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Gay bishop announces retirement, Supreme Court declines to hear Miller/Jenkins case and more

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Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson said he will not retire from public life and will continue to visit campuses and forums. He said he will devote his time to worldwide evangelism and LGBT advocacy. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Bishop Robinson to retire; cites strain of debate

CONCORD, N.H. — The first openly gay bishop elected in the worldwide Anglican Communion — whose election caused a firestorm of debate about the scriptures and homosexuality — announced Nov. 6 that he’s retiring in 2013 because the controversies have “taken their toll” on him, his family and followers, the Guardian and several news outlets reported.

Bishop Gene Robinson, who was consecrated in the diocese of New Hampshire in 2003 and will turn 65 in 2013, said he will opt for an early retirement because “the constant strain” has become too much to bear.

The controversy hasn’t calmed — last year traditionalists in North America broke away from the U.S. Episcopal church to set up their own network. This year Episcopalians — the U.S. arm of the Anglican Church — consecrated a lesbian to the post of assistant bishop in Los Angeles.

“Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as bishop, have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark, who has faithfully stood with me every minute of the last seven years, and in some ways, you,” Robinson said in a Guardian quote.

Supreme Court refuses to step into custody dispute

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has declined to step into a lesbian custody dispute between a woman who has renounced her homosexuality and her former partner, the Associated Press reported this week.

The justices on Monday turned down an appeal from Lisa Miller, the biological mother of an 8-year-old girl. Miller wanted the court to undo a Virginia court decision allowing her ex, Janet Jenkins, visitation rights with the girl. Jenkins is from Vermont. Miller is from Virginia. They had a Vermont civil union in 2000. Their daughter has been the subject of a long-running legal fight.

Miller got involved with a conservative arm of Christianity and says she’s no longer a lesbian. She and her daughter did not appear for a court-ordered custody swap in January. Their whereabouts are unknown.

Bullying claims the life of Pennsylvania teen

MIDDLEBURG, Pa. — Students at Midd-West High School in Middleburg, Pa., are mourning the suicide of a freshman who ran in front of a truck at 3 a.m. Saturday morning, according to the Daily Item, a regional newspaper.

Brandon Bitner, 14, had been a victim of intense bullying students told the Item. He walked about 13 miles from his home to a busy road where he met his death. He’d left a suicide note at home.

“It was because of bullying,” Takara Jo Folk told the Item. “It was not about race or gender but they bullied him for his sexual preferences and the way he dressed. Which they wrongly accused him of.”

His death came just days after an anti-bullying assembly was held at the school. Student Briana Boyer said the students didn’t take the assembly seriously and joked about it.

Mich. asst. attorney gen’l fired for harassing gay student

LANSING, Mich. —  Michigan removed its assistant attorney general, Andrew Shirvell, on Monday for allegedly harassing a gay student leader, actions that had prompted condemnation from local officials and the University of Michigan to ban the state official from campus, according to a report from All Headline News.

Shirvell, 30, was fired after a two-day disciplinary hearing on allegations he had harassed and stalked Chris Armstrong, the first openly gay president of the University of Michigan’s student assembly, AHN reported.

The former assistant attorney general had said he was exercising his First Amendment rights during his personal time. But Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, who previously defended Shirvell’s free speech rights, said Shirvell was removed because he harassed Armstrong and lied to investigators during the hearings.

Cox cited three visits Shirvell made to the student’s home, one at 1:30 a.m. Shirvell had also followed Armstrong while the student was out with friends in Ann Arbor, and made calls to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, where Armstrong was an intern, in an attempt to have the student fired.

Officials also found that Shirvell had posted attacks against the student on the Internet while he was at work. The online posts, however, were not themselves cited for Shirvell’s removal from office.

Shirvell’s lawyer told the Free Press that the decision to remove the assistant attorney general seemed “political.”

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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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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 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 bill, Senate Bill 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 percent 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 Los Angeles 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 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — 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 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent 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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