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Reid stirs controversy with remarks on ‘changing’ Mormon Church

Doctrine slow to adapt to evolving views of followers

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Harry Reid's remarks that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have inspired controversy (photo from wikimedia by Joe Ravi).

Harry Reid’s remarks that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is changing on LGBT rights have inspired controversy. (photo from wikimedia by Joe Ravi)

Remarks from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week that Mormons are changing their views on the issue of gay rights has inspired a stark reaction from the church.

During a reporter roundtable in his office prior to the final vote in the Senate on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Reid asserted the church is changing when asked by the Washington Blade how he reconciles his faith with his support for gay rights.

“When I attend church here in Washington, D.C., I bet more people agree with me than disagree with me, and so the church is changing, and that’s good,” Reid said.

Although his religion stipulates that homosexuality is against God’s law, Reid, the highest-ranking Mormon in the federal government, has been a prominent supporter of LGBT rights.

He was critical of his church’s involvement in the effort to pass California’s Proposition 8 in 2008; he endorsed the National Equality March in 2009, has championed ENDA and supports same-sex marriage.

The day after the Blade published the article about the roundtable with reporters, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement responding to Reid’s comments, saying that although the church has no position ENDA, it remains opposed to same-sex marriage.

“On the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the Church has not taken a position,” the statement says. “On the question of same-sex marriage, the Church has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with kindness and understanding. If it is being suggested that the Church’s doctrine on this matter is changing, that is incorrect.”

The statement continues, “Marriage between a man and a woman is central to God’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. As such, traditional marriage is a foundational doctrine and cannot change.”

LGBT advocates working to change the Mormon Church acknowledged that while members may have evolving views on gay rights, church doctrine and policies haven’t made similar progress.

John Gustav-Wrathall, senior vice president of the LGBT Mormon group Affirmation, said Reid is right that members of the church are becoming more accepting of LGBT people and this acceptance includes support for ENDA and, in some cases, marriage equality.

“But the church leadership is maintaining that the doctrinal position of the church with relation to same-sex sexuality have not changed and are not going to change,” Gustav-Wrathall said. “And that certainly seems to be true, we don’t see any doctrinal evolution taking place at that level.”

Spencer Clark, executive director of Mormons for Equality, said as someone who lived in Reid’s D.C. congregation for five years, he concurs with the majority leader’s remarks.

“If you took a poll among Latter-day Saints locally, there would be a lot — if not majority — support of equal civil rights for LGBT individuals,” Clark said. “This is not to say that political sentiments in D.C. are representative of Mormons everywhere, but it demonstrates that there is a growing diversity of opinion among Mormons in regard to LGBT issues, and certainly a greater acceptance of them in our communities.”

After receiving substantial criticism for taking a lead role in passing Prop 8, the Mormon Church changed its tune on its public messaging on LGBT rights.

In 2009, the church endorsed an ordinance protecting gay people against discrimination in Salt Lake City. Moreover, although individual Mormons at a local level were involved in stopping the passage of marriage equality in Maryland, the church itself stayed out in 2012 when marriage equality came to the ballot in Maryland, Minnesota, Washington and Maine.

In terms of ENDA, the Mormon Church doesn’t oppose the bill, unlike other religious groups. While the Mormon Church is neutral, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to U.S. senators opposing ENDA. Among other reasons, the conference said the legislation threatened religious liberty — despite the religious exemption in the bill.

However, the Mormon Church was engaged this year in attempting to stop the legalization of same-sex marriage. It joined with other religious groups in filing briefs before the Supreme Court in favor of Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. According to a report in Mother Jones, the church issued letters to followers in Hawaii reiterating the church’s position against same-sex marriage. One letter was sent by church leadership in Salt Lake City; another came from within the Hawaii church hierarchy.

Gustav-Wrathall nonetheless said an evolution is taking place among church members because Mormon parents of LGBT children are seeing their kids coming out more widely amid greater LGBT acceptance, which is continuing to drive discussion at all levels.

“They don’t want their kids to be lonely or alone, and they see the anguish that their kids are going through and they want to see their kids fully accepted and loved within their congregations,” Gustav-Wrathall said. “They value their Mormon faith, and they want to see their kids stay true to that faith, and they’re worried that if the church has a very strong anti-gay position, then they don’t much future for their kids in the church, and that causes them a great deal of anguish.”

Clark said this discussion among members of the Mormon Church and growing acceptance among LGBT people will reach church leadership and “ultimately carry the day.”

“Whether or not official LDS doctrines ever change, it’s undeniable that … the actual people who come together to worship are changing,” Clark said. “And as they filter up into higher leadership over the coming decades, the institution will change too, just as it always has.”

As the New York Times noted last week, Mormon members of the U.S. Senate provided the crucial votes needed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. All but two of the chamber’s seven Mormon members voted for the bill.

In addition to Reid, Mormons who voted for the bill were Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). The two who voted against it were Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).

It remains to be seen whether the bill will find the same support among Mormons in the House. Only one of the Mormons in that chamber co-sponsors the bill: Rep. Jim Matheson (R-Utah). The other nine include lawmakers with anti-LGBT records, such as Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Raul Labrador (R-Idaho).

Gustav-Wrathall said he “absolutely” thinks the support that ENDA enjoyed among Mormons in the Senate is evidence of the change within members — at least on the issue of non-discrimination.

“I think in some ways Prop 8 actually may have moved things forward in those others areas because it created the impetus for discussion, and once people actually started talking about it, they realized, hey, we can support LGBT rights in at least these areas,” Gustav-Wrathall said.

The full remarks from Reid on Mormons evolving on gay rights follow:

I believe that I have rendered my church some pretty good service, and having members of the church recognize that they’re not all the same. I was stunned. I went to the national convention, and they asked me, “Would be willing to do an event for Mormon Democrats?” Ah, sure. I’ve been to things before where there was 14 people, whatever it is. I went down there. They have to turn people away. Lots and lots of people in North Carolina. I think they were proud of me for some of the stands I’ve taken.

For example, right in this room, I told one of the leaders of the Mormon Church, “Don’t do this. Stop this stuff in California. It’s nothing but trouble. It’s not going to work. You go back and tell everyone in Salt Lake what I’ve said because it’s not going to work. You’re not creating a good, positive guide for the church.” Example is the word, not guide.

And, you know, the Mormon Church is led by some wonderful men and women, but especially the men are old because it’s based like the Senate. A lot of it is on seniority. And there’s some young new church leaders, one of whom is an apostle. He’s what is called a stake president in San Francisco. He knows all this stuff. So, things are changing.

I hope they appreciate how I’ve helped. I’ve never — I don’t feel uncomfortable going to church and recognizing that in some places, not everyplace that I may think differently on social issues and other things than some. But, you take for example, when I attend church here in Washington, D.C., I bet more people agree with me than disagree with me, and so the church is changing, and that’s good.”

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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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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 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 bill, Senate Bill 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 percent 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 Los Angeles 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 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — 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 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent 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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