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National news in brief: Jan. 6

Washington Guv. supports marriage rights, Johnny Weir reveals New Years wedding, Gay Games group sees more conflict



Christine Gregoire, Governor of Washington, gay news, gay politics dc

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire told reporters this week that she now supports full marriage rights for same-sex couples. (Photo by Evan Derickson)

Washington guv to support marriage rights

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Christine Gregoire, a longtime LGBT rights supporter, announced Wednesday that she supports extending full marriage rights to same-sex couples in Washington state, according to Reuters.

Several Democrats are expected to introduce a bill extending full marriage rights to same-sex couples in the next legislative session. Democrats hold a sizable majority in both houses in the state whose domestic partnerships have since 2009 offered almost all of the same state rights to same-sex couples as those offered to married opposite-sex couples.

In a historic first, that domestic partnership law was upheld by the voters of Washington state in November 2009, when they approved Referendum 71.

“The speculation is that she’ll support marriage equality and we are looking forward with great anticipation to her speech,” Josh Friedes, director of marriage equality for Equal Rights Washington, told Reuters.

The change in law could be a boon for Washington if it follows New York’s lead. According to the Wall Street Journal, since legalizing marriage in June, the New York City clerk’s office reported a 14 percent increase in new marriage licenses.

Efforts to legalize full marriage for same-sex couples in 2012 are anticipated in Maine, Maryland and California as well.

Conservative Colo. group to push for civil unions

DENVER — A self-described group of conservative Republicans has formed to help push Republican lawmakers to support an effort to pass same-sex civil unions in Colorado, according to the Denver Post.

The mostly heterosexual leadership of Coloradans for Freedom — which includes business leaders, political activists, lobbyists and former and current lawmakers — plans to lobby lawmakers in support of a civil unions bill in 2012. A similar bill passed the Colorado Senate but died in the House in 2011.

“The point is not to create conflict within the Republican Party,” Republican Jefferson County attorney Mario Nicolais, who believes the ability to form a civil union is a matter of personal freedom, told the Post. “It’s to provide resources to people interested in the conservative argument for civil unions.”

Tenn. group wants exemption from bullying law

NASHVILLE — The Family Action Council of Tennessee is seeking a religious exemption from an anti-bullying law in that state, an exemption LGBT advocates call a “license to bully.”

According to the state’s most prominent newspaper, the Tennessean, the changes to the law would protect religious speech that some may consider offensive or insulting, which LGBT advocates charge is aimed at giving a pass to anti-gay rhetoric in the classroom. Teachers and administrators in Tennessee are already barred from discussing LGBT issues in the classroom.

In addition, the proposed changes would remove the protected classes in the state’s anti-bullying law, and instead focus on specific behaviors, which opponents of the changes say is another blow to protecting students bullied for either real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We need to be focusing on ways to ensure that Tennessee students receive an education free from bullying, harassment and intimidation,” Tennessee Equality Project board president Jonathan Cole wrote on the group’s website in regard to the proposed legislation. “The health and welfare of Tennessee children may depend on it.”

Detroit LGBT activist and MCC pastor dies

DETROIT — Former Detroit Metropolitan Community Church pastor Mark Bidwell — who stepped down in September after a scandal involving a drug overdose death at his home — died on Tuesday, according to Michigan’s LGBT weekly, Between the Lines. He was 52.

Bidwell was also forced to resign from his position as Ferndale police chaplain at the time of the death of Steven Michael Fitch.

Bidwell took over the Ferndale-based church in 1989. Detroit’s MCC was founded in the 1970s and flourished in the gay-friendly Detroit suburb under Bidwell. The pastor was well known for performing same-sex union ceremonies on the steps of the Ferndale City Hall during Motor City Pride throughout the 2000s.

In 2011, Motor City Pride moved from Ferndale to the Detroit riverfront, returning to the city for the first time in 10 years. According to MCC’s website, funeral services are set for Saturday.

Johnny Weir at LA Pride 2011, gay news, gay politics dc

Weir rings in New Year with NYC wedding. (Photo by Dan Leveille)

Weir rings in New Year with NYC wedding

LOS ANGELES — Ringing in an especially joyful new year, on Jan. 1 at midnight in New York City, Olympic skater Johnny Weir said ‘I do’ to his partner Victor Voronov, whom the skater has known for many years, but only began dating this summer.

“[Victor is] kind of everything that I’ve ever looked for and aspired to be in a relationship with,” the 27-year-old Weir told in late December, during an interview about his plans to return to competition. “I’m very happy with my personal life and also my professional life, and I thank God I can be exactly where I’m at.”

The second season of “Be Good Johnny Weir” returns to the Logo network this year.

Gay Games leader resigns over reunification

SEATTLE — The former Federation of Gay Games communications co-chair, has resigned his position on a crucial planning group for the 10th global LGBT sports event to take place in 2018, over a major impasse, according to the Bay Area Reporter in San Francisco.

Kelly Stevens left the 1 Quadrennial Event Working Group — which is planning an event that will bring back together for the first time since 2006 the International Gay Games and the Outgames — over the decision to bring athletes together to choose the 2018 city at the 2013 Outgames in Antwerp, rather than the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland. Stevens believes holding the vote in Antwerp rather than Cleveland will detract from the 2014 event. The schism between the Federation of Gay Games — which hosts the Gay Games — and the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association — which hosts the Outgames — stems from a disagreement between the FGG and the Montreal 2006 planning committee, leading to the 2006 games being revoked from Montreal and awarded to second choice, Chicago.

The two organizations have been at odds for many years, but overtures of reconciliation have led to the possibility of hosting a combined event at the end of this decade.

Washington, D.C. was a finalist for the 2014 games, but lost out to Cleveland in the vote at the 2010 games in Cologne.



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.


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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:

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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. 

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