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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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Florida

Federal judge blocks Fla. trans health care ban and restrictions

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to appeal ruling

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

BY JACKIE LLANOS | Florida’s ban on puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy for transgender minors and restrictions for adults are both unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who presided over the case in Tallahassee, sided with the plaintiffs in the class action — parents of trans minors and trans adults — who argued the measure violated the U.S. Constitution because it solely targeted trans people.

“The federal courts have a role to play in upholding the constitution and laws. The state of Florida can regulate as needed but cannot flatly deny transgender individuals safe and effective medical treatment — treatment with medications routinely provided to others with the state’s full approval so long as the purpose is not to support the patient’s transgender identity,” Hinkle wrote.

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. (Florida Channel screenshot)

Those restrictions came into place following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approval of Senate Bill 254 in May 2023 and promulgation of rules from the Florida Board of Medicine and Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine enacting that law. Those boards and Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo were named as defendants.

The measures banned minors’ use of puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy, common treatments for gender dysphoria. Additionally, the law said only physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists could treat adults seeking gender-affirming care, with the added requirements of frequent in-person visits, tests, and authorization through a consent form that contained false information about the harms of hormone replacement therapy.

However, the law didn’t impose the same restrictions on cisgender women needing to take testosterone or cisgender men needing to take estrogen.

Appeal incoming

The state plans to appeal the ruling, said Jeremy Redfern, press secretary to DeSantis. An appeal would go to the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals.

“Through their elected representatives, the people of Florida acted to protect children in this state, and the court was wrong to override their wishes,” Redfern wrote in a statement to Florida Phoenix.

“We disagree with the court’s erroneous rulings on the law, on the facts, and on the science. As we’ve seen here in Florida, the United Kingdom, and across Europe, there is no quality evidence to support the chemical and physical mutilation of children. These procedures do permanent, life-altering damage to children, and history will look back on this fad in horror.”

Redfern wrote that the state would continue to “fight to ensure children are not chemically or physically mutilated in the name of radical, new age ‘gender ideology.’”

In his 105-page ruling, Hinkle noted that “there were no complaints from patients, no adverse results in Florida, just a political issue.”

However, the ruling does not lift the state ban on gender-affirming surgery for minors and restrictions on surgery for adults. That’s because the plaintiffs didn’t challenge the statutes relating to surgery for minors, and the adult plaintiff had not sought surgery and so lacked standing to challenge those restrictions.

Relief for plaintiffs

Plaintiff Gloria Goe (they used pseudonyms to protect the privacy of their children) is the mother of an 8-year-old (at the opening of the case) trans boy. During the opening day of the trial on Dec. 13, she testified that she feared her son would be swallowed by depression if forced to go through puberty without medical treatment.

“This ruling lifts a huge weight and worry from me and my family, knowing I can keep getting Gavin the care he needs, and he can keep being the big-hearted, smiling kid he is now. I’m so grateful the court saw how this law prevented parents like me from taking care of our children,” Goe wrote in a press release.

Attorneys with GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, Human Rights Campaign Foundation, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Southern Legal Counsel, and the Lowenstein Sandler law firm represented the plaintiffs.

Hinkle compared the discrimination trans people face nowadays to racism and misogyny.

“Some transgender opponents invoke religion to support their position, just as some once invoked religion to support their racism or misogyny,” Hinkle wrote. “Transgender opponents are of course free to hold their beliefs. But they are not free to discriminate against transgender individuals just for being transgender. In time, discrimination against transgender individuals will diminish, just as racism and misogyny have diminished.”

Editor’s note:

In a statement made to the Los Angeles Blade after Tuesday’s rule, Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights said:

“This decision is important because is the first federal court to rule on a law restricting healthcare for transgender adults and because it finds that Florida’s laws are plainly based on anti-transgender bias, not science. This victory shows that we can and must keep fighting these dangerous laws, notwithstanding the deeply flawed rulings of some conservative appellate courts.

Judge Hinkle ruled in favor of the transgender plaintiffs in this case even after the negative 11th Circuit ruling that reversed our initially successful challenge to a similar ban in Alabama. He was able to do so because the evidence showing that these laws have no medical justification and are rooted in false stereotypes and bias was so strong. This is a huge victory, and one that shows that we can win these battles even in red states.”   

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Jackie Llanos is a recent graduate of the University of Richmond. She has interned at Nashville Public Radio, Virginia Public Media, and Virginia Mercury.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Florida Phoenix and is republished with permission.

The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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National

New poll: 60 percent of Americans oppose bending gender-affirming care for young people

Gallup researchers conducted poll.

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Upwards of 1,000 people took part in the March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy in D.C. on March 31, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A new Gallup poll out this week found that six in 10 U.S. adults oppose laws banning gender-affirming care for minors. The poll also found that a steady 51 percent of Americans think changing one’s gender is morally wrong, while 44 percent say it is morally acceptable.

According to the researchers at Gallup: There are significant demographic differences in Americans’ views of the morality of changing one’s gender. Majorities of political liberals (81 percent), Democrats (72 percent), those who do not identify with a religion (67 percent), those who do not attend religious services regularly (59 percent), young adults aged 18-29 (56 percent), and college graduates (53 percent) believe changing genders is morally acceptable. Less than half of their counterparts say the same.

While slightly less than half of women believe in the moral acceptability of changing genders, they are significantly more likely than men to think as much (48 percent vs. 39 percent, respectively.)

In data published by the Human Rights Campaign, as of May, 39 percent or 117,600 transgender youth aged 13-17 are living in the 25 states that have passed bans on gender-affirming care. This includes 18,500 youth living in the three states — Florida, Ohio, and Montana — where bans are currently on hold or blocked from enforcement through court orders.

In its survey, Gallup researchers gauged Americans’ support for laws banning such care for minors with two questions, each asked of half of the total sample. One question asks about bans in general terms, on “treatments and medical procedures,” while the other spells out some of the specific treatments that could be banned, such as “psychological support, hormonal treatments and medical surgeries” to help minors align with their gender identity.

Gallup researchers found that on both questions, Republicans are more supportive than Democrats and independents of bans on gender-affirming care for minors.

On the more specific question that includes psychological support, hormonal treatments and medical surgeries, a majority of Republicans (53 percent) but far fewer Democrats (25 percent) and Independents (34 percent) favor a ban.

On the more general question, Republicans are somewhat less likely to support a ban on treatments and medical procedures (45 percent), while Democrats’ and Independents’ responses remain unchanged from the more specific question.

Gallup researchers measured U.S. adults’ gender identity in all of its surveys; an average of 0.9 percent of U.S. adults in 2023 identified as trans. Trans identification among adults is highest (2.8 percent) for those in Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2005).

The Gallup polling data also revealed:

A slim majority of Americans believe that changing one’s gender is morally wrong. Yet, a majority also oppose laws banning gender-affirming care to help minors align with their gender identity.

This discrepancy could be because the questions about gender-affirming care specifically mention minors, while the question about the morality of changing one’s gender does not. In addition, the relatively low support for banning laws on gender-affirming care may be attributable to Americans’ general distaste for bans, a pattern that can be seen in Gallup trends on banning cigarette smoking and handguns.

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The White House

Advocacy groups condemn Biden immigration executive order

Directive ‘catastrophic’ for LGBTQ asylum seekers

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President Joe Biden (X screen capture)

President Joe Biden on Tuesday issued an executive order that prohibits migrants from asking for asylum in the U.S. if they “unlawfully” cross the Southern border.

Senior administration officials on Tuesday told reporters before Biden announced the directive that it will take effect “when high levels of encounters at the Southern border exceed our ability to deliver timely consequences, as is the case today.” The Associated Press reported this figure is 2,500 “border encounters between ports of entry” a day. 

“Today, I’m announcing actions to bar migrants who cross our Southern border unlawfully from receiving asylum,” said Biden at the White House. “Migrants will be restricted from receiving asylum at our southern border unless they seek it after entering through an established lawful process.”

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Reps. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), and Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) joined Biden at the White House alongside San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, El Paso (Texas) Mayor Oscar Leeser, Edinberg (Texas) Mayor Ramiro Garza, Harlingen (Texas) Mayor Norma Sepulveda, Laredo (Texas) Victor Treviño, Brownsville (Texas) Mayor John Cowen, Bexar County (Texas) Sheriff Javier Salazar, and Santa Cruz County (Ariz.) Supervisor Manuel Ruiz.

El Paso, Edinberg, Harlingen, Laredo, Brownsville, and Santa Cruz County border Mexico.

U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) in February unveiled an immigration overhaul bill they described as “the strongest border security package in decades to reassert control of the border, end catch and release, enhance security, fix the asylum system, and support border communities.” Senate Republicans blocked the measure.

“I’m moving past Republican obstruction and using the executive authorities available to me as president to do what I can on my own to address the border,” said Biden.

“Frankly, I would have preferred to address this issue through bipartisan legislation, because that’s the only way to actually get the kind of system we have now — that’s broken — fixed, to hire more Border Patrol agents, more asylum officers, more judges,” he added. “But Republicans have left me with no choice.” 

Biden stressed migrants who “come to the United States legally … by making an appointment and coming to a port of entry” will still be able to ask for asylum.

“If an individual chooses not to use our legal pathways, if they choose to come without permission and against the law, they’ll be restricted from receiving asylum and staying in the United States,” he said. 

“This action will help us to gain control of our border, restore order to the process,” Biden added. 

Biden further stressed the ban “will remain in place until the number of people trying to enter illegally is reduced to a level that our system can effectively manage.”

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) in a statement sharply criticized the executive order.

“By reviving Trump’s asylum ban, President Biden has undermined American values and abandoned our nation’s obligations to provide people fleeing persecution, violence, and authoritarianism with an opportunity to seek refuge in the U.S.,” said the California Democrat.

The Council for Global Equality said the executive order is “catastrophic for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and other asylum seekers from vulnerable populations — and it’s highly unlikely to help move the electoral needle.” Immigration Equality Director of Law and Policy Bridget Crawford reiterated this point.

“President Biden is playing craven political games with the lives of refugees, including LGBTQ people fleeing persecution, instead of implementing workable solutions,” she said.

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration works with LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexicali and other Mexican cities that border the U.S. 

ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth in a statement to the Washington Blade said the executive order will harm “LGBTIQ asylum seekers and other vulnerable individuals seeking refuge from persecution.” He also said the directive “will put more LGBTIQ asylum seekers in harm’s way in dangerous Mexican border towns and puts added pressure on refugee-serving organizations throughout Mexico.”

The State Department currently advises Americans not to travel to Mexico’s Tamaulipas state, which borders Texas, because of “crime and kidnapping.” It also recommends Americans to reconsider travel to the country’s Baja California, Sonora, and Chihuahua states that border California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas respectively. 

“President Biden’s unlawful policy flies in the face of U.S. refugee law and removes the critical protections and paths to safety of these asylum seekers, leaving them vulnerable and with no resources,” Roth told the Blade.

Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief Impact Officer Terra Russell-Slavin noted Biden issued the executive director days after he issued a Pride Month proclamation. Russell-Slavin, like other activists, also referenced the previous administration’s policies they said harmed LGBTQ migrants and asylums seekers.

“The Biden administration cannot have it both ways: They cannot ‘celebrate’ Pride Month while turning their backs on LGBTQ+ individuals who are seeking the rights our movement is based on,” said Russell-Slavin. “We strongly condemn this executive order, and urge the president to immediately reverse this harmful action.”

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