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EXCLUSIVE: Elizabeth Warren pledges to lead on LGBT rights

Senate hopeful calls on Obama to endorse marriage equality

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Elizabeth Warren at Women In Finance symposium (photo public domain)

Elizabeth Warren, who is running to unseat U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), pledged to support a series of pro-LGBT initiatives and called on President Obama to endorse marriage equality in an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday.

Warren endorsed the idea of an executive order from President Obama that would require companies doing business with the U.S. government to have LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies for their workers.

“Any steps that the president can take toward non-discrimination benefit the whole country,” Warren said. “I don’t know how else to say it. It’s the right thing to do.”

The measure is sometimes referred to as the “ENDA” executive order because its effect would be similar to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but limited to federal contractors. The White House hasn’t said whether it will issue the directive.

Warren called on President Obama to complete his now 17-month-old “evolution” and endorse marriage equality. She also said she supports the call for a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform this September.

Asked whether she wants Obama to finish evolving and support same-sex marriage, Warren chuckled and responded that was indeed her view.

“I want to see the president evolve because I believe that is right; marriage equality is morally right,” Warren said.

Warren expressed similar sentiments about the Democratic Party platform, saying it would build support for ending the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

“I’d be glad to see it included in the Democratic platform,” she said. “It helps raise awareness of the impact of DOMA and it helps build support to repeal it.”

The platform committee is set to discuss language for the Democratic Party platform when it gathers for the Democratic National Convention Sept. 3 in Charlotte, N.C.

Warren, an expert on the American economy and personal finance, gained notoriety after she chaired the congressional oversight panel for the 2008 bank bailout program. She led the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was set up by the 2010 Wall Street reform bill, and was a favorite among progressives to head the organization before she launched her Senate bid and Richard Courdray was recess appointed to the role.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work and among the chief advocates of the ENDA executive order, said “it makes perfect sense” for Warren to come out for the measure because it would ensure taxpayer money won’t go to work environments hostile to LGBT people

“I hope Ms. Warren will telephone President Obama and urge him to pick up his pen and sign the ‘ENDA Executive Order’ that his Justice and Labor departments have drafted and delivered to the White House for his signature,” Almeida said.

Evan Wolfson, president and founder of Freedom to Marry, also praised Warren for supporting the initiatives related to same-sex marriage and called on Obama and the Democratic Party to come into alignment with her views.

“We welcome Elizabeth Warren alongside the many other leaders, and the signers of our online petition, as we urge President Obama and the Democratic Party to stand with Presidents Clinton and Carter in the growing nationwide majority for marriage,” Wolfson said.

Warren, who’s already expressed support for DOMA repeal, also said during the interview that she would take a leadership role in efforts to repeal the 1996 anti-gay law if elected to the Senate.

“I think that DOMA is a terrible statute,” Warren said. “For forever, the federal government has permitted the states to define marriage, and now the federal government steps in and says, ‘Yeah, the states get to do it for most families, but not those families because we don’t like them.'”

If elected to the Senate, Warren would represent a state where more than 13,000 same-sex couples have been legally married. She said DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of these unions, is “institutionalized discrimination.”

“Being a senator from Massachusetts, it’s possible not just to be a vote in the right direction, it’s possible to provide leadership,” Warren said. “I think that starts by calling out the statute on how wrong it is morally and counter to our basic legal foundation.”

Warren noted that DOMA means a same-sex couple married in Massachusetts won’t have access to federal benefits and that those with grown children, in some instances, can’t visit grandchildren in another state “without being treated during the visit as having a different marital status.”

“I think there’s already legislation pending, but it’s got to have some energy behind it and that means you’ve got to be willing to go out and talk about it — not only here in Massachusetts but around the country on national television to get out and make that case,” Warren said.

Warren conducted the interview with the Blade via phone after she visited Fenway Health, a Boston-based organization that provides health services to the LGBT community and conducts research and advocacy for LGBT health.

She called the work at Fenway Health “extraordinary” because the institute provides both health services and engages in research.

“What they see on the clinical side informs what they’re doing on the research side,” Warren said. “So they get ideas and they’re able to test them, and the two move back and forth. As a result, we have improvement in both health outcomes for those who go to the center. At the same time, developments in research help support advances in health care and other services for LGBT [people] around the country.”

Warren said the visit she paid to the institute was a reminder that community health centers are integral to providing health services. The health care reform measure President Obama signed into law in 2010 makes grants available to such institutions.

“Community health centers are very much supported by the Affordable Care Act,” Warren said. “Republicans have declared war on it — Scott Brown, my Republican opponent, and the Republican presidential candidates have said they will repeal the Affordable Care Act. That would be devastating to community health centers, not just Fenway, but community centers across the country.”

In September, the Department of Health & Human Services awarded the institute $248,000 to help create a national training and technical assistance center aimed at helping community health centers improve the health of LGBT populations.

Warren is running against Brown — a Republican senator representing a “blue” state. Brown won praise from LGBT advocates for voting in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in 2010, but that was only after he twice voted against defense legislation that included repeal language.

Warren said Brown’s vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was “a good vote” and that he should be commended for it, but added she’d step up the LGBT advocacy if elected to the Senate.

“I’ll be there on every vote,” Warren said. “I’ll be there not just to provide a vote, but leadership, and I think that’s what the LGBT community really needs.”

Warren praised Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), who’s running for the open seat in Wisconsin in a bid that could make her the country’s first openly gay U.S. senator.

The two have set up a joint fundraising group called the Massachusetts-Wisconsin Victory Fund, which thus far has raised $171,250, and have appeared together in a joint fundraiser in Philadelphia hosted by donor Peter Buttenwieser.

“I was delighted to do the event with Tammy,” Warren said. “We actually did a second [event] together. We were out in San Francisco with other women senators and women challengers. And I hope we’ll have more opportunities to do that. I’d really love to see Tammy get elected. I worked with Tammy before, so I’m a big fan.”

Warren criticized the Republican presidential candidates for their anti-gay views. Each of the GOP hopefuls who’ve won any states — Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — backs a U.S. constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage throughout the country and rescind it in states like Massachusetts.

“I think their position is wrong,” Warren said. “They have a vision of America that does not represent who we are as a people and the kind of country we want to build.”

Over the course of her campaign, Warren said she’s spoken with LGBT organizations about a variety of subjects including LGBT rights, although she couldn’t immediately identify any of the groups. Earlier this month, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed her candidacy.

“We talked about health care issues, we’ve talked about economic issues, we’ve talked about justice issues — particularly on DOMA and marriage equality,” Warren said. “We’ve also had conversations that range into other areas about art, about education, about the importance of anti-bullying programs.”

 

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Texas to resume abuse investigations into families with trans children

“To be clear the Supreme Court has not directed Commissioner Masters & DFPS to continue investigating parents of trans youth for child abuse”

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In a statement issued Thursday, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) agency announced that it will resume abuse investigations into families with transgender kids.

“DFPS treats all reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation seriously and will continue to investigate each to the full extent of the law,” the statement read.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the DFPS statement, while not addressing the investigations into medical treatments for trans youth, indirectly indicated that these probes will now continue.

Current state law does not explicitly define gender affirming medical treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy as child abuse. A DFPS spokesman did not comment when asked if the agency plans to continue investigating such treatments as child abuse, the Dallas Morning News noted.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled last week that DFPS can continue to investigate families in the state who provide medically necessary care for their Trans children, excluding the parties in the litigation that brought the matter forward in a lawsuit filed in March.

In its decision, the court emphasized that neither Attorney General Paxton nor Governor Abbott has the power or authority to direct DFPS to investigate the provision of medically necessary lifesaving health care for transgender youth as child abuse. But the court limited the order blocking all investigations to the specific plaintiffs who filed suit.

Trans activist Landon Richie who has been deeply involved in the efforts to mitigate the anti-trans actions by Texas lawmakers and has led protests against the transphobic actions by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton told the Blade:

“To be clear, the Texas Supreme Court has not directed Commissioner Masters and DFPS to continue investigating parents of trans youth for child abuse. While the decision means now only the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit have protection, it reiterates that Attorney General Paxton’s opinion and Governor Abbott’s letter are not binding and not enforceable, meaning DFPS’s actions moving forward are at the discretion of Commissioner Masters only and not the state leadership’s directives. The Texas Supreme Court allowing for the district court to provide a temporary injunction is a good sign for people’s protection. 

It bears reminding families in Texas and around the country that today’s decision (and yesterday’s regarding gender-affirming care at UT Southwestern and Texas Children’s) reaffirms what we already know: opinions are only opinions and the people in power cannot abuse that power to abuse trans people. We know decisions can change at a moment’s notice and that this fight will take years, but to our families and communities under attack, please remain strong and take a moment to breathe. We’re in this together. “

An employee of DFPS who was a litigant in the lawsuit is represented by the ACLU of Texas.

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas who is on the team representing that unnamed employee, said the state’s decision to reopen the cases is unfortunate and unlawful. He said his team believes that the high court’s decision removes any responsibility for Texans to report trans youth getting treatments, the Dallas Morning News reported.

“We are going to be closely monitoring what the agency does. We would encourage families that have any reason to believe that they have an investigation to seek legal help,” Klosterboer said.

“Abbott’s letter and Paxton’s opinion did not change Texas law,” he added. “Gender affirming health care is still legal in all 50 states.”

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Florida

“Don’t Say Gay” student leader says school stopping run for student leadership

Jack Petocz organized a state-wide student protest against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill & annoyed administrators suspended him

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Jack Petocz (Center) at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government earlier this Spring (Courtesy of Jack Petocz/Facebook)

Jack Petocz, a Flagler Palm Coast High School junior, organized a state-wide student protest against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill this past March, and at his school, annoyed administrators suspended him.

On Tuesday, Petocz said that the school’s disciplinary action is now preventing him from running for senior class president.

“When I returned, the administration assured me that no further disciplinary action would be taken. A month later, they broke this verbal agreement and placed a level 3 referral on my record. Now, due to this high level of discipline, I am being prevented from running for senior class president. I am continuing to be punished for standing up for my identity and against widespread hatred.”

The suspension over the student walkout became a viral moment that propelled the 17-year-old into the national spotlight and into the national discourse over a spate of harsh laws targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

17-year-old Cameron Driggers, a student LGBTQ+ activist-organizer of the group Recall Flagler County School Board and co-leader of the walk-out, his friend’s suspension inspired him to create a petition on Change.org to pressure Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwartz to rescind his seemingly arbitrary decision to suspend Petocz.

One protest at the school over its suspension of Petocz brought together a grizzled and proud Out gay U.S. Marine Corps veteran accompanied by his fellow vets, who alongside with Driggers and the other young adolescent activists protested in a rally in front of the school at the same time Petocz and his father were inside meeting with Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwartz, hoping to get him to rescind his seemingly arbitrary decision to suspend Petocz.

Jack Petocz (with bullhorn) leads Flagler Palm Coast High School protest against DSG bill (Photo by Alysa Vidal)

Later on during the day Driggers posted to the Change.org petition the news that Principal Schwartz had backed off.

“Recall FCSB is pleased to announce that Jack’s suspension has ended and he is back on-campus. We are grateful for the thousands of people around the globe that shared, tweeted and protested in support of Jack, the organizer behind the state-wide Don’t Say Gay Walkout. Over 7500 signatures were collected on a condemnation of Principal Greg Schwartz’ conduct last Thursday. With Jack back on campus, Recall FCSB will continue to empower student leaders in and out of school,” Driggers wrote.

Principal Schwartz also committed to removing the ‘disciplinary action’ from Petocz’s school record.

On Tuesday, Petocz announced that Principal Schwartz and other school officials are barring him from running for an elected student office.

In response to the news, PEN America issued the following statement from Jonathan Friedman, director of the Free Expression and Education program:

“By going back on their word and imposing a red mark on Jack Petocz’s disciplinary record, the Flagler Palm Coast High School administration appears bent on retaliating against him for organizing the walkout against the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. This is unconscionable. Jack exercised his right to protest as a citizen, and he led the walkout with the school’s approval. No student ought to be intimidated or punished by school authorities for their political speech, and the school already told him he would not be disciplined. This is especially troubling alongside news of other efforts to censor or intimidate students raising their voices for LGBTQ+ rights across Florida. The leaders of Flagler Palm Coast High School should remove this infraction from his record so that he can run for class president just like any other student.”

On Twitter, Petocz urged people to contact his school to get officials to reverse this latest decision.

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National

History making win- Out Lesbian could be Oregon’s next governor

“This will be a three-way race for the highest office in our state, and this will be an election unlike anything any of us have ever seen”

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Courtesy of Tina Kotek

The Democratic gubernatorial primary Tuesday win by Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, who had announced her run for the governor’s seat to replace incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown, who is term limited last September 1st, 2021, positions her to become the first Out Lesbian governor in the nation should she win the general election in November.

Kotek’s win comes during an uptick in the elections nationwide as more candidates running for office identify as LGBTQ”. More than 600 LGBTQ candidates are on ballots this year, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

According to the Victory Fund, at least 101 people ran or are running for the U.S. Senate or U.S. House – with 96 still actively running as of February 21, 2022. That marks a 16.1 percent increase in LGBTQ Congressional candidates compared to the 2020 election cycle, when 87 people ran.

Speaking to her supporters after it became clear she had won over Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read, who was polling second among Oregonian progressives, “This will be a three-way race for the highest office in our state, and this will be an election unlike anything any of us have ever seen,” Kotek said.

Republican state legislator Christine Drazan along with an independent candidate, Betsy Johnson are slated to be on the November ballot.

Last Fall when she announced her candidacy, she said, “I am running for Governor because I know that, together, we can reckon with the legacies of injustice and inequality to build a great future for Oregon.” She also noted, “Oregonians are living through a devastating pandemic, the intensifying impacts of climate change, and the economic disruptions that leave too many behind. We must get past the politics of division and focus on making real, meaningful progress for families across our state.” 

“A victory for Tina would shatter a lavender ceiling and be a milestone moment in LGBTQ political history, yet she is running not to make history, but because there are few people as prepared and qualified to serve as Oregon’s governor,” said Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund. “Under Tina’s leadership, Oregon has led in passing legislation to improve roads and education, raise the minimum wage and ensure all residents are treated fairly and equally. As governor, Tina will make Oregon a role model for the nation.”

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