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Exceptional kids, real change, the GenderCool Champions

Youth articulate, poised, intelligent, talented and ambitious

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GenderCool Parents and their kids (Photo courtesy of GenderCool)

NORTHBROOK, Il. – Imagine being a ‘Mom’ running a frenetic household of four kids juggling all of the tasks one associates with parenting in the modern age. Then add a twist when the youngest begins to emerge from the chrysalis of what appeared as an early traditional childhood gender path transforming over time into a butterfly of the opposite gender.

That sort of metamorphosis presents a myriad of challenges for parents least of which is the emotional acceptance of a reality apart from that envisioned as their child is born. Then comes the added burdens of fear created by a societal and cultural non-acceptance and oft time discriminatory bullying treatment of trans and non-binary identifying youth and the overwhelming need to protect their child from that level of cruelty.

Jen Grosshandler and her husband John faced these challenges as their youngest child, their daughter Chazzie, unfurled her butterfly’s wings for the first time as a proud and out trans youth.

Searching for positive stories and reaching out to their immediate community in suburban Chicago, the Grosshandlers were introduced to Gearah Goldstein. Goldstein is nationally recognized LGBTQ+ Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, a speaker, educator, and trainer on LGBTQ+ issues. But for the Grosshandlers, the key factor was that Goldstein identifies as a fully empowered trans female and best of all- a parent herself.

At about the time the three met and started conversing about offering a path to cast a spotlight on just how amazing transgender and non-binary kids are, the Trump Administration commenced a series of attacks on the Trans community. These attacks included trying to eliminate trans healthcare, the ban on military service by trans Americans, and backing efforts by certain school districts to prevent trans youth from being able to use bathrooms according to their chosen gender.

For the Grosshandlers and Goldstein, greater impetus was placed on the critical need to accentuate the positive of trans and non-binary youth against the backdrop of the attacks by the Trump administration and the unkind attacks by a plethora of rightwing extremist anti-LGBTQ groups. The genesis of what became the GenderCool project was born and the stated goal was to take and redirect the negative into a positive by creating systemic change that will improve the lives of transgender and non-binary young people.

GenderCool co-founders Gearah Goldstein & Jen Grosshandler
(Not pictured; John Grosshandler. Photo courtesy of GenderCool)

“The strategy we employ is to evolve opinions of decision makers and the general public by showing them that transgender and non-binary young people are remarkable. The GenderCool Champions —  youth ages 12-17 — are leaders in their community. They are articulate, poised, intelligent, talented and ambitious young people. 

Most importantly, they are thriving, and their ability to connect with the public and key influencers in an exclusively positive way is translating into support and change at every level,” a mission statement from GenderCool reads.

In a phone interview this past weekend with the Blade, Jen Grosshandler chuckled, recalling that “We didn’t have a business plan- no revenue stream, but we did have the motivation and more importantly we had these amazing kids.”

She pointed out that the GenderCool adults felt that there wasn’t enough focus or even concentration on Gender Queer spaces. “It just seemed to me that with of all the negative stories and things said about these kids, one thing stood out and that was 70 to 80% of those being negative had never met a non-binary or Trans kid,” Grosshandler said. “There was fear, awful opinions, but mostly there was just inaccurate information,” she added.

After being handed the phone, Goldstein continued telling the Blade that the fortuitous email exchange between neighbors about kids and transitions, “It was a five page long emailed response to Jen’s neighborhood inquiry,” Goldstein remembered, had led to a dynamic partnership that was breaking through many barriers, particularly for youth in understanding Gender Identity versus sexual identify and orientation.

“There’s a need to not conflate those two and we need to help these young people out by creating awareness of that,” she said and added, “Mostly we are focused on telling their stories, letting people see how amazing they are- they are inspiring and are filled with hope and strength.”

In three and a half years, a “kitchen-table project” has turned GenderCool into a worldwide movement, the idea evolved into concrete actions utilizing data from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP).  According to an internal memorandum shared with the Blade by GenderCool, MAP’s data revealed that one of the best ways to build support among the large majority of people in the U.S. for the LGBTQ+ community is to communicate shared values and beliefs.  In essence, to show them that transgender and non-binary people and their families are normal and just like theirs.

The best focal point? The positive stories of the amazing youth and their families.

Incorporating a well thought-out and designed website coupled with multi-media and social media campaigns the momentum propelled GenderCool and the Champions into a formidable group with national exposure which included a 23 minute live launch on TODAY with veteran NBC weatherman and anchor Al Roker; NYT, Rolling Stone, ABC News, USA Today, CNN, Forbes, NBC News, Washington Post, MSNBC and other media outlets.

The GenderCool founders managed to create an environment that fostered advocacy and support from corporate America: GenderCool partners include Nike, Dell Technologies, General Mills, NBCUniversal, Intuit, Intel, Indeed, and Bank of America.

All that hard work parlayed into a special invitation from President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden for the GenderCool Project to attend the first White House celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month since the Obama administration.

Although scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic, the highlight of the event held in the East Room of the White House was the GenderCool Project’s own Champion Ashton Mota, who was asked to speak about his life and work with GenderCool and then personally introduce the President.

Enriching that moment was Mota himself being introduced by the first openly gay member of a presidential cabinet confirmed by the United States Senate, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg introduces Ashton Mota as President Joe Biden looks on during the White House Pride event 2021. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

The focus now is embracing the future and expanding the foundations of the Project while placing the organization on a firm financial footing and a strategic plan for expansion and continuing the mission. GenderCool now has a seat at the table, collaborating with the nation’s leading advocacy organizations including Out & Equal, HRC, NCTE, PFLAG, GLAAD, Lambda Legal and others associated with advancing LGBTQ Equality rights.

Recently though came a boost that will immeasurably assist the GenderCool Project.

The Denver, Colorado based Gill Foundation, one of the largest funders of efforts to secure full equality for LGBTQ people, which has thus far invested more than $390 million in programs and nonprofits across the country working to advance equal rights for LGBTQ people, has bestowed a $500,000 contribution to the GenderCool Project.

“We’re honored to receive this grant from the Gill Foundation. It is a game-changing vote of confidence in our mission to help people understand how talented, driven, and kind transgender and nonbinary youth are, showcasing who they are as remarkable young people,” said the Grosshandlers, and Goldstein. “We’re thrilled that these resources will help us do just that so GenderCool — led by the incredible young people we call Champions — can continue to make an impact changing hearts and minds.”

The stories, the exceptional kids, real change, these are the GenderCool Champions, and now a future for them that looks brighter and more inclusive.

GenderCool Champion, college student, musician, artist, & Texas-based LGBTQ activist Landon Richie.
(Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)
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State Department

State Department spokesperson criticizes new Russia propaganda law

Statute ‘pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Fund's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, has criticized an anti-LGBTQ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed this week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday sharply criticized the anti-LGBTQ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the day before.

Price, who is openly gay, noted to reporters during a press briefing the law “further criminalizes the sharing of information about LGBTQI+ persons.”

“The law is another serious blow to freedom of expression in Russia, and a continuation of the Kremlin’s broader, long-running crackdown against marginalized persons, dissenting voices, civil society and independent media that it has intensified, as it has failed to achieve its objectives in its unconscionable war against Ukraine,” said Price. 

“The law pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society, fueling and amplifying the prejudice, discrimination, violence and stigma they face. The legislation is a clear attempt by the Kremlin to distract from its own failures by scapegoating vulnerable communities and creating phantom enemies,” he added. “We stand in solidarity with LGBTQI+ persons in Russia and around the world who seek to exercise the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights.”

The law that Putin signed on Monday expands the existing “Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values” statute that took effect in Russia in 2013. 

The new law will ban so-called LGBTQ propaganda and materials that discuss gender reassignment surgery and LGBTQ and intersex issues to minors, which it categorizes as the promotion of pedophilia. Russian media reports indicate the new law will apply to films, books, commercials, media outlets and computer games.

Anyone who violates the law could face a fine of up to 10 million rubles ($165,152.80.) Authorities could also force businesses and organizations to temporarily close, and foreigners who violate the law could face arrest, incarceration for up to 15 days, a fine of up to 5,000 rubles and deportation.

Putin signed the law against the backdrop of Russia’s continued war against Ukraine.

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National

Club Q suspect indicted on 305 charges

22-year-old charged with first-degree murder, bias-motivated crime

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(Photo courtesy of Club Q Facebook page)

El Paso County (Colo.) District Attorney Michael Allen announced in the first in-person hearing on Tuesday that the 22-year-old suspect in the mass shooting at the LGBTQ nightclub Club Q, which killed five and wounded dozens of others, will face 305 charges including first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and bias-motivated crime.

The Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper reported Anderson Aldrich appeared in a Colorado Springs courtroom wearing a green jumpsuit and handcuffs. Aldrich’s facial bruising had significantly healed since a video hearing two weeks ago. 

The total list of charges according to the Gazette is as follows: 

• 10 counts of first-degree murder.

• 86 counts of attempted first-degree murder.

• 86 counts of first-degree assault.

• Four counts of second-degree assault.

• 48 counts of bias-motivated crime. 

• 71 counts of violent crime causing death and using a weapon.

Allen said the prosecution may request to amend the charges in the future.

“We are not going to tolerate actions against community members based on their sexual identity,” Allen said at a news conference after the hearing. “Members of that community have been harassed and intimated and abused for too long. And that’s not going to occur in the 4th Judicial District.”

During the hearing Judge Michael McHenry, following the filing of formal charges, granted a request from Allen for the suspect’s arrest affidavit to be unsealed. The court papers should be available to the public by the end of the day Wednesday, the judge noted according to the Gazette.

Allen said that while he couldn’t talk about what is in the affidavit, he told reporters that it might contain “much less information than you might expect.”

Suspect in Club Q shooting appears in court:

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court hears oral arguments in 303 Creative case

Dangerous implications for LGBTQ consumers

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in 303 Creative v. Elenis, a case that could carry broad implications for whether and in which circumstances states may enforce certain nondiscrimination rules against purveyors of goods and services.

The case was brought by website designer Lorie Smith, who sought to include a disclaimer that her company 303 Creative would not develop wedding announcement websites for LGBTQ couples, but discovered that such a notice would violate Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws, which include sexual orientation as a protected class.

Her lawsuit against the state of Colorado, argued by counsel from the anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), reaches the Supreme Court following the ruling against Smith from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which created a circuit split with decisions from the 8th Circuit and Arizona Supreme Court. A ruling is expected to come in June.

The fact pattern in 303 Creative closely mirrors the 2018 case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where the Supreme Court declined to rule on the broader legal questions because it found the Commission exhibited hostility toward the religious views of the bakery that refused to design a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The high court has since moved substantially to the right, with a 6-3 conservative supermajority. Colorado is one of 20 states that enforces laws prohibiting businesses from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and a ruling that would allow for broadly construed exemptions to be carved out for firms based on their First Amendment protections would carry implications well beyond the context of same-sex marriage.

Monday’s oral arguments focused on preexisting and hypothetical cases that were presented by counsel from both parties as well as by the justices, examples whose scope and fact patterns reinforced the breadth of the legal issues at play in 303 Creative.  

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson and U.S. Principal Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher pointed to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, 2006, which found that the federal government may withhold funding from universities that, based on their objections to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” refuse to grant military recruiters access to their resources.

ADF CEO, President and General Counsel Kristen Waggoner cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, 1995, which upheld the right of private organizations to exclude participation by certain groups without interference by the state, even if that intervention by the government was for the purpose of preventing discrimination.

Much of the discussion during Monday’s oral arguments centered on what kinds of goods and services may be considered public accommodations and which constitute artistic speech or expression by the business provider. Also at issue were questions such as whether their refusal to accommodate certain events – i.e., same-sex weddings – are tantamount to refusing goods and services to members of a protected class of people under the state’s non-discrimination laws.

LGBTQ rights groups fear the implications of a ruling in favor of 303 Creative  

ADF is designated an anti-LGBTQ extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. An amicus brief was filed in support of the government by the corporate law firm White & Case along with a coalition of LGBTQ rights groups and legal advocacy groups: the National LGBTQ Task Force, GLAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, and the Human Rights Campaign.

“Just two weeks after a shooter killed 5 people, injured 18, and traumatized so many others at Club Q in Colorado Springs, the United States Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments in an anti-LGBTQ public accommodations discrimination case from Colorado,” wrote the National LGBTQ Task Force in a statement addressing Monday’s oral arguments.

Liz Seaton, the group’s policy director, highlighted the importance of public accommodations laws and condemned efforts by the opposition to legalize discrimination and segregation in the marketplace. “The brief’s most important argument lifts up the powerful amicus briefs of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law,” Seaton said. “Those two briefs by venerable civil rights organizations provide a detailed history of public accommodations discrimination against Black and Brown people in this country.”

HRC’s statement on Monday touched on similar themes:

“Granting the unprecedented ‘free speech exemption’ sought by petitioners in 303 Creative v. Elenis would be a dangerous change to long standing constitutional and civil rights law. It would inevitably lead to increased discrimination not only related to LGBTQ+ people or weddings, but also for other vulnerable populations including women, people with disabilities, and people of minority faiths. It’s crucial that justices of the Supreme Court reject discrimination and affirm the equal dignity of every American.”

Likewise, the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus released a statement exploring the broad implications that could result from the Court’s ruling on 303 Creative:

“…the Supreme Court could issue a broad ruling that not only implicates nondiscrimination laws’ applications to graphic designers but to a wide range of businesses providing goods and services that have an artistic component. A broad ruling for the graphic designer could not only provide a constitutional basis for discriminating against same-sex couples, but also for discriminating against all marginalized people currently protected by public accommodations nondiscrimination laws.”

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