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Minnesota gearing up for marriage fight

In symbolic move, guv vetoes 2012 ballot measure

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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.”

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. evolutionisfact

    May 26, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Yup, that’s right. P*ss out millions of dollars over a referendum fight which the majority of heteros are going to approve anyway. This has NOTHING to do with religion, saving children or even “morality”(whatever THAT means)!! This has EVERYTHING to do with the hetero majority cramming their HETEROsexuality down our throats!!! Save your donation money folks for the SUPREME COURT battle! THAT is where our civil rights will be determined like every other civil rights battle in this country has been fought LIKE IT SHOULD BE!!

    • Hyhybt

      May 26, 2011 at 2:17 pm

      Who knows when or how the Supreme Court will rule on this. The Prop 8 case would be a great one to legalize marriage nationwide, except it almost certainly won’t get there because of standing. And the DOMA challenges are focused on the part about federal recognition, not uncooperative states.

      Meaning that, at least for the next too-many years, it’s still going to be a state-by-state fight. And Minnesota’s a special case: their peculiar system makes passing *any* constitutional amendment more difficult than usual. Anybody who shows up at the poll but doesn’t vote on the amendment gets counted as a NO vote. That should counteract the anti-marriage side’s easier time getting people motivated to vote…. but it also means that, if it *does* pass and the Supreme Court drags its heels (or, worse, finds an excuse to rule the other way) it will be all the harder to reverse.

      This is something that needs to be fought on EVERY front, so long as the other side is doing so.

      I do wonder, though: hypothetically speaking, if the SC were to rule that states must allow gay marriage BEFORE election day, would this be removed from the ballot? If not, would that change how the votes went? If passed, would it be enforced until challenged and all appeals were exhausted?

  2. Walter Zimmerman

    May 26, 2011 at 11:11 am

    How can this possibly be legal? The basic civil rights of any group cannot be left in the hands of the general electorate — this is why we have division of power in government in the first place. Just because an idea (or prejudice) is popular, doesn’t mean it is either right or fair.

  3. Hyhybt

    May 26, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    First, an apology if this goes through twice; I got an error message upon clicking “post.”

    Re: Evolutionisfact: Who knows when or how the Supreme Court will rule on this. The Prop 8 case would be a great one to legalize marriage nationwide, except it almost certainly won’t get there because of standing. And the DOMA challenges are focused on the part about federal recognition, not uncooperative states.

    Meaning that, at least for the next too-many years, it’s still going to be a state-by-state fight. And Minnesota’s a special case: their peculiar system makes passing *any* constitutional amendment more difficult than usual. Anybody who shows up at the poll but doesn’t vote on the amendment gets counted as a NO vote. That should counteract the anti-marriage side’s easier time getting people motivated to vote…. but it also means that, if it *does* pass and the Supreme Court drags its heels (or, worse, finds an excuse to rule the other way) it will be all the harder to reverse.

    This is something that needs to be fought on EVERY front, so long as the other side is doing so.

    I do wonder, though: hypothetically speaking, if the SC were to rule that states must allow gay marriage BEFORE election day, would this be removed from the ballot? If not, would that change how the votes went? If passed, would it be enforced until challenged and all appeals were exhausted?

  4. Hyhybt

    May 26, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    First, an apology if this goes through twice; I got an error message upon clicking “post.”

    Re: Evolutionisfact: Who knows when or how the Supreme Court will rule on this. The Prop 8 case would be a great one to legalize marriage nationwide, except it almost certainly won’t get there because of standing. And the DOMA challenges are focused on the part about federal recognition, not uncooperative states.

    Meaning that, at least for the next too-many years, it’s still going to be a state-by-state fight. And Minnesota’s a special case: their peculiar system makes passing *any* constitutional amendment more difficult than usual. Anybody who shows up at the poll but doesn’t vote on the amendment gets counted as a NO vote. That should counteract the anti-marriage side’s easier time getting people motivated to vote…. but it also means that, if it *does* pass and the Supreme Court drags its heels (or, worse, finds an excuse to rule the other way) it will be all the harder to reverse.

  5. Carissa

    May 26, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_176930325694605 Show your support for Gay Marriage Rights! Join others on Facebook June 1st, for the month of June, in changing your status to Married. Find a same sex friend or partner and set your status to married to them for the month of June. Even if you are already in a relationship, encourage your significant other to join in showing the world that we believe in equal rights! There is no good reason why anyone should limit marriage to a man and a woman.

  6. Albatross

    May 26, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    The thing is, we need to be proactive and strategic in Minnesota, and learn from the battles in California and elsewhere. We can’t count on correcting the lies of the other side after the fact – nobody reads the corrections in the next day’s paper. We need to anticipate their lies and make sure everyone knows they’re lies when they’re uttered. We need to make sure it’s clear when funding is coming from outstate groups seeking to influence our constitution. We need to question the tax status of religious organizations supporting a political fight, and tell them up front that if they fund this amendment, they’re going to be reported to the IRS. We need to be out in FRONT of the bigots and their big money, we need to be out in the small towns with communications teams trained to discuss this issue with folks who may not know any homosexuals. We need to be SMART and we need to win.

  7. Alex

    May 27, 2011 at 1:06 am

    MN family council CEO publicly admitted that their mission is to bring the “Lord’s message to the legislative arena”. Nothing about religion as I think it has it’s place in a society but I think that organization is a fully blown lobby that should be deprived of their tax benefits.

  8. AtmosphereFan

    May 27, 2011 at 1:12 am

    Well said, Albatross!

  9. Joe

    May 27, 2011 at 2:08 am

    If each of us who’ve ever felt discrimination just donated a few dollars to the cause, we can all stem the tide of losses and see a victory. We CAN win this. We ALL can help! Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere! JOIN the fight TODAY!

    http://www.minnesotansunitedforallfamilies.com/

  10. Hyhybt

    May 27, 2011 at 2:25 am

    One problem with this: “We need to make sure it’s clear when funding is coming from outstate groups seeking to influence our constitution,” and that is that it would require not accepting such funding yourself. Is the moral high ground on that (if it even is one) worth fighting 50 states’ worth of money (because there almost certainly won’t be anything else similar in the same election cycle elsewhere) with only Minnesota’s?

    Either way you go, and despite the fact that I’m not Minnesotan (so shoot me if you must) I’m greatly looking forward to NOMetc no longer being able to claim their side has never lost. Not that it’s *quite* true anyway; they neglect the first attempt in Arizona; but nonetheless, I’m looking forward to hearing them blame their loss on your rather peculiar system of counting a lack of vote as a vote against :)

  11. Barbie

    May 27, 2011 at 4:51 am

    In terms of funding, maybe I’m being naive but I feel that the side that is for the amendment has large donations just waiting to be trucked in, where our out-of-state funding would be coming from more individuals. I think that we need to be aware of where the funding is coming from and inform the public when, for instance, an out-of-state interest group pushes a cool million into the fight. It could be that I feel it’s an uphill battle, but I just don’t think that the marriage equality side would have that kind of pocket money. Someone correct me if I’m way off base.

  12. evolutionisfact

    May 27, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Wanna “stem the tide” against hetero stupidity? Then someday very soon we’re going to have to start increasing our numbers!! This is strictly a numbers game folks! We now need to seriously begin the raising of our OWN offspring! GAY OFFSPRING!! The very way evolution intended!!

  13. Hyhybt

    May 27, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Ev… you *do* know it doesn’t work that way, right?

    (Heck, if nothing else, even if things did work like that, your way would take a minimum of 20 years. At the rate things are going, we should have it taken care of nationwide in ten, at the most.)

  14. MartyMpls

    May 29, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    As far as our “rather peculiar system of counting a lack of vote as a vote against”, in California there was just under 1% of voters that skipped the prop. 8 question, so unless there is a major “Minnesota Nice” influence, I have think the non-vote will be similar in Minnesota, given the huge media buys that will no doubt happen.

    It’s nice to see Al comment on this, I didn’t see anything on the local rag (StarTribune) on it. Al is a great guy, my partner and I have run into to him several times around the Senate recount fiasco, always a great sense of humor. And OMG, if we didn’t have Mr. Dayton as our governor, I would be off to London to live with my partner…

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National

Colin Powell, leaving mixed legacy on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ dies at 84

Key figure once opposed gays in military, then backed review

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gay news, Washington Blade, Colin Powell, gay marriage
Colin Powell leaves behind a mixed legacy on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Colin Powell, the first ever Black secretary of state who served in top diplomatic and military roles in U.S. administrations, died Monday of coronavirus at age 84, leaving behind a mixed record on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The world continues to grapple with the pandemic and the public grows increasingly frustrated with its persistence as many remain unvaccinated despite the wide availability of vaccines. Powell was fully vaccinated, according to a statement released upon his death. Powell reportedly suffered from multiple myeloma, a condition that hampers an individual’s ability to combat blood infections.

Rising to the top of the military as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell supported in 1993 Congress moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that barred openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

During a key moment congressional testimony, Powell and other top military officials were asked whether or not allowing gay people in the military would be compatible with military readiness. Each official, including Powell,” responded “incompatible.” Congress would enact “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that year.

Things changed when President Obama took office 15 years later and advocates for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were eager to claim Powell’s voice among their ranks. After all, Powell was highly respected as a bipartisan voice after having served as secretary of state in the administration of George W. Bush and endorsing Obama in the 2008 election.

After the Obama administration in 2010 announced it would conduct a review of the idea of allowing gay people to serve openly in the military, Powell came out in support of that process. Advocates of repeal called that a declaration of reversal, although the statement fell short of a full support for gay people serving openly in the military.

“In the almost 17 years since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed,” General Powell said in a statement issued by his office, adding, “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.”

Congress acted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the policy was lifted in 2011. At the time, Powell was widely considered a supporter of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and publicly counted among supporters of repeal, although the Blade couldn’t immediately find any statements from him to that effect.

In 2012, Powell had similar vaguely supportive words on same-sex marriage, saying he had “no problem with it” when asked about the issue.

“As I’ve thought about gay marriage, I know a lot of friends who are individually gay but are in partnerships with loved ones, and they are as stable a family as my family is, and they raise children,” Powell said. “And so I don’t see any reason not to say that they should be able to get married.”

The Blade also couldn’t immediately find any statement from Powell on transgender people serving in the military. After the Obama administration in 2016 lifted decades-old regulations against transgender service, former President Trump issued a ban by tweet the following year. President Biden reversed that ban and allowed transgender people to serve and enlist in the military in his first year in office.

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Texas

Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill

HB 25 now heads to state Senate

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GenderCool Project leader and Trans activist Landon Richie (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.

Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.

However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.

HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.

“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.

“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.

“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.

During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.

He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”

He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.

Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”

González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.

Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.

He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”

“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.

“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.

The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”

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National

LGBTQ Youth web resource gone after Texas GOP candidate complained

Removal of the LGBTQ youth resource webpage appeared to be strictly political the Houston Chronicle reported

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Anti-LGBTQ Republican Don Huffines (Screenshot via Twitter)

AUSTIN – A late August video tweet from a wealthy Dallas-based real estate development company executive and conservative Republican gubernatorial challenger, blamed fellow Republican incumbent Texas Governor Greg Abbott for endorsing an LGBTQ+ agenda, because of the existence of a state online resource webpage for LGBTQ youth.

Within hours it was pulled down by the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, (DFPS) the agency responsible for the page.

In an article published Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Don Huffines claimed tax dollars were being used to “advocate for transgender ideology.” Huffines also went on to say that DFPS was publishing “disturbing information about our youth.”

“They’re talking about helping empower and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, non-heterosexual behavior. I mean really? This is Texas. These are not Texas values. These are not Republican Party values, but these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values,” 

A message on the website states that the previous content is now under review.

According to the Chronicle, the website for the Texas Youth Connection, a division of Family and Protective Services that steers young people to various resources, including education, housing and those on its LGBTQ page as they prepare for life after foster care. It was replaced by a message that states, “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content. This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”

LGBTQ+ activists and advocates are furious. Among the resources on the page for LGBTQ+ youth were critical information including for housing and information for suicide prevention and crisis assistance.

GenderCool Youth Leader, Trans rights activist and University of Houston student Landon Richie told the Blade Tuesday;

“This is deplorable. To Governor Abbott, LGBTQ+ youth are nothing more than pawns on a political chessboard. Despite his cries of protection and fairness in justification of this session’s unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ+ — especially trans — youth, it has never truly been about any of those things; it has always been about his power.

Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ youth deserve safety, protection, support, and affirmation from the state — this year alone, the Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support, as a result of this legislative session. LGBTQ+ youth deserve better than to be treated like they are as easily discardable as a webpage,” Richie said.

Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights reacted telling the Blade in an emailed statement:

“Helping LGBTQ youth and their families prevent suicide is not a partisan issue, and any elected official who seeks to make it one has lost any sense of shame. This action by Governor Abbott is appalling and will needlessly harm vulnerable children and families who urgently need support.”

Removal of the page appeared to be strictly political the Chronicle reported.

Patrick Crimmins, the department spokesman, told the Chronicle that the review “is still ongoing” but declined to answer questions seeking more detail about why the website was removed or whether it had anything to do with Huffines.

But Family and Protective Services communications obtained through a public records request show that agency employees discussed removing the “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” page in response to Huffines’ tweet, shortly before taking it offline,” the paper wrote.

More telling was the events leading the page’s removal said the paper:

Thirteen minutes after Huffines’ video went up, media relations director Marissa Gonzales emailed a link to Crimmins, the agency’s communications director, under the subject line “Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda.”

FYI. This is starting to blow up on Twitter,” Gonzales wrote.

Crimmins then queried Darrell Azar, DFPS’ web and creative services director, about who oversees the page. “Darrell — please note we may need to take that page down, or somehow revise content,” he wrote.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth weighed in on the Chronicle’s reporting in an emailed statement to the Blade.

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system — and those who have been in foster care report significantly higher rates of attempting suicide. It is unconscionable that the Texas state government would actively remove vital suicide prevention resources from its website for the sole purpose of appeasing a rival politician. Mental health and suicide prevention are nonpartisan,” said Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs. “This story sends a terrible message to LGBTQ youth in Texas and will only contribute to the internalization of stigma and shame. We should be expanding access to support services for this group, not erasing what resources LGBTQ youth have to reach out for help.” 

The Chronicle reported that the deleted webpage also included links to the Texas chapters of PFLAG, a nationwide LGBTQ organization; a “national youth talk line” to discuss gender and sexual identity and various other issues; and LGBTQ legal services.

Huffines said the page also linked to a website operated by the Human Rights Campaign, a politically active LGBTQ advocacy group that he called “the Planned Parenthood of LGBT issues.”

Data on Texas:

  • Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
  • While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
    • Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
    • Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.

Additional Research: 

  • The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered. 

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