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House Dems: Trump’s trans military ban ‘unconstitutional on its face’

Lawmakers say policy would single out group for discrimination

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Jerrold Nadler, New York, United States House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade
Jerrold Nadler, New York, United States House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is among House Democrats who say Trump’s transgender military ban would be unconstitutional. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A group of 53 House Democrats is warning the Pentagon that following through with policy to implement President Trump’s transgender military ban would be “unconstitutional on its face.”

In a letter dated Aug. 4, Democrats on the House Armed Services and Judiciary Committees say prohibiting transgender people in the U.S. armed forces — “in any capacity” as Trump declared — won’t hold up under scrutiny before the courts.

“It is abundantly clear that any effort by President Trump to ban military service by transgender individuals would not only constitute poor policy, but would be unconstitutional on its face,” the letter says.

The letter was led by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

Among the reasons cited in the letter for why the transgender military ban would be unconstitutional is because it “categorically excludes an entire group of people from military service on the basis of a characteristic that has no relevance to their capacity to serve.”

The letter also deems the proposed policy unconstitutional because it’s derived from “a series of arbitrary and capriciously issued tweets,” appears to be “based on a raw political calculation” and was made without consultation of congressional leaders.

Further, the letter asserts concerns about the cost of transition-related care, such as hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery, are bogus because it accounts for “less than 1/10 of 1% of the military’s annual budget.”

“We believe any serious or credible review of the law and the facts in the present case make it clear that the President’s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces will weaken, not strengthen our military, and is blatantly unconstitutional,” the letter says.

Echoing objections in a similar letter signed by 45 U.S. senators, House Democrats urge Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford to resist Trump on the transgender military ban, strongly suggesting they should defy the president on the issue.

“As the respected leaders of our brave armed service members, you have no obligation to implement a hastily considered tweet designed to serve as a ‘wedge’ political issue; but rather you should honor your own independent duty to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” the letter says.

Last week, Trump announced via Twitter the U.S. military “will not accept or allow” transgender people to serve “in any capacity,” upending a policy change in the Obama administration allowing them to come out in the armed forces without of discharge.

But at this time, the Pentagon has yet implement to reverse the change and bar transgender people from military service. It remains if to be seen if any new policy will allow transgender people who currently in the armed forces to continue their service.

Lt. Col. Paul Haverstick, a Pentagon spokesperson, said he had no updates in response to the letter from House Democrats.

“DOD is awaiting formal guidance from the White House as a follow-up to the Commander-in-Chief’s announcement on military service by transgender personnel,” Haverstick said.

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After Biden signs TikTok ban its CEO vows federal court battle

“Rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere,” CEO said

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TikTok mobile phone app. (Screenshot/YouTube)

President Joe Biden signed an appropriations bill into law on Wednesday that provides multi-billion dollar funding and military aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan after months of delay and Congressional infighting.

A separate bill Biden signed within the aid package contained a bipartisan provision that will ban the popular social media app TikTok from the United States if its Chinese parent company ByteDance does not sell off the American subsidiary.

Reacting, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said Wednesday that the Culver City, Calif.-based company would go to court to try to remain online in the United States.

In a video posted on the company’s social media accounts, Chew denounced the potential ban: “Make no mistake, this is a ban, a ban of TikTok and a ban on you and your voice,” Chew said. “Rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere. We are confident and we will keep fighting for your rights in the courts. The facts and the Constitution are on our side, and we expect to prevail,” he added.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre adamantly denied during a press briefing on Wednesday that the bill constitutes a ban, reiterating the administration’s hope that TikTok will be purchased by a third-party buyer and referencing media reports about the many firms that are interested.

Chew has repeatedly testified in both the House and Senate regarding ByteDance’s ability to mine personal data of its 170 million plus American subscribers, maintaining that user data is secure and not shared with either ByteDance nor agencies of the Chinese government. The testimony failed to assuage lawmakers’ doubts.

In an email, the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, California Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, who doesn’t support a blanket ban of the app, told the Blade:

“As the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, I have long worked to safeguard Americans’ freedoms and security both at home and abroad. The Chinese Communist Party’s ability to exploit private user data and to manipulate public opinion through TikTok present serious national security concerns. For that reason, I believe that divestiture presents the best option to preserve access to the platform, while ameliorating these risks. I do not support a ban on TikTok while there are other less restrictive means available, and this legislation will give the administration the leverage and authority to require divestiture.”

A spokesperson for California U.S. Senator Alex Padilla told the Blade: “Senator Padilla believes we can support speech and creativity while also protecting data privacy and security. TikTok’s relationship to the Chinese Communist Party poses significant data privacy concerns. He will continue working with the Biden-Harris administration and his colleagues in Congress to safeguard Americans’ data privacy and foster continued innovation.”

The law, which gives ByteDance 270 days to divest TikTok’s U.S. assets, expires with a January 19, 2025 deadline for a sale. The date is one day before President Biden’s term is set to expire, although he could extend the deadline by three months if he determines ByteDance is making progress or the transaction faces uncertainty in a federal court.

Former President Donald Trump’s executive order in 2020, which sought to to ban TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat, a unit of Beijing, China-based Tencent, in the U.S., was blocked by federal courts.

TikTok has previously fought efforts to ban its widely popular app by the State of Montana last year, in a case that saw a U.S. District Court judge in Helena block that state ban, citing free-speech grounds.

The South China Morning Post reported this week that the four-year battle over TikTok is a significant front in a war over the internet and technology between Washington and Beijing. Last week, Apple said China had ordered it to remove Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China over Chinese national security concerns.

A spokesperson for the ACLU told the Blade in a statement that “banning or requiring divestiture of TikTok would set an alarming global precedent for excessive government control over social media platforms.”

LGBTQ+ TikToker users are alarmed, fearing that a ban will represent the disruption of networks of support and activism. However, queer social media influencers who operate on multiple platforms expressed some doubts as to long term impact.

Los Angeles Blade contributor Chris Stanley told the Blade:

“It might affect us slightly, because TikTok is so easy to go viral on. Which obviously means more brand deals, etc. However they also suppress and shadow ban LGBTQ+ creators frequently. But we will definitely be focusing our energy more on other platforms with this uncertainty going forward. Lucky for us, we aren’t one trick ponies and have multiple other platforms built.”

Brooklyn, New York-based Gay social media creator and influencer Artem Bezrukavenko told the Blade:

“For smart creators it won’t because they have multiple platforms. For people who put all their livelihood yes. Like people who do livestreams,” he said adding: “Personally I’m happy it gets banned or American company will own it so they will be less homophobic to us.”

TikTok’s LGBTQ+ following has generally positive experiences although there have been widely reported instances of users, notably transgender users, seemingly targeted by the platform’s algorithms and having their accounts banned or repeatedly suspended.

Of greater concern is the staggering rise in anti-LGBTQ+ violence and threats on the platform prompting LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD, in its annual Social Media Safety Index, to give TikTok a failing score on LGBTQ+ safety.

Additional reporting by Christopher Kane

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Smithsonian staff concerned about future of LGBTQ programming amid GOP scrutiny

Secretary Lonnie Bunch says ‘LGBTQ+ content is welcome’

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Lonnie G. Bunch III, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, appears before a Dec. 2023 hearing of the U.S. Committee on House Administration (Screen capture: Forbes/YouTube)

Staff at the Smithsonian Institution are concerned about the future of LGBTQ programming as several events featuring a drag performer were cancelled or postponed following scrutiny by House Republicans, according to emails reviewed by the Washington Post.

In December, Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III appeared before a hearing led by GOP members of the Committee on House Administration, who flagged concerns about the Smithsonian’s involvement in “the Left’s indoctrination of our children.”

Under questioning from U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.), Bunch said he was “surprised” to learn the Smithsonian had hosted six drag events over the past three years, telling the lawmakers “It’s not appropriate to expose children” to these performances.

Collaborations with drag artist Pattie Gonia in December, January, and March were subsequently postponed or cancelled, the Post reported on Saturday, adding that a Smithsonian spokesperson blamed “budgetary constraints and other resource issues” and the museums are still developing programming for Pride month in June.

“I, along with all senior leaders, take seriously the concerns expressed by staff and will continue to do so,” Bunch said in a statement to the paper. “As we have reiterated, LGBTQ+ content is welcome at the Smithsonian.”

The secretary sent an email on Friday expressing plans to meet with leaders of the Smithsonian Pride Alliance, one of the two groups that detailed their concerns to him following December’s hearing.

Bunch told the Pride Alliance in January that with his response to Bice’s question, his intention was to “immediately stress that the Smithsonian does not expose children to inappropriate content.”

“A hearing setting does not give you ample time to expand,” he said, adding that with more time he would have spoken “more broadly about the merits and goals of our programming and content development and how we equip parents to make choices about what content their children experience.”

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Survey finds support for Biden among LGBTQ adults persists despite misgivings

Data for Progress previewed the results exclusively with the Blade

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Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A new survey by Data for Progress found LGBTQ adults overwhelmingly favor President Joe Biden and Democrats over his 2024 rival former President Donald Trump and Republicans, but responses to other questions may signal potential headwinds for Biden’s reelection campaign.

The organization shared the findings of its poll, which included 873 respondents from across the country including an oversample of transgender adults, exclusively with the Washington Blade on Thursday.

Despite the clear margin of support for the president, with only 22 percent of respondents reporting that they have a very favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of Trump, answers were more mixed when it came to assessments of Biden’s performance over the past four years and his party’s record of protecting queer and trans Americans.

Forty-five percent of respondents said the Biden-Harris administration has performed better than they expected, while 47 percent said the administration’s record has been worse than they anticipated. A greater margin of trans adults in the survey — 52 vs. 37 percent — said their expectations were not met.

Seventy precent of all LGBTQ respondents and 81 percent of those who identify as trans said the Democratic Party should be doing more for queer and trans folks, while just 24 percent of all survey participants and 17 percent of trans participants agreed the party is already doing enough.

With respect to the issues respondents care about the most when deciding between the candidates on their ballots, LGBTQ issues were second only to the economy, eclipsing other considerations like abortion and threats to democracy.

These answers may reflect heightened fear and anxiety among LGBTQ adults as a consequence of the dramatic uptick over the past few years in rhetorical, legislative, and violent bias-motivated attacks against the community, especially targeting queer and trans folks.

The survey found that while LGBTQ adults are highly motivated to vote in November, there are signs of ennui. For example, enthusiasm was substantially lower among those aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 39 compared with adults 40 and older. And a plurality of younger LGBTQ respondents said they believe that neither of the country’s two major political parties care about them.

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