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Mississippi legislature approves ‘turn away the gays’ bill

Legislation along the lines of Arizona bill vetoed by Jan Brewer

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Mississippi, Jackson, Turn Away the Gays, gay news, Washington Blade

The Mississippi legislature has approved a “turn away the gay” bill. (Photo by Chuck Kelly; courtesy Creative Commons)

The Mississippi legislature approved late Tuesday a “turn away the gays” measure that would enable businesses and individuals in the state to discriminate against or refuse services to LGBT people on religious grounds — making a signature from the governor the last remaining step before the bill becomes law.

In a development that largely went unnoticed on the national stage, the State House and Senate on the same day both approved a conference report for S.B. 2681, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The vote in the Republican-controlled House was 78-43 and the vote in the Republican-controlled Senate vote was 38-14.

Much like the controversial Arizona bill known as SB 1062 vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, the six-page legislation never once mentions the words “sexual orientation,” “gender identity” or “gay.” Still, LGBT advocates insist the legislation would have the effect of allowing discriminatory practices against LGBT people seeking services in Mississippi.

Sarah Warbelow, the Human Rights Campaign’s state legislative director, said the bill would in essence make “LGBT people strangers to the law.”

“Before Mississippi has had the opportunity to robustly discuss the lived experiences of LGBT people, this bill would hollow out any non-discrimination protections at the local level or possible future state-wide protections,” Warbelow said. “Just as we’ve seen in other states, this bill is bad for business, bad for the state’s reputation, and most of all, bad for Mississippians. Gov. Bryant must veto the measure.”

Notably, the measure also contains language modifying the state seal in a way adds to it the words “In God We Trust.” The bill also has language that says nothing in the measure “shall create any rights by an employee against an employer if the employer is not the government,” which is different from the Arizona legislation.

Now that the legislature has approved the bill, the last remaining step before it becomes law is a signature from Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who’s known for his conservative views as chief executive of a state in the Deep South. Still, Brewer has the same reputation, but she vetoed the Arizona bill after pressure from LGBT advocates, businesses, religious groups and faith leaders.

If Bryant signs the bill, it’ll go into effect on July 1. Bryant’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether he’ll sign the legislation.

It should be noted that sexual orientation and gender identity currently aren’t protected under civil rights law in Mississippi. Based on state and federal law, individuals and businesses could refuse services to LGBT people, such as services for a same-sex wedding, without fear of reprisal regardless of whether or not the bill signed into law.

No municipalities in Mississippi have non-discrimination ordinances, although Starkville, Hattiesburg and Oxford have all passed pro-LGBT resolutions.

Still, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the measure could undermine future state non-discrimination laws, interfere with licensing organizations that have professional regulations protecting LGBT individuals and undermine public university non-discrimination policies.

The measure is part of a nationwide trend of “turn away the gay” bills advancing in state legislatures. Including the one vetoed in Arizona, other similar bills in Georgia, Idaho, Maine, and Ohio were rejected. But similar bills are still pending in Missouri and Oklahoma.

The measure advanced through the legislature after the Mississippi House voted last month to strike text related to religious liberty and instead created a study committee on how to pass such a bill in the future. Despite changes made by the House, the conference committee produced a report that advocates say would subject LGBT people to discrimination anyway.

The legislature’s passage of the bill has won praise from at least one anti-gay group, which says the legislation is along the lines of a federal religious exemption law introduced by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer before being passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the measure simply ensures religious freedom for individuals and businesses in Mississippi.

“This is a victory for the First Amendment and the right to live and work according to one’s conscience,” Perkins said. “This commonsense measure was a no-brainer for freedom, and like the federal RFRA, it simply bars government discrimination against religious exercise. The legislature gave strong approval to a bill that declares that individuals do not have to trade their religious freedom for entrance into public commerce.

Morgan Miller, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, told the Blade although lawmakers attempted to align the Mississippi bill with federal law, the end result “falls short.”

“This bill still could open the door for someone who wants to use their religion to discriminate against others,” Miller said. “It exposes virtually every branch and office of the government to litigation; our state will have to spend taxpayer money to defend lawsuits. It’s unnecessary: the Mississippi legislature has been unable to articulate why this law is needed in our state.”

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Queen calls for conversion therapy ban in UK

British government urged to move quickly to prohibit practice

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Queen Elizabeth II (Photo public domain)

 

Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday in a speech that marked the opening of Parliament called for a ban on so-called conversion therapy in England and Wales.

“Measures will be brought forward to address racial and ethnic disparities and ban conversion therapy,” Elizabeth said. 

While this announcement forecasts a step forward in LGBTQ activism and a change in the culture surrounding LGBTQ acceptance in the U.K.; the queen’s statement was met with hesitation, especially with regards to the when and how the ban will be implemented. 

According to the U.K.’s public sector information website, the passing of legislation to implement the ban will be preceded by a consultation and a survey of public opinion to ensure that the ban can address conversion therapy while “protecting the medical profession; defending freedom of speech; and upholding religious freedom.”

“We welcome the commitment to introduce legislation to ban so-called ‘conversion therapy’,” commented Nancy Kelley, CEO of Stonewall, one of the U.K.’s leading LGBTQ rights organizations. “However, the news of a consultation is concerning and will be hard for our communities to hear.”

“We don’t need a consultation to know that all practices that seek to convert, suppress, cure or change us are dangerous, abusive and must be banned,” Kelley further mentioned. “Lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex and ace communities have been waiting almost three years for the U.K. government to follow through on their promise to ban all conversion practices, and any delay leaves us at further risk of abuse.”

Peter Tatchell, director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, also welcomed the queen’s announcement on the introduction of the new legislation, however, he expressed distaste at the “further delay, lack of clarity, and absence of a timetable for the ban.”

“The government has been promising this ban for nearly three years and still we don’t have it. All we’ve had is more than 1,000 days of dithering,” said Tatchell. “We have had countless studies and consultations. We don’t need any more. It’s time (Prime Minister) Boris (Johnson) got on with it and got this ban done.” 

“We need to see the proposed legislation,” Tatchell further proposed. “It must not allow religious exemptions. Faith bodies are the main proponents. The ban needs to be full and comprehensive and provide statutory support for victims and survivors.”

Similar sentiments have frequented social media platforms, with various LGBTQ individuals and allies criticizing the action plan to implement legislation that addresses conversion therapy.

“The U.K. government wants to consult the public before the ban, but we don’t need to consult before the banning,” Twitter user @jakepayne1994 tweeted. “There shouldn’t be consultation on torture and abuse. There should be a full ban on LGBT+ conversion therapy with no exceptions.”

“The government promised a blanket ban on gay conversion therapy years ago,” @ohkelliott tweeted. “Every waking second that goes by, people in the U.K. are undergoing torment, physical and psychological abuse, and vile life changing torture whilst the government are delaying its legislation.”

Calls to action for the British government to expedite the process of introducing the legislation have emerged and Tatchell mentions “the U.K. government must publish a comprehensive bill now, as well as a clear timeline for its implementation.” 

“As part of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition, we will continue to hold the U.K. government to account on their promise to ban this abhorrent practice for good, everywhere it happens and to everyone it harms, and protect our communities from harm,” said Tatchell.

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Mixed reviews from transgender Republicans on Caitlyn Jenner’s run

Remarks on kids in sport a sore point among LGBTQ advocacy groups

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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.

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100th anniversary celebration of Dupont Circle fountain set for May 17

GWU student creates tribute video

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The iconic Dupont Circle fountain turns 100 this month. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ residents and longtime visitors to D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood are expected to be among the participants in the 100th anniversary celebration of the installation of the Dupont Circle fountain scheduled to be held at the circle on Monday, May 17.

Aaron DeNu, president of Dupont Festival, a nonprofit arts and cultural programming group that’s organizing the celebration, says it will take place from noon to at least sunset inside Dupont Circle.

The celebration will take place one week after the May 10 release of a YouTube video, “How Dupont Circle Evolved as a Hub for LGBTQ+ Life in the District,” produced by George Washington University student Dante Schulz. Schulz is the video editor for the G.W. student newspaper The Hatchet.

Among those appearing in the documentary video are veteran LGBTQ rights activists Deacon Maccubbin and his husband Jim Bennett, who owned and operated the Dupont Circle LGBTQ bookstore Lambda Rising beginning in the 1970s, which is credited with contributing to Dupont Circle’s reputation as the epicenter of D.C.’s LGBTQ community for many years.

Also appearing in the video is longtime D.C. gay activist and Dupont Circle area resident Craig Howell, a former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.

“At this point in time due to COVID restrictions we’re not going to be doing any particular formal gathering of folks,” DeNu told the Washington Blade in describing the May 17 celebration. “But we’ll have a soundtrack that’s playing throughout the day from that original ceremony – the same songs they used in the original dedication a hundred years ago,” he said.

DeNu said the event will also feature “historic imagery” related to Dupont Circle and the people who have gathered there over the years.

“So, we’re really just inviting people to come and have lunch, stop by the park after work, and just stop and reflect on 100 years of Dupont Circle fountain, take a look at the imagery and see some old friends and hopefully stop by and see the Dupont businesses that are around the area,” DeNu said.

The LGBTQ video produced by Dante Schultz can be accessed here.

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