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EXCLUSIVE: Connolly to co-sponsor adoption anti-bias bill

Va. lawmaker denounces GOP moves against gay parents, abortion

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Rep. Gerry Connolly (photo public domain)

A Democratic congressman from Northern Virginia has pledged to co-sponsor an adoption non-discrimination bill in the U.S. House in response to a GOP effort in Virginia to allow adoption agencies to discriminate against prospective gay parents.

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said he’ll co-sponsor the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would restrict federal funds for states that allow for discrimination in adoption based on LGBT status.

“I think on the merits it’s a good idea,” Connolly said. “Bringing children into a loving home is the object here, and that’s irrespective of the sexual orientation of the adults in that home. Can they provide a climate of love and protection and nurturing? That’s what children need.”

Connolly’s co-sponsorship of the bill, whose chief sponsor is Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), brings the total number of supporters to 92. The bill has one Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). In the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand sponsors the bill, which has nine co-sponsors.

Connolly announces his support for the federal bill as the Republican-controlled Virginia Legislature has approved anti-gay legislation that would allow private adoption agencies to discriminate in placements conflicting with their religious or moral beliefs, including on the basis of sexual orientation. The bill is on its way to the desk of Gov. Bob McDonnell, who’s indicated he’ll sign the measure.

Connolly said he wanted to co-sponsor the federal adoption anti-discrimination measure “especially in light of this odious, reactionary legislation in Richmond.”

“I want to do everything at the federal level in my power to try to counteract it, and [the Every Child Deserves a Family Act] give us that opportunity,” Connolly said.

Connolly denounced the Virginia Legislature for passing the anti-gay bill — calling it a “big step backward” — as he more broadly criticized state lawmakers for pushing forward with what he called “reactionary bills,” such as a measure requiring women to have an ultrasound before they have an abortion.

“Imagine mandating a medical procedure, even though that it’s not medically indicated for political reasons,” Connolly said. “Frankly, it’s a totalitarian state.”

Connolly said the anti-gay adoption bill is “not far removed from that same phenomenon” and predicted the passage of both bills will “hurt the economic climate” of Virginia.

“Big employers do not like any barriers — discriminatory barriers — to their hiring, to their workforce, to their ability creatively to get their work done,” Connolly said. “It’s an enormous step backwards — very injurious to the economic interests of the Commonwealth of Virginia, to say nothing of individual liberty.”

If McDonnell signs either piece of legislation, Connolly said the governor would become “radioactive” if he decides to pursue national office — such as running mate to the Republican presidential nominee.

“Good luck in explaining that in the general election to the American people,” Connolly said. “You have compromised the individual rights of every woman in America, and, as the national trend is going in the other direction recognizing long delayed rights of gay and lesbian individuals in America, here’s the Commonwealth of Virginia going in exactly the opposite direction.”

Although Connolly has signed on in support of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, he also predicted the legislation would no see movement in Congress as long as Republicans remain in control of the House.

“Sadly, this reactionary narrative with respect to the rights of gay and lesbian individuals has taken hold among the Republicans nationwide, and so I fully expect that the House Republican leadership will do everything in their power to block this legislation from going to the floor,” Connolly said.

The Virginia Democrat isn’t the only member of the federal delegation who’s a co-sponsor of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) is also a co-sponsor. The office of the other Virginia Democrat in the U.S. House, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the bill.

Spokespersons for the two Democrats representing Virginia in the U.S. Senate — Mark Warner and Jim Webb — have said the officials are reviewing the bill. Warner last week denounced the anti-gay adoption legislation as “mean-spirited” and “wrong” during a political event in Richmond.

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council and among the chief advocates of the legislation, commended Connolly for signing on in support of the bill.

“We are thrilled with Rep. Connolly’s support and the support of a growing number of lawmakers for the the Every Child Deserves a Family Act,” Chrisler said. “They all understand that this issue is about the best interests of the 404,000 children in foster care in our country. The current laws and policies in Virginia and other states are a barrier to kids finding a forever home.”

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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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