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Hawaii governor vetoes civil unions bill

Activists denounce move as a ‘disgrace,’ plan lawsuit



Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have enacted civil unions in the state. (Photo courtesy of Lingle’s office)

The governor of Hawaii on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have instituted civil unions in the Aloha State as LGBT groups announced plans to continue the fight for relationship recognition.

At a press conference announcing her decision, Gov. Linda Lingle (R) equated civil unions to same-sex marriage and said the issue inspired such strong emotions that it should be left for the people to decide.

“It was the depth of emotion felt by those on both sides of the issue that revealed to me how fundamental the institution of marriage is [to] our community,” she said.

Lingle had until Tuesday to sign the civil unions bill, veto it or take no action to allow the bill to become law.

During the press conference, the governor said Hawaii’s residents should decide the issue of civil unions through the referendum process.

“This is a decision that should not be made by one person sitting in her office, or by members of the majority party behind closed doors in a legislative caucus, but by all the people of Hawaii behind the curtain of the voting booth,” she said.

In 1998, Hawaii voters approved an amendment to their state constitution allowing the legislature to prohibit same-sex marriage in Hawaii. The Hawaii Legislature subsequently passed a statute banning same-sex marriage, but left the door open for civil unions.

In a statement, Alan Spector, legislative affairs co-chair for Equality Hawaii, said Lingle’s veto marked a “sad day for the thousands of Hawaii families who remain second-class citizens.”

“We fail to see how the governor’s actions are in the best interest of Hawaii’s future and are nothing more than political maneuvering at the expense of people’s lives,” Spector said. “We’re disappointed and outraged that same-sex families will not be treated equally under Hawaii law, but vow to come back and fight this fight another day.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, also expressed disappointment in a statement that followed Lingle’s decision to veto the civil unions bill.

“Gov. Lingle’s veto of legislation that would protect and strengthen Hawaii’s families is beyond a disappointment — it is a disgrace,” Carey said. “Hawaii’s lawmakers passed this bill because it was about fundamental fairness.”

Carey said the governor’s action “flies in the face of both common sense and common humanity” and urged the legislature to override her veto.

But House Speaker Calvin Say reportedly said last week the State House would not hold a special session to override Lingle’s vetoes.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director for the Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization’s affiliates in Hawaii worked hard to influence the Republican governor to at least allow the bill to become law without her signature.

“Since this spring, Log Cabin Republicans on the Hawaiian Islands as well as the mainland United States have made it clear to Gov. Lingle and other Hawaiian lawmakers that we supported the civil union legislation,” he said.

Cooper said individual members of Log Cabin lobbied lawmakers and Lingle to support the civil unions legislation.

Activists in Hawaii are pursuing several options that could institute civil unions in Hawaii despite Lingle’s veto.

In a statement, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii announced they were filing a lawsuit in state court to fight for civil unions in the state.

Laurie Temple, staff attorney for the ACLU, said she’s “disappointed” Lingle didn’t follow through with signing the civil unions bill or allowing the legislation to become law.

“Luckily for the people of Hawaii, however, our constitution prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation,” she said. “If the governor won’t honor her oath to uphold the constitution, the courts will.”

Jennifer Pizer, national marriage project director for Lambda Legal, told the Blade her organization had litigation prepared in the spring when the civil unions legislation appeared to have stalled in the Hawaii Legislature.

“We were hoping that it would not be necessary,” she said. “Now that it is, we will be switching into litigation mode.”

Pizer said Lambda would file the lawsuit, although she didn’t know the exact timing of the case. She noted that Lambda has plaintiff couples lined up for the lawsuit, but declined to offer more information about them.

“I can’t give you the details of who the clients are or exactly what the lawsuit looks like,” she said. “That will be public when we file it, but we have been working on it for quite some time.”

Pizer said that guessing how long the litigation process would take is “very difficult to say” and would depend on how the state decides to defend the case.

“We’re curious to know exactly what the path will be and how long it will take, but it’s impossible to tell until we see how the state decides to answer,” she said.

Other groups — including Equality Hawaii and the Human Rights Campaign — are making plans to elect new lawmakers and a governor who would support enacting civil unions in the state.

Don Bentz, treasurer for Equality Hawaii, said his group is awaiting the election in the fall to determine the best path for civil unions legislation.

“We have a gubernatorial race and a number of allies in the House and the Senate are both up for re-election,” Bentz said. “So depending upon who gets re-elected or does not get re-elected, that would kind of determine whether we want to reintroduce [the bill] or wait for a lawsuit to work its way through the courts.”

One candidate for governor is already capitalizing on Lingle’s veto in the race to succeed her as governor.

In a statement, Democratic candidate Neil Abercrombie said Lingle mistakenly characterized the civil unions legislation as a bill that would enact same-sex marriage.

“The state legislature has already defined marriage as between a man and a woman,” Abercrombie said. “Civil unions respect our diversity, protect people’s privacy and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha.”

Abercrombie said ensuring Hawaii residents receive equal treatment will be up to the next governor and legislature.

“Protecting people’s civil rights cannot be compromised,” Abercrombie said. “I am committed to that most essential of constitutional imperatives.”

Lingle predicted the issue of civil unions would come to the ballot soon.

“I would be surprised if this does not go on the next available ballot,” she said. “I would encourage lawmakers to do it — whether it’s those who are in office or those who are not.”

Bentz said the idea of bringing the issue of civil unions to the ballot has been under discussion for some time, but isn’t something LGBT rights advocates want to see happen.

“When you go to the ballot, the opposition throws out all these lies and misinformation that basically cause people to vote against it,” he said.

Bentz said a voter-initiated ballot initiative isn’t available in Hawaii and that the matter could only come to the ballot following a constitutional convention or direction from the legislature.



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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