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Solmonese joins Obama campaign as national co-chair

HRC chief among 35 selected for role

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Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Obama campaign has tapped Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese for a position as a national co-chair to advocate for the president based on his work for the LGBT community and the country as a whole.

On Wednesday, the Obama campaign issued a statement saying Solmonese had been selected for the role as part of a group of 35 individuals who had been chosen as national co-chairs.

In a statement, Solmonese praised Obama’s work on LGBT issues over the course of the more than three years the president has been in office, saying the president’s leadership “has brought about great change for LGBT Americans.”

“From ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ to prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in the federal government, to signing the hate crime prevention act into law, the Obama administration has improved the lives of LGBT Americans more than ever before,” Solmonese said. “President Obama has made it clear that LGBT Americans deserve a fair shot and has taken steps across his administration to make the lives of those most in need in our community better.”

Others on the list include Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and actress Eva Longoria, who stars on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.”

In a statement, Jim Messina, Obama for America’s campaign manager, said the national co-chairs “will be tremendous assets on the ground as we build the biggest grassroots campaign in history.”

“They each share the president’s vision for a future where every American can have a fair shot at success, where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded,” Messina said.

According to the Obama campaign statement, the national co-chairs are charged with serving as ambassadors for the president, advising the campaign on key issues and helping to engage and mobilize voters. The positions are unpaid.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said Solmonese’s role with the Obama campaign won’t be LGBT-specific and he’ll advocate for the president based on the entirety of his work.

“I think that Joe, obviously, will be most impactful in terms of speaking on behalf on the issues important to our community, but Joe will be able to speak to the entirety of the president’s record,” Sainz said.

Solmonese is slated to leave his post as HRC president when his contract expires on March 31, 2012. Sainz said Solmonese will begin his role with the Obama campaign immediately and continue his role for the president after he’s left the organization.

The complete list of the 35 national co-chairs follows:

·         Lynnette Acosta – OFA volunteer leader from Florida

·         Marc Benioff – CEO of Salesforce.com

·         Senator Michael Bennet – U.S. Senator from Colorado

·         Mayor Julian Castro – Mayor of San Antonio

·         Governor Lincoln Chafee – Governor of Rhode Island

·         Ann Cherry – Retired teacher and OFA volunteer leader from North Carolina

·         Representative Judy Chu – Representing the 32nd District of California

·         Representative Emanuel Cleaver – Representing the 5th District of Missouri

·         Bill Daley – Former White House Chief of Staff to President Obama, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce

·         Maria Elena Durazo – Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO

·         Senator Dick Durbin – U.S. Senator from Illinois

·         Mayor  Rahm Emanuel – Mayor of Chicago

·         Senator Russ Feingold – Former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin

·         Representative Charles A. Gonzalez – Representing the 20th District of Texas

·         Loretta Harper – High School Counselor and OFA volunteer leader from Nevada

·         Attorney General Kamala Harris – Attorney General of California

·         Sai Iyer – Student at Virginia Commonwealth University and OFA volunteer leader from Virginia

·         Caroline Kennedy – Author/President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation

·         Eva Longoria – Actress and Philanthropist

·         Felesia Martin – OFA volunteer leader from Wisconsin

·         Bishop Vashti McKenzie – African Methodist Episcopal Bishop

·         Attorney General Tom Miller – Attorney General of Iowa

·         Kalpen Modi – Actor/Former White House Associate Director for the Office of Public Engagement

·         Admiral John Nathman – Retired U.S. Navy Admiral

·         Governor Deval Patrick – Governor of Massachusetts

·         Secretary Federico Pena – Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and U.S. Secretary of Energy

·         Elaine Price – Retired Ohio resident and OFA volunteer leader from Ohio

·         Penny Pritzker – Founder and CEO of PSP Capital Partners

·         John Register – U.S. Army Veteran and Paralympian

·         Representative Jan Schakowsky – Representing the 9th District of Illinois

·         Senator Jeanne Shaheen – U.S. Senator from New Hampshire

·         Joe Solmonese – President of the Human Rights Campaign

·         Alan Solow – Partner at DLA Piper LLP and past Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

·         Governor Ted Strickland – Former Governor of Ohio

·         Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – Mayor of Los Angeles

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Rebecca Juro

    February 22, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Solmonese is the perfect fit for Obama and the Democratic Party. Just like Solmonese, the Democrats also make promises to persecuted minority groups which they clearly have no intention of actually keeping.

  2. Peter Rosenstein

    February 22, 2012 at 11:30 am

    I agree this is a great appointment but have to disagree with Rebecca Juro on why.

    Joe has worked hard whether we always agree with HRC or not he will be a great asset to the Obama campaign. I would assume that the LGBT community, even those who are a little dissappointed with Obama, won’t be committing hari-kari and will be voting for Obama in record numbers. The alternatives have already said they will work and fight for policies that will move us backwards and forever keep us second class citizens and that is unacceptable. We have made great strides under the Obama administration and I truly believe we will make more in his second term. But the reality is that like it or not there is no alternative.

    I hope that as part of his new role Solmonese will continue to press Obama for more as he also explains to our community why we need to support the President and yes, say thank you for what he has already done.

    • Rebecca Juro

      February 22, 2012 at 2:21 pm

      Sorry Peter, no sale. Let’s not forget that far more lasting damage was done to the cause of American LGBT civil rights (DADT, DOMA) under Clinton then under Bush. You can try to frame it any way you like, but history is history and numbers are numbers. As much as I dislike the GOP and everything they stand for, at least they stand for something and they don’t always cave on their base the moment things get a little rough. It’s a pity we can’t say the same about Democrats, or about Solmonese and HRC.

  3. michael smith

    February 22, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    Well, I always knew why Solomonese and the HRC has kissed the Commander and Bigots arse even when he was filing suits to defend DOMA, DADT. Now we get to see the fruits of Solomenese’s labour and it was all for himself. If I was one the fence about voting for Obama before I’m not now and I won’t vote for anyone out of fear.

  4. I'm Just Sayin'

    February 22, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Joe has been overselling what he can deliver for years. His being named a co-chair of the Obama campaign is going to be no different. New neighborhood, same ineffectual leadership. Can you name a single effective strategy Solmonese has implemented other than the one getting him appointed to this role and most likely to a follow-on job with the Obama administration in 2013?

  5. AxelDC

    February 23, 2012 at 10:38 am

    Good. Maybe HRC can hire someone interested in advancing gay rights more than his own career or advocating for partisan politics.

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National

Alarming numbers of Texas Trans kids in crisis over litany of anti-Trans bills

“Under the guise of protecting children- Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender & nonbinary youth”

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LGBTQ youth protest anti-Trans bills at the Texas Capitol building (Photo Credit: Equality Texas)

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project received nearly 4,000 crisis contacts from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas in 2021, with many directly stating that they are feeling stressed and considering suicide due to anti-trans laws being debated in their state.

This new data comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.

The Texas State Senate passed its anti-trans sports ban SB3 this week, and the companion bill HB10 is now moving forward in the Texas House. 

Republican Texas Governor Abbott has prioritized SB 3 and called for a third consecutive special session of the legislature to consider this bill, which would ban transgender student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

“The Trevor Project’s crisis counselors have been hearing from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas who are scared and worried about anti-trans laws being debated in their state — and some have even expressed suicidal thoughts. This is a crisis. We urge Texas lawmakers to consider the weight of their words and actions — and to reject HB10/SB3,” said Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project.

  • Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
  • While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
  • Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
  • Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.

“As a transgender young person in Texas, this new data from the Trevor Project is not surprising, but it’s nonetheless harrowing and alarming to see this representation of the detrimental impact Texas Lege is having on our community — especially our kids. Lawmakers and proponents of bills like SB3 and HB10 should be alarmed by these statistics, too,” Landon Richie a Trans youth activist and GenderCool Youth Leader from Houston told the Los Angeles Blade.

“Under the guise of protecting children and promoting fairness, Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender and nonbinary youth, denying them the dignity, respect, and childhoods that they deserve. It’s never an exaggeration to say that the passage — and merely debate — of these bills will cost lives,”  Richie added.

National mental health organizations like The Trevor Project and state LGBTQ equality groups including Equality Texas and Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) are raising concerns about the impact of such legislation on the mental health and wellbeing of transgender and nonbinary youth.

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. Further, Trevor released a new research brief earlier this month on LGBTQ youth participation in sports, which found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (nearly 66%) do not actively participate in sports — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.

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/Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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2nd largest school district in Utah bans Pride & BLM flags as ‘too political’

“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can”

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Davis School District Offices in Farmington Utah (Photo Credit: Davis School District)

FARMINGTON, Ut. – Administrators this week in the Davis School District, which is Utah’s 2nd largest school district with 72,987 students, banned LGBTQ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, saying they are ‘politically charged.’

According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Davis Schools spokesperson Chris Williams told the paper; “No flags fly in our schools except for the flag of the United States of America.” Williams later walked that statement back adding a clarification that some of the Districts schools have flags from sports team or international countries which are considered “unrelated to politics.”

“What we’re doing is we’re following state law,” said Williams. “State law says that we have to have a classroom that’s politically neutral.”

Amanda Darrow, Director of Youth, Family, and Education at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, told multiple media outlets the school district is “politicizing the rainbow flag” which doesn’t belong on a political list.

“That flag for us is so much more,” said Darrow. “It is just telling us we’re included in the schools, we are being seen in the schools, and we belong in these schools.”

KUTV CBS2 News in Salt Lake City checked with the Utah State Board of Education. In an email, spokesman Mark Peterson said, “There is nothing in code that specifically defines a rainbow flag as a political statement so it would be up to district or charter school policies to make that determination.”

The local Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in saying in a statement;

Whether or not a school district has the legal ability to ban inclusive and supportive symbols from classrooms, it is bad policy for them to do so,” the advocacy organization said in a statement. “Utah schools have an obligation to ensure that all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identify, feel welcome inside a classroom. We urge school administrators and teachers to adopt policies that make all students feel safe and included.”

Williams insisted the policy is not meant to exclude anyone and that all students are loved and welcomed – they just want to keep politics out of school he told the Tribune and KUTV.

“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can,” said Williams.

A Utah based veteran freelance journalist, writer, editor, and food photographer weighed in on Twitter highlighting the negative impact of the Davis Schools decision on its LGBTQ youth.

Davis County School District bans LGTBQ and BLM flags as ‘too political’

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Non-binary person reports assault by Proud Boys near Portland

‘They nearly killed me’

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Juniper Simonis (Photo by Mariah Harris)

It was a typical day for Juniper Simonis. The freelance ecologist decided to break from work for lunch at about 3 p.m. to take their service dog, Wallace, to the local dog park and grab a bite to eat.  

But a planned peaceful afternoon quickly turned ugly. Simonis says they survived a gang assault of about 30 perpetrators in Gresham, Ore., a suburb outside of Portland. The Oregon resident encountered the group for only minutes but suffered a concussion, sprained jaw, extensive car damage and verbal assaults, they said. 

“They nearly killed me,” they said.

Simonis said they turned into a parking lot to pick up lunch in Gresham, Ore., and stumbled upon a rally that included several members of the Proud Boys — a far-right, ultra-nationalist organization known for its anti-LGBTQ, anti-feminism and neo-fascist ideologies. 

There was a “Flag Ride” right-wing rally in a parking lot earlier that day. Simonis was under the impression the event had ended after checking reports on Twitter. After pulling into the lot, originally to look for lunch options, Simonis saw a large gathering still in the lot. 

Simonis decided to take pictures of what was happening to post online to warn others and was intentional in keeping their distance, they said. As Simonis was preparing to leave the area, they yelled from inside the car, “Fuck you, fascists, go home.” 

“I did not expect this to escalate into violence,” they said. 

The attack itself only lasted about three minutes, Simonis said. Simonis was quickly surrounded by several people and physically blocked from leaving the lot. People stepped in front of the parking lot exit, then a car was moved to barricade Simonis. People began to shout homophobic slurs at Simonis, they said. 

“I’m in serious trouble now and I know it,” they said. 

Simonis was then punched while inside their vehicle and was briefly knocked out. They regained consciousness a few seconds later, and a cinder block was thrown at the car and shattered the back window of their car inches away from their service dog, Wallace. 

Simonis got out of the car to assess the damage and make sure their service dog was safe. They quickly got back in their car and was able to leave the lot by maneuvering around the blocked exit, Simonis said. 

Wallace, Juniper Simonis’ service dog. (Photo by Mariah Harris)

Looking back at the photos and videos Simonis took before the assault, Simonis said they saw people looking into the camera and acknowledging them taking photos. 

“I honestly don’t know if I hadn’t said anything, that … things would have gone any different,” they said. 

Last year, Simonis was targeted and arrested by federal police in Portland during the tumultuous Black Lives Matter protests in the city. They were denied medical attention, misgendered, jumped and aggressively handcuffed while taken into custody. 

Simonis is still working through legal proceedings in a multi-plaintiff lawsuit. 

A witness to the event called the Gresham Police Department, which was only a few blocks away from the incident. But the call went to voicemail and the witness did not leave a message, Simonis said. 

Another witness called 911, Simonis said, which led to an officer calling Simonis about 45 minutes after the accident to take a report.   

In the police report obtained by the Blade, Simonis is consistently misgendered. Simonis’ sex is also listed as “unknown” in the report. The incident was labeled as vehicle vandalism. 

Simonis said the conversation with the officer was filled with victim-blaming and the officer wrote in the report that Simonis should avoid “approaching groups of this nature.”  

“At no point in this conversation does he treat me as an actual victim of a crime,” Simonis said.

The Gresham Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. 

Weeks after the assault, Simonis is struggling mentally and physically, they said. 

The concussion makes working on a computer virtually impossible because of light sensitivity and trouble focusing, Simonis said. The pain caused by the sprained jaw makes it difficult to focus, as well. 

Simonis is not able to begin physical therapy for their jaw until November because of long medical wait times, they said. The cost to repair the car damages will be about $8,000, as well, they said.  

The times where Simonis is able to focus are usually taken up by piecing together what happened that day, they said. 

“The part of my brain that I use for work has been hijacked functionally by the part of the brain that needed to know what happened to me,” they said. “There is such a painful need to understand what happened to me.”

Because of past traumatic events, like the experience of being in federal custody last year, Simonis said processing and living with the trauma is a bit easier to handle. But their ability to work will be forever changed yet again, they said. 

“I’m not able to work at the pace that I used to work at before I was assaulted by DHS. I’ll never be,” they said. “And this is just a further knockdown.” 

The trauma of the event has increased Simonis’ hyper-vigilance, as well. 

“Every time I hear a car go by, I’m double-checking,” they said. 

Even though Simonis has the tools to process and live with the immense trauma, they will never be the same person, they said. 

“They fucking changed my life forever. Point blank,” they said. “Not just mentally, but physically and physiologically. I can’t go back to where I was before. I’m lucky that I survived.”

Simonis has reported the attack to the FBI and is pursuing legal action with two specific goals in mind: to heal and to prevent similar crimes from happening.

“I am somebody who believes in abolishing the carceral system and the justice system as it exists and policing,” Simonis said. “But also a 37-year-old trans and disabled person who somehow managed to survive this long. And so naturally has become pragmatic about the world.”

Because of the reaction of the Gresham Police Department, Simonis did not want to work with local officers and instead went to the federal level. But because of the alleged assault by agents in Portland last year, this decision wasn’t easy for them.

Perpetrators in the assault threatened to call the police on Simonis,  even though Simonis did not commit a crime. Reporting the crime to the federal level is also a layer of protection, they said. 

“All of this is forcing my hand,” they said. There is no easy decision in the situation, they added. 

“We all know that crimes are underreported. We hear about it all the time,” they said. And there are reasons why people don’t report crimes and they’re totally understandable. A lot of victims are very concerned about what will happen if they break anonymity. In my situation, I’ve already broken anonymity.”

With recent arrests and crackdowns on the Proud Boys and other hate groups in the United States, Simonis is bracing for a long process. 

“This isn’t just going to go on a shelf,” they said. 

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