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‘This will be a very tough campaign’

Baldwin seeks to become first openly gay senator

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U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who is seeking to become the next U.S. senator from Wisconsin, is warning supporters that the path to victory won’t be easy.

Baldwin (D-Wisc.), who declared her candidacy for U.S. Senate on Tuesday, described the challenge of her bid to become to first openly gay U.S. senator during a conference call Wednesday with LGBT media.

“What I do want everyone to know is this will be a very tough campaign,” Baldwin said. “Wisconsin is a deeply and evenly divided state. You’ve seen us go and back forth. You’ve seen Wisconsin come alive in the past few months in opposition to a group of state leaders who are not listening to the concerns of the people. But I think voters are going to hear me out and come to know that I am going to be a fighter.”

First up for Baldwin during the campaign: touring Wisconsin to listen to concerns and build name recognition among her potential constituents.

“In the months ahead, as I did over the past summer, I’m going to be traveling the state, meeting with people in their homes and workplaces,” Baldwin said. “You certainly know I’m well-known in the House district that I represent, but there are parts of Wisconsin where I have to go around and introduce myself.”

In the time she has spent speaking with voters, Baldwin said she has heard from people “again and again just how disgusted they are” with what’s happening in Washington.

“It’s clear to all of us that the middle class is getting completely slammed both in this economic environment and in this political environment,” Baldwin said. “I think we as the LGBT community can really understand the concerns we feel when we think our leaders aren’t taking our genuine challenges and struggles to heart.”

Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, praised Baldwin during the conference call and said her bid for the Senate will be “an important race of our community.”

“The Victory Fund endorsed Tammy in her first state legislative race back in 1992,” Wolfe said. “She hasn’t lost a race. We hope we are able to help her continue that success rate all the way through 2012.”

The first major hurdle for Baldwin will be a Democratic primary challenge in September 2012. Both Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and former Rep. Steve Kagen have been named as possible contenders, although Baldwin at this point is the only announced Democratic candidate.

But polling has shown Baldwin to be ahead of both Kind and Kagen. During the conference call, Baldwin noted she voted in 2002 against the Iraq war resolution and in 1999 against the repeal of a financial regulation law known as the Glass-Steagall Act, which some say led to the financial crisis of 2008. Kind voted in favor of both measures.

“People will also recognize that I have a lifetime commitment to equality for all,” Baldwin said. “And I think they’ll learn that I’m not afraid to stand up to big and powerful interests.”

Asked whether she thinks she’ll have a Democratic opponent, Baldwin said, “I have no idea, but I’m prepared for any eventuality.”

Polls have shown that Baldwin is the front-runner in a Democratic primary, but the situation is different during the general election. Both former Gov. Tommy Thompson and announced U.S. Senate candidate Mark Neumann are slightly ahead of Baldwin in the polls.

But Baldwin dismissed this early polling and said any results obtained at this point would mostly “be related to name recognition.” She noted Thompson has held statewide office as governor and Neumann is a perennial statewide candidate, but she previously only had to be concerned about her House district.

“I think what’s much more important in terms of building a campaign is that once voters, for example, know there’s a candidate named Tammy Baldwin and she’s a fighter for the middle class, then you have, more or less, a deeply and evenly divided state in terms of Democrats and Republicans,” Baldwin said.

Asked whether being an out lesbian will be an issue during the Senate campaign, Baldwin said she thinks Wisconsin will value her honesty about her sexual orientation.

“I have always since the beginning in all my adult life been out and honest about my sexual orientation, and I think that voters appreciate the values of honestly and expect integrity in their elected officials,” Baldwin said.

Still, Baldwin maintained the race “won’t be about me” and instead will focus on the problems facing everyday Americans.

“It will be about the middle-class, the threats that they’re facing right now, the struggles that families are experiencing and which candidate for U.S. Senate is going to be the best fighter for them,” Baldwin said.

What will Baldwin do if confronted with homophobia and anti-gay attacks while on the campaign trail? The candidate pledged to respond to such attacks head on.

“To the extent that I’m faced with it in my campaign, I plan on responding very directly,” Baldwin said. “The campaign is unfolding across the country, but to the extent that it is raised in the U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin, I am certainly not going to turn the other way.”

Asked whether she’ll promote LGBT rights, particularly the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, while on the campaign trail, the lawmaker said she has been talking about such issues in the context of larger discussions as she said Wisconsin in 1982 was the first state to enact protections based on sexual orientation.

“When I talk about the proud tradition of the state of Wisconsin and labor and equal rights — they are all in the same conversation,” Baldwin said. “People in Wisconsin feel proud of those firsts, all of them, and view them as interlinked. That’s the same sort of way, I think, at the national level that we weave these things together.”

 

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Florida

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

“LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased”

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Florida State Capitol building

TALLAHASSEE – A Republican majority Florida House Education & Employment Committee passed HB 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 Senate bill SB 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% 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 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% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

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