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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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Conservative West Virginia state GOP lawmaker comes out during Pride

“I’m still a conservative Republican. That’s rare, I know, but you can be gay and Republican. You can be gay and conservative.”

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Joshua Higginbotham (Screenshot via WCHS ABC News 8 Charleston, W.VA)

CHARLESTON, WVA. – A conservative Republican lawmaker in the House of Delegates took to Twitter and other social media platforms this past weekend announcing that he is gay. Twenty-four year old Joshua Higginbotham said that he felt he owed it to the voters of West Virginia, after recently deciding to share it with his family and friends.

Higginbotham, who was first elected to the House when he was only 19, represents rural Putnam County located alongside Interstate 64 between the state’s capital city of Charleston to the East and Huntington to the West. His campaign adverts have all trumpeted his avid support of the Second Amendment as well as taking a pro-life position.

However, a check of some of his recent legislation shows a more progressive mindset. He is lead sponsor on House Bill 2998, a measure amending the State’s current codes relating to unlawful discriminatory practices in four categories covered by the West Virginia Human Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, adding language that prohibits discrimination based upon age and sexual orientation, or gender identity; and defining “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

That measure, earlier in the legislative session, led to a series of conflicts which involved the state’s only other openly gay lawmaker, Democratic Delegate Cody Thompson (D43-Marion). Republican House Delegate John Mandt, who resigned after posting an anti-gay slur but then was re-elected drew harsh criticism for an extended online diatribe opposing protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity the Associated Press reported earlier this year on February 7, 2021.

In his social media video as well as in an interview with reporter Anthony Conn from the local ABC News affiliate WCHS 8 in Charleston, Higginbotham said, “I am still a Christian. People think that gay people can’t be Christians.  I believe God loves me no matter what. I’m still a conservative Republican. That’s rare, I know, but you can be gay and Republican.  You can be gay and conservative.”

He added referring to his conservative politics that “nothing changes except now [you] know about my personal life.”

The statewide LGBTQ advocacy group Fairness West Virginia applauded the delegate’s decision to come out. “We think that it’s great that Delegate Higginbotham can lead his authentic life now. This must be a big burden that’s lifted off his shoulders,” Executive Director Andrew Schneider told WCHS ABC 8.

There are some in the state who are critical of Higginbotham. One source who asked to not be identified, told the Blade in a phone call Tuesday that Higginbotham’s support of former President Trump raised some doubts as to his veracity especially in issues surrounding Transgender West Virginians.

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Biden admin: Discrimination against LGBTQ kids illegal under Title IX

In contrast, Trump DOJ sided with anti-trans laws

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The Biden administration made official on Wednesday its position that discrimination against LGBTQ kids in schools is illegal under federal law at a time when states have enacted measures prohibiting transgender kids from playing in school sports or obtaining transition-related health care.

The Education Department, in a notice of interpretation signed by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, declared it would enforce Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex in schools, to prohibit discrimination both on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The Supreme Court has upheld the right for LGBTQ+ people to live and work without fear of harassment, exclusion, and discrimination – and our LGBTQ+ students have the same rights and deserve the same protections” Cardona said in a statement. “I’m proud to have directed the Office for Civil Rights to enforce Title IX to protect all students from all forms of sex discrimination. Today, the Department makes clear that all students — including LGBTQ+ students — deserve the opportunity to learn and thrive in schools that are free from discrimination.”

In contrast, the Trump administration had interpreted Title IX to exclude cases of anti-transgender discrimination in schools. In fact, the Justice Department under former President Trump filed a legal brief in defense of an Idaho law against transgender kids in sports in ongoing litigation against the statute.

Just this year, a number of states have enacted similar laws. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, said upon signing into law a measure banning transgender kids, that status would go “based on biology.” Arkansas has enacted a law over the veto of its governor making criminal the providing of transition-related care to transgender kids.

The notice of interpretation is consistent with the executive order President Biden signed on his first day in office instructing federal agencies to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the furthest extent possible in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. In his executive order, Biden specifically spelled out students should be able to go school without being  “denied access to the restroom, the locker room or school sports.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Biden administration would follow up on the memo with legal action against states with anti-transgender laws. The Education Department didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry on the issue.

The White House has consistently referred questions on whether the Biden administration would take up legal action against states enacting anti-transgender laws to the Justice Department, which hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment.

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As NYC Pride nears, ban on police seen as support for trans, BIPOC attendees

Organizers to provide ‘community-based security and first responders’

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A scene from NYC Pride in 2019. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

NYC Pride announced last month that it would no longer allow corrections and law enforcement exhibitors to participate in NYC Pride events until 2025. The decision is in accordance with NYC Pride’s commitment to create safe spaces for marginalized LGBTQ groups including BIPOC and transgender individuals at their Pride festivities.

“Effective immediately, NYC Pride will ban corrections and law enforcement exhibitors at NYC Pride events until 2025. At that time their participation will be reviewed by the Community Relations and Diversity, Accessibility, and Inclusion committees, as well as the Executive Board,” reads NYC Pride’s statement. NYC Pride is scheduled for June 27. 

To make sure that safety regulations are still adhered to at events, NYC Pride will “transition to providing increased community-based security and first responders, while simultaneously taking steps to reduce NYPD presence at events.”

Police officers being banned from participating in Pride parades and festivities is not an unfamiliar conversation to LGBTQ advocacy and activist groups in North America. In 2018, Capital Pride in D.C. announced that uniformed officers would not be allowed to march in the Pride parade. In 2019,  Pride Toronto announced that uniformed police officers would not be permitted to attend any Pride Toronto events. 

The announcement was preceded by a voting session that took place among Pride Toronto members. Global News, a Canadian news platform, reported a final result of 163-161, disallowing police participation in Pride Toronto events.

Global News also reports that Pride Toronto committed to using their $1.25 million federal grant to examine the LGBTQ community’s feelings regarding police, and to forge a way forward. 

In solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Vancouver Pride Society announced in 2020 that police officers were no longer welcome to march and exhibit during any of Vancouver Pride Society’s festivities. 

“The roots of Pride are in righteous anger, riot and uprising against police brutality. These riots against the violence of the police were led by Black and Brown trans women and queer people. The Stonewall Riots propelled gay movements from assimilationist tactics towards unapologetic Pride. These riots worked,” reads Vancouver Pride Society’s statement. 

The organization also pledged to ensure public safety by participating in calls to defund the police and “commit to learning and convening community dialogues about what these alternative forms of managing public safety look like.”

Why ban the police? The decision from NYC Pride was simple: given the law enforcement’s history of police brutality in America, there is a need to ensure that BIPOC and transgender individuals who attend Pride events can do so comfortably, without feeling vulnerable at events meant to be safe havens that allow full, unabashed identity expression and manifestation. 

“After many interactions between the police and LGBTQ community locally, [including] the passive aggressive moves between the NYPD and peaceful protestors in Washington Square Park last year, we have to look at the history,” said André Thomas, NYC Pride co-chair. “The ability to welcome Black, Brown, and trans Americans at our events is an even higher priority than for someone to be able to wear police uniform in a parade.”

It is no secret that BIPOC and transgender communities are some of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to interactions with corrections and law enforcement officers. 

Mapping Police Violence reports that in 2020, Black people constituted 28% of those killed by the police despite only constituting 13% of the country’s population. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey also reports that Black transgender people were 50% more likely to report that their interactions with police officers as suspecting them of soliciting sex work and leading to an arrest. In addition, the Movement Advancement Project reports in a 2017 study that nearly 40% of incarcerated girls identify as LGB and 85-90% of incarcerated LGBTQ youth are LGBTQ youth of color. 

With this in mind, NYC Pride’s goal is to make their events harm-and-fear-free for members of the LGBTQ community. 

To supplement the absence of corrections and law enforcement officers at NYC Pride events, the organization will provide community-based security companies and first responders who will ensure that Pride events are secure and will also be on standby in case of emergencies. 

As part of their training, the security companies are primed on how to deal with all kinds of situations including responding to an active shooter. 

“Our staff has gone through active shooter training and everything it entails including what they’re wearing and how they’re identifiable to the community,” said Thomas. “We want to ensure people that even though the NYPD may be a block away, there is still security [present] to take care of your needs.”

A lot of NYC Pride’s information regarding security measures is currently being relayed through social media and reportage from various news sources. 

“We tweeted about our meetings that we had with the NYPD to reinforce public safety after the initial news broke out of what’s been going on,” said Thomas. 

Regarding whether NYC Pride will implement this year’s model for next year’s Pride, “[NYC Pride is] figuring out what works and what doesn’t,” said Thomas. “We’re trying to do things in a hybrid model with some limited in-person and some virtual events. We’re going to figure out what to keep and what to change, and this will influence the planning and processes that we do.”

As for future Prides, Thomas wants everyone to remember this: “It’s always someone’s first Pride, and so, you want to be able to give someone that special experience. So, for future Prides, we’ll be working on greater inclusivity and representation.”

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