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Trans Houston attorney becomes judge, N.J. adopts anti-bullying bill and more






Phyllis Frye (Photo courtesy of Outsmart Magazine)


Transgender Houston attorney becomes judge

HOUSTON — Thirty years ago, Phyllis Frye, a longtime LGBT activist, could have been arrested for wearing women’s clothing in the Houston City Council chamber. The Associated Press reported that Frye, a transgender Houston attorney born as Phillip Frye, fought back tears last week as the mayor appointed her to a municipal bench in the same room where she helped repeal Houston’s “cross-dressing ordinance” in 1980.

The 63-year-old will hear traffic ticket cases and other low-level misdemeanor trials, according to the AP report. Municipal judges are not elected. Frye said she would be the first transgender judge in Texas.

She knows of at least two transgender judges in other parts of the country. Frye applied for the position several months ago and was vetted before being appointed by Mayor Annise Parker, a lesbian, on Wednesday with seven other new associate judges.

“I don’t want to underplay this, because I understand it is very significant,” the AP quoted Frye as saying. “But I don’t want to overplay it either. I don’t want people to think I am anything other than an associate municipal court judge.” There was some quibbling over the appointment from the Houston Area Pastor Council, the AP reported. One local minister said she represented an “anti-family lifestyle.”

Fort Worth drops charges in gay bar fracas

FORT WORTH, Texas — More than a year after a controversial bar inspection at the Rainbow Lounge in Forth Worth, Texas, sent protesters to the streets and vaulted the city into the national spotlight, city officials have dropped charges against four bar patrons, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

The dismissals came two-and-a-half weeks before Chad Gibson, who suffered a head injury in the June 28, 2009, incident, and George Armstrong had been set to go on trial on public intoxication charges. They had both pleaded not guilty, and Gibson had also pleaded not guilty to assaulting an agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the paper said.

In a statement released last week, city spokesman Jason Lamers confirmed that the misdemeanor charges against Gibson and Armstrong had been dropped. Public intoxication cases against Dylan Brown, 24, and Jose Macias, 32, were also dropped. Within hours of the fracas at the Rainbow Lounge, local and national protests erupted as patrons accused the officers of using excessive force and questioned whether the bar was targeted because of its mostly gay clientele. Investigations by Fort Worth police and the alcohol commission concluded that no excessive force was used. The commission, however, fired two agents who participated and their supervisor, citing policy violations, the Star-Telegram reported.

La. hospitals announce new visitation rules

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans state Department of Health and Human Services announced regulations last week that will require hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid financing to drop any visitation policies that discriminate against gays, lesbians and trans people, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

The new rule, which will take effect in January, requires that hospitals have a written policy that must be explained to all patients and allows patients to determine who may visit them, regardless of legal relationships. Hospitals may limit visitation only if there is a clinical reason to do so, according to the rule, which will be added to the conditions for participating in the Medicaid and Medicare programs, the Times-Picayune said.

The rule will trump previous practices in many American hospitals that restricted visitors for some patients — particularly in emergency rooms and intensive care units — to spouses and immediate family, a limitation that often cut off gay and lesbian patients from their partners. The final version, which follows a draft released in June, will go into effect Jan. 16, 60 days after Wednesday’s publication in the federal register and eight months after President Barack Obama first raised the issue in a directive to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

N.J. approves sweeping anti-bullying bill

TRENTON, N.J. — The state legislature voted by overwhelming majorities this week to approve a sweeping anti-bullying bill that could become a model for similar measures across the country, according to media reports and statements from Garden State Equality.

“As someone brutally bullied in my own youth, I can’t even begin to describe how the passage of this bill is a moment of deeply poignant, personal healing for me and thousands of others who have been bullied,” said Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality. “The best revenge is to make the world a kinder place. This legislation will make our state a kinder, safer place for students for generations to come.”

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights applies to schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, strengthens an existing cyber bullying law, applies to bullying off school grounds that carries into schools, and has a section that applies to the state’s public universities, according to Garden State Equality.

It is the first such bill to set deadlines for incidents of bullying to be reported, investigated and resolved. Teachers and other school personnel will have to report incidents of bullying to principals on the same day as a bullying incident. An investigation of the bullying must begin within one school day. A school will have to complete its investigation of bullying within 10 school days, after which there must be a resolution of the situation, the statewide LGBT rights group announced.

The bill passed the Senate 30-0 and the Assembly 72-1.

Philly’s settlement with Scouts draws ire of gay leaders

PHILADELPHIA — Prominent gay leaders in Philadelphia are voicing criticism of a proposed legal settlement between the city and the regional Boy Scouts organization, and a key City Councilman is balking at the deal, the Philadelphia Gay News reported.

The proposal calls for the Boy Scouts group to pay the city $500,000 to buy its 13,000-square-foot headquarters in Logan Square, the focus of a civil-rights dispute that began over the Scouts’ national ban on gay members. The price tag is less than half the appraised value of the building. But the settlement would end an expensive legal fight and the risk that city taxpayers would eventually have to pay the Scouts’ legal bills, now approaching $1 million.

Gay rights advocates say the city’s lawyers are putting financial concerns ahead of principle, appearing to subsidize the Scouts’ discrimination, Philadelphia Gay News reported. City Solicitor Shelley Smith and the Scouts’ attorney, Sandra Girifalco, had issued a joint statement last week describing their agreement as a “win-win situation” for both their clients, predicting that a necessary ordinance would be introduced the next day in City Council. But Councilman Darrell Clarke, whose district includes the property, said he wasn’t ready to introduce anything. The settlement statement had been “premature,” he said, because there hadn’t been enough communication with neighborhood residents or the gay community.

The dispute began with a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2000 that upheld the legality of the national organization’s ban on gay Scouts and troop leaders. That put the Scouts organization in conflict with the city charter’s ban on discrimination rooted in sexual orientation.

Former GLAAD official to head S.F. AIDS Foundation

SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco AIDS Foundation has appointed Neil Giuliano as its new chief executive. He’ll start Dec. 13.

Giuliano was previously head of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and produced its annual awards programs. He was also the mayor of Tempe, Ariz., for 10 years beginning in 1994. He plans to publish a memoir next year. The Foundation works to end HIV.


The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke



President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’



J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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The White House

Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions



U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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