

The attorney general’s office sent a statement to the Blade supporting stronger hate crime legislation.

“As a career prosecutor, [Nessel] has seen firsthand how the state’s weak Ethnic Intimidation Act (not updated since the late 1980’s) does not allow for meaningful law enforcement and court intervention before threats become violent and deadly, nor does it consider significant bases for bias.  It is our hope that the legislature will pass robust, much-needed updates to this statute,” the statement says.

But Nessel, who has herself been the victim of racially motivated threats, has also blasted all of the bills presented by Democrats as not going far enough.

“Two years is nothing … Why not just give them a parking ticket?” Nessel told Bridge Michigan.

Nessel blames a bizarre alliance far-right and far-left forces that have doomed tougher laws.

“You have this confluence of forces on the far right … this insistence that the First Amendment protects this language, or that the Second Amendment protects the ability to possess firearms under almost any and all circumstances,” Nessel said. “But then you also have the far left that argues basically no one should go to jail or prison for any offense ever.”

The legislature did manage to pass an “institutional desecration” law last year that penalizes hate-motivated vandalism to churches, schools, museums, and community centers, and is LGBTQ-inclusive.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, reported hate crime incidents have been skyrocketing, with attacks motivated by sexual orientation surging by 70 percent from 2020 to 2022, the last year for which data is available. 

Twenty-two states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime laws. Another 11 states have hate crime laws that include protections for “sexual orientation” but not “gender identity.”

Michigan Democrats have advanced several key LGBTQ rights priorities since they took unified control of the legislature in 2023. A long-stalled comprehensive anti-discrimination law was passed last year, as did a conversion therapy ban. Last month the legislature updated family law to make surrogacy easier for all couples, including same-sex couples. 

A bill to ban the “gay panic” defense has passed the state house and was due for a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

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Drag queen announces run for mayor of Ind. city

Branden Blaettne seeking Fort Wayne’s top office



Branden Blaettner being interviewed by a local television station during last year’s Pride month. (WANE screenshot)

In a Facebook post Tuesday, a local drag personality announced he was running for the office of mayor once held by the late Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, who died last month just a few months into his fifth term.

Henry was recently diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer and experienced an emergency that landed him in hospice care. He died shortly after.

WPTA, a local television station, reported that Fort Wayne resident Branden Blaettne, whose drag name is Della Licious, confirmed he filed paperwork to be one of the candidates seeking to finish out the fifth term of the late mayor.

Blaettner, who is a community organizer, told WPTA he doesn’t want to “get Fort Wayne back on track,” but rather keep the momentum started by Henry going while giving a platform to the disenfranchised groups in the community. Blaettner said he doesn’t think his local fame as a drag queen will hold him back.

“It’s easy to have a platform when you wear platform heels,” Blaettner told WPTA. “The status quo has left a lot of people out in the cold — both figuratively and literally,” Blaettner added.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported that state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, who has led the Indiana House Democratic caucus since 2018, has added his name to a growing list of Fort Wayne politicos who want to be the city’s next mayor. A caucus of precinct committee persons will choose the new mayor.

According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, the deadline for residents to file candidacy was 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday. A town hall with the candidates is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday at Franklin School Park. The caucus is set for 10:30 a.m. on April 20 at the Lincoln Financial Event Center at Parkview Field.

At least six candidates so far have announced they will run in the caucus. They include Branden Blaettne, GiaQuinta, City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, City Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, former city- and county-council candidate Palermo Galindo, and 2023 Democratic primary mayoral candidate Jorge Fernandez.

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