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Bachmann: Anti-gay bullying ‘not a federal issue’

At rally, GOP hopeful asked about harassment in her district

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Bachmann

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is coming under fire from LGBT advocates for saying anti-gay bullying isn’t a problem for the federal government.

At a rally in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Friday, Minnesota resident Alex Lemon asked Bachmann what she intends to do about the rash of anti-gay school bullying in her district, according to CBS News.

Bachmann reportedly offered a brief response: “That’s not a federal issue.” The GOP presidential hopeful moved on to shake hands with the next rally attendee.

A U.S. House member who represents Minnesota in Congress, Bachmann has become associated with the issue of anti-gay bullying because of the rash of teen suicides in her congressional district. Over the past two years, nine youths have committed suicide in the Anoka-Hennepin school district, the largest in Minnesota. At least four suicide victims were victims of bullying because they were gay or perceived to be gay.

In July, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against the district on behalf of students who say they experienced harassment and violence as a result of an anti-gay environment. The Education and Justice departments are also investigating the district over the issue.

Minnesota resident Tammy Aaberg met with Bachmann’s staffers on Thursday in her Waite Park, Minn., district office to urge the lawmaker to speak out against bullying. Aaberg’s 15-year-old son, Justin, hanged himself in July 2010 after being subjected to anti-gay harassment.

LGBT advocates pounced on Bachmann for rejecting the idea that the federal government should have a role in stopping anti-gay bullying in schools.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications at the Human Rights Campaign, said Bachmann’s remarks at the rally demonstrate “her ignorance and why she’s not worthy of the presidency.”

“Two bills to make schools safer for all kids are pending before Congress and in just a few days, the White House will host a second summit on the issue,” Sainz said. “It most certainly is a federal issue.”

Daryl Presgraves, spokesperson for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, called the Republican presidential candidate’s comments “disappointing.”

“Given her visibility and the well-documented experiences of students being bullied in her own district, it’s disappointing that Rep. Bachmann disagrees with the notion that the safety of all children is a universal concern, not one limited by jurisdiction,” Presgraves said.

Caleb Laiseki, a 16-year-old national advocate for LGBT youth, also maintained bullying should be under the purview of the federal government.

“A national issue is when an issue is occurring throughout the entire nation,” Laiseki said. “Therefore, when incidents of suicides and bullying are occurring in all fifty-states, it clarifies that this a national issue that needs prompt solutions.”

Legislation pending before Congress known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act aims to stop the bullying of LGBT students in schools. President Obama has yet to endorse either of these bills.

But the Obama administration has interpreted existing federal law prohibiting schools from discriminating on the basis on gender to apply in some circumstances to LGBT youth. Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibit harassment based on gender.

Additionally, the White House held a bullying summit in March. Next week, the Education Department is hosting its second annual bullying prevention summit at the Washington Hilton Hotel in D.C.

Bachmann has an extensive anti-gay voting history as a member of Congress and has taken anti-gay positions in her pursuit of the White House. She backs a U.S. constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and has pledged to reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if elected president.

The lawmaker co-owns with her spouse, Marcus Bachmann, a faith-based therapy center that has been revealed in engage in widely discredited “ex-gay” therapy aimed at turning gay people into being straight. The clinic has reportedly been the recipient of at least $137,000 in Medicaid funds since 2005. Bachmann has refused to answer questions about this practice at her clinic or whether federal funds have subsidized it.

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National

Target stores across the country receive bomb threats over LGBTQ merchandise

Company removed Pride-themed items to back of stores in Southern states

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Screenshot from YouTube (Courtesy of 11 Alive Atlanta)

Police departments in Utah, Ohio and Pennsylvania aided by assistance from agents from Federal Bureau of Investigation Field Offices in Ohio and Utah are investigating threats made by email to local media referencing the retail chain Target’s LGBTQ merchandise collections celebrating Pride Month.

KUTV CBS 2 Salt Lake City reported that Sgt. John Ottesen with Layton Utah Police said bomb threats were made to Target stores in Layton, Salt Lake City, Taylorsville and Provo. Ottesen confirmed that multiple law enforcement agencies commenced the investigation after the local new stations received the emailed threats.

A Target store in Layton, Utah, was evacuated after police said they were informed of a bomb threat to multiple Utah locations.

The threats specifically mentioned Target’s Pride merchandise, were three sentences long, and came from a “bogus email address,” according to Ottesen.

WOIO Cleveland 19 News received a bomb threat Friday afternoon against four Target stores in Ohio and a store in Monaca, Pa., purportedly from a person or persons angry over Target Corporation’s decision to remove some of the LGBTQ merchandise after a series of threats and physical threats against its retail clerks and staff in several southern states earlier this week.

It was not immediately known if the threats were legitimate, though precautions were quickly taken to ensure staff and customer’s safety according to officials.

A Target spokesperson who spoke with multiple media outlets said: “The safety of our team members and guests is our top priority. Law enforcement investigated these claims and determined our stores are safe. Our stores are currently open and operating regular hours.”

Speaking for the Minneapolis-based retail giant two days ago, spokesperson Kayla Castañeda noted: “Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and wellbeing while at work. Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.”

Castañeda also released a statement from the company:

“For more than a decade, Target has offered an assortment of products aimed at celebrating Pride Month. Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work. Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior. Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.”

Removal of the merchandise from its online store in addition to the storefronts has prompted harsh criticism of the retailer. California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted.

Numerous LGBTQ activists and groups have condemned Target for bowing to what is seen as political pressure by a minority of far right extremists:

“Extremist groups and individuals work to divide us and ultimately don’t just want rainbow products to disappear, they want us to disappear,” Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “For the past decade, the LGBTQ+ community has celebrated Pride with Target — it’s time that Target stands with us and doubles-down on their commitment to us.”

On Friday, Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at the Harvard Law Cyberlaw Clinic and an LGBTQ activist tweeted her disgust over the decision by Target to effectively abandon company support for the queer product lines and the creators.

Atlanta LGBTQ community reacts to Target pulling some Pride merchandise:

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Virginia

Baptist group forces minister to resign from committees because he is married to man

BWA is based in Falls Church, Va.

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Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger (Photo courtesy of Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger)

A Virginia-based Baptist group forced an openly gay minister to resign from two of its commissions because he is married to a man.

The Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger is an associate minister for youth and young adults and community outreach at Lake Street Church in Evanston, Ill., a congregation that is affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA. 

He has worked with the Revs. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Jeremiah Wright, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who is the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, and has preached at the U.N., among other places. 

Williams-Hauger has studied with Warnock and Moss and earned his Master of Divinity at the New York Theological Seminary. Williams-Hauger is also studying to become ordained within American Baptist Churches USA with the support of Judson Memorial Church in New York.

The Rev. Elijah Brown, who is the secretary general of the Baptist World Alliance, which is headquartered in Falls Church, in an April 21 email to Williams-Hauger confirmed his invitation to join the group’s Interfaith Relations and Racial Justice Commissions had been rescinded.

Thank you for your prayerful attitude,” wrote Brown. “Following our phone conversation yesterday, this email confirms that the invitation from BWA for you to serve on Commissions is rescinded. Please know that I am praying for you.” 

Williams-Hauger told the Washington Blade that it “has always been known that I’m married to” his husband.

“Brad and I have been together since 2005 and he has to accompany me to many events with the Sharpton family to events at Trinity United Church of Christ (in Chicago),” said Williams-Hauger. “In fact, when we got married to our wedding, was celebrated by the clergy at Trinity United Church of Christ with Rev. Dr. Otis Moss and Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright.”

Williams-Hauger told the Blade said Brown nevertheless “decided to get rid of me” when he found out he was married to a man.

Brown, according to Williams-Hauger, “lied to us” when he said the BWA’s Executive Committee “made the decision” to rescind the invitations to join the committee.

“He initiated the situation,” said Williams-Hauger.

Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger, right, with his husband. (Photo courtesy of Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger)

BWA affirms ‘Christian marriage and family life’

The BWA’s belief statement states it affirms “Christian marriage and family life” and affirms “the dignity of all people, male and female, because they are created in God’s image and called to be holy.”

“For more than 100 years, the Baptist World Alliance has networked the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ with a commitment to strengthen worship, fellowship and unity; lead in mission and evangelism; respond to people in need through aid, relief and community development; defend religious freedom, human rights and justice; and advance theological reflection and leadership development,” states the BWA on its website.

A BWA spokesperson in a May 21 statement to the Blade did not specifically comment on Williams-Hauger’s allegations. The comment also did not include a reference to the BWA’s position against marriage for same-sex couples.

“As a Christian world communion, the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) represents Baptists in 128 countries and territories with a governing General Council comprised of global representatives,” reads the statement. “Drawing upon over 400 years of shared Baptist history and more than 100 years of organizational history, the BWA remains committed to our mission to network the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ. With more than 400 commission members from across the global BWA family, we acknowledge their commitment to serve as volunteers and are not able to comment further on the specifics of any current or previous commission member.” 

Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger with Rev. Jesse Jackson. (Photo courtesy of Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger)

Williams-Hauger on Friday in an emailed statement to the Blade noted the BWA “adopted a resolution stating that same-gendered marriage is incompatible with scripture” and “on April 20 I was asked by Rev. Dr. Elijah Brown to step down from my position on the BWA’s Interfaith Relations and Racial Justice Commission; a role I have faithfully served for three years. 

“When Elijah Brown rescinded my invitation to serve on the commission it was not just a personal attempt to silence, but rather it is an attempt to silence others like myself, particularly Black queer persons,” Williams-Hauger told the Blade. “Further it was an effort to silence our prophetic presence and witness, our God ordained call to serve and advocate for justice and equality all while calling the family of faith to be and do better.”

Williams-Hauger said he and other Black LGBTQ people “will not be silenced.”

“Standing on the shoulders of the ancestors of James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin and countless others who lived and died and whose spirits give volume to our voices. We call out the hateful theology being practiced by the BWA,” said Williams-Hauger. “This hateful theology does not represent the message of Jesus, nor does it even represent the entirety of the Baptist Community. This theology of hate is embodied in by the likes of Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, Mike Pence and Mike Huckabee to name a few. If Dr. Brown and the BWA wish to go down that path and be another representation of that, hate; we pray for their souls.”

Williams-Hauger told the Blade that he and other Black LGBTQ clergy “will continue to serve a God of justice.”

“We will build upon the legacy of and work alongside the likes of Rev. Al Sharpton and his children, Rev. Jesse Jackson and his children, Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, the good people of Judson Memorial Church NYC, Riverside Church NYC, Lake Street Church, the body of faithful American Baptist Churches, the Alliance of Baptists, and our siblings in the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, and the body of the some friends among the Association of European Baptist Churches until justice rolls and we get a bit of heaven here on earth.”

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Louisiana

Bill to ban healthcare for transgender youth defeated in La. Senate

‘This is a powerful win for transgender children’

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Louisiana Capitol building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

House Bill 648, a bill that would have banned gender-affirming care for transgender children in Louisiana was defeated by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee’s vote effectively killing the bill for this legislative session.

“The Senate Health and Welfare Committee has chosen to protect Louisiana’s transgender children by rejecting HB 648. This is a powerful win for transgender children and their families. We lift up and celebrate the incredible families, advocates, providers and lawmakers who worked to stop this dangerous bill that targeted transgender children and stripped rights from their parents,” a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana said in a statement.

“The fight to protect the rights of transgender children and their families is far from over. But make no mistake, as states across the country pass harmful bills that mirror HB 648, today’s committee vote matters, and sends a powerful message that will be heard nationwide.”

The committee hearing room was filled to nearly over capacity with trans Louisianians, their supporters and allies. According to WNNO in New Orleans: The committee killed the bill in a narrow 5-4 vote mostly split along party lines after hours of emotional testimony and contentious debate in the packed room. Republican Committee Chair Fred Mills, of Parks, joined Democrats in opposition.

During the at times contentious debate, anti-trans opponents and Republican lawmakers, including state Rep. Michael “Gabe” Firment (R-Pollock), the legislation’s author, repeatedly referred to gender-affirming care and surgery for trans minors as a “mutilation” of children’s bodies. They also claimed these treatments are “experimental.”

Dr. Quentin Van Meter, a pediatric endocrinologist from Atlanta, told the panel, “We are flying an airplane while we build the airplane,” while others backing the bill rejected the that banning gender-affirming care would lead to worse mental health conditions for minors.

Opponents pointed out that children’s inability to make significant life decisions and because of that, legally minors cannot purchase alcohol or get a tattoo, there’s no reason to allow them to transition.

A trans advocate, Dr. Clifton Mixon, a Louisiana psychologist who works with trans youth in the state, rebuked the idea that doctors are mutilating children’s genitalia. In his testimony, he also pointed out how rarely these procedures occur in the state: From 2017-2021, there weren’t any gender-affirming surgical procedures performed on minors in Louisiana, according to a Louisiana Department of Health study published in 2022.

WNNO noted that state Sen. Jay Luneau (D-Alexandria) said he was concerned that the bill would take away parental rights and called the bill “a solution looking for a problem.”

Luneau said he believes every person who testified, including those that are happy with and those who regret their decision to transition. But lawmakers cannot legislate individual’s decisions, he said.

Luneau made the motion to defer the bill. The decision came down to Mills, who expressed his trust in science and health care providers before joining Democrats in opposition.

“I guess I’ve always believed in my heart of hearts that a decision should be made by a patient and a physician,” Mills said.

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