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Senate panel advances gay judicial nominee

Fitzgerald could become fourth out person to sit on federal bench

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Michael Walker Fitzgerald (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Senate committee approved unanimously by voice vote on Thursday a judicial nominee who could become the fourth openly gay person to sit on the federal bench.

Michael Walter Fitzgerald, whom President Obama nominated in July, was approved the Senate Judiciary Committee en banc as part of a group of nominees.

Fitzgerald is the fourth out federal judicial nominee chosen by the White House. Upon confirmation, he would take a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and would be the first openly gay federal judge in that state.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, commended the panel for moving forward with nomination.

“Moving Michael Fitzgerald’s nomination to the Senate floor is a positive step toward confirming a dedicated legal talent,” Cole-Schwartz said. “We urge the full Senate to confirm him and help make the bench more representative of the diversity of the American public.”

When the full Senate will take up the Fitzgerald nomination remains in question. The Senate is currently is currently facing a backlog of judicial nominees on the Senate floor who haven’t yet received votes.

Erica Chabot, a Senate Judiciary Committee spokesperson, said 22 nominations were already pending on the floor before the committee approved Fitzgerald and other nominees on Thursday.

“This nomination will join those and the others reported today on the floor,” Chabot said. “Sen. Leahy has been very clear about his concerns with how long nominations are pending on the floor after being reported by the committee.”

The Fitzgerald nomination was recommended to Obama by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who also praised the committee for advancing the Fitzgerald nomination and called for swift confirmation on the Senate floor.

“I am so pleased that the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Michael Fitzgerald’s nomination to serve on the federal bench,” Boxer said. “He is a highly respected attorney whose sharp intellect and experience as a former federal prosecutor and attorney in private practice will make him an outstanding judge. It is now critical that the Senate move swiftly to confirm him so he can begin serving the people of the Central District.”

According to Boxer’s office, Fitzgerald has tried 26 cases to verdict, and the overwhelming majority were before a jury. Around 60 percent of his practice is in federal court. Fitzgerald was given a review by the American Bar Association, which gave him a rating of “unanimously well-qualified.”

Prior to joining Corbin, Fitzgerald & Athey LLP in 1998, Fitzgerald worked at the Law Offices of Robert L. Corbin PC and at the law firm of Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe. Fitzgerald also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, where he handled criminal cases, such as a drug and money laundering case involving what at that time was the second-largest cocaine seizure in California.

Fitzgerald wrote in his questionnaire response to the committee that he served as a volunteer making telephone calls or knocking on doors for political campaigns, including President Obama’s 2008 campaign and the 2008 campaign against Proposition 8. Fitzgerald is also a member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Gay & Lesbian Caucus. From 2007 to 2008, he served on the leadership task force for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. In the 1990s, he was a member of the Stonewall Democratic Club.

The gay judicial nominee is no stranger to represent client in cases related to LGBT rights. Fitzgerald was involved in the settlement of Buttino v. FBI, the 1993 class-action lawsuit involving Frank Buttino, a gay FBI specialist who was anonymously outed to his superior, resulting in the removal of his security clearance and subsequent firing. Fitzgerald asked his law firm at the time to represent Buttino on a pro bono basis.

As a result of the settlement, the FBI renounced its prior policy of viewing homosexuality as a negative factor in regard to security clearances, the FBI agreed to hire an openly lesbian special agent and Buttino’s pension was restored.

In addition to Fitzgerald, one other gay judicial nominee is pending before the Senate: Edward DuMont, who was nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Obama renominated DuMont for the position in January after the 111th Congress took no action on his appointment. DuMont’s nomination has yet to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The extensive delay in moving his nomination forward has led to questions over what’s preventing the Senate from taking action.

The committee voted to approve the Fitzgerald nomination as it held over other scheduled business to start debate leading on legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. The panel is expected to reconsider the legislation next week.

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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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