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Senate passes Respect for Marriage Act

Bill approved by 61-36 vote margin

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The U.S. Senate voted 61-36 on Tuesday to officially pass the Respect for Marriage Act, a historic piece of legislation that is expected to soon become law after members in the U.S. House of Representatives sign off on a bipartisan amendment added by their Senate colleagues.

Designed as a vehicle to mitigate the fallout if the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority guts the constitutional protections for marriage equality, the bill was narrowly construed — in part to help guarantee that it withstands potential challenges from conservative legal actors.

Nevertheless, the Respect for Marriage Act is a landmark bill that has been backed by virtually every LGBTQ advocacy organization in the country. The legislation repeals the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act while enshrining into law substantive protections for same-sex couples.

Regardless of whether or how the high court might decide to revisit the marriage question, the Respect for Marriage Act will protect the federally ordained rights and benefits that have long been enjoyed by married gay and lesbian couples. And should the court pave the way for conservative states like Texas to renew their bans on same-sex marriage, the law will require them to officially recognize and honor those that are performed in jurisdictions where they remain legal.

Despite earning broad bipartisan support from lawmakers in the House, which passed its version of the bill this summer with an overwhelming majority — including votes from 47 Republican members — the Respect for Marriage Act faced an uncertain future in the Senate.

Conservative members in the chamber’s Republican caucus argued the bill would jeopardize religious freedoms, concerns that a group of five bipartisan senators sought to allay with an amendment that, among other provisions, clarifies the right of religious nonprofit organizations to refuse “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

Writing the amendment were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who was considered the driving force behind the bill’s passage through the Senate.

Several Republican senators proposed additional amendments that — per a narrow procedural vote before and another shortly after the Thanksgiving break — were not put up for debate, thereby allowing the Respect for Marriage Act to clear the Senate with Tuesday’s vote.

Barely surpassing the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority with one extra “yea,” the Senate’s passage of the bill came despite the best efforts of conservative opponents who had run coordinated campaigns to erode support among GOP members.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris each issued statements shortly after Tuesday’s vote.

The president celebrated the “bipartisan achievement” by Congress, writing: “For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled. It will also ensure that, for generations to follow, LGBTQI+ youth will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own.”

Harris wrote: “The Respect for Marriage Act ultimately stands for a simple principle: all Americans are equal and their government should treat them that way. Today, we are one step closer to achieving that ideal with pride.”

The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus also praised the victory.

“Today, a bipartisan group of 61 Senators made clear that this country will not roll back the clock on marriage equality,” said Congressman David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chair of the Equality Caucus. “The Respect for Marriage Act is a crucial safeguard for LGBTQ+ people whose lives have been forever changed by Obergefell v. Hodges and Americans who are in interracial marriages thanks to Loving v. Virginia. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court declared marriage equality as the law of the land. Today, the Senate ensured those marriages will continue to be protected.”

LGBTQ groups celebrate the win

“Diverse faith traditions across the nation came together to demand respect for LGBTQ+ Americans – we staked our ground and refused to let this opportunity slip away, ” said Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president of the Interfaith Alliance, in a statement Tuesday.

“The  LGBTQ+ community has faced ongoing deadly violence, legislative assaults and constant threats — including the deadly shooting in Colorado Springs barely one week ago,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement from the organization.

“Today, with the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate — a historic moment that marks the first federal legislative win for LGBTQ+ equality in over 10 years, since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — the 568,000 same-sex married couples in this country can breathe a sigh of relief that their marriages will be protected from future attacks,” said Robinson, who yesterday began her tenure as the first Black queer woman to lead America’s largest LGBTQ organization.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis responded on Twitter and in a statement, writing: “As so many LGBTQ people face uncertainty and harm on the state level and extremists on the Supreme Court vow to reconsider the landmark Obergefell decision, this victory will provide comfort and security to millions of people and their families.”

“Today’s bipartisan vote in the Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act is a proud moment for our country and an affirmation that, notwithstanding our differences, we share a profound commitment to the principle of equality and justice for all,” reads a statement from National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon.

LGBTQ Victory Institute President Annise Parker said, “This landmark piece of legislation protects the marriages of millions of LGBTQ Americans who have not slept well for months, wondering if our marriages would be dissolved by an activist court. While the Respect for Marriage Act is undoubtedly one of the most important pro-LGBTQ laws ever passed, it does not require states to grant marriages to LGBTQ couples. Until then, our fight is not over.”

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Texas

Anti-trans Texas Democrat loses primary to queer woman

Lauren Ashley Simmons defeated state Rep. Shawn Thierry

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Texas state Rep. Shawn Thierry, picture from a public feed, and Lauren Ashley Simmons, picture courtesy of the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund.

BY ERIN REED | Houston Democratic Texas House of Representatives incumbent Shawn Thierry was trounced in a primary runoff election on Tuesday.

Thierry was one of only a handful of Democrats across the country who broke ranks with her party and voted for a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, delivering a lengthy and misinformation-filled speech in doing so.

After her anti-trans vote, queer union organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons stepped forward to unseat her, earning dozens of influential endorsements from party leaders and organizations. On Tuesday night, Simmons left no doubt about her victory: She resoundingly won by a 65-35 percent margin.

On May 12, Thierry voted to pass a gender-affirming care ban for trans youth, an exceedingly rare vote for a Democrat. In doing so, she spoke on the House floor, calling trans girls “biological males” and arguing that conversion therapy was the true solution to gender dysphoria.

She also voted against every amendment intended to mitigate the harm the bill would cause trans youth in the state. This led to a vote to censure Thierry by the Meyerland Area Democrats, who reported feeling betrayed by her earlier assurances that she was an ally to the LGBTQ community.

Thierry’s district, the 146th District of the Texas House of Representatives, is not a swing district. It includes predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in Houston that tend to vote heavily Democratic. Previously, Thierry had beaten a Libertarian candidate by a 87-13 percent margin, with no Republican running in the race. Thus, whoever wins the Democratic primary in the district is likely to represent the district in the Texas House of Representatives.

Enter Simmons, a queer union organizer who ran in opposition to Thierry’s anti-LGBTQ votes and activism. In her announcement that she would be challenging Thierry in the primary, Simmons stated, “Our current representative has lost her way and now votes with Greg Abbott and Republicans to take away our rights, destroy our public schools, and hurt our kids.”

Simmons quickly garnered major endorsements, an uncommon feat for a primary challenger to an incumbent politician. Equality Texas, the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, and LPAC, all significant LGBTQ organizations, endorsed her.

She also secured major union endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union. Additional support came from Planned Parenthood, Harris County Young Democrats, and Run for Something. High-profile congressional endorsements included Congresswomen Jasmine Crockett and Lizzie Fletcher, as well as former Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

In the lead-up to the election, which was quickly becoming a referendum on whether anti-trans politics could gain a foothold in the Democratic Party, Thierry did not tone down her anti-LGBTQ sentiment. She participated in “faith walks” with major local churches supportive of her stance and relied heavily on Republican donations.

When asked about her anti-trans votes, she called gender-affirming care “Black genocide.” Thierry’s statements were decried by major community members, including Diamond Stylz Collier, who leads the Texas nonprofit Black Trans Women Inc. Collier called the comments disgusting, stating, “We have an increase of trans people dying of violence around the country and a real-life genocide happening in other parts of the globe.”

As votes poured in on Tuesday evening, it became clear that Simmons would be the victor. She secured a decisive majority, with the district voting 65-35 percent in her favor over Thierry. Reflecting on her victory, Simmons stated, “Thanks to your amazing support, we all won BIG last night! We are so grateful, and so proud of the strong message this decisive victory sends to those who seek political gain by using bigotry, hatred, and fear: STOP. Thank you!”

Increasingly, anti-trans influencers are attempting to make inroads into left-leaning politics, a strategy that has seen mixed results internationally. In the U.K., for instance, the Labour Party has been notoriously poor on trans rights.

In the U.S., however, these efforts have met with far less success. Just yesterday in California, an attempt to place a gender-affirming care ban on the ballot was defeated. Similarly, in most states, Democrats have remained steadfast against anti-transgender legislation. Now, even in a conservative state like Texas, it is evident that there is little appetite within the party for sacrificing transgender rights, and doing so could jeopardize one’s political career.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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National

National LGBTQ blood donation drive underway

‘Summer of Giving’ campaign to promote awareness of new donor guidelines

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Gay men are eligible to donate blood after decades of being banned. (Photo by Belish/Bigstock)

GLAAD, which describes itself as the world’s leading LGBTQ media advocacy organization, and America’s Blood Centers, a national organization of community-based independent blood donation centers, announced on May 22 they have launched an LGBTQ supportive “Summer of Giving” national blood donation drive campaign.

The announcement says the campaign is aimed at encouraging “businesses to host blood drives and all eligible individuals to donate blood in support of the recent FDA eligibility changes that promote fairness and inclusivity in the donation process while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.”

The joint announcement was referring to the final revised blood donation rules issued in May 2023 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that replaced a previous policy requiring men who have sex with men to abstain from sex for three months before they would be eligible to donate blood.

The previous policy was among the gradual changes made by the FDA from its original policy in the 1980s of automatically banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood due to their perceived risk of HIV infection. LGBTQ activists called that policy discriminatory because it banned all gay and bisexual men from donating blood even if they were not as individuals at risk for HIV infection.

The new policy, adopted in May 2023, according to a statement released by the FDA, put in place a screening process that asks all prospective donors regardless of their sexual orientation to answer a series of individual, risk-based questions to determine their eligibility for donating blood.

The FDA statement said implementation of the new policy “will represent a significant milestone for the agency and the LGBTQI+ community” as stated by Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

“The ‘Summer of Giving’ is a celebration of the LGBTQ community and decades of work to remove the stigma too many potential donors have to endure,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in the joint statement. “Removing discriminatory barriers and following facts and science will ease the critical national blood shortage,” Ellis said, adding, “This campaign sends a long-needed message that LGBTQ people are welcome and can generously contribute to their communities to help save lives.”

Kate Fry, CEO of America’s Blood Centers, said in the statement that her organization is proud to join GLAAD to promote the facts surrounding the FDA’s change in blood donor policy, which she said, “prioritizes the safety of the blood supply while bringing more equality to the donation process.”

Fry added, “The Summer of Giving campaign is a unique opportunity for individuals and businesses to donate blood and host blood drives in support of a new era of blood donor eligibility. Together we can help save lives during a time of critical need for the blood community.”

 The joint statement announcing the LGBTQ supportive blood drive says it would take place from May 28, 2024, through National Blood Donation Day on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2024, “in recognition of the critical need for blood donations during the summer months.” According to the statement, “Despite the ongoing demand for blood products, donations typically decline during this period due to travel and the lack of school-based blood drives.”

Under the revised FDA blood donation policy, as was the case with the previous policy, anyone who tests positive for HIV is not eligible to donate blood. The new policy includes these restrictions, which apply to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender:

• Any individual who has had a new sexual partner in the past three months and has engaged in anal sex in the same period is deferred for three months from the most recent sexual contact from donating blood.

 • Any individual who has had more than one sexual partner in the past three months and has engaged in anal sex during that same period is deferred for three months from the most recent sexual contact.

• Any individual who has taken any oral antiviral medication to prevent HIV (PrEP or PEP) is deferred for three months from the most recent dose. These medications may delay detection of HIV and result in false negative test results.

• Any individual who has taken any long-lasting antiviral medication by injection to prevent HIV (PrEP or PEP) is deferred for two years from the time from the most recent injection. These medications may delay detection of HIV and result in false negative test results.

• Any individual who has ever taken any mediation (i.e., ART) to treat an HIV infection is permanently deferred.

GLAAD and America’s Blood Centers say further details about the new FDA blood donation policy and to find the nearest community blood center, interested persons should access glaad.org/tag/summer-of-giving

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California

Effort behind Calif. ballot measure to limit transgender youth’s rights fails

Protect Kids California failed to collect enough signatures

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Protect Kids California CEO Jonathan Zachreson, right, with Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and an unnamed delegate at the California GOP convention in Anaheim, Calif., on Sept. 29, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Zachreson’s Facebook page)

The effort by the anti-LGBTQ conservative group Protect Kids California, headed by Roseville school board member Jonathan Zachreson, to collect some 550,000 valid signatures to place a transphobic transgender youth proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot has failed.

In a press release on Tuesday, the deadline set by the California secretary of state, the group claimed it had gathered more than 400,000 signatures, falling short of the requisite threshold number for inclusion on the ballot.

Protect Kids California submitted the proposed ballot initiative — presented as the “Protect Kids of California Act of 2024,” last September. The proposed ballot initiative would have:

  • Forced outing of transgender youth to their parents, ensuring that trans kids cannot have safety or privacy in schools if they are not ready to come out to family. Often these policies also include violations of privacy for the student when they discuss their gender identity with school counselors.
  • Banning of transgender youth from sports that match their gender identity, stigmatizing them and often forcing them out of sports altogether. Notably, these provisions typically fail to differentiate between high-stakes elite competitions and casual middle school teams. They also generally don’t provide for pathways to participation like hormone therapy, a method that has been researched and employed to address concerns of potential “unfair advantages” in competitions. California, which allows youth to access gender affirming care, will have youth who never underwent the puberty of their assigned sex at birth who would also be banned under this provision.
  • Banning gender affirming care for trans youth shown to be lifesaving. Gender affirming care is associated with a 73 percent reduction in suicidality and over 50 studies assembled by Cornell University show its benefits. California is one of several states that has recently moved to protect transgender youth and their medical care, and such a restriction would impact a large number of transgender kids in the state.

“We are relieved that anti-LGBTQ+ extremists have failed to reach the required signature threshold to qualify their anti-transgender ballot initiatives to the November 2024 ballot. Equality California will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ+ youth everywhere, and push back against any and all efforts by extremist groups who seek to discriminate against them,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. “To every LGBTQ+ youth in California: Know that you are loved and valued.”

The anti-LGBTQ group placed partial blame for the failure on California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who the group had sued over the title and summary he assigned to its ballot measure that would strip rights from trans minors.

The Bay Area Reporter noted the Liberty Justice Center filed a lawsuit on Feb. 13 in Sacramento County Superior Court on behalf of Protect Kids California that alleged Bonta’s personal beliefs led to a biased title and summary. Therefore, the center contended the ballot measure proponents should be given 180 additional days for signature gathering without discounting signatures already collected.

“Respondent [Bonta] has demonstrated that he personally, and in his official capacity, is opposed to any kind of notification by a public school to a parent or guardian that his or her child is exhibiting signs of gender dysphoria when the child asks the school to publicly treat him or her as the opposite sex with a new name or pronouns, and to allow the child to use the sex-segregated facilities of the opposite sex,” claimed the groups in their lawsuit.

But a Sacramento Superior Court judge sided with Bonta in a ruling that was first issued tentatively on April 19 and was made final on April 22. Judge Stephen Acquisto ruled that Bonta’s title and summary are accurate.

“Under current law, minor students have express statutory rights with respect to their gender identity,” Acquisto stated. “A substantial portion of the proposed measure is dedicated to eliminating or restricting these statutory rights … The proposed measure would eliminate express statutory rights and place a condition of parental consent on accommodations that are currently available without such condition.”

“The proposed measure objectively ‘restricts rights’ of transgender youth by preventing the exercise of their existing rights. ‘Restricts rights of transgender youth’ is an accurate and impartial description of the proposed measure,” Acquisto added.

The attorney general’s office has some leeway when it comes to determining ballot titles, the judge noted.

In a statement provided to the Bay Area Reporter on April 24, after news that the decision had been made permanent, Protect Kids California attorney Nicole Pearson stated, “The mental gymnastics used to justify this prejudicial title and summary are not only an egregious abuse of discretion that entitles our clients to an appeal, but a chilling interpretation of law that jeopardizes the very foundation of our constitutional republic. We are reviewing our options for an appeal of these clear errors and will announce a decision shortly.”

Additional reporting by the Bay Area Reporter.

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