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EXCLUSIVE: First Gen Z congressman demands action on LGBTQ rights, gun control

Rep. Frost calls on Biden to speak out against wave of legislative attacks

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

U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) during an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade on March 24 called for President Joe Biden to “speak out about” the wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation across the country.

The congressman said the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education “should be heavily involved in investigating what’s going on in Florida and in all these states where these bills are being passed.” Frost added that Biden is “the perfect person” to warn voters about the consequences of extreme anti-equality policies; noting the pro-worker, pro-union “Joe from Scranton” frequently promotes his working-class roots.

“That [message] coming out of his mouth, the story of these policies impact everyone, I think would have a really big impact,” the congressman said. 

Frost, 26, in 2022 became the first Gen Zer elected to Congress. 

He represents Florida’s 10th Congressional District that includes Pulse, a gay nightclub in which a gunman killed 49 people on June 12, 2016. 

Frost co-organized the March for Our Lives, which took place in D.C. on March 24, 2018, less than two months after a gunman killed 17 people in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. His gun control advocacy efforts began when he became a volunteer for the Newtown Action Alliance, a group that formed in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.

DeSantis ‘a dictator’

Frost during the interview spoke out against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act — more commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law — which he categorized as a “bigoted law made by bigoted people.”

The law aims to regulate classroom discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten through third grade. It also prohibits public schools from using confidentiality forms in the case of a student disclosing sensitive information that includes their gender identity and sexual orientation and requires personnel to inform their parents if they were to ask for the information.

“They’re starting to change our education system because they want to try to counteract the inherent progressive and, you know, decent values that young people have,” explained Frost. 

While Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis focuses on preparing legislation that otherwise helps “take away” history, Frost notes the governor does not put forth measures that seek to improve his state.

“He’s not focusing on raising wages, ensuring people have a livable planet, ensuring that we end gun violence, the rocketing housing prices,” Frost said. “And these things impact everybody.”

The congressman was weary of the overall repercussions that the “Don’t Say Gay” law would have on the mental and physical health of LGBTQ people across Florida, and he went as far as saying it could result in deaths. Frost further pointed out the number of hate crimes in his state has increased since DeSantis took office.

“This is going to have real impacts to LGBTQ+ students, parents, etc. Just people in the district and across Florida, that can result — that will result and is resulting in — trauma and people being hurt and hate crimes, and we probably will see death from it,” said Frost.

“This [governor] is a dictator,” he concluded. 

State lawmakers and other members of Congress have introduced Florida-style ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws.

Republican Louisiana Congresswoman Julia Letlow introduced a Parental Bill of Rights Act in March that looks “to ensure the rights of parents are honored and protected in the nation’s public schools.” Frost maintains, however, that these types of bills only serve to spread bigotry and hate “under the guise of parental rights.”

Frost perceives what he contends is the extremist overhaul of the country’s educational system as a “long-term plan” from Republican politicians. A plan that, in his view, goes back to the overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.

White House spokesperson Robyn Patterson in a statement to the Blade said Biden “has been outspoken in his support of LGBTQI+ Americans and he’ll continue to speak out against vicious political attacks against them.” 

Biden earlier this month during an interview with Kal Penn for “The Daily Show” described efforts to restrict the rights of transgender people in Florida and elsewhere as “close to sinful.” 

Four LGBTQ advocacy groups earlier this month filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four families with trans children who are challenging the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine’s ban on gender affirming healthcare for minors.

Patterson in her statement stressed Biden “is grateful for the leadership of Congressman Frost and other leaders who share his commitment to supporting LGBTQI+ Americans and speaking out against dangerous policies that seek to vilify our fellow Americans.”  

Frost survived gun violence in 2016

Frost spoke with the Blade a day after Capitol Police arrested Manuel Oliver, whose son, Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, was killed in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.

Officers arrested Manuel Oliver after he and his wife, Patricia Oliver, challenged U.S. Reps. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) during a joint House Oversight and Judiciary Committee hearing on gun control. 

The two Republican congressmen asked officers to remove the Olivers from the hearing. 

Frost, a vocal gun control supporter who survived a gun violence incident in 2016, told the Blade the hearing was full of “lies.”

“Folks were in town and people came out [because of my recently introduced gun bill]; glad they came to the hearing. And they sat through all of those lies,” Frost said. “And I think when you hear those lies, sometimes you just want to say something.”

The Oliver family spoke out against Fallon’s defense of guns, saying how guns were the very thing that took their son away. Fallon then insisted that they be taken out of the hearing. 

Frost later said the “real story” was 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.” 

Frost, who’s vice chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, recently introduced a gun control bill that, according to a press release, “would bring together those most impacted by gun violence with leaders across federal agencies to advance policy, collect and report data, expand state and local outreach, and maximize existing programs and services related to preventing gun violence.” 

Frost introduced the bill alongside U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) 

Frost opposes oil drilling project

The congressman also spoke about Biden’s controversial Willow Project, an oil drilling venture that will take place in Alaska. Climate activists are among those who strongly oppose the plan. 

“A lot of times in life, but also a lot in politics, you have to hold multiple truths,” Frost emphasized. “And there’s a lot of truths to hold at the same time. The president approving this project is directly against, I believe his values, but also [the] campaign promises that he had made.”

The Trump administration originally approved the Willow Project in 2020, and up to 600 million barrels of oil are located in the area in which the drilling will take place.

The Biden-Harris White House felt it could not do much since Houston-based ConocoPhillips has the existing and valid leases for the area. 

Even so, Frost emphasized that although the current administration is in favor of drastically cutting emissions, it also recognizes the fact that “at least for the next decade or two we’ll need a reliance on oil and fossil fuels as we transition, which is another truth.” He did stress, nonetheless, that he does not “subscribe” to the idea that society needs “more capacity to scale back emissions over the next few decades.”

“And we’re also here to tell the administration that, you know, there’s a lot more that can be done, there’s more projects pending,” Frost said. “We’d love to see them do the right thing on that. So, we’re talking with the administration directly. We’re working with organizations, especially like youth organizations, that are really thinking through the climate crisis.”

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

Christopher Kane and Michael K. Lavers contributed to this article.

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House ethics complaint filed over GOP staffer’s anti-trans email

Rep. Carol Miller’s chief of staff defended his actions

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Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), in 2012. (Screenshot/YouTube San Diego City Beat)

A federal government employee has filed a complaint to the U.S. House Ethics Committee over an email they received from Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), which contained combative and anti-trans language. 

The Washington Blade has seen the correspondence between the parties, in which the confrontation was apparently kicked off when the congresswoman’s top aide received an email that included the sender’s preferred pronouns in the signature box, triggering his reply.

Donnellan wrote, “As a father, it is disgusting that anyone would ever tell my son or daughter that something is wrong with them and they should take sterilizing hormones or have surgery to cut off their genitals.”  

“The fact that you support that ideology by putting pronouns in your signature is awful,” he said, adding, “You’re disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t email me or anyone from my office ever again.” 

A senior government official told the Blade in a written statement that the email was not out of character for Donnellan:

 “I’ve heard from two colleagues several months apart about two separate transphobic emails, using identical language, from Matthew. Unfortunately these emails—though inconsistent with the typical collegiality one would expect from a Chief of Staff on the Hill—is likely a reflection of both increased partisanship on the Hill and a rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from the right.

“Not only is this virtual, hate-filled temper tantrum unbecoming of a Chief of Staff, inappropriate, and unprofessional, it also hurts his boss’s constituents. DC is built on congressional staff, members of Congress, and executive officials being able to put aside their differences to find unlikely areas of commonality where they can work together. 

“Even some of the most progressive members, like [U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Jerry Nadler (N.Y.)] have partnered with some of the most conservative members, like [U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio)], respectively, when they can find common ground. 

“Matthew’s refusal to work with an agency department or office just because a staffer has pronouns in their signature isn’t just hateful—it means he’s cutting off opportunities to deliver results for his boss’s constituents, especially in a divided Washington.”

Donnellan told the Blade by email that his response to the government employee is “a reply I send to anyone who uses pronouns or pushes gender ideology in any way.” 

“No one is ‘born in the wrong body’ and it’s horrific to tell anyone that they need genital mutilation surgery or sterilizing drugs,” he said. “People who push gender ideology, actively or passively, are awful and should be confronted every single time.”

“If the blunt reality of the terrible things that they are pushing is offensive to them then they should strongly reconsider what it this they believe and the harm that they are doing rather than simply trying to conform to liberal luxury beliefs,” Donnellan said. 

Addressing the complaint filed against him, Donnellan said, “I haven’t heard anything from Ethics and doubt that I will, they generally don’t waste their time with sheltered progressives being forced into the real world for the first time.”

A House Ethics Committee spokesperson declined to comment when asked if they could confirm receipt of the complaint.

Asked whether Miller might object to the way that she and her Congressional office are represented with these confrontational email exchanges, Donnellan said his boss’s “motto is ‘cut the bull’, and gender ideology is some of the biggest bull there is.”   

On Friday, the congresswoman’s son Chris Miller placed third in the Republican primary contest for West Virginia’s gubernatorial race, where the state’s Attorney General Patrick Morrissey secured his party’s nomination in a decisive victory with 33 percent of the vote. 

Leading up to the election, trans issues had emerged as a dominant focal point as the GOP candidates squared off against each other, with Miller’s campaign attacking Morrissey with allegations that he had profited from “the trans agenda” and backed a drug company that “helps turn boys into girls” when working as a healthcare lobbyist in Washington.  

In one ad that was paid for by a super PAC chaired by his father, Miller said the pronouns used by Morrissey are “money-grubbing liberal,” an interesting charge to level at the conservative Republican attorney general of West Virginia (even notwithstanding the fact that those three words are not pronouns but, rather, nouns and verbs.)

Declaring preferred pronouns in workplace email signatures has become commonplace in both the public and private sector, whether for purposes of sending an affirming message to transgender and gender expansive employees and officers or to mitigate the chances that either they or their cisgender counterparts might be unintentionally misgendered. 

The Biden-Harris administration has pushed for agencies to adopt the practice along with other measures and policies to advance the rights and wellbeing of trans and gender expansive employees across the federal government. 

In a 2021 announcement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s issuance of updated guidance on the agency’s email signature block, Michael Watts, director of civil rights for the U.S. Forrest Service, noted that “There are plenty of gender-neutral names out there, or names from other cultures that might not give you enough information to know their gender.” 

While the inclusion of pronouns was not made mandatory at USDA, he urged employees to “strongly consider taking this small but important step toward supporting inclusiveness in the workplace.” 

“The use of pronouns in our email signatures and getting into the habit of including pronouns in our introductions doesn’t really cost us anything,” Watts added, arguing that the move constitutes “a meaningful exchange to others and makes it easier for people to be respectful in how they address each other.”

“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. 

Official guidance published by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which is responsible for administering policies across the U.S. federal civil service, stipulates that agencies should “take steps to provide the option for employees to include the pronouns they use in employee systems and profiles, including email signature blocks, employee directories and employee profiles.”

Some have gone further, such as by adding pronouns to email signatures for all employees, as the U.S. Department of State did in 2023, while others like USDA have established, as official policy, that “employees are encouraged to include their pronouns in the first line of their email signature block (e.g. he/him/his). Signature blocks are a simple and effective way for individuals to communicate their identified pronouns to colleagues, stakeholders, and customers.”

“For example,” the USDA writes, “adding pronouns to signature blocks also has the benefit of indicating to the recipient that you will respect their gender identity and choice of pronouns.”

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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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