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LGBT groups take part in D.C. immigration rally

Rea Carey of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force addressed crowd

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Rea Carey, NGLTF, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, immigration reform, gay news, Washington Blade
Rea Carey, NGLTF, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, immigration reform, gay news, Washington Blade

Rea Carey of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force speaks during a rally for immigration reform at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. (Photo by Kathy Plate)

Rev. Sarah Lamming of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Md., moved to the United States from England nearly four years ago. She and her American-born wife married in Maryland in January, but she cannot obtain a spousal green card because the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the federal government from recognizing their marriage for immigration purposes.

Lamming added during an interview at Immigration Equality’s office in Northwest D.C. on Wednesday that the work visas that she had until 18 months ago did not reference her relationship. She even removed her wedding rings each time she went to a U.S. embassy or tried to re-enter the country.

“That’s frustrating because that’s not how I’ve lived my life — we’ve lived our life in the last four years,” Lamming said.

Lamming and her wife were among the tens of thousands of people who attended a rally in support of comprehensive immigration reform on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, addressed the crowd as Immigration Equality Executive Director Rachel Tiven and representatives from the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT and allied organizations joined her on stage. Freedom to Marry, GLAAD, GetEQUAL, the National Black Justice Coalition, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the [email protected] Coalition and the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project are among the 26 LGBT advocacy groups that issued a statement earlier in the day that urged Congress to pass a “fair and comprehensive” immigration reform bill.

“Immigration is a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and human rights issue,” Carey said.

Carey referenced a trans Mexican woman whom she said suffered “horrific abuse” while at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility. She also noted during her speech that bi-national same-sex couples are threatened with “forced separation” because they cannot sponsor their partner for immigration purposes.

“It is cruel and unfair to force loving couples and families to live apart …to make them choose between family and country,” Carey said.

Members of the Latino GLBT History Project and Casa Ruby were among those who also took part in the rally.

Jim Bolas of Brooklyn, N.Y., attended the rally with his partner of five years, Christophe Lepage, who returned to France after he lost his work visa because his company laid him off during the 2008 financial crisis. They told the Blade as they and other Immigration Equality supporters prepared to leave for the Capitol they felt it was important to participate in the event.

“We really want to make sure that LGBTQ families and couples are represented in the immigration arguments,” Bolas said.

The rally took place as a bi-partisan group of U.S. senators appear poised to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the coming days.

“The ‘Gang of 8’ senators of which I am one — Democrats and Republicans — have come to an agreement on all the major issues,” U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said as he addressed the crowd. “We are writing the bill as we speak.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to begin considering the proposal next week. Tiven and New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler told the Blade on Monday it is unlikely to contain any LGBT-specific language.

Neither Menendez nor U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.,) who addressed the march as several of his congressional colleagues stood on stage with him, referenced bi-national same-sex couples during the event.

“There is success only when there is a consistent and persistent demand from the people,” the Illinois congressman told reporters from Spanish-language media outlets during an impromptu press conference after he spoke. “They have once again shown with their cries today that they will be consistent and persistent. And if Congress does not act, you will see the mobilization of our community on every street corner, in every neighborhood, in every house, in every city and in every state in the United States. We will not rest.”

Carey told the Blade during the rally her organization will continue to work to ensure lawmakers include the Uniting American Families Act that would allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their partners for immigration purposes into any final measure.

“We would be very disappointed if it’s not included in the base bill, but we’ve got a long road to go on this bill,” she said. “There are a lot of stops along this train ride and we intend to push for the inclusion of bi-national couples every step of the way.”

President Obama in January unveiled his immigration reform proposal that includes bi-national couples. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in February told the Senate Judiciary Committee the White House supports a provision that would allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their foreign-born partners for immigration purposes.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy is expected to add UAFA as an amendment to the ‘Gang of 8’ bill once the Senate Judiciary Committee begins to consider it next week.

“We will then be pushing our allies on the Hill strongly to protect the language on the Senate floor,” HRC spokesperson Michael Cole-Schwartz said in response to the Blade’s question about whether the organization would publicly endorse an immigration reform measure that does not include bi-national same-sex couples.

Lamming and others who attended the rally said they hope Congress will support an LGBT-inclusive bill.

“This bill does not treat a section of the population with dignity,” she said. “This law precludes me from becoming part of the United States and my family is suffering from that.”

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray appeared to agree as he spoke at the march.

“We want a law that protects the most vulnerable among us: our women, our children and our LGBT communities,” he said.

Immigration, gay news, Washington Blade

Tens of thousands gathered at the U.S. Capitol on April 10 for a rally in support of comprehensive immigration reform. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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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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