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Dianne Feinstein announces she won’t seek re-election

Calif. Democrat won special election to U.S. Senate in 1992

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U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

California’s senior U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced Tuesday that she will not seek re-election in 2024, but will continue to serve out her current term in office.

“I am announcing today I will not run for reelection in 2024 but intend to accomplish as much for California as I can through the end of next year when my term ends,” Feinstein said in a statement.

Feinstein added she will be focused on the pandemic of gun violence that has gripped the American nation, her announcement coming a day after a mass shooting at Michigan State University that killed three and wounded five others and Tuesday’s 5th anniversary of the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjorie Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018, that killed 17 and grievously wounded more than a dozen others.

The shooter used a Smith and Wesson M&P 15, an AR-15 style semi-automatic assault rifle which had been previously banned under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban legislation she had co-authored in 1994 that expired on Sept. 13, 2004, in accordance with its sunset provision. Attempts to renew the ban had failed.

In her statement Feinstein wrote: “I also remain focused on passing commonsense legislation to fight the epidemic of gun violence.”

She ended her statement saying: “Even with a divided Congress, we can still pass bills that will improve lives. Each of us was sent here to solve problems. That’s what I’ve done for the last 30 years, and that’s what I plan to do for the next two years. My thanks to the people of California for allowing me to serve them.”

Feinstein, 89, has been the target of questions and critique in the past couple of years over her mental acuity, which the senator has recently characterized as caused by the death of her husband Richard Blum last year, as a chief distraction in her life causing uneven perception of her abilities.

In April 2022, in an article by the San Francisco Chronicle, the newspaper cited four anonymous senators — including three Democrats — and three former Feinstein staffers as well as a Democratic lawmaker from California who said her memory is rapidly deteriorating and it appears she can no longer fulfill her responsibilities in Congress without her staff doing a good deal of the work. They also said her memory lapses did not appear to be constant.

The story quoted one anonymous Democratic senator who said Feinstein has a hard time keeping up with conversations. Another lawmaker, identified only as a California Democrat, told the newspaper that they had to reintroduce themselves to Feinstein several times during an interaction that spanned several hours.

Earlier today on Capitol Hill, according to The Hill’s Capitol correspondent, Al Weaver, apparent signs of her declining mental acuity were clear on Tuesday. After a reporter asked her what message she has for her Senate colleagues, Feinstein asked why she would have a message for them. 

“About your not seeking reelection,” the reporter asked.

“Well, I haven’t made that decision. I haven’t released anything,” Feinstein said.

A Feinstein staffer then interjected, telling her that they put out a press release with her retirement statement. 

“You put out the statement?” she asked, adding a few seconds later, “I should’ve known they put it out.”

“It is what it is. The time is come,” Feinstein continued. 

In March 2021, California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaking with MSNBC host Joy Reid in an appearance on her show, said that should Feinstein retire early at that point, the governor committed to nominating a Black woman for the Senate seat.

Newsom’s remarks came after he had appointed then-California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to the Senate seat vacated by Kamala Harris as she was sworn in as the vice president. At the time Politico noted many women’s groups and Black leaders, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, expressed disappointment when Newsom picked Padilla. Among those whose names considered in the mix for the Harris seat were then-U.S. Rep. Karen Bass of Los Angeles, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland and Breed.

Political sources have told the Washington Blade that should Feinstein change her mind and step down early, Newsom is expected to keep his commitment of appointing a Black woman to replace her.

As news of her retirement spread Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)  and her senatorial colleagues, President Joe Biden and Newsom all weighed in praising Feinstein’s 31 years serving in the Senate starting with the 102nd Congress in 1992.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter of California have declared their candidacies for Feinstein’s seat, while Lee is expected to also run. 

The senator has yet to make clear whom she will be endorsing. Her office has not returned requests for comment on this question from the Blade.

Newsom said in a statement:

“Senator Feinstein has been a powerful champion for California and California values on the national stage for three decades — changing lives across our state and nation for the better while opening doors for generations of women leaders.” 

“A daughter of San Francisco, Senator Feinstein became the first woman to serve as mayor of the city after the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. The tragic events of that day led to her lifetime crusade for common-sense gun control laws, including her role as author of a federal assault weapons ban. For the last 30 years, she has served her state with distinction as our senior U.S. senator, blazing a trail for a new generation of female lawmakers.” 

“Throughout her career, Senator Feinstein has worked tirelessly across the aisle to advance tremendous progress on priorities that matter deeply to Americans. Her lifetime of service and leadership has made our country fairer, safer and stronger, and I am proud to call her a mentor and a friend. California and the nation owe Senator Feinstein a deep debt of gratitude.” 

Speaking to reporters, Schumer called her “a legend” and “an amazing person.”

“She’s a legend. A legend in California as the first woman senator. A legend in this Senate, she was the leader on so many different issues,” he said.

Schumer also told reporters that Feinstein at the Democrats’ caucus lunch “got a standing ovation that lasted minutes and minutes and minutes, one of the longest I’ve ever seen, which shows the love our caucus, and our country, have for this wonderful leader and legend.”

Padilla said in an emailed statement:

“You can’t tell the story of California politics — or the story of American politics — without the trailblazing career of Dianne Feinstein. For five decades, California has been privileged to have as gifted, as dedicated, and as iconic a public servant as my colleague.”

“From her early days in San Francisco City Hall helping bring together and heal a wounded city after the assassination of Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk, to her election as the first woman to represent California in the U.S. Senate, in the face of violence, stifling misogyny, and great personal loss, she broke down barriers and created a government that better represented the people — and the spirit — of California.”

“Her selfless service and unrivaled grit and persistence have given our state so many treasures that many Californians now take for granted, from Joshua Tree National Park, to the clear blue water of Lake Tahoe, to the thriving redwoods north of San Francisco Bay and the wetlands that surround it. And because of her leadership against all of the odds, the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban saved countless lives and made our country safer in the 1990s and early 2000s.”

“On a personal note, Dianne gave me one of my first jobs in politics as a young MIT grad looking to make a difference in my community. She was the embodiment of principled leadership and taking on the difficult issues, and it’s in part because of her groundbreaking career that a Latino son of immigrants could one day join her in breaking down barriers and serving alongside her.”

“I’ll truly miss her leadership and her counsel in the U.S. Senate. But the legacy she leaves behind will be carried on by the 40 million Californians who now see their government — and their country — differently because of her service.

“Thank you, Senator Feinstein.”

Biden, who served with Feinstein in the Senate, said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon by the White House:

“Senator Dianne Feinstein was elected in 1992 — dubbed the Year of the Woman in part because of her victory. Often the only woman in the room, she was determined to lift America up, and through her intellect, empathy, character, and drive, to make this country everything it could be.  

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I knew I wanted Dianne to serve alongside me, with her proven track record of standing up for people’s rights and fighting to make their lives better. She agreed to join the committee, and the nation was better for it.
 
Through force of will, she led the fight to get the assault weapons ban passed. Like so many who have been touched by gun violence, that victory was personal for her. She is a passionate defender of civil liberties and a strong voice for national security policies that keep us safe while honoring our values. A lifelong Californian, she has worked tirelessly to protect our environment for future generations.
 
Over the three decades I’ve known her, Dianne and her late husband Richard became dear friends to Jill and me. I’ve served with more U.S. senators than just about anyone. I can honestly say that Dianne Feinstein is one of the very best. I look forward to continuing to work with her as she serves out her term.”

Schiff, who is vying to replace her in the Senate having declared his candidacy a week ago praised Feinstein’s record in a tweet:

  

Breed, San Francisco’s first Black female mayor, paid tribute to her predecessor in a statement calling her “a trailblazer in every sense of the word.”

“From becoming San Francisco’s first female mayor in 1978 to being sworn in as California’s first female senator in 1992, she has always served our city, state and country with conviction and honor,” Breed said. “Her landmark policy victories in the Senate like the Assault Weapons Ban, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and reckoning with our country’s past with unlawful interrogation tactics made our country safer, our society more equal, and our nation more true to its ideals. As the longest serving female senator in our nation’s history, Senator Feinstein will leave a long legacy of legislative achievements and shattered glass ceilings that young women everywhere can look to and be inspired by as they too consider what service they can do for their country.”

A native San Franciscan born in the city on June 22, 1933, she first attended San Francisco public schools and then graduated from the Convent of the Sacred Heart High School in 1951.

She earned her degree at Stanford University in Palo Alto in 1955 and became actively involved in government service first serving as a member of the California Women’s Board of Terms and Parole from 1960-1966.

In her first foray into city politics she won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors representing the Marina neighborhood, serving from 1970-1978, and as president from 1970-1971, 1974-1975 and 1978.

Feinstein was thrust into the state and national political spotlight when on Nov. 27, 1978, she became the mayor of San Francisco, after disgruntled former City Supervisor Dan White entered City Hall and assassinated Mayor George Moscone after Moscone refused to appoint White back into his seat he had resigned from days before. White then also murdered openly gay City Supervisor Harvey Milk who had sparred with White over gay rights and had opposed White getting his seat back.

Feinstein served as mayor for 10 years from 1978-1988 then she served on the board as a director of the Bank of California 1988-1989 at which point she made and unsuccessful run as a candidate for governor of California in 1990.

After losing that race for governor in 1990, Feinstein later won a special election on Nov. 3, 1992, as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. The special election was triggered by the resignation of Pete Wilson, who had defeated her in the 1990 gubernatorial election. She took office on Nov. 4, 1992, and was subsequently reelected in 1994, 2000, 2006, 2012 and again in 2018 for the term ending Jan. 3, 2025.

Senator Feinstein’s record on LGBTQ rights was mixed as reported on by San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ newspaper, the Bay Area Reporter’s Assistant Editor John Ferrannini who noted:

Earlier in that campaign [1979] she’d faced some opposition from members of the LGBTQ community after she made remarks to Ladies’ Home Journal perceived as homophobic, but later won community support after gay candidate David Scott endorsed her in a runoff against independent Quentin Kopp. Scott endorsed Feinstein after she committed to appoint a gay person to the police oversight panel, which Feinstein followed through on with her appointment of lesbian Jo Daly.

Feinstein’s veto of city employee benefits for domestic partners led to a recall effort in 1983, though she won 81 percent to 18 percent.

In the Senate she was one of the few Democratic members who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which had been supported by then-U.S. Sen. Biden. The last vestiges of DOMA were formally repealed in December when Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act. DOMA had key provisions struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 (Section 3, U.S. v. Windsor) and 2015 (Section 2, Obergefell v. Hodges.)

Feinstein was never without controversy though, and in 2004 upset more progressive Democrats when she said then-mayor and now Gov. Newsom’s decision to order San Francisco officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was “too much, too fast, too soon.”

She was criticized in 2020 when she said Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing was “one of the best” and hugged U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), then the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Barrett’s vote last June on the Supreme Court was key for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which had protected abortion as a constitutional right, a key issue for Feinstein.

In 2017 the senator openly criticized then-President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender military service.

Out gay California state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) wrote on Twitter:

“Dianne Feinstein has been a trailblazer for more than 50 years,” he stated. “Her accomplishments are legion. We’re so proud of her in San Francisco and grateful for her service to our city and our state.”

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization, released the following statement from Executive Director Tony Hoang:

“Throughout her storied political career, Dianne Feinstein has been a champion for LGBTQ+ rights — from her early days on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors serving alongside Harvey Milk, to her historic service as the first woman mayor of San Francisco and the first woman to represent California in the United States Senate.”

“From being one of only 14 senators to oppose the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996 to being the lead Senate sponsor on the recently-signed Respect for Marriage Act, which repealed DOMA, Senator Feinstein has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of not only her constituents, but all LGBTQ+ Americans.”

“She has supported landmark federal hate crime legislation, fought for access to life-saving treatment for people living with HIV, sponsored the Equality Act, spoken out in support of LGBTQ+ service members before and after ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and has stood up for our community — even before it was popular to do so and when it presented significant political risks. Senator Feinstein has also been a leading champion in the fight against gun violence, recently reintroducing legislation to ban high-capacity magazines in the wake of deadly mass shootings like those at Club Q — an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado. Equality California has been proud to call her a friend and ally — we are eternally grateful for her service and will continue to work with her as she finishes out her term.”

Andrés I. Jové Rodríguez contributed to this article.

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Congress

Bill would require US foreign policy to promote LGBTQ, intersex rights

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) among measure’s sponsors

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The Progress Pride flag flies in front of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin on July 22, 2022. The International Human Rights Defense Act would require the U.S. to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad through its foreign policy. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Three lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a bill that would require the U.S. to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad through its public policy.

U.S. Reps. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has sponsored the bill in the U.S. Senate.

Garcia, the former mayor of Long Beach, Calif., of Peruvian descent who represents California’s 42nd Congressional District, last November became the first openly gay immigrant elected to Congress. Garcia on Tuesday noted to the Washington Blade during a telephone interview the International Human Rights Defense Act is the first bill he has introduced. 

“These issues around global human rights are ones that unfortunately, many aren’t codified into law,” he said.

Garcia said the U.S. has “different levels of global involvement,” depending upon who is president. He added the bill is “a great way of codifying an important office for us at the State Department, but also a series of measures and reports that will ensure that we’re promoting (LGBTQ rights) abroad.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s overall foreign policy.

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015 announced the creation of the special envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad. The White House in 2021 named Jessica Stern, who was previously the executive director of Outright International, a global LGBTQ and intersex rights group, to the position.

Former President Donald Trump tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead an initiative that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price during a 2021 interview with the Blade said  the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the Biden-Harris administration’s five priorities as it relates to the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights overseas.

Markey and then-California Congressman Alan Lowenthal introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act in 2021.

The Human Rights Campaign, the Council for Global Equality and Equality California are among the 111 organizations that signed a March 24 letter to U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who chairs the Senate State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee, and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who is the ranking member of House State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee. The groups urged lawmakers to increase funding of the State Department’s Global Equality Fund to $40 million and U.S. Agency for International Development’s Inclusive Development Hub’s Protection of LGBTQI+ Persons to $30 million in fiscal year 2024. 

“We are grateful to you for your dedication to global LGBTQI+ rights programs over the last five fiscal years, including the additional $25 million increase to these programs within the Fiscal Year 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act,” reads the letter. “These investments have provided flexibility to the State Department and USAID to scale already existing programs and develop new mechanisms to quickly deploy funding to LGBTQI+ organizations across the globe.”

“Even with these increases, the State Department and USAID continue to face significant funding gaps to address the needs of LGBTQI+ communities impacted by COVID-19, rising authoritarianism, and humanitarian crises,” adds the letter.

The White House has sharply criticized last week’s passage of a bill that would further criminalize homosexuality and LGBTQ and intersex people in Uganda. Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday spoke about her support of LGBTQ and intersex rights during a press conference with Ghanaian President Nana Afuko-Addo that took place in Accra, the Ghanaian capital.

Garcia described the Uganda bill to the Blade as “awful” and added “a big part of why we’re having this discussion now is that there are countries across the world that are criminalizing same sex relationships.”

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Frost talks gun control with the Blade on anniversary of March for Our Lives

26-year-old congressman has been a gun violence prevention advocate since 2012

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U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Author’s note: The full interview with Congressman Frost will be published next week.  

U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), after a week of making headlines for his gun violence prevention advocacy, sat down with the Washington Blade for an exclusive interview on Friday, which marks the five-year anniversary of the founding of March for Our Lives.

The 26-year-old freshman congressman, who before his election was national organizing director for the student-led gun control group, had just introduced his first piece of legislation Tuesday with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn. that would establish an Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the U.S. Department of Justice.

The proposal’s aim, in part, is to better facilitate the implementation of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act by establishing a singular office to coordinate that work.

And on Thursday, Frost captured and tweeted a video of a confrontation between U.S. Capitol Police and Patricia and Manuel Oliver, gun control advocates who lost their son Joaquin in the 2018 Parkland, Fla., high school shooting.

The couple had been removed by police from the House Oversight and House Judiciary Committees’ gun rights hearing at the request of GOP Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Pat Fallon (Texas).

Frost, who was in attendance, told the Blade the conflict started when Patricia Oliver “just stood up and she said, ‘you took my son’ and she sat down,” but “instead of moving on, the Chair [Fallon] escalated things.”

The congressman said the hearing itself was “a sham” convened for the purpose of attacking the Biden administration’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the entity within the U.S. Justice Department that investigates violations of laws governing the manufacture, possession, and use of guns.

“The real story here,” said the congressman, “is the fact that there were two parents who lost their son who was in high school, because he was shot to death and died in a pool of his own blood, and now they’re going to spend the rest of their lives fighting for a world where it doesn’t happen to anybody else.”  

Frost noted the Olivers were joined at the hearing by other families, activists, and organizers – all of whom were gathered in Washington, D.C., to advance the mission established by the group of teenaged Parkland survivors who founded March for Our Lives five years ago.

Among these student activists were Cameron Kasky, who identifies as queer, and X González, who is bisexual and uses they/them pronouns.

Frost has repeatedly said he ran for Congress because of his involvement in the gun violence prevention advocacy movement, which began with his volunteering on behalf of the Newtown Action Alliance, a group formed in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.  

The congressman told NPR the 2016 shooting at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando “where 49 angels were murdered right here because they’re queer” marked one of the most significant moments of his life.

That same year and in that same city, Frost himself survived a gun violence incident.

During his congressional campaign, on the heels of last year’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Frost tweeted: “10 years ago I became an Organizer because of Sandy Hook. 3 years later, I’d become a survivor myself. That same year, Pulse. Now I’m running for Congress and 15 lives were taken at another Elementary school. I will not stop until the endless shootings do.”

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House Republicans pass anti-LGBTQ Parents Bill of Rights Act

Measure passed by 213-208 vote margin

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. House Republicans on Friday passed the Parents Bill of Rights Act, a proposal that would require public schools to share educational materials with parents and also contains provisions that would trigger the outing of LGBTQ students without their consent.

Critics say the legislation’s professed purpose, to equip parents with the information necessary for them to better engage with their children’s educators, is a pretext for its ultimate goals: For schools to censor out content addressing race, or materials containing LGBTQ characters or themes, while also discouraging LGBTQ students from being out at school.

The Congressional Equality Caucus noted the likelihood of that outcome in a statement Friday denouncing the bill, which the group’s chair, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), called “dangerous” — pointing to its requirement for “schools to forcibly out transgender students, even if it puts those youth in harm’s way.”

“All children deserve access to a safe and affirming school environment,” Pocan said in the statement. “Transgender youth have enough challenges already due to harassment, bullying, and anti-transgender state laws,” he said, adding, “My colleagues who voted for this bill should be ashamed.”

House members voted 213-208 for passage of the Parents Bill of Rights, or House Resolution 5, with Republican U.S. Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Mike Lawler (N.Y.) and Matt Rosendale (Mont.) voting against the legislation with every Democratic member. The bill was first introduced by GOP Rep. Julia Letlow (La.).

With Democrats’ control of the U.S. Senate, movement on the bill will almost certainly be stopped once it reaches the upper chamber, but it may nevertheless still have a harmful impact on the country’s LGBTQ youth.

For example, the National Institutes of Health published a peer reviewed study last year that found a link between anti-trans legislation and “suicide and depression-related Internet searches” using a dataset comprising 40 bills that were introduced and reached committee, of which three were passed and signed into law.

The caucus’ statement noted HR 5 contains “two provisions that would require schools that take steps to respect a student’s gender identity to forcibly out those transgender youth to their parents” along with another that would allow parents to access their children’s answers to survey questions, answers that might include information about a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The risk that their parents will be able to see their answers will incentivize many students to lie about these and other questions, which the caucus said will undermine the federal government’s ability to collect important demographic, statistical and survey data on America’s LGBTQ youth.

Exacerbating that problem is another provision in the legislation, which requires parents to “opt-in” if their children would be asked to share their sexual orientation or gender identity.

America’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign, also issued a statement Friday condemning HR 5.

“The bill, which picks and chooses which families have rights and which don’t, has occupied the chamber’s time while extremist House leaders continue neglecting the very real and urgent problems facing our schools, such as gun violence, teacher shortages and educational inequality,” the group said in its statement.

HRC also noted the legislation’s potential to trigger forcible outing of LGBTQ youth “would endanger students instead of fulfilling school officials’ obligation to make judgments on a case-by-case basis in the best interests of the students under their supervision.”

The organization said it expects House Republicans to move “in coming weeks” on House Resolution 734, “a bill to ban participation by transgender youth in school sports,” and drew parallels between the Parents Bill of Rights Act and the “curriculum censorship seen in harmful, unnecessary bills passed in state legislatures recently.”

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stanbury (D-N.M.), a member of the Equality Caucus, echoed that message in her statement Friday, writing that HR 5 was “modeled after bills passed at the state level, which have censored the teaching of American history, allowed book bans, and violated the safety and privacy of transgender and LGBTQ+ students.”

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy on Monday addressing the bill, writing “the administration does not support HR 5 in its current form because the bill does not actually help parents support their children at school” and “moreover, instead of making LGBTQI+ students feel included in their school community, it puts them at higher risk.”

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