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Bill would require universities to apply for Title IX religious exemption waiver

Measure seeks to highlight anti-LGBTQ higher education institutions

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Four members of Congress on Thursday introduced a bill that would require federally-funded universities to apply for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education before they can receive a religious exemption from Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

A press release that U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) issued notes the Exposing Discrimination in Higher Education Act would also require “the Department of Education and the exempted higher education institutions to prominently display the waiver on their websites in order to inform students of their beliefs before arriving on campus.”

The members of Congress note “several higher education institutions across the U.S.” beginning in 2013 “applied for religious exemptions with the Department of Education that would allow them to discriminate against LGBTQ students on campus.” The Department of Education during the previous White House sought to revoke the waiver application requirement.

“These exemptions allow students to be removed from extracurricular organizations, leadership posts, sports teams, and even be expelled simply for being members of the LGBTQ community,” reads the press release.

The previous White House rescinded guidance to public schools that said Title IX requires them to allow transgender students to use restrooms based on their gender identity. The Biden administration last month said Title IX bans discrimination against LGBTQ students.

“Every student deserves to attend a college where their entire identity is accepted and celebrated,” said Clark. “Without transparency about a school’s beliefs, students may arrive on campus only to learn that their school has policies in place that infringe on their civil rights. I’m proud to introduce the Exposing Discrimination in Higher Education Act to ensure that students can apply to college with all the information necessary to set them up for success.”

Davids added “every student deserves an educational experience free from discrimination and harassment.”

“At the moment, we are letting down our LGBTQ+ community on college campuses, as more taxpayer-funded universities quietly skirt around civil rights law,” said the Kansas Democrat. “By reinstating the waiver requirement for universities who seek exemption from anti-discrimination protections, we are not only protecting LGBTQ+ students from unfair treatment, but we are reminding them that their experience is visible and valuable.”

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Trump vows to reverse transgender student protections ‘on day one’

Former president spoke with right-wing conservative talk radio hosts

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Former President Donald Trump (Photo by shganti1777 via Bigstock)

During a call-in interview Friday on a Philadelphia-based right-wing conservative talk radio show, former President Donald Trump said he would roll back transgender student protections enacted last month by the U.S. Department of Education “on day one” if he’s reelected.

Reacting to a question by hosts Nick Kayal and Dawn Stensland, Trump said: “We’re gonna end it on day one. Don’t forget, that was done as an order from the president. That came down as an executive order. And we’re gonna change it — on day one it’s gonna be changed.”

“Tell your people not to worry about it,” Trump he added referring to the new Title IX rule. “It’ll be signed on day one. It’ll be terminated.”

In a campaign video released on his Truth Social account in February 2023, in a nearly four minute long, straight-to-camera video the former president vowed “protect children from left-wing gender insanity,” some policies he outlined included a federal law that recognizes only two genders and bars trans women from competing on women’s sports teams. He also promised that he would punish doctors who provide gender-affirming health care to minors.

Trump also falsely claimed that being trans is a concept that the “radical left” manufactured “just a few years ago.” He also said “no serious country should be telling its children that they were born with the wrong gender. Under my leadership, this madness will end,” he added.

At least 22 Republican-led states are suing the Biden-Harris administration over its new rules to protect LGBTQ students from discrimination in federally funded schools, NBC News Out reported this week.

The lawsuits follow the U.S. Department of Education’s expansion of Title IX federal civil rights rules last month, which will now include anti-discrimination protections for students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Among other provisions, the new rules would prohibit schools from barring trans students from using bathrooms, changing facilities and pronouns that correspond with their gender identities.

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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 U.S.

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, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who doesn’t support a blanket ban of the app, told the Washington 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 U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) 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 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 ban TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat, a unit of Beijing-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 federal 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’s 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, N.Y.,-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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