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Congressional Equality Caucus slams proposed federal ban on transgender student athletes

Gay Republican Congressman George Santos co-sponsored bill

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

The U.S. Congressional Equality Caucus has come out against a proposal from House Republicans to ban transgender student athletes.

“This is not about girls’ and women’s sports; it’s about attacking trans kids,” Caucus Chair Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said in a press release Monday. “This sports ban is just the opening salvo in their larger efforts to limit the rights of and demonize the LGBTQI+ community, and the Equality Caucus will do everything it can to defeat it,” he said.

The caucus’ issuance of the press release comes ahead of the bill’s scheduled mark-up on Wednesday by the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The legislation would bar any participation in school sports by trans athletes, stipulating that “sex shall be recognized based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth” for purposes of compliance with Title IX.

Introduced by Republican Rep. Gregory Steube (Fla.) on Feb. 1, the bill’s 43 GOP co-sponsors include U.S. Reps. Ken Buck (Ohio), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Nancy Mace (S.C.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Jim Banks (Ind.) and George Santos (N.Y.), the scandal beleaguered gay congressman who faces multiple investigations over alleged financial crimes.

The Democratic Women’s Caucus joined the Equality Caucus in registering their opposition Monday ahead of the mark-up 

“We will not let anti-LGBTQI+ Republicans — who have refused to work with us on addressing real gender equity issues — use ‘protecting women’ as an excuse to attack trans youth,” said U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus.

Groups like the Women’s Sports Foundation and National Women’s Law Center support full and equal access and participation for trans student athletes.

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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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