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Biden immigration directives ‘have given us’ hope

Treatment of LGBTQ ICE detainees remains a concern

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The Biden administration has begun to reverse some of its predecessor’s hardline immigration policies that activists say have made LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants even more vulnerable.

The Department of Homeland Security as of Thursday will no longer enroll additional asylum seekers in the “return to Mexico” (MPP) policy that forces asylum seekers to await the outcome of their cases in Mexico.

Acting Homeland Security David Pekoske on Thursday also signed a memorandum that directs U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to stop the deportations of “certain” undocumented immigrations for 100 days.

The directive does not apply to undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. after Nov. 1, 2020. It also allows for the deportation of anyone determined to have “engaged in or is suspected of terrorism or espionage, or otherwise poses a danger to the national security of the United States” or who “has voluntarily agreed to waive any rights to remain in the United States, provided that he or she has been made fully aware of the consequences of waiver and has been given a meaningful opportunity to access counsel prior to signing the waiver.”

“The United States faces significant operational challenges at the southwest border as it is confronting the most serious global public health crisis in a century,” writes Pekoske in his memo. “In light of those unique circumstances, the department must surge resources to the border in order to ensure safe, legal and orderly processing, to rebuild fair and effective asylum procedures that respect human rights and due process, to adopt appropriate public health guidelines and protocols, and to prioritize responding to threats to national security, public safety, and border security.”

Biden on Wednesday issued a memo that pledges his administration will “preserve and fortify” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows young undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and obtain work permits.

The new administration’s immigration plan, among other things, would pave the way for millions of undocumented immigrants to become citizens. Biden on Wednesday also issued an executive order that repealed the Trump administration’s ban on citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the U.S.   

Estuardo Cifuentes in July 2019 asked for asylum in the U.S. based on the persecution he suffered in Guatemala because he is gay. Cifuentes spent a few days in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody before authorities sent him back to Mexico under MPP.

Cifuentes has lived in Matamoros, a border city that is across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, for more than a year and told the Washington Blade on Thursday the hearing in his asylum case has been delayed until March 4. He nevertheless continues to help LGBTQ asylum seekers in Matamoros through his group, Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers.

“We believe and we are confident that the measures (the Biden administration) is undertaking will be able to alleviate some of the pain that Donald Trump has caused,” said Cifuentes.

Fernanda, a transgender woman from El Salvador, is among the LGBTQ migrants in Matamoros, Mexico, that Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers helps. (Photo courtesy of Estuardo Cifuentes/Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers)

 

Resource Center Matamoros, another group that provides assistance to migrants who live in Matamoros, helped Cifuentes find housing and legal assistance for his asylum case. Gaby Zavala, founder of Resource Center Matamoros, is among those who worked with Cifuentes to launch Rainbow Bridge.

Zavala on Thursday acknowledged to the Blade that immigrant advocacy groups spoke with Biden’s transition team before he and Vice President Harris took office.

“We were able to express out deepest concerns for immigrants, specifically regarding the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy and provide suggestions as they try to tackle these issues,” said Zavala.

Zavala added the Biden administration’s executive orders and directives “have given us a new sense of hope that asylum seekers of all backgrounds will no longer be subjected to such undignified treatment caused by harsh immigration policies like MPP and fear of deportation.”

Abdiel Echevarría-Cabán, a South Texas-based immigration attorney who is also a human rights law and policy expert, told the Blade that he has several LGBTQ clients — many of whom are Cuban — in Mexico under MPP who have been waiting for their asylum hearings for more than a year. Echevarría-Cabán, like Zavala, welcomes the new White House’s directives.

“MPP is clearly a violation of human rights and U.S. domestic immigration law,” Echevarría-Cabán told the Blade. “Now we can expect a better outcome under Biden’s new policy.”

 

Biden immigration policies ‘restore humanity, dignity’

Other immigrant advocates have also welcomed the Biden administration’s actions.

“The fact that our new president is taking a stand against the awful immigration policies that the previous administration left us with is a great deal,” [email protected] Coalition President Bamby Salcedo told the Blade on Friday from Los Angeles. “Having put a moratorium to stop deportation is a step in the right direction.”

“In addition, having a bill ready to send to Congress on the first day is a great deal,” she added. “It is giving hope to the over 11 million people who live in uncertainty every single day.”

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration is a Minnesota-based organization that works with LGBTQ migrants and refugees around the world. Jardín de las Mariposas, an LGBTQ migrant shelter in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, is among those with which ORAM has partnered.

“Above all, President Biden’s new immigration policies restore humanity, dignity and a common-sense approach to immigration which will have a positive impact on LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers both in the U.S. and around the world,” ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth told the Blade on Thursday.

Altagracia Tamayo is a lesbian activist in Mexicali, a Mexican border city that borders Calexico, Calif., in California’s Imperial Valley. She runs the Cobina Posada del Migrante shelter.

Tamayo on Thursday told the Blade that more than 70 migrants who currently live at the shelter have been forced to return to Mexico under MPP.

“We are hopeful that he (Biden) will keep his word,” she said.

The Mexico-U.S. border in Mexicali, Mexico, on July 22, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

 

Activists along the U.S.-Mexico border and elsewhere with whom the Blade has spoken over the years say LGBTQ migrants who the Trump administration forced to return to Mexico under MPP are more vulnerable to harassment, discrimination and violence from drug cartels, Mexican police officers and other groups.

Roxsana Hernández, a transgender Honduran woman with HIV, died at a hospital in Albuquerque, N.M., on May 25, 2018, while in ICE custody. Johana “Joa” Medina León, a trans Salvadoran woman, passed away at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, on June 1, 2019, three days after ICE released her from a privately-run detention center in New Mexico.

Three Salvadoran police officers last summer received 20-year prison sentences after a judge convicted them of killing Camila Díaz Córdova, a trans woman, in early 2019. Díaz asked for asylum in the U.S. on Aug. 8, 2017, but she was deported back to El Salvador after a judge denied her claim.

Salcedo is among those who have sharply criticized ICE over its treatment of trans women in their custody. Lambda Legal, Immigration Equality, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups have also challenged the prolonged detention of LGBTQ asylum seekers — including Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor from Cuba who spent nearly a year in ICE custody until his release from a privately-run detention center in Louisiana on March 4, 2020 — and those with HIV/AIDS.

The immigration directives the Biden administration has issued do not specifically address the treatment of LGBTQ ICE detainees and the continued use of privately-run ICE detention centers, among other issues.

Eloy Detention Center, a privately-run ICE detention center in Eloy, Ariz. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

 

Charlie Flewelling is a staff attorney for the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, an immigration advocacy group. Flewelling is based in El Paso, Texas, which is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

They told the Blade on Thursday the Santa Fe Dreamers Project is “of course encouraged by the day one executive orders from President Biden,” but they stressed concerns remain.

“It appears that folks who have been detained recently and those who have been waiting in Mexico, will remain a priority for deportation solely because they were not in the U.S. before Nov. 1 — without regard to circumstance,” said Flewelling. “While it is understood that the new rules and laws may come into effect quickly that change these circumstances, we remain concerned.”

They also highlighted continued concerns about LGBTQ people and people with HIV/AIDS who remain in ICE custody.

“We know that LGBTQI/HIV+ migrants, especially those who are Black or brown, are disproportionately targeted for violence and sexual violence in immigration detention,” said Flewelling. “ICE has never provided a safe setting for queer migrants in detention, and we do not believe that new regulations can change the situation.”

“In coalition with other organizations, we have urged the administration to immediately end detention for transgender and HIV positive migrants,” they added. “We know there is more work to do as we push to abolish ICE and immigration detention for all migrants. Steps that reduce harm in detention are necessary for, but not sufficient to, abolition.”

Salcedo largely echoed Flewelling, but added she remains hopeful about the new administration and its immigration policies.

“For the LGBTQ immigrant community, all of this is hope,” Salcedo told the Blade. “Hope for a better tomorrow, hope to have better policies. Hope that someday immigration detention and the dehumanization of trans people who are seeking asylum and refuge in this country will end, as trans people who are trying to save their lives should not be detained or caged simply for wanting to live.”

[email protected] Coalition President Bamby Salcedo. (Photo by Paolo Riveros)
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Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination

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Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s civil rights division at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

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IDAHOBiT events to promote intersectionality, resilience, allyship

HRC president to participate in virtual panel in Canada

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(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)

 

Intersectionality, resilience and allyship are among the themes that this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia events will highlight.

Dignity Network Canada and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention on May 17 will hold a virtual panel that will feature Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Executive Director Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Kaleidoscope Trust Executive Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, COC Nederland Executive Director Marie Ricardo and Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. The British High Commission and the Dutch Embassy in Canada have co-sponsored the event.

“We hope that this will be a really interesting and important conversation on intersectionality and transnational solidarity — and what it means for these leaders and their organizations during these times,” reads a description of the event.

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group on May 17 will host a virtual IDAHOBiT event that will focus on ways to develop an “inclusive and diverse post-pandemic world.” The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American and Asian Development Banks host a similar IDAHOBiT commemoration.

“In order to heal from the economic, social, and public health dire impact the pandemic has had and still has, every plan of recovery must take into account a human-rights based, intersectional and gender responsive approach that addresses the specific needs of LGBTI persons in order not to leave them further behind,” reads a description of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group event.

Several Russian LGBTQ rights groups on May 17 will hold a “Vaccine for Acceptance” event that seeks to bolster allyship in the country.

Retired South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron on May 16 will moderate a virtual panel that will focus on religion and anti-LGBTQ violence.

Workplace Pride and the Dutch Embassy in Budapest on May 17 will host a symposium on LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces in Hungary. M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, on the same day will participate in a webinar the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is hosting with Oogachaga, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Haver Srbija, a Serbian NGO, on May 15-16 will hold Falafel, a film festival that seeks to build “bridges and promotes Israeli, Jewish and LGBTQI culture and communities” and highlight “various social issues in the context of the fight against prejudice, discrimination, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and encourages the audience to develop critical thinking on the issue of these topics.” Proud Lebanon is slated to hold a series of six webinars between May 17-22 that will focus on feminism, LGBTQ rights and other topics.

The National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba will hold a series of virtual forums and other events through the month to commemorate IDAHOBiT.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, whose father is former Cuban President Raúl Castro, during a May 4 press conference in Havana said the IDAHOBiT events are part of the process of amending the country’s family code to make it more equitable for LGBTQ Cubans. Mariela Castro said a bill to amend it will be introduced in the Cuban Parliament in July.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference, according to Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s events will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups around the world.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries. Violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains rampant in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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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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