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Bi congressional candidate accuses opponent of homophobic tactics

Critics dismiss Sinema’s charges as ‘preposterous’

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A former Arizona state lawmaker who could become the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress is accusing a Democratic primary opponent of telling potential supporters that she can’t win because of her sexual orientation. Meanwhile, LGBT supporters of her opponent have rushed to his defense.

Kyrsten Sinema, who was a state lawmaker for seven years, is competing in a three-way primary set for Tuesday with Andrei Cherny, a former chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, and State Senate Minority Leader David Schapira. The winner gets the Democratic nod to represent the state’s 9th congressional district in the U.S. House.

In a Washington Blade interview on Friday, Sinema had particularly harsh words for Cherny, whom she said has engaged in “very, very, very dirty” campaign tactics by telling potential supporters she wouldn’t be a good choice for the Democratic nomination because she’s bisexual and single.

“Unfortunately, his strategy every time he runs for office has been to really seek to tear down his opponent instead of putting forth his own positive ideas for the future,” Sinema said. “We’re seeing that same strategy again in this election.”

In one instance, Sinema said she was told by a union — which ultimately chose to endorse her — that Cherny said during an earlier endorsement interview that she couldn’t win because of her sexual orientation.

“I got a call from some union folks who support my campaign because of my long history of standing with working families,” Sinema said. “Apparently, he had told some of them in interviews that I couldn’t win the election and that I shouldn’t get the endorsement because I’m openly bisexual and can’t win a general election.”

Sinema said the union asked her later about her sexual orientation and she replied, “It’s true that I’m openly bisexual, I have been my entire adult life, and I’ve managed to win four elections, and, meanwhile, he’s lost two, so perhaps it was being straight that was the problem here.”

Before becoming chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, Cherny lost an election for California State Assembly in 2002 and lost an election to become Arizona state treasurer.

Additionally, Sinema accused Cherny and his wife of telling potential donors she wouldn’t be the right choice because she’s “not a family person.” While Sinema is single and has no children, Cherny is married and has two children.

“I spent nearly two decades as a social worker and an educator with kids,” Sinema said. “So, my whole life has been about helping middle-class families. So it’s just kind of a hollow argument to say I’m not a family person.”

However, Sinema said the strategy “backfired” and as a result of him allegedly making these comments to potential donors, she’s received phone calls from individuals offering help because they considered it “a distasteful strategy.”

Sinema declined to identify the union or the potential donors to whom Cherny allegedly made the accusations.

Seth Scott, Cherny’s campaign manager, responded to Sinema’s accusations by denying the charges and calling her a liar.

“Kyrsten Sinema’s false accusation is a dirty, desperate and slanderous lie,” Scott said. “Sinema’s willingness to make up such egregious lies tells us all we need to know about her own personal character, her standing in the polls and her fitness for office.”

It’s not the first time Sinema has accused Cherny of underhanded campaign tactics. In May, The Hill newspaper reported that Sinema and Schapira issued a joint statement criticizing Cherny for what they called “Karl Rove-styled attacks” from an earlier campaign as well as in the current primary.

According to The Hill, Sinema and Schapira criticized Cherny for his 2002 campaign for a seat in the California State Assembly. The mailer featured a photograph of a tattooed black male with a gun, suggesting voters would be unsafe under Cherny’s opponent. Further, Sinema and Schapira reportedly accused Cherny of circulating false information to right-wing publications, misrepresenting news articles and employing guilt by association to attack other Democrats. Cherny’s supporters reportedly said the other candidates were smearing him and Cherny was quoted as saying the 10-year-old flier doesn’t reflect the work he’s done over the past 15 years.

Sinema, who is known as an LGBT rights advocate in Arizona and led campaigns against state ballot initiatives prohibiting same-sex marriage, has been endorsed by major LGBT organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, said the campaign tactics that Sinema says Cherny is employing against her aren’t unusual in tight races involving LGBT candidates.

“It’s something we’ve seen before in races as they’ve come down to the wire and our candidates are in a good position,” Dison said. “Unfortunately, even in Democratic primaries, you see people start to play this ‘sexual orientation’ card. It’s particularly unfortunate that this is happening in a primary in a party that is supposed to beyond this type of politicking. But you see it from time to time, and it’s unfortunate that it is apparently happening now in Kyrsten’s race.”

Some prominent LGBT individuals in Arizona rallied behind Cherny in the face of the accusations, saying that they couldn’t believe he would make homophobic remarks and that Sinema was making accusations without offering proof.

Jim Kolbe, a gay Republican who formerly represented Arizona in the U.S. House, called the allegations against Cherny “preposterous” and said there’s no way the candidate would employ such campaign tactics.

“I’ve known Andrei for a number of years and there has never been anybody that is more open, more gay friendly,” Kolbe said. “It’s just inconceivable that he would try and make that charge. It’s ironic, I guess, a sign of times, that gay politics has come to this, where instead of accusing somebody of being gay, you accuse of maybe not being gay enough. But, obviously, that’s not true. I feel absolutely certain that’s not accurate.”

Neil Giuliano, a gay former mayor of Tempe, Ariz., and former head of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said he knows Cherny and there’s “nothing homophobic or anti-gay” about the candidate.

“I understand it’s been a really rough race between the three of them,” Giuliano said. “They’re all good people, but I’m compelled to weigh in on Andrei’s behalf because I just can’t, for the life of me, believe that kind of an accusation against Andrei Cherny. I just don’t believe it.”

According to Federal Election Commission reports, Giuliano has contributed a total of $1,500 to Cherny, but Giuliano said he otherwise has stayed out of the race.

Rebecca Wininger, a lesbian Phoenix, Ariz., activist, said she backed Cherny early in his campaign and doesn’t believe he would make homophobic comments because people within his family are members of the LGBT community.

“I’ve seen him interact with them with love and support, and I can’t believe the Andrei I know would make such statements,” Wininger said.

Wininger is board president of Equality Arizona, but she said she was speaking on her own behalf and not as part of any organization.

The three Democrats have been involved in a fierce fundraising battle with less than one week before the primary. The Washington Blade was unable to find any recent, independent polls reflecting the state of the campaign.

According to the most recent Federal Election Commission reports, Cherny has raised the most money, a total of $861,477 while spending $572,889 and having $289,088 in cash on hand. In comparison, Sinema has raised $747,403, spent $592,909 and has $154,495 in cash on hand. Meanwhile, Schapira has $237,889 in net receipts, spent $223,826 in expenditures, has $14,063 in cash on hand.

Besides making allegations about Cherny, Sinema said during the Blade interview she’s committed to LGBT issues and sees passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and second-parent adoption as priorities along with other initiatives if she’s elected to Congress.

“People actually do get fired for being gay,” Sinema said. “People do get refusals to promote or refused to hire because they’re gay or perceived to be gay. I see ENDA and second-parent adoption as being very practical. People need jobs and need to take care of their families. So those are high on my priority list.”
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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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