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Gay mayor-elect vows to ‘clean up’ Atlantic City

Republican beat incumbent with support from Democrats

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Don Guardian, Atlantic City, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade
Don Guardian, Atlantic City, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Don Guardian shocked Atlantic City’s political establishment by defeating the Democratic incumbent earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Guardian)

Don Guardian said he never became involved in politics until recently when he “got fed up with how bad things were” in his hometown of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Guardian, 60, a gay Republican, ran for mayor this year in the Nov. 5 election. He shocked Atlantic City’s political establishment by defeating incumbent Mayor Lorenzo Langford, a Democrat, in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans among registered voters by a nine to one margin.

“I said I thought we needed to bring all of the different groups within Atlantic City together,” Guardian told the Blade. “And that extended to race, color, creed, national origin, political parties, sexual orientation and gender.”

For the past 21 years, Guardian has worked as executive director of the Atlantic City Improvement District, a non-profit corporation recently acquired by the state government that provides services to the city’s tourism district where more than a dozen casinos and upscale hotels are located.

Guardian said he believes he succeeded in defining himself as a good-government reform candidate capable of using his knowledge and experience in running the tourism district to address the longstanding problems plaguing the rest of the city, where most of the residents live.

“From a city standpoint the services are very, very poor,” he said. “From not cleaning the streets or replacing lights, paving roads, maintaining parks and playgrounds, cleaning beaches, maintaining the boardwalk – services that you would expect from a city to be commonplace – are not,” he said.

“And yet we have the third highest budget in the State of New Jersey. Only Newark and Jersey City are larger than us,” he said. “And we have the largest workforce in the state.”

Added Guardian, “I ran on a platform that I was going to bring those services to the other half of the city that was not receiving them.”

Pointing to his promise to limit his tenure in office to two terms, Guardian said he also “ran on a campaign that I needed eight years to clean up this city, to bring development back, to bring housing back, to bring up the standards, to lower taxes and to reduce crime.”

To the surprise of many of the city’s political observers, he attracted the support of constituency groups that traditionally back Democratic candidates, including a key local labor union and Latino and Asian-Pacific Islander advocacy groups.

Also on his agenda, he said, are plans to strengthen efforts already under way to promote Atlantic City as an entertainment and beach destination in addition to its well-known reputation as a center for casino gambling. With many other states legalizing casino gambling, Atlantic City no longer has an East Coast monopoly on gaming, Guardian said, making it essential that the city “reinvent itself” as a destination with attractions other than gaming.

Among the groups that endorsed Guardian were the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, and the Pakistani-American Muslim Organization of South Jersey.

Guardian said rank-and-file Democrats clearly crossed over to vote for him following what he says was an aggressive grassroots campaign in which he knocked on the doors of more than 3,000 homes to listen to what people’s concerns were.

“There’s no question – Democrats and independents are the reason that I’m the mayor-elect today,” he said. “They provided the majority of my volunteers, the majority of the funding.”

Following a recount and careful examination of mail-in and provisional ballots counted during a 10-day period after the Nov. 5 election, the Atlantic County Board of Elections last week issued its final vote count in the mayoral race.

Guardian received 3,929 votes compared to Langford, who received 3,568 votes, showing Guardian won by a razor-thin 361-vote margin. An independent candidate, John McQueen, received 230 votes.

Although Guardian beat Langford by a close margin, election results show he received 1,032 more votes in Atlantic City than Gov. Chris Christie, who won his statewide re-election bid by a landslide.

In Democratic dominated Atlantic City, Democratic State Sen. Barbara Buono beat Christie, a Republican, by a vote of 4,293 to 2,897. In the statewide vote, Christie trounced Buono by a margin of 60 percent to 38 percent, catapulting him into the national spotlight as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

Guardian said that although he has yet to meet Christie, the governor initiated policies in his first term to boost economic development efforts in Atlantic City. He said he looks forward to an amicable relationship with the Christie administration.

Most political observers said Langford’s relationship with Christie became strained last year when he and Christie clashed over an evacuation plan for Atlantic City during the onset of Tropical Storm Sandy, which devastated much of the Southern New Jersey coast.

Guardian, in describing himself as a political newcomer, said he was unaware of the existence of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national political organization that raises money for openly LGBT candidates running for public office. Had he applied for and received an endorsement from the Victory Fund, he could have received additional financial support for his campaign.

“I have to tell you I was very naïve in not knowing there was such a thing as organized gay, lesbian, transgender support, either financial or otherwise,” he said. “And so no, I never applied and no one contacted me.”

Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said there is no state Log Cabin organization in New Jersey, which prevented Log Cabin from endorsing Guardian under the group’s bylaws.

“I had my eye on this but we were not involved,” Angelo told the Blade. “But the fact that we have an elected gay Republican is a good thing.”

While he had few connections with LGBT organizations, Guardian said he supported LGBT equality during his tenure with the Atlantic City Special Improvement District, which he said adopted its own internal non-discrimination policy for LGBT employees.

As a longtime member and leader of the Rotary Clubs of Southern New Jersey, Guardian said he and his partner of 19 years, Louis Fatato, used the occasion of Guardian’s 2005 induction ceremony as district governor of the Rotary International organization of South Jersey to formally announce they had legally filed for a domestic partnership.

“It was great for us to announce it,” he said. “This was a great day for Rotary and for me personally. I have a domestic partnership and I’m also being inducted as a governor of Rotary International.”

During this year’s mayoral campaign, Guardian said he expressed his support for same-sex marriage in New Jersey in response to a question presented to him and Langford during a candidate debate.

“He said that was a national issue and he was a Christian and everybody has their own views,” said Guardian. “My response was the courts have made it very clear that gay marriage is a civil rights issue and that I would always stand on the right side of civil rights.”

Added Guardian: “In other words, I’m not supporting it because I’m a gay guy. I’m supporting it because the courts have already ruled that New Jersey has to provide gay marriage and that our current domestic partnership is not the same as civil marriage and therefore it had to be changed.”

According to Guardian, Langford never raised Guardian’s sexual orientation directly on the campaign trail in his public statements. But Guardian said a letter that the Langford campaign sent to voters urged voters to ask Guardian about “his unacceptable lifestyle.”

Neither Langford’s office nor his campaign responded to a request from the Blade for comment on this and other issues surrounding the campaign.

Similarly, the Atlantic County Democratic Party Chair, James Schroeder, and the county’s Republican Party Chair, Keith Davis, did not return calls seeking comment on Guardian’s election as mayor. Atlantic City is located within Atlantic County.

Also not responding to calls from the Blade for comment on Guardian’s election were spokespersons for Christie.

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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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NCAA adopts new policy amid fervor over transgender athletes

Sport-by-sport approach requires certain levels of testosterone

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NCAA, gay news, Washington Blade
The NCAA has adopted new policy amid a fervor over transgender athletes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced it has adopted new procedures on competition of transgender athletes, creating a “sport-by-sport” approach that also requires documentation of testosterone levels across the board amid a fervor of recently transitioned swimmers breaking records in women’s athletics.

The NCAA said in a statement its board of governors voted on Wednesday in support of the “sport-by-sport” approach, which the organization says “preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete.”

Although the policy defers to the national governing bodies for individual sports, it also requires transgender athletes to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections. The new policy, which consistent with rules for the U.S. Olympics, is effective 2022, although implementation is set to begin with the 2023-24 academic year, the organization says.

John DeGioia, chair of the NCAA board and Georgetown president, said in a statement the organization is “steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports.”

“It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy,” DeGioia said.

More specifically, starting with the 2022-23 academic year, transgender athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections, the organizational. These athletes, according to the NCAA, are also required to document testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections.

In terms of jurisdiction, the national governing bodies for individual sports are charged determines policies, which would be under ongoing review and recommendation by the NCAA, the organizational says. If there is no policy for a sport, that sport’s international federation policy or previously established International Olympics Committee policy criteria would be followed.

The NCAA adopts the policy amid controversy over University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas smashing records in women’s swimming. Thomas, which once competed as a man, smashed two national records and in the 1,650-yard freestyle placed 38 seconds ahead of closest competition. The new NCAA policy appears effectively to sideline Thomas, who has recently transitioned and unable to show consistent levels of testosterone.

Prior to the NCAA announcement, a coalition of 16 LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally, this week sent to a letter to the collegiate organization, urging the organizations strengthen non-discrimination protections as opposed to weakening them. The new policy, however, appears to head in other direction, which the LGBTQ groups rejected in the letter.

“While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play,” the letter says. “This would be similar to the patchwork of non-discrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies.”

JoDee Winterhof, vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the NCAA announcement the new policy was effectively passing the buck.

“If the NCAA is committed to ensuring an environment of competition that is safe, healthy, and free from discrimination, they cannot dodge the question of how to ensure transgender athletes can participate safely,” Winterhof said. “That is precisely why we and a number of organizations across a wide spectrum of advocates are urging them to readopt and strengthen non-discrimination language in their constitution to ensure the Association is committed to enforcing the level playing field and inclusive policies they say their values require. Any policy language is only as effective as it is enforceable, and with states passing anti-transgender sports bans, any inclusive policy is under immediate threat. We are still reviewing the NCAA’s new policy on transgender inclusion and how it will impact each and every transgender athlete.”

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Transgender rights group’s Los Angeles office receives bomb threat

[email protected] Coalition evacuated

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(Public domain photo)

A bomb threat was phoned in Wednesday afternoon to the Wilshire Boulevard Koreatown offices of the [email protected] Coalition, Bamby Salcedo, the president and CEO of the non-profit organization told the Los Angeles Blade.

According to Salcedo, an unidentified male caller told the staff person who answered at approximately 3 p.m., while delivering the threat said; “You’re all going to die.” The staff immediately evacuated everyone from their offices and then contacted the Los Angeles Police Department for assistance.

Officers, specialists and detectives from the Rampart Division of the LAPD responded and swept the building. A spokesperson for the LAPD confirmed that the incident is under active investigation but would make no further comment.

On a Facebook post immediately after the incident the non-profit wrote; “To ensure the safety of our clients and staff members, we ask that you please NOT come to our office.”

In a follow-up post, Salcedo notified the organization and its clientele that the LAPD had given the all-clear and that their offices would resume normal operations Thursday at 9:00 a.m. PT.

“Thank you for your messages and concern for our staff and community,” Salcedo said.

“No amount of threats can stop us from our commitment to the TGI community,” she added.

The [email protected] Coalition was founded in 2009 by a group of transgender and gender non-conforming and intersex (TGI) immigrant women in Los Angeles as a grassroots response to address the specific needs of TGI Latino immigrants who live in the U.S.

Since then, the agency has become a nationally recognized organization with representation in 10 different states across the U.S. and provides direct services to TGI individuals in Los Angeles.

In 2015, the [email protected] Coalition identified the urgent need to provide direct services to empower TGI people in response to structural, institutional, and interpersonal violence, and the Center for Violence Prevention and Transgender Wellness was born.

Since then, the organization has secured funding from the state and local government sources as well as several private foundations and organizations to provide direct services to all TGI individuals in Los Angeles County.

The [email protected] Coalition’s primary focus is to change the landscape of access to services for TGI people and provide access to comprehensive resource and services that will improve the quality of life of TGI people.

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