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70 groups call on Obama to endorse anti-bullying legislation

SNDA may see vote this year on Senate floor

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A group of 70 organizations is asking President Obama to build on his work against bullying in schools by endorsing legislation pending in Congress that would prohibit harassment of LGBT students.

In a letter dated March 7, the groups ask Obama to endorse the Student Non-Discrimination Act, or SNDA, which would prohibit and harassment in public elementary and secondary schools based on a student’s actual or perceived LGBT status. No federal law explicitly prohibits harassment against LGBT students in school.

“SNDA would provide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) students with long overdue and much needed explicit federal protections against discrimination and harassment,” the letter states. “The legislation also protects students who associate with LGBT people, including students with LGBT parents and friends.”

The organizations — led by the American Civil Liberties Union — include LGBT groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, as well as other groups, such as the American Psychological Association, the Feminist Majority and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Religious groups, such as the Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ also signed the letter.

Obama has said he’s committed to combatting bullying and harassment in schools, but has yet to endorse legislation that would explicitly prohibit the bullying of LGBT students.

The letter asks Obama to endorse SNDA so that it has the same level of support from the White House as other pro-LGBT bills, such as the Respect for Marriage Act, which Obama endorsed in June, or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“An endorsement of the Student Non-Discrimination Act would likewise be a clarion call for equality in our schools and better protections for vulnerable children,” the letter states. “And more importantly, it would make clear to all Members of Congress what the administration views as a necessary federal legislative solution to the serious problem of anti-LGBT discrimination and harassment in our nation’s public schools.”

Groups send the letter to Obama ahead of March 10, which will mark the anniversary of the anti-bullying summit held at the White House in 2011. The event was seen as the hallmark effort of Obama’s commitment to combat bullying in schools.

Ian Thompson, the ACLU’s legislative representative, said an announcement in support of SNDA on the anniversary of the anti-bullying summit would have significant impact.

“An endorsement by the administration on the anniversary of the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention would be a powerful statement from the administration that all students are entitled to an education unhindered by discrimination and harassment,” Thompson said.

Other anti-bullying efforts the administration has undertaken include holding the first-ever federal LGBT youth summit in June and issuing guidance informing schools they may be violation of federal laws protecting students from harassment on the basis of gender by allowing anti-gay bullying. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials have also appeared in “It Gets Better” videos.

Just this week, the Departments of Justice and Education, together with six private plaintiffs and the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, came to an agreement on a consent decree to resolve alleged bullying and harassment of students who weren’t conforming to gender stereotypes.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said Obama supports the goals of the SNDA, didn’t offer full-throated support of the bill.

“Without speaking to the specifics of this letter, I would note that the President supports the goals of the Student Non-Discrimination Act,” Inouye said. “As the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is being considered by Congress, we look forward to working with lawmakers to ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment.”

SNDA is sponsored by gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) in the House and Sen. Al Franken in the Senate. The bill has 156 co-sponsors in the House and 37 co-sponsors in the Senate.

The legislation may see action on the Senate floor this year. Franken, who offered then withdrew the bill as an amendment to education reform legislation before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, said he’d offer SNDA as an amendment when the Education & Secondary Education Act reauthorization bill comes to the Senate floor. The bill is unlikely to come up as a standalone bill in the Republican-controlled House.

Obama administration officials have been repeatedly asked about whether the administration is ready to support SNDA. During a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a response to a question from the Washington Blade that having law on the books like the Student Non-Discrimination Act would “certainly be helpful,” but stopped short of endorsing the bill.

“We have had conversations with various stakeholders on the Hill and spoken about that, and are carefully reviewing that particular proposal,” Perez said.

Another piece of legislation pending before Congress, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, or SSIA, also aims to protect LGBT students from bullying. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) in the House and Sen Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in the Senate, would require schools to adopt anti-bullying codes of conduct and submit to states data to the Department of Education on bullying.

ACLU’s Thompson said SSIA isn’t mentioned in the letter for the sake of having a more clearly stated request to Obama.

“While SSIA and SNDA have complementary goals, the bills do different things,” Thompson said. “Many of the organizations on this letter also support SSIA, but in order to have as clear of an ‘ask’ as possible to the administration, we decided to focus this particular letter on SNDA.”

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National

DOJ urged to investigate threats against providers of transition-related care

Boston-area hospital forced to evacuate in August

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A coalition of major health organizations are calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigation threats against providers of gender transition-related medical care for youth, asserting ongoing hostility, including bomb threats and threats of personal violence.

The letter, dated Oct. 3, says medical providers are facing threats for providing “evidence-based health care” to youth, which has meant care for gender transitions, such as hormones, puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgery. The targets of these threats, the letter says, are children’s hospitals, academic health systems and physicians across the country.

“These coordinated attacks threaten federally protected rights to health care for patients and their families,” the letter says. “The attacks are rooted in an intentional campaign of disinformation, where a few high-profile users on social media share false and misleading information targeting individual physicians and hospitals, resulting in a rapid escalation of threats, harassment and disruption of care across multiple jurisdictions.”

The letter has an organizational signature from American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and Children’s Hospital Association, listing no names as representatives. According to the letter, the group represent 270,000 physicians and medical students and CHA represents more than 220 children’s hospitals across the country.

Major health organizations call on the U.S. Justice Department to take action weeks after Boston Children’s Hospital was forced to evacuate over a bomb threat. Authorities later arrested a woman charged with making the after she reportedly phoned in the threat and called the staff “sickos.”

The threats, the letter says, have had significant impact on providers and services to patients, including a new mother being prevented from being with her preterm infant because of a bomb threat; the need for increased security at children’s hospitals; and staffers facing “increased threats via social media – including to their personal accounts.”

A statement from organizations accompanying the letter urges social media companies — including Twitter, TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram — to “do more to prevent coordinated campaigns of disinformation.”

Jack Resneck, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement accompanying the letter “individuals in all workplaces have the right to a safe environment, out of harm’s way and free of intimidation or reprisal.”

“As physicians, we condemn groups that promote hate-motivated intolerance and toxic misinformation that can lead to grave real-world violence and extremism and jeopardize patients’ health outcomes,” Resneck said.

The Washington Blade has placed a call in with the Justice Department seeking comment on the letter and the American Medical Association seeking comment on why the letter has organizational signatures as opposed to signatures from any of their representatives.

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Virginia

Youngkin makes additional appointments to Va. LGBTQ+ Advisory Board

Governor plans to revise transgender, nonbinary student guidelines

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday announced the appointment of three people to the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.

Youngkin named Kerry Flynn, Jason Geske and Collin J. Hite to the board.

Casey Flores, the president of Log Cabin Republicans of Richmond, in July resigned from the board before his tenure was to begin. The resignation came amid growing criticism over a series of anti-LGBTQ and misogynist comments he made against Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), among others.

Youngkin last month announced he plans to revise the Virginia Department of Education’s guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students. Thousands of high school students across Virginia on Sept. 27 walked out of class in protest of the planned revision.

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National

Survey shows 72% of Utah residents back same-sex marriage

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah said he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality

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The results of a poll run by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Desert News found 72% of Utah’s residents agree that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by law as valid, with the same rights as cis-gender marriages.

“For a state that less than 20 years ago passed laws and a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, there has been a seismic shift in opinion,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey also found that 23% of those surveyed disagreed, while 5% expressed that they don’t know.

The poll shows Utahns are aligned with the nation as a whole on the issue. A Gallup poll in May found 71% of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage, a new high.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, told the Desert News that he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality.

“Utah is a pro-family state, and we recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. When we see loving, committed couples joining in matrimony, our natural impulse is to support and encourage that love. This gives me great hope for the future,” he said.

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