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NAACP president: Marriage is ‘civil rights issue of our times’

Benjamin Todd Jealous described marriage as the “civil rights issue of our times.”

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NAACP, Benjamin Jealous, gay news, Washington Blade
NAACP, Ben Jealous, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous speaks at his organization's national headquarters in Baltimore on Monday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BALTIMORE – The leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stressed on Monday that his organization’s support of marriage for gays and lesbians is consistent with its broader mission to fight discrimination.

“We make this statement today because it is the legacy and responsibility of the NAACP to speak up on the civil rights issue of our times,” said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous during a press conference at the organization’s national headquarters. “We are both proud of our history and challenged by it—challenged to never allow threats to equality for all people under the law to go uncontested.”

Jealous’ comments came two days after the NAACP Board of Directors endorsed extending marriage rights to same-sex couples during their quarterly meeting in Miami. Jealous became emotional as he discussed his parents who had to get married in the District of Columbia in 1966 because Maryland did not allow interracial marriage—the U.S. Supreme Court struck down this ban in Loving v. Virginia the following year. He noted that Mildred Loving herself spoke out in support of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples before she passed away.

NAACP, Roslyn Brock, same sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

NAACP Board of Directors Chair Roslyn M. Brock defends her organization's support of marriage equality in Baltimore on Monday (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“We want to be on the record that the NAACP now firmly opposes all efforts to restrict marriage equality,” said Jealous. “We will oppose threats to the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal rights under the law in any state where this issue is raised.

Jealous dismissed reports that several board members voted against the marriage resolution. Roslyn Brock, chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors, said members had an “open, honest and candid conversation” about the issue during executive sessions.

“The conversation was dispassionate, it was respectful and it embraced and respected the views of all the members who sat around the table,” she said. “This is not a religious issue or a moral issue for the NAACP. That is not the role of the NAACP. On the constitutionality of the issue, the NAACP’s National Board of Directors voted overwhelmingly to support this issue.”

In spite of this support, Brock conceded that there are board members and other NAACP members whose positions on marriage continue to evolve.

“This conversation is one, as President Jealous has stated, is taking place or has taken place across the nation,” she said. “We will work together with our units and with our board to have the courageous conversations that are necessary around this issue.”

The NAACP’s endorsement of marriage rights to same-sex couples comes less than two weeks after North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Doctor William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, was among those who spoke out against the ballot measure before it passed by a 61-39 percent margin.

President Barack Obama on May 9 publicly backed the issue for the first time during a White House interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts.

“For the black community, the president of the United States is as close to Martin Luther King in terms of moral leadership,” said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, in response to a question about whether Obama’s support of marriage rights for same-sex couples prompted the NAACP’s position. “It’s not just amazing that we have a black president but that he exemplifies exceptional leadership. From a space of cultural connection more than anything else, the president stood up beyond popularity, beyond the norm, beyond status quo and took the courageous step on behalf of the LGBT community that many would have seen as a political risk. I see it as nothing less than courageous leadership.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in March signed a bill that will allow same-sex couples to marry, but state voters will likely face a November ballot referendum that would overturn the law that is slated to take effect on Jan. 1.

Fifty-two percent of respondents who participated in a Marylanders for Marriage Equality poll in March said they would vote for the same-sex marriage bill in the likely ballot measure.

Jealous stressed during the press conference that civil rights organizations remain united against the Maryland referendum and other similar measures across the country.

“Ballot measures like that on the ballot here in Maryland are intended to encode discrimination, codify discrimination into law and therefore stand apart from our nation’s recent decades and decades and decades and decades of using its constitution… to expand rights to people,” he said. “This is a cynical attempt to use a state constitution to restrict rights and we will oppose it as we have said in our statement.”

Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference NAACP, told the Blade after the press conference that his affiliate has not “had much discussion” yet on the likely referendum. He suggested, however, that the civil rights organization’s endorsement of marriage rights for same-sex couples will help black voters better understand ballot measure and its potential impact on LGBT Marylanders.

“We’re hoping that Maryland will understand that any person has a right to be protected under the law,” said Stansbury. “This is basically where we’re coming from. We’re supporting the national office and the national NAACP and taking the position that they have this weekend.”

Maryland Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) also welcomed the NAACP’s position.

“As a life long member, I am encouraged by this historic decision of national NAACP to transform their position which opposed efforts to ban civil recognition of same-sex unions to one which honors and is inclusive of our black LGBT community by supporting the struggle for full marriage equality for same gender loving couples,” she told the Blade. “For those African American people who were on the fence about the issue, the support of the NAACP and our president will help move the conversation forward.

Washington categorized the endorsement as an “important step” that bolsters the efforts of those fighting against the likely referendum. Lettman-Hicks stressed that the NAACP could play a crucial role in organizing opposition to the ballot measure much like it did in North Carolina.

“The same energy that we saw in North Carolina would be monumental to the state of Maryland,” she said. “I hope that the leadership the NAACP showed on the national level will manifest at the same magnitude in Maryland especially since they’re headquartered there.”

Washington conceded these efforts would not have much of an impact among white protestants and Roman Catholics who oppose marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“Our work in those communities should continue more vigorously now than ever before,” she said.

 

 

 

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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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