Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) reaffirmed his support for LGBT rights on Wednesday during a conversation with Senate staffers in which he acknowledged that having a gay son has influenced his views.
Jones, who late last year scored a surprise win in a special election to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate, said he wanted to make candid support for LGBT rights a component of his campaign, which helped him win the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions upon his appointment as U.S. attorney general.
“Being from Alabama, we really made a point of stepping out there this past year on equality issues,” Jones said. “It was easy to do for me.”
Jones made the remarks before Gays, Lesbians & Allies Senate Staff, or GLASS, during an event hosted by the organization in the Russell Senate Office Building. Jones answered questions from members of the LGBT affinity group for Senate staffers during the 40-minute talk before posing with them for photos. The Washington Blade was the exclusive media outlet invited to the event.
In contrast to Jones, his opponent in the special election, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, holds draconian views on LGBT rights. After saying in 2005 he thinks homosexuality itself should be illegal, Moore as a former Alabama Supreme Court Justice, urged probate judges in Alabama to ignore court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage. As a candidate for U.S. Senate, Moore called for the impeachment of the judge who ruled against Trump’s transgender military ban.
“I also knew that ultimately we were going to be running against someone in Alabama who was as far from equality as you could possibly get,” Jones said. “I wanted to make that front and center in the primary campaign and for that to be an issue in the general election. We made clear where the Doug Jones campaign was on all issues involving equality.”
Over the course of his campaign, Jones was seen on video expressing support for transgender rights, declaring his opposition to the Trump administration revoking Obama-era guidance ensuring transgender kids have access to school restrooms consistent with their gender identity and Trump’s attempt to ban transgender people from the U.S. military.
The video was posted to YouTube by someone who thought those views would harm Jones’ campaign and gave it the title, “Doug Jones commits political suicide in Alabama Senate Race!” The prediction of the individual who posted the video proved incorrect.
“We had the campaign trolls, or whatever it is, get me on camera, video,” Jones said. “Some people got a little bit concerned about how it’s used, and I said, ‘Why? I answered the question about transgender people in the military honestly, the way I think, and so, what the hell? We shouldn’t be worried about that.’ And so, we never pulled back, we never backed off.”
Jones said his commitment to LGBT rights continues.
“It speaks a lot when a voice from the Deep South can talk about equality issues, especially given the history of Birmingham, Ala., and racial discrimination that was practiced so much in the South, and still, to some extent, around the country today,” Jones said.
The Alabama senator and former U.S. attorney was quick-witted throughout the GLASS event. When he was introduced as its distinguished guest, Jones replied, “Who is that?”
Many of the questions posed by staffers were non-LGBT related: What has surprised him the most as a senator? “My damned schedule.” What’s his goal for staff representation? “Finding the best people, seeking diversity and having Alabama connections.” As a former Senate staffer, what advice would he give current staffers? “Do everything possible to make your boss look absolutely the best.”
Questions on LGBT issues also came up. Asked what he thinks will be the next big thing for LGBT rights, Jones said it would be instituting non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he called “very, very important.”
“That will be a challenge,” Jones said. “If that will happen, it will rank right up there with the Obergefell decision. I’m a co-sponsor of that. I’d like to see it happen this Congress. I doubt it will.”
Jones said he co-sponsors the Equality Act, legislation introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the U.S. Senate that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights laws. The website for the Library of Congress indicates Jones became the 46th co-sponsor for the bill on Tuesday.
One way in which Jones said he seeks to advance LGBT rights is through data collection on hate crimes. Although the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act allows the Justice Department to collect data on anti-LGBT hate crimes, Jones said many state and local governments still resist the practice out of “fear of social backlash, political backlash.”
“It’s an issue that I think needs to be addressed, and hopefully it’s being addressed more, I think, as issues of equality are becoming more acceptable to the South,” Jones said.
Key to the senator’s views on LGBT rights were his son, Carson Jones, a gay student at Colorado State University who has gained a following from his Instagram account. The senator joked he’s “often times more widely known as the father of Carson Jones,” whom he said is “rapidly becoming a legend in his own mind.”
When the senator was asked about having an openly gay son — including his Instagram account, which prompted Jones to quip, “We’ve all seen it” — he said “it would be misleading” if he said that didn’t affect his views because “at the end of the day, a lot of this is so personal.”
“Has it affected me? Absolutely,” Jones said. “Did my representation…of a probate judge in Jefferson County whom we defended when Roy Moore tried to shut him down giving marriage licenses? That affected me, too.”
Jones said witnessing the first same-sex marriages in Alabama was “just phenomenal” and after seeing “the love, the happiness” wondered “what in the hell were people thinking” who opposed same-sex unions.
“Everything affects you, but obviously a child affects you more than anything else,” Jones said. “I’m happy to do that, I’m happy to be there to defend him — when he can be defended, as we always say, when he can be defended.”
Asked by the Blade after the event about the experience of his son coming out to him, Jones said the experience was powerful.
“That’s a little bit harder to answer,” Jones said. “Only that he knew and we expressed unconditional love and wanted to make sure he knew that and that was the case at that point, and it was just pretty much that simple.”
Jones was candidly pessimistic on some points. Asked whether he’s seen a shift in Alabama in favor of LGBT rights, Jones replied succinctly, “Nope.” In fact, Jones added, “There’s been some things that are just the opposite.”
As evidence, Jones pointed to legislation that advanced in the state legislature, but never became law, in the aftermath of marriage equality that sought to remove Alabama from the business of marriage altogether.
“That was a direct reaction to probate judges who didn’t want to perform gay marriages,” Jones said. “And we’ve seen that. You’ve got to remember, when you have someone like Roy Moore who’s kind of leading the charge, you’re going to get people all riled up. So, I haven’t seen a lot of things in a positive way on that front.”
But Jones said countering that trend is opposition to anti-LGBT legislation from the business community, pointing to the outcry over the anti-transgender bathroom House Bill 2 in North Carolina that led to the ouster of North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory in the 2016 election. That fallout, Jones said, had an effect on Alabama.
“It helped neutralize that and people finally started seeing how embarrassing some of those can be on a state, and businesses saw how it can affect economic development, because at the end of the day, as much as I want to think that these are civil rights issues, for so many people, it’s all about the money,” Jones said. “It’s all about economic development and whether or not we’re going to attract business.”
Jones also said those economic concerns were a factor in his win in Alabama. The state was concerned that outrageous comments from Moore “the first time he was on ‘Meet the Press’ or something’ would jeopardize business in Alabama, Jones said, and the election outcome there had “nothing to do with my pretty face.”
Despite the climate in his state, Jones said he’s not going to downplay his views on social issues, recalling advice he said he received from former Vice President Joseph Biden that political candidates must stay true to their views.
“I am constantly getting asked how will you navigate the social issues being a Democrat from Alabama in the 2020 presidential year, Trump won the state 61, 62 percent,” Jones said. “How are you going to navigate? I always tell them that, look, navigate means that you’re consciously trying to steer something for political advantage, and I’m not.”
One development on LGBT issues that Jones said gave him political cover was Sen. Richard Shelby, the senior senator from Alabama, who said in response to the transgender military ban, “any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet those standards should have the opportunity to do so.”
“I don’t navigate things, but I like political cover, and he gave me a lot of political cover for that,” Jones said.
Asked by the Blade about what he makes of findings from Defense Secretary James Mattis against transgender military service, Jones said he’ll stick to his previously stated opposition to Trump’s ban.
“I kind of go back to the fact of what I said earlier,” Jones said. “I think people who are willing to serve and are fit to serve, physically and mentally, they should be allowed to serve. Period.”
Looking to the future and the congressional mid-term elections, Jones said he sees bright things for Democrats, but warned them to “keep their eyes on the prize.”
“I think the challenge is going to be keeping people energized and motivated,” Jones said. “There is an incredible amount of energy out there. I think it started with women, I think my race had generally a lot of enthusiasm of many folks, including African Americans. All of a sudden, people realized elections have consequences and every vote can count, every vote can count. So, I think that’s the challenge for Democrats.”
Mixed reviews from transgender Republicans on Caitlyn Jenner’s run
Remarks on kids in sport a sore point among LGBTQ advocacy groups
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.
100th anniversary celebration of Dupont Circle fountain set for May 17
GWU student creates tribute video
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.
Trans woman sues D.C. Jail for placing her in men’s unit
Lawsuit charges city with exposing inmates to ‘risk of sexual violence’
The American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. and the D.C. Public Defender Service filed a class action lawsuit on May 11 on behalf of a transgender woman being held in the D.C. Jail on grounds that the city violated its own Human Rights Act and the woman’s constitutional rights by placing her in the men’s housing facility at the jail.
The lawsuit charges that D.C. Department of Corrections officials violated local and federal law by placing D.C. resident Sunday Hinton in the men’s unit at the D.C. Jail against her wishes without following a longstanding DOC policy of bringing the decision of where she should be placed before the DOC’s Transgender Housing Committee.
The committee, which includes members of the public, including transgender members, makes recommendations on whether a transgender inmate should be placed in either the men’s or the women’s housing unit based on their gender identity along with other considerations, including whether a trans inmate’s safety could be at risk. Under the policy, DOC officials must give strong consideration to the recommendations of the committee.
The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says the committee has not met or acted on any trans-related jail housing matter since January 2020.
It says Hinton was taken to the D.C. Jail on April 26 after a judge ordered her held following an arrest for an alleged unarmed burglary in which she attempted to take $20.
It notes that the Department of Corrections has a “default” policy of placing transgender inmates in either the male or female housing unit at the D.C. Jail and other city detention holding facilities based on the inmate’s “anatomy.” If a female transgender inmate is anatomically male, the inmate – barring other mitigating circumstances – is placed in the male housing facility under the default policy. Similarly, a male transgender inmate who is anatomically female is placed by default in the women’s housing unit under the DOC policy.
“DOC’s policy of focusing on anatomy rather than gender identity is both discriminatory and dangerous,” the ACLU says in a statement released on the day it filed the lawsuit on Hinton’s behalf. “It forces trans individuals, particularly trans women, to choose between a heightened risk of sexual violence and a near-certain mental health crisis,” ACLU attorney Megan Yan said in the statement.
Yan was referring to yet another DOC policy that sometimes gives a transgender inmate placed in a housing unit contrary to their gender identity the option of being placed in “protective custody,” which the lawsuit calls another name for solitary confinement. The ACLU and the Public Defender Service have said solitary confinement in prisons is known to result in serious psychological harm to inmates placed in such confinement.
“Because DOC’s unconstitutional policy exposes every transgender individual in its custody to discrimination, degradation, and risk of sexual violence, Ms. Hinton seeks, on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals, a court order that strikes down DOC’s unlawful focus on anatomy as the touchstone for its housing decisions regarding transgender individuals,” the lawsuit states.
It further calls on the DOC to use “gender identity, not anatomy, as the default basis for housing assignments” for transgender inmates and to provide all trans individuals a prompt hearing by the DOC Transgender Housing Committee.
It calls for the DOC to be required to implement the recommendations of the Housing Committee “so that each person is housed as safely as possible and without discrimination.”
In addition to the lawsuit, Hinton’s attorneys filed an application for a temporary restraining order to immediately require the DOC to transfer Hinton to the D.C. Jail’s women’s housing facility. The attorneys also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the DOC from using a transgender person’s anatomy as the default or sole criteria in making housing assignments at the jail.
In response to a request from the Washington Blade, DOC spokesperson Dr. Keena Blackmon sent the Blade a DOC statement responding to the lawsuit.
“The Department of Corrections is dedicated to the safety and security of all residents in its care and custody,” the statement says. “DOC is committed to following its policies and procedures relating to housing transgender residents,” it says. “Ms. Hinton recently arrived in DOC custody and, per the agency’s COVID-19 protocols, was placed into single-occupancy quarantine for 14 days.”
The statement adds, “Once that quarantine ends, Ms. Hinton will go before the Transgender Housing Committee to determine her housing based on safety needs, housing availability, and gender identity. D.C. DOC is sensitive to Ms. Hinton’s concerns and will continue to ensure that its residents’ needs are met.”
DOC spokesperson Blackmon didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up question from the Blade asking why the Transgender Housing Committee has not met for over a year, which the ACLU has said resulted in all transgender female inmates being placed in the male housing facility.
Blackmon also couldn’t immediately be reached for a second follow-up question asking for DOC’s response to the lawsuit’s claim that DOC officials told Hinton’s lawyers that she was being placed in the men’s housing facility because she was anatomically male.
The lawsuit says the DOC default policy of placing Hinton in the jail’s male housing unit violates the D.C. Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on gender identity. The act has been interpreted to mean private businesses or the city government cannot prevent a transgender person from using facilities such as bathrooms or locker rooms that are in accordance with their gender identity.
D.C. Superior Court records show that Hinton has been arrested a total of 24 times in D.C. between 2006 and 2018. All except three of those arrests are listed as misdemeanor offenses, with just three listed as alleged felony offenses. One of the arrests is listed as a traffic offense.
In nearly all of the prior arrests, the court records identify Hinton by her birth first name, with her last name of Hinton used in all of the arrest records.
The burglary offense for which Hinton was charged on April 26 of this year and for which she is currently being held the D.C. Jail would normally not result in a defendant being held in jail while awaiting trial. The fact that Hinton is being held rather than released pending trial suggests her prior arrest record may have prompted a judge to order her incarceration.
ACLU attorney Yan, who is among the attorneys representing Hinton in the lawsuit, said Hinton’s prior arrest record should not be a factor in the lawsuit.
“We don’t think any of the underlying things are relevant to her claim in this lawsuit, which is based on her identity and the fact that her constitutional and statutory rights to be free from discrimination are being violated,” Yan said. “At the end of the day, Sunday is a transgender woman and she’s a woman and she deserves to be held according to her gender identity as she desires.”
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