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Key Senate races a focus for LGBT community

Pro-gay Dems face tough fights in Nevada, Wisc., Pa., Colo.



On Election Day, many eyes will be focused on several key Senate races where lawmakers with a history of support for the LGBT community are facing tough challenges on the road to re-election.

By far the most high profile race in this group is taking place in Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is fighting for his political life against Republican Sharron Angle, a Tea Party candidate and former Nevada State Assembly member.

Several polls have Angle ahead of Reid by a few points. On Tuesday, Rasmussen Reports made public a poll that found Angle leading Reid by four percentage points among likely voters.

As majority leader, Reid is responsible for moving forward with pro-LGBT legislation in the Senate and would continue to decide the agenda if he wins on Election Day.

Reid has expressed support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” A Mormon, Reid has also been critical of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ lead role in backing Proposition 8 in California, which ended same-sex marriage in the state in 2008.

Michael Mitchell, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said a win for Reid is important to the LGBT community because some would likely blame his loss on his leadership on LGBT issues.

“I have a feeling that’s where the Republicans will go with this, and it will be over ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ or it will be that he was too liberal,” Mitchell said. “And, of course, our issues in that moniker of ‘too liberal.'”

In contrast to Reid, Angle has said “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” shouldn’t be repealed until the Pentagon has a chance to finish its review of the policy.

Angle has also said in a questionnaire that she’d refuse campaign contributions from businesses that have pro-gay policies in place. She has, however, reportedly taken contributions from political action committees to which such businesses have donated.

The Republican candidate is also known for having ties to an anti-gay party in Nevada in which she once held membership, the American Independent Party.

In 1994, when Angle was involved in the group, the American Independent Party published a 16-page newspaper ad insert calling for a state constitutional amendment permitting discrimination against LGBT people. The insert refers to LGBT people as “sodomites” and portrays them as “child-molesting, HIV-carrying, Hell-bound freaks.”

Despite Angle’s positions, one Republican LGBT group is looking forward to seeing Reid go because of the economic conditions facing Nevada.

Christian Berle, deputy executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said the race in Nevada is “as much about voter distaste with Reid’s record as it is about the positions presented by Angle and her campaign.”

“Nevadans want a senator who will stand for their values and deliver for a state that has a 15 percent unemployment rate, not a legislator who is jockeying for legislation to favor the White House agenda first and foremost,” Berle said.

While enjoying general support among LGBT people, Reid has been criticized for not moving fast enough on pro-LGBT legislation.

Some supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal said he politicized a repeal measure in September by limiting the number of amendments that could have been offered on the bill once it reached the floor.

The Senate was unable to move forward with the legislation, and many senators said the amendment issue prevented them from voting in the affirmative.

But Mitchell said he’s “tired of hearing Republicans and other folks” blame Reid for the failure of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the Senate because he said the majority leader was doing his job by limiting the number of amendments on the bill.

“With the incredible obstructionism from the Republicans that were blocking every single bill almost,” Mitchell said. “There are like 420 bills that the Senate needed to pick up that the House passed. As majority leader, he needs to start to pull things together to try and get things through.”

Mitchell said faulting Reid for the failure of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the Senate is “placing the blame in wrong place” and said “the blame is solely on the Republicans there.”

Another race of interest is taking place in Wisconsin, where U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) is running against Republican Ron Johnson, a wealthy plastics manufacturer.

Many polls have Feingold trailing Johnson. On Tuesday, Rasmussen published a poll that found Feingold behind Johnson by seven percentage points among Wisconsin likely voters. Cook Political Report identifies the race as “leans Republican.”

Feingold is known for having long been a friend to the LGBT community. In 1996, he was among 14 senators to vote against passage of the Defense of Marriage Act.

In the current Congress, Feingold has co-sponsored ENDA and legislation that would end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Wisconsin senator also was responsible for an amendment to State Department budget legislation that would require the U.S. government to take more active role in LGBT issues overseas.

Michael Cole, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, said Feingold deserves support from the LGBT community because he has long been a “progressive champion, broadly, and particularly for the LGBT community for years.

“I think that are so many issues in play out in the field that it is hard, I think, for LGBT people to see such a champion in a tough race,” Cole said. “It speaks to the difficult political environment that’s out there right now.”

Mitchell praised Feingold for sometimes being a maverick and said his loss would be “heartbreaking” because his voice is distinct among the Senate Democratic caucus. Earlier this year, the senator joined with most Republicans to vote against financial reform legislation.

“He doesn’t always vote lock step,” Mitchell said. “He’s very much a freethinker, and I think we’re seeing less and less of that in both houses actually.”

Still, an anti-gay label doesn’t fit Johnson. The Republican candidate said he would support repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on the condition that the Pentagon backs an end to the law.

Last month, Johnson told reporters that he favors nondiscrimination, but wants to see the Pentagon’s report on how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would affect operations. He said if the report were convincing, he would vote to remove the statute from the books.

Berle said the Wisconsin race represents “a remarkable contrast” between a long-serving politician and “a businessman who knows what it takes to sign the front of a paycheck. Berle also commended Johnson for being willing to vote for repeal of the military’s gay ban.

“Johnson’s support for ending the failed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy is representative of a broad swath of Republicans throughout the country who favor open service,” Berle said.

In the center of the country, another race is playing out where the candidates have divergent views on gay issues.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is vying to retain his seat against Republican Ken Buck, a Tea Party candidate and district attorney in the state.

The race between Buck and Bennet is seen as among the closest in the country. On Monday, Public Policy Polling published numbers finding that, among likely Colorado voters, 47 percent support Buck and while another 47 percent support Bennet.

Buck has made several anti-gay comments throughout the course of his campaign. In a September debate, Buck said he opposes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal because he said the U.S. military should be as “homogeneous as possible.”

In another recent debate on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Buck said being gay is a choice and compared it to alcoholism.

“I think that birth has an influence over it, like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that, basically, you have a choice,” he said.

By contrast, Bennet has taken pro-LGBT positions since his appointment to his seat in the current Congress, such as signing on as a co-sponsor of ENDA and legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Cole said the choice for LGBT people in the Colorado race is distinct based on the positions of the candidates.

“You have Michael Bennet, who has been a strong voice for the community running against Buck, who just on ‘Meet the Press’ last weekend made his dangerous comments about LGBT people,” Cole said.

Mitchell also said a win for Bennet is important in Colorado because of statements Buck has made against gays as well as recent remarks against the separation of church and state.

“Ken Buck is little crazy, right?” Mitchell said. “His statement of separation of church and state … I think when you start to peel the layers down from that, I think that’s a pretty extreme view.”

But Berle characterized the Colorado race as “a referendum on the failed Democratic leadership” in the Senate.

“Coloradans are looking for a leader who will oppose out of control government spending and support economic policies designed to get the economy back on track,” Berle said.

Berle said Log Cabin “strongly disagrees with Buck’s belief that sexual orientation is a choice,” but recalled the candidate’s previous work as a prosecutor.

“We remember that this is the same man who as district attorney zealously prosecuted the murderers of a young transgender woman in 2008,” Berle said. “Despite our disagreements, this is evidence that Buck is willing to listen on issues important to gay and lesbian Americans.”

Another tight race is unfolding in Pennsylvania, where Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), a two-term House lawmaker and former Navy admiral, is vying for an open seat against Pat Toomey, a former U.S. House member and former president of the Club for Growth.

A poll published Tuesday by Reuters/Ipsos found that race between Sestak and Toomey is a dead heat. Among the Pennsylvania adults who were polled, 46 percent favored Sestak in the election and another 46 percent supported Toomey.

During his time in the U.S. House, Sestak has been vocal in his support for the LGBT community and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He’s voted for hate crimes protection legislation as well as a version of ENDA.

In contrast, during his earlier tenure in the U.S. House, Toomey voted for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004 and a measure in 1999 that would have banned adoption by gays in D.C.

Still, Toomey said earlier this month during a debate he would back repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if military leaders can ensure an end to the law will improve and not undermine its capabilities.

Berle emphasized support for Toomey based on the former U.S. House member’s “consistent voice for fiscal conservatism.”

“His message resonates with Pennsylvanians who are particularly annoyed with being represented by Sen. Arlen Specter who put his own career ahead of his constituents’ interests when he switched parties,” Berle said.

But Cole also emphasized the distinction between Sestak and Toomey in the Senate race based on the Democratic candidate’s support for the LGBT community.

“You have Joe Sestak, the highest-ranking military officer serving in Congress, who is a staunch supporter of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal, running against the guy whom Rick Santorum called ‘too conservative,” Cole said.

Similarly, Mitchell said a win for Sestak in Pennsylvania is important because the Keystone State is considered a “bellwether” for the rest of the country.

“It’s very middle of the road,” Mitchell said. “I think for there to be a win by Sestak in Pennsylvania softens the blow for some of the other races that we may lose.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal court blocks part of Ala. trans medical treatment law

Trump-appointed judge issued late Friday ruling



Hugo L. Black United States Courthouse, Birmingham, Alabama (Photo Credit: US Courts/DXR)

In a 32 page ruling released Friday evening, U.S. District Judge Liles Burke preliminarily enjoined the state from enforcing the law criminalizing medical care for transgender minors in Alabama.

The law made it a felony for doctors and licensed healthcare providers to give gender-affirming puberty blockers and hormones to trans minors.

Burke, who was nominated to the bench by former President Trump to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, wrote that the section of the Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act that makes treatment of trans minor children a felony; “the court finds that there is a substantial likelihood that Section 4(a)(1)–(3) of the act is unconstitutional and, thus, enjoins defendants from enforcing that portion of the act pending trial.”

Burke however ruled that all other provisions of the act remain in effect, specifically: (1) the provision that bans sex-altering surgeries on minors; (2) the provision prohibiting school officials from keeping certain gender-identity information of children secret from their parents; and (3) the provision that prohibits school officials from encouraging or compelling children to keep certain gender-identity information secret from their parents.

The U.S. Justice Department had challenged the state’s Senate Bill 184 — a bill that would criminalize doctors for providing best-practice, gender-affirming care to trans and non-binary youth.

In the filing by the Justice Department, the complaint alleges that the new law’s felony ban on providing certain medically necessary care to transgender minors violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The department is also asking the court to issue an immediate order to prevent the law from going into effect.

SB 184 makes it a felony for any person to “engage in or cause” specified types of medical care for transgender minors. SB 184 thus discriminates against trans youth by denying them access to certain forms of medically necessary care.

It further discriminates against trans youth by barring them from accessing particular procedures while allowing non-transgender minors to access the same or similar procedures. The penalties for violating the law include up to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000. SB 184 would force parents of trans minors, medical professionals, and others to choose between forgoing medically necessary procedures and treatments, or facing criminal prosecution.

The Justice Department’s complaint alleges that SB 184 violates the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating on the basis of sex and trans status.

LGBTQ legal rights advocates SPLC, GLAD, NCLR and HRC, joined by co-counsel King and Spalding LLP and Lightfoot, Franklin and White LLC, had previously filed a legal challenge in federal district court against Alabama SB 184.

Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the legal rights advocacy groups who had sued Alabama told the Washington Blade late Friday night:

“We are thrilled by this outcome, which will provide enormous relief to transgender children and their families. As the court recognizes, this is well established medical care that has been endorsed by 22 major medical associations. Thanks to this decision, kids in Alabama can now continue to receive this lifesaving care, and their doctors cannot be prosecuted simply for doing their jobs. This is a huge victory for compassion and common sense and a much needed antidote to the tidal wave of hostile legislation targeting these youth.”

In addition to the Justice Department, the doctors challenging SB 184 in Ladinsky v. Ivey are Dr. Morissa J. Ladinsky and Dr. Hussein D. Abdul-Latif, both providers at the Children’s Hospital of Alabama and members of the medical staff at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital and the teaching staff at UAB School of Medicine. Ladinsky and Abdul-Latif have long-term expertise in caring for trans children of Alabama families. Under SB 184, they both face criminal penalties including up to 10 years in prison if they continue to provide that support to their patients.

The Alabama family plaintiffs are proceeding anonymously to protect their children. They include Robert Roe, and his 13-year-old trans daughter Mary, of Jefferson County; and Jane Doe and her 17-year-old-trans son John, of Shelby County. These families have deep ties to Alabama. If SB 184 is allowed to go into effect both families will be forced to choose between leaving the state, breaking the law, or facing devastating consequences to their children’s health.


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Here’s why abortion is an LGBTQ rights issue

One-third of lesbians have experienced pregnancy



Advocates maintain LGBTQ people require access to abortion amid expectations of Supreme Court ruling (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

As pro-choice advocates brace for a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, many LGBTQ people are joining them not just as supporters concerned that a decision overturning marriage equality could be next — but also over fears their own access to abortion could be stripped away.

Those fears peaked after the leak of a draft opinion from Justice Samuel Alito reversing a 50-year precedent that found a constitutional right to abortion. But some observers may wonder why LGBTQ Americans would be worried about abortion access. After all, the risk of unwanted pregnancy is largely non-existent among gay and lesbian couples, right?

Wrong. Studies have found that isn’t the case, not just because bisexual people often do have intercourse with a different-sex partner, but also because pregnancies result from sexual violence and efforts to suppress sexual orientation during the coming out process. According to a 2000 study, more than 80 percent of bisexual women have experienced at least one pregnancy, and more than a third of lesbians have done so.

Julie Gonen, federal policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the Blade among the many reasons why LGBTQ people care about abortion rights is “a lot of queer folks can and do become pregnant and some will need abortion care if they face an unwanted pregnancy.”

“We know from studies that lesbian, bisexual and other non-heterosexual women are at least as likely as other women to experience unintended pregnancy and therefore might require abortion care,” Gonen said. “Some of those studies also show that sexual minority women are more likely to have unintended pregnancies that result from sexual violence. For younger people, there are studies that suggest that some of them actually engage in heterosexual sex to prove they’re not gay, and so they put themselves at greater risk of unintended pregnancy.”

Indeed, the legal brief filed jointly by LGBTQ groups before the Supreme Court in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which will determine the constitutionality of a Mississippi law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, makes the case for preserving Roe on the basis of the need for LGBTQ people to have access to abortion.

Chief among the arguments in the legal brief: Overturning Roe would “have a deeply disruptive effect” on the lives and expectations of millions of women, including members of the LGBTQ community.

“Sexual minority women have the same interest as other women in reproductive autonomy,” the brief says. “They are at least as likely to experience unintended pregnancies, in part due to sexual violence and to economic and other barriers to reproductive care. Sexual minority women often face both sexism and homophobia, and many confront racism and poverty as well, which makes their quest for equal citizenship an uphill battle.”

Studies cited in the brief, including research finding pregnancy is not uncommon among lesbians and bisexual women, find sexual minority women are more likely than other women to have experienced unwanted pregnancy through sexual violence. One study found sexual minority women are more likely to experience violence and sometimes by a factor of 15 or more. Another study found lesbians were nine times more likely than those identifying as straight to report having been subjected to violence by the man involved in the pregnancy, and bisexual women were more than twice as likely to do so.

Also pointed out in the legal brief is lesbian and bisexual women “are at an especially high risk for pregnancy due to social pressures to hide their sexual orientation and convince others they are heterosexual.” One 2017 study found bisexual women were significantly more likely to have been pregnant in the past 12 months than their peers who were women who have sex with men only and the trend often continues for these women until adulthood.

The Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles published a study in 2020 finding bisexual women and girls are more sexually active than their straight peers and face odds of an unwanted pregnancy at a rate that is 1.75 times greater. The prevalence of poverty among bisexual women, transgender people, and LGBTQ people of color makes access to contraception more difficult, the study finds. They also have less ability to cross state lines to access abortion.

Transgender men and non-binary people are also counted as among the members of the LGBTQ community who could experience unwanted pregnancies and could require access to abortion.

Megan Caine, family nurse practitioner at the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, told the Blade assumptions LGBTQ people wouldn’t need access to abortion “currently excludes many transgender and gender-expansive people with uteruses from accessing the services they need.”

“The prohibition of safe and accessible abortion will only add to this health disparity,” Caine said. “Transgender and gender-expansive people as a population have an alarmingly high rate of suicide. Coupled with significant barriers to accessing birth control, eliminating the option to safely terminate a pregnancy could absolutely put a pregnant person’s life at risk.”

Compounding concerns among LGBTQ Americans about access to abortion is the fear that the legal reasoning behind a decision overturning Roe would undermine legal precedent in favor of LGBTQ rights, including the 2015 decision in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide, as well as general access to medical care for LGBTQ people.

Kellan Baker, executive director and chief learning officer at the Whitman-Walker Institute, said his organization is “already hearing questions from clients who are concerned about what steps they need to take to protect their future options to have an abortion if needed, as well as to protect their families and relationships.”

“Just as we fought to get the government out of our bedrooms, we need to fight back against a Supreme Court decision that would insert itself in private medical decisions that should be made between patients and their providers,” Baker concluded.

Among concerns about a Supreme Court decision jeopardizing health outcomes for LGBTQ people, including access to abortion, many LGBTQ groups are making the fight over abortion a top priority following the leak of the draft opinion overturning Roe. The congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus, for example, issued a statement this week calling for the expansion of the court in an effort to dilute the conservative majority that would overturn Roe. The Human Rights Campaign, on the other hand, issued a statement endorsing the Women’s Health Protection Act, which is Democrats’ legislative attempt to codify Roe in law in anticipation the constitutional right will no longer exist.

Gonen said groups representing LGBTQ people “are going to continue to fight for abortion rights right alongside our allies in the reproductive health rights and justice movements.”

“I mean, if this happens, and it looks like it’s going to, this is a truly alarming moment for anyone who cares about human rights, gender equality, and justice,” Gonen said. “Because abortion bans force people to be pregnant against their will, and while not all people who experience pregnancy are women, the vast majority are, which makes abortion bans a particularly invidious form of sex discrimination. And LGBTQ people know what it’s like to experience sex discrimination and to have others trying to force us into gender norms that we don’t fit.”

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Tennessee bans collegiate Trans athletes

The law also requires Tennessee colleges to determine a student-athlete’s gender using the student’s “original” birth certificate



Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee/State of Tennessee YouTube

Republican Governor Bill Lee signed a bill last Friday that effectively bans transgender women from competing on college sports teams consistent with their gender identity in Tennessee.

The new law, Senate Bill 2153, “prohibits males from participating in public higher education sports that are designated for females.” The law also requires Tennessee colleges to determine a student-athlete’s gender using the student’s “original” birth certificate.

Every university and college in the state will also be required to adopt and enforce a policy ensuring compliance with the new law. The measure would also prevent any government entity, organization or athletic association from taking “an adverse action” against a school that complies with the law or a student who reports a violation.

“This law sends a horrible message that trans and nonbinary youth can be excluded from the many benefits of participating in sports,” Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said Friday in a statement issued by the Human Rights Campaign. 

“More broadly, it also stains those who are complicit and creates habits of lawmaking that endanger everyone in Tennessee,” he said. “Legislation crafted from animus and ignorance protects no one.”

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