Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a former chair of the Colorado State Board of Education, announced during a conference call with reporters his plans to reintroduce the Student Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. House.
“We need to protect kids at school regardless of what adults think about the different ways that people live their lives,” Polis said. “Our schools need to be a safe place where everybody can go to learn; nobody should be forced to drop out or not attend school for fear. Education is the right of every student, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, SNDA establishes LGBT students as a protected class and prohibits schools from discriminating against any student based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including by allowing bullying against them. According to the LGBT Equality Caucus, the language in the new bill is the same as it has been in previous years.
The bill has bipartisan support right off the bat.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a former Florida certified teacher and is known as the most pro-LGBT Republican in the U.S. House, is among the original co-sponsors of SNDA.
“There are currently no protections for federal law against this discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity, so the federal law is failing LGBT students and this is an injustice that needs to be corrected,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Ros-Lehtinen added she hopes that “every legislator — whether they’re Democrat or Republican” can look at the legislation “in a sensible way” and realize that LGBT students should be a protected class against discrimination.
Polis said each of the six openly LGB members of Congress — himself, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) — are among the co-sponsors of the legislation. Polis also identified House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as an original co-sponsor.
Joining the lawmakers on the conference call was a student and a parent of a student who say they’ve experienced discrimination in schools based on LGBT status.
Becky Collins talked about how her son Zach Collins was bullied for being gay while attending school in Chillicothe, Ohio.
“I have called the school several times while he was in grade school, then middle school came — and it’s more hurtful words, it’s shoving him into the locker, it’s touching him inappropriately,” Collins said. “My son, he just kind of took it with a grain of salt, even though I kept calling, kept calling. They said, ‘We’ll talk to him. We’ll talk to him.’ And still nothing changed for my son.”
After this bullying led to her son being beaten in the classroom two years ago, Collins said she had to involve the local sheriff because the school wouldn’t take action. Instead, the school principal urged her son to be the one to make the change so that he would no longer be targeted.
“The principal looks at my son and says, ‘I don’t have any other problem with any other student but you. What can we do to change you?'” Collins said. “They wanted my son to change, not the children that are torturing him daily, shoving him into walls and lockers and touching him in places that you shouldn’t touch another person.”
Also on the call was Bayli Silberstein, a bisexual eighth grade student from Florida who spoke about the difficulties she’s facing in her attempts to create a Gay-Straight Alliance to address the bullying that she and her friends face.
“My friends and I tried to start one last year, and our principal said ‘no,'” Silberstein said. “But they already had some clubs; they had a Christian club and they had a bullying club. So I was a little confused, and I wanted to try again. And the principal said we had to submit it to the school board. They made a really big deal out of it, and tried to cancel all extracurricular clubs for every middle school in the county.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, students already have the right to form GSAs under the Equal Access Act, a 1984 law that compels secondary schools to provide equal access to extracurricular clubs.
Ellen Kahn, director of the Human Rights Campaign Family Project, offered statistics demonstrating the degree of bullying that LGBT students face in schools.
According to an HRC survey cited by Kahn, 64 percent of LGBT teens — compared to 47 percent of non-LGBT teens — never participate in afterschool activities out of fear of discrimination or bullying. She also said LGBT youth are twice as likely as their non-LGBT peers to experience to bullying or harassment in school.
“While most of the bullying and exclusion is the perpetuated by their peers, we also know that adults who work in our schools — from bus drivers, to teachers — engage in anti-LGBT behavior and discrimination as well,” Kahn said.
Passage of SNDA — as with any pro-LGBT bill — will be difficult along as a Republican majority controls the House, but Polis nonetheless saw an opportunity for passage if Congress takes up the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
“There’s dozens, if not hundreds, of education bills and certainly a number of others that I co-sponsor that we hope to include in ESEA reauthorization,” Polis said. “We don’t know the overall likelihood of ESEA reauthorization, but it certainly remains one of my top priorities, and of course, including SNDA as part of that is critical.”
Last year, LGBT groups urged the Senate Education Labor and Pensions Committee to include SNDA when it marked up ESEA reauthorization. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has sponsored SNDA in the Senate, gave an impassioned speech against anti-gay bullying before the committee, but withdrew the measure as an amendment. After the larger vehicle was reported out of committee, it didn’t go anywhere and ultimately died in the Senate.
Polis acknowledged another more challenging route for the bill is passage of the measure as a standalone bill through a markup process in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The Colorado said he intends to speak with Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) about the legislation to pursue this path, but the more co-sponsors would build pressure on him to markup the bill.
LGBT groups praised SNDA upon Polis reintroduction of the bill as means to ensure LGBT youth are protected from discrimination and harassment while attending school.
Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the ACLU, was among those who hailed the bill and called it “the single most important step” that Congress could take to help LGBT students.
“Though the pace of positive progress on LGBT rights over the past several years has been dizzying, there is shockingly no federal law that explicitly protects LGBT students from discrimination and harassment in our nation’s public schools,” Thompson said. “We urge Congress to pass this bipartisan legislation and in doing so affirm that every student deserves the opportunity to attend school and learn without fear.”
On the same day that Polis introduced SNDA, a group of more than 82 advocacy organizations sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to sign on in support of the legislation.
“The Student Non-Discrimination Act presents us with a historic opportunity to offer critical protections to current and future generations of LGBT youth and their student allies by ensuring that discrimination against and harassment of students on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity will have no place in our country’s public elementary and secondary schools,” the letter states.
Signers of the letter include LGBT groups, such as the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and Log Cabin Republicans, and other groups, such as the ACLU, the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza.
The exact timing for Senate introduction of SNDA is unknown. A Senate aide said Franken is planning on introducing the bill in the upcoming weeks.
Another bill that would address anti-gay bullying is the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would require schools to adopt codes of conduct against bullying, including on the basis of LGBT status, and report bullying data to Department of Education Education. That legislation is sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) in the House and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in the Senate.
Following calls from LGBT advocates, the White House announced last year that President Obama had endorsed both SNDA and SSIA. Asked whether Obama still holds the position on both bills today, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said Obama supports “the goals” of SNDA.
“We support the goals of the Student Non-Discrimination Act introduced by Congressman Polis today,” Inouye said. “We look forward to working with Congress to ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying, and harassment.”
Mixed reviews from transgender Republicans on Caitlyn Jenner’s run
Remarks on kids in sport a sore point among LGBTQ advocacy groups
Caitlyn Jenner was quickly repudiated by LGBTQ advocates after she entered California’s recall election as a gubernatorial candidate — and her fellow transgender Republicans are mixed over whether or not to back her up.
Transgender Republicans are few in number, but some are in high-profile positions and have been working with their party to change its approach and drop its attacks on transgender people, whether it be in the military, public bathrooms, or school sports.
Jordan Evans, a Charlton, Mass.-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully last year ran to become a Massachusetts Republican State Committee Woman, told the Washington Blade she had high hopes for Jenner as a fellow transgender candidate, but they were quickly dashed after her campaign launched.
“My feelings changed quickly after Caitlyn made it clear that she was less interested in using this opportunity to present the Republican Party and conservative movements with an accessible and high-profile introduction to the trans community and simply wanted to be a trans woman who espoused the same destructive approaches that we just so happen to be seeing all over the country,” Evans said.
Evans said the high hopes she had were based on the transgender advocacy she said Jenner was doing behind the scenes and the potential for two prominent LGBTQ Republicans to run for governor in California. After all, Jenner may soon be joined in the race by Richard Grenell, who was U.S. ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence before becoming the face of LGBTQ outreach for Trump’s failed re-election.
But Jenner’s approach to the gubernatorial recall in California, Evans said, is “putting trans youth at risk for a campaign that isn’t even transformative for Republicans during this volatile time.”
“Even her current messaging is superficial and does nothing to help dispel claims that she’s unqualified,” Evans said. “The only positive thing that I’ve seen come from this is conservative mainstream media using her correct pronouns, but that is not worth the damage that she’s inflicting.”
Much of the disappointment over Jenner’s campaign is the result of her essentially throwing transgender kids under the bus as part of her campaign at a time when state legislatures are advancing legislation against them, including the bills that would essentially bar transgender girls from participating in school sports.
Jenner, declining to push back on these measures and assert transgender kids have a place in sports, instead essentially endorsed the bills shortly after she announced her candidacy.
“If you’re born as a biological boy, you shouldn’t be allowed to compete in girls’ sports,” Jenner told TMZ, which asked her about the hot-button issue during a Sunday morning coffee run.
Jenner dug deeper into MAGA-world at the expense of solidarity with the transgender community. Last week, Jenner retweeted Jenna Ellis, who has a notoriously anti-LGBTQ background and was criticized just last year for refusing to use the personal pronouns of Rachel Levine, who’s now assistant secretary of health and the first openly transgender presidential appointee to win Senate confirmation.
Jennifer Williams, a New Jersey-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly last year, said via email Jenner “did much good for several years by educating millions of people around the world about transgender folks,” but won’t countenance the candidate’s remarks on transgender kids in sports.
“In regard to her current run for California governor, her recent comments regarding transgender youth playing sports are confusing,” Williams said. “Just last year, she said that she supported transgender female athletes. Caitlyn should consult with tennis great Billie Jean King, soccer star Megan Rapinoe or WNBA legend Candace Parker on the subject of transgender athletes in women’s sports, as they are very well versed on the matter.”
At a time when state legislatures are pushing through legislation targeting transgender youth, restricting their access to sports and transition-related care, Jenner’s refusal to repudiate those measures has become a focal point for opposition to her candidacy from LGBTQ advocacy groups, who say she’s “out of touch” (although none were supporting her even before she made those comments).
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ political candidates and public officials, has signaled it wants nothing to do with Jenner.
Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs for LGBTQ Victory Fund, said Jenner hasn’t applied for an endorsement from the Victory Fund “and she shouldn’t bother to.”
“Her opposition to full trans inclusion – particularly for trans kids in sports – makes her ineligible for the endorsement,” Meloy said. “There are many great trans candidates running this cycle who are champions for equality.”
To be sure, Jenner used her celebrity status as a former reality TV star and Olympic champion on behalf of transgender lobbyists, urging donations to groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality and going to Capitol Hill to lobby Republicans on transgender issues. Jenner has also given money for transgender kids to attend college, giving transgender advocate Blossom Brown a check for $20,000 on “The Ellen Show” in 2015.
Blaire White, a transgender conservative and YouTube personality, drew on these examples of Jenner helping transgender youth in a video earlier this month and said the two once had dinner together, but wasn’t yet ready to make a endorsement.
“I will say that until she lays out all of her policy positions and until she’s more on record in long form really talking about what she wants to do for the state of California, I can’t say for sure I would vote for her and would not vote for her,” White concluded in the video. “What I can say is: I’m interested. And also, being under Gavin Newson’s governorship, I would literally vote for a triple-amputee frog over Gavin Newsom, so she already has that going for her.”
Jenner’s campaign couldn’t be reached for comment for this article on the repudiation of her campaign from LGBTQ advocacy groups.
Gina Roberts, who’s the first transgender Republican elected to public office in California and a member of the San Diego GOP Central Committee, said she’s neutral for the time being as an elected Republican Party leader, but nonetheless had good things to say about Jenner’s candidacy.
“I think it’s awesome,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of indicative of how cool the Republican Party in California is because nobody really cares or it makes any difference. I mean, I was the first elected GOP transgender person in California and I think we’re ready for No. 2.”
Asked whether Jenner’s comments about allowing transgender kids in sports was troubling, Roberts said that wasn’t the case because she has her own reservations.
“I have pretty much the same opinion because … there’s so many nuances in that,” Roberts said. “If somebody transitions after they’ve gone through puberty, there is a big difference, especially in high school. If they transition beforehand, it’s not a big deal.”
A gun enthusiast and supporter of gun owner’s rights, Roberts said she competes in women’s events in shooting sports, but there’s a difference because she doesn’t “really have any advantages all those young, small ladies can pull a lot faster than I do and shoot faster than I do.”
Roberts concluded she’ll personally make a decision about whom she’ll support in the California recall election after Grenell announces whether or not he’ll enter the race, but can’t say anything until the San Diego GOP Central Committee issues an endorsement.
“He’s a good friend of mine, too,” Roberts said. “I know both of them. I think they’d both be certainly better than Gavin Newsom, I have to stay neutral until the county party decides who they’re going to endorse. I will support somebody or another in the endorsement process, but I can’t publicly announce it.”
Although LGBTQ groups want nothing to do with her campaign, Jenner’s approach has garnered the attention of prominent conservatives, who are taking her seriously as a candidate. One of Jenner’s first interviews was on Fox News’ Sean Hannity, a Trump ally with considerable sway among his viewers. Hannity was able to find common ground with Jenner, including agreement on seeing California wildfires as a problem with forest management as opposed to climate change.
Kayleigh McEnany, who served as White House press secretary in Trump’s final year in the White House and defended in the media his efforts to challenge his 2020 election loss in court, signaled her openness to Jenner’s candidacy after the Hannity interview.
“I really enjoyed watching @Caitlyn_Jenner’s interview with @seanhannity,” McEnany tweeted. “I found Caitlyn to be well-informed, sincere, and laser-focused on undoing the socialist, radical, a-scientific policies of Biden & the left. Very good.”
In theory, that support combined with Jenner’s visibility might be enough to propel Jenner to victory. In the recall election, California will answer two questions, whether California Gov. Gavin Newsom should be recalled, and if so, which candidate should replace him. The contender with the plurality of votes would win the election, even if that’s less than a majority vote, and become the next governor. There isn’t a run-off if no candidate fails to obtain a majority.
With Jenner’s name recognition as a celebrity, that achievement could be in her reach. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the 2004 recall election in California as a Republican based on his celebrity status, and ended up becoming a popular governor.
But the modest inroads Jenner has made with the acceptance of conservatives and potential to win isn’t enough for other transgender Republicans.
Evans, for example, said Jenner’s candidacy is not only a disappointment, but threatening the potential candidacies of transgender hopefuls in the future.
“It’s difficult to be in electoral politics, and that’s even more true when you’re a member of a marginalized community,” Evans said. “Caitlyn’s behavior is making it even more challenging for the trans community to be visible in a field where we desperately need to be seen. She’s casting a tall shadow on our ability to have a voice and is giving credibility to lawmakers and local leaders simply unwilling to view us with decency and respect.”
Williams said Jenner should avoid talking about transgender issues over the course of her gubernatorial run “and instead focus on the hard, critical policy issues facing California.”
“It is a state in crisis and she has to run a very serious campaign and not rely on her celebrity or LGBTQ status to win over voters’ hearts and minds — just like all other LGBTQ candidates around the country need to do when they run for public office,” Williams said.
Anticipation builds amid delay: Will Biden name LGBTQ ambassadors?
United States has never had lesbian woman, trans person as envoy
More than 100 days into his presidency, President Biden has yet to name picks for a multitude of ambassadorial positions in a delay unusual for a presidency at this stage, raising questions about whether he’ll miss an opportunity to exhibit America’s LGBTQ community overseas through the appointment of the first-ever lesbian and transgender person as ambassadors.
Many of these ambassadorial vacancies, which complement the diplomatic corps of the U.S. government to serve as a representation of American diversity overseas, are in key positions. Nearly 90 ambassadorial positions, including sought-after posts in Israel, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Italy and China, remain vacant according to an April article in USA Today.
The delay in ambassadorial appointments appears to come from pressure on Biden to refrain from the traditional practice of naming donors who bundled for his presidential campaign to the prestigious posts as opposed to foreign policy experts. Biden declined during his campaign to commit to refusing to reward donors with ambassadorial appointments, but the issue has taken hold in progressive circles.
On the other hand, many donors and bundlers for Biden’s presidential campaign were LGBTQ people, who would reasonably expect an ambassadorial appointment as a reward for helping get Biden to the White House.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, under questioning from the Washington Blade on Tuesday on whether Biden is missing an opportunity to name lesbian and transgender ambassadors in historic firsts, urged patience.
“Given we haven’t named many ambassadors quite yet — and we hope to soon; stay tuned — certainly the president looks to ensuring that the people representing him, not just in the United States, but around the world, represent the diversity of the country, and that certainly includes people who are LGBTQ, members of the transgender community,” Psaki said.
Asked to clarify her definition of “soon” in this context — whether it means days, weeks, or months — Psaki declined to provide a more definite timeline.
“I think it depends on when the president makes some decisions,” Psaki said. “And he’ll continue to consider a range of options for a lot of the positions that are out there and still remain vacant.”
At the same time, Psaki made a point to commend the work of Foreign Service officers at the State Department with whom Biden has sought to restore trust after years of scorn from former President Trump.
“I will say, having served at the State Department for a couple of years, there are incredible career service employees who are serving in these embassies around the world who are representing the United States and our values.” Psaki said. “That continues to be the case, but, of course, we’re eager to have ambassadors in place and confirmed to represent the president and the vice president and the United States.”
The appointment of members of the LGBTQ community to ambassadorships has a significant place in the movement’s history. In 1998, Jim Hormel became the first openly gay person to serve as U.S. ambassador after being named U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. But the victory came after a struggle when anti-gay senators, including the late Jesse Helms, refused to confirm Hormel explicitly because he’s gay. President Clint0n ended up appointing Hormel as an ambassador through a recess appointment, which averted the need for Senate confirmation.
Presidents regardless of party have achieved historic firsts with the appointment of openly gay men as ambassadors. Michael Guest in the George W. Bush administration was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Romania, making him the first openly gay person to obtain Senate confirmation for an ambassadorship. Former President Obama over the course of two terms appointed a record seven openly gay men as ambassadors, including John Berry as U.S. ambassador to Australia and Daniel Baer as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe.
Richard Grenell, named by President Trump as U.S. ambassador to Germany, currently has the distinction of being the openly gay person with the most prestigious ambassadorial appointment. Consistent with his reputation as a firebrand on social media, Grenell hit Germany hard as ambassador to compel the G-5 country to meet its military spending obligations as a NATO partner. Grenell has something to show for his efforts: The country began to spend closer to 2 percent of its GDP on defense.
And yet for all these appointments, no president has ever named an open lesbian or trans woman for a position as U.S. ambassador, an oversight that stands out after the rapid progress on LGBTQ rights in recent years. At a time when transgender rights are in focus amid anti-trans attacks in state legislatures, the appointment of an openly transgender ambassador would also send a signal of solidarity with the transgender community.
There’s no indication Biden won’t appoint an LGBTQ person for a position as U.S. ambassador, which could be an easy achievement from him with the LGBTQ community, but the delay raises questions on whether or not they will happen, in addition to keeping the diplomatic corps from being fully staffed and functional.
Moreover, the position of LGBTQ international liaison at the State Department, a position Biden campaigned on filling after Trump let the position remain vacant, remains unfilled. During the Obama years, Randy Berry served in that role and travelled internationally to work with LGBTQ groups overseas and demonstrate U.S. solidarity with them.
It’s unclear why the international LGBTQ liaison position continues to remain vacant within the Biden administration. A State Department spokesperson referred the Blade on Wednesday back to the White House on potential LGBTQ ambassadorial appointments or the international LGBTQ liaison role.
To be sure, Biden has made several key LGBTQ appointments in the limited time in his presidency. Among them are Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary, making him the first-ever openly gay person to win Senate confirmation for a Cabinet-level role, and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health, which made her the first openly transgender person to win Senate confirmation for any presidential appointment.
In the past few weeks alone, Biden has signaled he’d name openly lesbian and transgender people to high-ranking civilian positions at the Defense Department. Brenda Sue Fulton, a lesbian activist who fought to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the transgender military ban, got the nod as assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs, while Shawn Skelly, a transgender national security expert who served in the Air Force for 20 years as a Naval Flight Officer, obtained the nod to become assistant secretary of defense for readiness. Meanwhile, Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian Iraq war veteran who twice ran to represent Texas’ 23rd congressional district, was nominated to become Air Force under secretary.
Even the State Department itself has a person from the LGBTQ community serving as its public face. Ned Price, who conducts daily briefings with the media as State Department spokesperson, is the first openly gay person to serve in that prominent position.
The LGBTQ Victory Institute, which at the start of the Biden administration had signaled the appointment of a lesbian, transgender person and LGBTQ person of color as U.S. ambassadors were among its goals, expressed confidence Biden would name these appointments in due time.
“President Biden will roll out his picks for ambassadorships over the next few months and it presents an incredible opportunity to choose diverse and groundbreaking LGBTQ nominees,” said Ruben Gonzales, executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute. “As President Biden has already made history with the number of LGBTQ women and transgender people he has nominated for Senate-confirmed positions, we predict this commitment to LGBTQ diversity will continue when ambassadors are nominated. The impact of our first LGBTQ women ambassadors, first LGBTQ ambassadors of color and first trans ambassadors would be enormous – an impact not lost on the Biden administration.”
White House: Biden to use bully pulpit to back transgender youth
Biden made commitment to transgender youth in speech to Congress
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday President Biden will fulfill the pledge he made in his speech to Congress to have the backs of transgender youth by using the bully pulpit, deferring to the U.S. Justice Department on potential legal action against attacks from state legislatures.
Psaki made the remarks under questioning from the Washington Blade in the aftermath of Biden’s speech last week before a joint session to Congress, when he called on lawmakers to pass the Equality Act and told transgender youth he’d have their back amid a flurry of anti-transgender in state legislatures.
“Well, certainly the president has put in place – has signed executive orders, he’s also used the power of the bully pulpit and his presidency to convey that transgender rights are human rights, and that is the view and belief of his administration and how he expects policies to be implemented,” Psaki said.
Many of the state measures are aimed at restricting transgender youth’s access to school sports by prohibiting biological boys from playing in girls’ events, essentially transgender girls from participation. Other measures prohibit transition-related health care. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday signed legislation requiring parental notification for LGBTQ-inclusive school curricula.
Psaki specifically addressed measures that would prohibit transgender youth from playing sports in her remarks on how Biden would follow-up on his pledge.
“That includes ensuring that transgender youth have the opportunity to play sports and to be treated equally in states across the country, so he will look to members of his administration to implement what his view and what his value is as president,” Psaki said.
Asked in a follow-up if she would rule out legal action against states as part of that effort, Psaki deferred entirely to the Justice Department.
“I will leave that to the Department of Justice,” Psaki said.
The Justice Department for weeks hasn’t respond to multiple requests to comment on whether it will tale legal action against the measures against transgender youth, which critics say amount to unlawful sex discrimination under the law.
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