Connect with us


Minnesota gearing up for marriage fight

In symbolic move, guv vetoes 2012 ballot measure



Donald McFarland is leading the effort for Minnesotans United for all Families (Photo courtesy of McFarland)

Supporters of LGBT rights are gearing up for yet another fight at the ballot against a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.

This time around, the theater for battle is Minnesota.

Donald McFarland, spokesperson for the new coalition known as Minnesotans United for All Families, said nearly 1,000 people have already signed up to work against the amendment on the campaign website within 48 hours of passage by the legislature.

“They are signing up by the hundreds to help us,” McFarland said. “It’s incredible actually. The outpouring of support to what happened Saturday night is as great as I have ever seen in my political career — and I’ve been doing this for 30 years.”

On Saturday, the Minnesota State House gave final approval to the proposed constitutional amendment by a vote of 70-62. The State Senate had already passed the measure.

The Republican-controlled legislature’s approval sends the measure to the state electorate. If a majority of voters approves the marriage ban in 2012, it will become part of the state constitution.

Same-sex marriage is already prohibited in Minnesota by statute, but passage of the amendment would prohibit the legislature from legalizing same-sex marriage in the future or the state courts from finding a right to same-sex marriage in the state constitution.

A coalition of LGBT organizations — including national groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and Freedom to Marry as well as local groups OutFront Minnesota and Project 515— launched a new coalition, Minnesotans United for All Families, immediately upon approval of the amendment.

The plans for the nascent campaign are still being developed. An official campaign manager has yet to be named. Still, the campaign has already piqued the interest of supporters of same-sex marriage.

McFarland said the biggest goal at this point is to start a conversation with the Minnesota electorate about the love and commitment of same-sex couples and reminding voters that discrimination runs contrary to state values.

“The biggest component of the next many, many months is the fact that we’ll have an army of people, an army of volunteers, an army of smart, smart Minnesotans who want to help,” McFarland said. “That’s an advantage that we have ten-fold over the other side.”

McFarland, the de facto head of Minnesotans United for All Families until a campaign manager is selected, said he’s been involved in Minnesota politics for nearly 10 years.

In 2006, he was state director of American Voters, an organization that works to advance liberal-leaning policies and expand access to the ballot. Last year he worked as a communicators officer for the Minnesota Democratic Party.

McFarland’s LGBT portfolio includes working as the gay liaison in Philadelphia for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and serving as a board member for Project 515.

Money is already a concern for the new coalition. Proponents of the anti-gay amendment in Minnesota have pledged to raise $4.7 million to ensure its passage. McFarland said he wants to raise the amount dollar-for-dollar to thwart the effort.

“Things like fundraising goals are still being really fleshed out, but I will tell you that I am committed to raising $4.7 million to match what the other side claims it will spend,” McFarland said.

The output for the campaign is still under deliberation, but McFarland said he envisions paid television advertisements as well as additional paid media presence.

As supporters of same-sex marriage gear up for the fight, anti-gay groups, such as the Minnesota Family Council, are working for passage of the amendment.

The Minnesota Family Council had urged passage of the amendment, asserting that gays and lesbians eat human excrement, that gays and lesbians are more likely to be pedophiles and engage in bestiality, and that domestic partner benefits are a recruiting tool. The anti-gay group has since the scrubbed the language from its online promotions.

McFarland said maintaining a “respectful” tone throughout the campaign is a priority and criticized the anti-gay group’s tactics in the debate.

“It’s just vile language,” McFarland said. “It has no place here. It certainly has no place in Minnesota.”

The Minnesota Family Council didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s requests for comment for this article.

Polling on the amendment in Minnesota is limited, but is promising for those working to defeat the measure. A poll published May 13 by the Minnesota Star Tribune found that 55 percent of respondents oppose adding such language banning same-sex marriage to the state constitution while 39 percent favor such a measure.

McFarland said he thinks the polling is “absolutely” comforting news, but shouldn’t be seen as a guarantee that Minnesota voters will reject the proposed constitutional amendment.

“A year-and-a-half is a long time, so who knows?” McFarland said. “We want to beat this ballot question and we’re going to do everything we can to do that.”

Issac Wood, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said the 2012 presidential election — and the strength of President Obama — may have an impact on the result of the Minnesota ballot initiative.

“Often pundits and the media talk about referendums driving voter turnout and influencing elections, but in this case we may see the reverse,” Wood said. “If Obama is able to win a sizable victory in Minnesota again in 2012, which he won by 10 percentage points in 2008, perhaps he could draw enough socially liberal voters to the polls to defeat the marriage amendment as well.”

Wood said based on the history of the marriage ballot initiatives, Minnesota voters may approve the amendment. Still, he observed that national opinion on marriage has been evolving rapidly in the past year.

“Public opinion on the issue seems to be turning recently, with new polls showing nationwide approval of gay marriage on the rise,” Wood said. “Whether that approval has risen quickly enough to stem the tide of marriage amendments remains to be seen.”

Although there are promising poll numbers, a victory at the polls on the marriage issue is an extremely rare feat for LGBT rights supporters. Each time that a ban on same-sex marriage has come to voters at the state level, it has almost always been approved.

In 2006, Arizona voters rejected an amendment that would have made a ban on same-sex marriage and marriage-like unions part of the state constitution. However, voters passed a similar amendment in 2008 that banned only same-sex marriage.

Despite the dismal batting average, McFarland said he plans to draw on lessons from those earlier battles and has had conversations with those who’ve gone before him.

“We’re currently talking to others in other states that have gone before us in these battles over same-sex couples’ ability to get married,” McFarland said. “We very much intend to be mindful of all of them as we move forward.”

Prominent Minnesotans have already spoken out against the amendment. On Wednesday, Gov. Mark Dayton (D) penned  a symbolic veto. Since the measure is a constitutional amendment, he doesn’t have the authority as governor to stop the initiative from becoming part of state law.

“Although I do not have the power to prevent this divisive and destructive constitutional amendment from appearing on the Minnesota ballot in November 2012, the legislature sent it to me in the form of a bill,” Dayton said. “Thus, symbolic as it may be, I am exercising my legal responsibility to either sign it or veto it. Without question, I am vetoing it.”

McFarland said he appreciates Dayton’s vocal opposition to the amendment — and said the governor was speaking out against it even before the legislature gave final approval — but he said he doesn’t think Dayton will play a large role in the campaign against the initiative.

“He’s the governor and his job is to be governor, not to be part of the campaign,” McFarland said. “His campaign was last year. Will he speak out about this issue? I believe he will because he feels passionately about this, like so many other Minnesotans.”

Another prominent politician from Minnesota has voiced a similar objection. On Monday, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) also slammed the amendment in a statement to media outlets.

“Every Minnesotan deserves dignity and equal treatment under the law, and our state’s same-sex couples should have the same right to marry as anyone else — period,” Franken said. “This amendment would do nothing more than write discrimination into our state’s constitution and add to the barriers same-sex couples already face to the full recognition of their families. I’m hopeful that common sense and compassion will prevail and that this amendment will be defeated.”

Also earlier this week, White House spokesperson Shin Inouye issued a statement to the Washington Blade on President Obama’s position on the measure.

“The President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples or to take such rights away,” Inouye said. “While he believes this is an issue best addressed by the states, he also believes that committed gay couples should have the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple in this country.”

The statement doesn’t explicitly mention the proposed constitutional amendment in Minnesota. Additionally, the statement reaffirms Obama’s lack of support for same-sex marriage rights by saying the issue is “best addressed by the states.”

McFarland said he’s “thrilled” the White House issued a statement, but dodged on whether he’d like to see more from Obama over the course of the campaign against the amendment.

“I really have no answer to that,” McFarland said. “I’m not going to make a call in the press to the White House. I’m not comfortable with that.”



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.


Quality journalism doesn’t come free

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.

Donation Link Here

Continue Reading

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:

Continue Reading


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. 

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade