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UAFA gets renewed push as clock ticks

Bill called ‘absolutely essential’ to immigration reform

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U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (center) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Supporters of immigration and LGBT rights are renewing their calls on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year that includes protections for bi-national same-sex couples.

At a press conference Thursday on Capitol Hill, several U.S. House members emphasized the importance of passing legislation to make the nation’s immigration laws more fair and enable LGBT Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States.

The strengthened call for passing comprehensive immigration reform comes as limited time remains in the legislative calendar for this Congress, raising questions about whether lawmakers will be able to address major legislation such as immigration reform this year.

Same-sex partners currently have no recourse under any portion of family law in the U.S. immigration code. The policy threatens to keep an estimated 36,000 bi-national same-sex couples from remaining together in the United States.

Among those who spoke in favor of passing immigration reform inclusive of this language is Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who sponsors the Uniting American Families Act, a standalone bill that would address the situation for LGBT families.

Nadler said passing immigration reform that includes protections for the LGBT community is “absolutely essential.”

“In particular, binational LGBT couples must be granted the right to sponsor their permanent partners for immigration, just as other committed and straight married couples can,” he said.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), the sponsor of another UAFA-inclusive bill known as the Reuniting Familes Act, also addressed the importance of passing such legislation.

Honda said “ending discrimination” against bi-national same-sex couples is “in line with American values and is good for our economy.”

“We know that American workers who have family by their side are happier, healthier and more able to succeed with this essential social safety net,” he said.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a pro-immigrant lawmaker, said passing inclusive legislation is politically viable.

“On a more political note, I am confident that we can pass immigration reform that includes the provisions of UAFA this year,” Gutierrez said, according to his prepared remarks. “Including UAFA makes the tent that much bigger and makes the coalition that much stronger.”

Late last year, Gutierrez introduced immigration legislation that was seen as a more liberal alternative to the working bill expected for introduction in Congress. Although his legislation at the time didn’t include UAFA-like language, he recently revealed his support for including bi-national LGBT families as part of immigration reform.

Other lawmakers who appeared at Thursday’s event to show their support for such legislation were Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a gay lawmaker and proponent of immigration reform, as well as Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.).

Erwin de Leon, a gay D.C. resident and Blade contributor, also called for UAFA-inclusive legislation at the press conference.

He said passage of such a bill would help him obtain a green card to remain in the United States with his spouse, whom he married earlier this year in D.C.

“Thanks to vagaries of the U.S. immigration system, I still do not have my green card, even though I consider the United States my home, have lived here legally for several years and in my heart know that I am as American as my native-born cousins,” he said.

Along with lawmakers, a coalition of 37 organizations — including LGBT, immigration and faith-based groups — joined in the the chorus of voices calling on Congress to act on immigration reform.

Immigration Equality, one of the organizations working to pass UAFA, is a leading voice among these groups. Other LGBT groups in this coalition include the Family Equality Council, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign.

Rachel Tiven, Immigration Equality’s executive director, said current law is taking LGBT families “and sending them into exile.”

“Together we will fight for immigration reform that protects all families,” she said. “We will organize, we will protest, we will demand that the Uniting American Families Act and the Reuniting Families Act be part of a just, humane and comprehensive immigration reform bill.”

Still, challenges remain in passing UAFA-inclusive legislation. Patrick Egan, a gay political science professor at New York University, said the chances of Congress passing reform inclusive of LGBT families are “pretty low.”

“It’s going to be very difficult to get the 60 votes together in the Senate to move the bill forward and they’re going to be reluctant to put anything in there that jeopardizes its passage,” Egan said. “And this, unfortunately, is one of those issues that can cause you to shed a few votes on the Republican side. And I would be very surprised if that would be in any bill that gets passed by the Senate and the House.”

Sean Theriault, a gay government professor at the University of Texas, Austin, said “there is no chance” that an immigration bill immigration reform will pass this year whether or not it includes UAFA-like language.

“The reason that Democratic leaders and the White House have begun talking about immigration is because it divides Republicans from Hispanics,” he said. “On that score alone, the bill very well may contain [this] language. It is easy to be in favor of wholesale reform when the chances of it passing our zilch.”

Still, Theriault said if Democrats had to start making concessions to pass immigration reform, he couldn’t imagine “they would sacrifice the entire bill for inclusive language.”

Capitol Hill observers expect the U.S. Senate to debate and vote on comprehensive immigration reform legislation before a bill is taken up in the U.S. House. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), chair of the Senate Judiciary immigration subcommittee, is expected to introduce the legislation in the Senate.

While the Senate bill has yet to be introduced, framework for the legislation made public earlier this year shows support for passing a bill inclusive of LGBT families.

In a brief interview with the Blade on Capitol Hill late last month, Schumer noted the UAFA language was in the framework for immigration reform legislation. Asked whether the provision would be in the bill upon introduction, Schumer replied, “I believe so.”

“I believe in it and I want to see it stay in,” Schumer said.

Asked when he would introduce the legislation, Schumer replied, “We have the proposal and we’re still trying to get some Republican support.”

Schumer said he’s talking to several Republican senators who would be original co-sponsors for the legislation, but declined to identify any lawmakers.

Although no U.S. senator attended Thursday’s press conference, Tiven said advocates wanted to emphasize the support of U.S. House members for UAFA-inclusive legislation.

“We wanted to show what the House is doing to match the Senate’s leadership on inclusive comprehensive immigration reform,” she said.

Julie Kruse, policy director for Immigration Equality, said her organization is planning additional events throughout the country to draw attention to passing UAFA-inclusive comprehensive immigration legislation.

She said cities in Florida, California, Texas, New York and Minnesota are potential places where these events would take place.

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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”

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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 TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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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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