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Montana GOP expel trans lawmaker for remainder of session

“This is an anti-democratic effort to censor one of their own colleagues for using her voice and platform to represent her constituents”

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Democratic Montana state Representative Zooey Zephyr (HD-100) has been silenced by the House Republican supermajority for the remainder of the legislative session. She will lose all speaking privileges and will vote online.

Prior to the vote that barred her from participating on the House floor after she protested House Republican leaders’ decision earlier in the week to silence her, Zephyr said:

“It is my honor today to rise on behalf of my constituents for members of House District 100, and my members who elected me to represent them This legislature has systematically attacked that community. We have seen bills targeting our art forms, our books, our history, and our healthcare. And I rose up in defense of my community that day, speaking to harms that these bills bring.”

“A trans teen attempted to take their life watching that hearing. In that hearing, our caucus pleaded to the leader of that hearing to keep decorum and we were told that many people have many different opinions about those things.”

“If you use decorum to silence people who hold you accountable, then all you are doing is using decorum as a tool for oppression. When I continued to not be recognized, my community came and said that they let me speak. When the speaker gaveled down, he was driving a nail in the coffin of the nail of democracy. But you cannot kill democracy that easily, and that is why they kept chanting let her speak.”

“I’m not sure what comes next here, but I will do what I have always done. I will rise in support of my community. I will take the hard and moral choice to stand up for the people who elected me to do so. And I am grateful for those who stood up in defense of democracy. I hear from my constituents, I hear from your constituents that stood up on my behalf.”

“I know in this building, in these quiet halls, the staff come up to me and say thank you, for defending our community. I will always stand up for them, and I will always stand up for democracy in the state of Montana.”

Zephyr was supported by Native American lawmaker Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy (D) – HD32, who told the chamber: “The community that I represent does have trans. Some tribes, we call them two spirit people. My late uncle, one of my teachers in my way of life, has always told me … no matter who you are, we are all equal under the eyes of the almighty.

“There’s been a lot of things that have happened in this body over the last 21 years. This is nothing compared to things we’ve seen. We had a Democratic representative almost go fist to cuffs in the gallery. That was uncalled for. Why didn’t they get taken to the level of this,” he added noting: “Even in the Senate, we got up and we hit the desks. We almost got charged for messing up the state’s property. Why weren’t we disciplined like this?” “We are picking one person in this body for something she believes is right.”

“We need to just put this behind us, let her represent the people she represents, do the people’s work and move on,” he finished.

Another lawmaker then stood and berated the Republicans for taking this action. Representative SJ Howell (D) – HD 95, a trans nonbinary lawmaker from Missoula said:

“A yes vote on this motion puts our Democratic process and job as legislators second. Though I love my job, I have faced a series of deeply offensive behaviors. There has been a pattern of unwillingness to listen to a diverse set of opinions in front of us.”

“The right to protest is a clearly upheld right in the state and US constitution and we took oaths to protect that constitution. It is deeply unsurprisingly to me that the community responded the way it did. Its not just one of our own that has been silenced. It happened after a session where bills have targeted us, struggling for equal treatment under the law.”

“We are here because we are struggling with a debate we have had since the beginning of this session on a set of bills. Bills that directly impact the safety of the LGBT community. Not one Dem brought any of those bills,” Howell said.

Reaction was swift from LGBTQ and civil rights groups:

“This is an anti-democratic effort by House leadership to censor one of their own colleagues for using her voice and platform to represent her constituents,” said Keegan Medrano, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana. “Rep. Zephyr is a duly-elected member of the legislature and entitled to represent the people of their district. In voting to take away her microphone, the House is attempting to silence Montanans and trans people from speaking to the harm of all these bills. This is another shameful day in our state’s history and we’re determined to protect every transgender Montanans from these vile, bigoted attacks on their dignity and equality.”

“There is a name for when elected officials attack and silence other elected officials they don’t agree with to prevent them from fulfilling their duties – it’s called authoritarianism,” said Deirdre Schifeling, national political director at the ACLU. “Freedom of speech is essential to our democracy. Trans people are an essential part of our democracy — both as voters and lawmakers — and must be defended.”

“For anti-LGBTQ lawmakers to launch a verbal and legislative war against transgender Montanans and censure the state’s only trans lawmaker for telling the truth – that they will have blood on their hands – is destructive and absurd. Her comment is incomparable to the harmful and hateful rhetoric of these anti-LGBTQ lawmakers and incomparable to the undeniable harm this legislation will have on trans people. Rep. Zephyr’s voice is needed more than ever at this moment and her opponents understand that. It is the reason they are determined to silence her,: Elliot Imse, executive director of the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute, said in a statement.

“Government representation is essential for LGBTQ+ community members who rarely see themselves reflected in positions of power, especially in conservative states like Montana. Transgender people must be part of the conversations about their lives,” Imse added.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, issued the following statement:

“The silencing and threats of censure and expulsion against Rep. Zephyr for speaking up in support of transgender Montanans is an attack on our nation’s democratic ideals and free speech values. It’s an assault on democracy to suppress the already marginalized and under-represented voices of LGBTQ people and people of color, and the lawmakers who were duly elected to represent them. The attack against Rep. Zephyr is the latest in a disturbing trend across the country as LGBTQ and ally lawmakers in Tennessee, Oklahoma and other states have also faced recent threats of censure simply for speaking up for their constituents. Speaking up is literally what they were elected to do. This news is a strong reminder that our voices are our power. When we speak, extremist lawmakers can’t help but hear us.”

In the past few months, a number of additional elected officials and/or protestors at state capitals have faced disciplinary action for vocalizing their support for LGBTQ people or progressive issues:

  • Three state lawmakers in Tennessee faced disciplinary action following their participation in a gun violence protest shortly after a school shooting in Nashville. Resolutions for expulsions of two of the three lawmakers — two black men, Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson — passed with a two-thirds majority, while the third — a white woman, Rep. Gloria Johnson — failed to pass by one vote. (The lawmakers were all later reinstated.)
  • In Oklahoma, protestors opposing a ban on health care for trans residents were escorted out of a House floor hearing, one of whom — a trans man — was thrown by a state trooper to the floor of a stairwell and handcuffed as he was held face down.
  • Shortly afterwards, Republican House leaders announced a censure of Rep. Mauree Turner, a Black Muslim legislator and Oklahoma’s first and only nonbinary elected representative, claiming that Rep. Turner “impeded law enforcement” by helping one of the protestors in their office. Rep. Turner continues to be censured to date as Oklahoma legislators continue considering a slate of anti-LGBTQ bills.

More than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed in state legislatures in 2023 seeking to ban health care for trans Americans, prohibit transgender youth from being allowed to participate on school sports teams, prohibit any mention of LGBTQ people or issues in school curriculums, criminalize drag performances and Pride celebrations, and more.

LGBTQ Political Representation

LGBTQ people make up 7.1 percent of the population but only a small number of elected officials, although the number has increased over the past few years:

Number of trans/nonbinary elected officials according to the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute:

  • The number of openly nonbinary elected officials has grown from five in 2019 to 20 in 2023.
  • The number of openly transgender men in elected office has grown from five in 2019 to nine in 2023.
  • The number of transgender women in elected office has grown from 15 in 2019 to 41 in 2023.
  • In total, the number of openly transgender/ nonbinary elected officials has increased from 25 in 2019 to at least 70 in 2023.
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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court rules to preserve access to abortion medication

Case is Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA

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The abortifacent drug mifepristone is marketed under the brand name Mifeprex (Photo courtesy of Danco Laboratories)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a much-anticipated decision against efforts by conservative doctors and medical groups challenging access to mifepristone, one of two pharmaceuticals used in medication abortions. As a result of the high court’s decision, access to the drug won’t change.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the court, reversed a lower court decision that would have made it more difficult to obtain the drug, which is used in about two-thirds of U.S. abortions. The ruling however was narrow in scope as it only addressed what is known as legal standing in a case.

SCOTUSblog senior court reporter Amy Howe noted that Kavanaugh acknowledged what he characterized as the challengers’ “sincere legal, moral, ideological, and policy objections” to elective abortion “by others” and to FDA’s 2016 and 2021 changes to the conditions on the use of the drug.

But the challengers had not shown that they would be harmed by the FDA’s mifepristone policies, he explained, and under the Constitution, merely objecting to abortion and the FDA’s policies are not enough to bring a case in federal court. The proper place to voice those objections, he suggested, is in the political or regulatory arena.

“Under Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff’s desire to make a drug less available for others does not establish standing to sue,” Kavanaugh wrote.

“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision in this incredibly important case. By rejecting the Fifth Circuit’s radical, unprecedented and unsupportable interpretation of who has standing to sue, the justices reaffirmed longstanding basic principles of administrative law,” said Abigail Long, a spokesperson for Danco. “The decision also safeguards access to a drug that has decades of safe and effective use.”

The White House released a statement from President Joe Biden on Supreme Court Decision on FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine:

“Today’s decision does not change the fact that the fight for reproductive freedom continues. It does not change the fact that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, and women lost a fundamental freedom. It does not change the fact that the right for a woman to get the treatment she needs is imperiled if not impossible in many states.
 
It does mean that mifepristone, or medication abortion, remains available and approved. Women can continue to access this medication – approved by the FDA as safe and effective more than 20 years ago. 
 
But let’s be clear: attacks on medication abortion are part of Republican elected officials’ extreme and dangerous agenda to ban abortion nationwide. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Republican elected officials have imposed extreme abortion bans in 21 states, some of which include zero exceptions for rape or incest. Women are being turned away from emergency rooms, or forced to go to court to plead for care that their doctor recommended or to travel hundreds of miles for care. Doctors and nurses are being threatened with jail time, including life in prison, for providing the health care they have been trained to provide. And contraception and IVF are under attack.
 
The stakes could not be higher for women across America. Vice President Harris and I stand with the vast majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to make deeply personal health care decisions. We will continue to fight to ensure that women in every state get the health care they need and we will continue to call on Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law — that is our commitment.”

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, in a ruling a year ago, waved aside decades of scientific approval, ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration improperly approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago in 2000.

Kacsmaryk, appointed to the federal bench by former President Donald Trump, in his 67 page opinion wrote that the FDA’s two-decade-old approval violated a federal rule that allows for accelerated approval for certain drugs and, along with subsequent actions by the agency, was unlawful.

The suit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas in mid-November by Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ legal organization.

Applauding Kacsmaryk’s ruling, Erik Baptist, speaking for the Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement: “By illegally approving dangerous chemical abortion drugs, the FDA put women and girls in harm’s way, and it’s high time the agency is held accountable for its reckless actions.”

Erin Hawley, a senior attorney for the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case at the Supreme Court, said the opinion was “disappointing,” but told reporters in a press gaggle after the ruling that the explicit mention of conscience protections was a victory.

“The Supreme Court was crystal clear that pro life doctors do have federal conscience protections, even in emergency situations,” Hawley said. “So that’s a huge win for the pro-life cause. The Supreme Court clearly said that our doctors are entitled to those federal conscious protections that are based on their religious beliefs.”

The case now returns to the lower courts, and the dispute over access to the drug likely is not over. 

SCOTUSblog also reported that Nancy Northrup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, praised the decision but conceded that the dispute could continue even after Thursday’s ruling. She, too, noted that the three states “could still attempt to keep the case going, including taking it back up to the Supreme Court,” and she warned that access to mifepristone “is still at risk nationwide.”

The Hill notes that for instance, the same district court in Texas that originally ruled against the FDA said a group of three red states—Missouri, Idaho and Kansas— can intervene in the lawsuit.

“I would expect the litigation to continue with those states raising different standing arguments than made by our doctors,” ADF’s Hawley told reporters.

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, emailed the Blade the following statement from Executive Director Tony Hoang in response to a unanimous ruling by the United States Supreme Court:

“We appreciate today’s unanimous decision to uphold access to the abortion drug mifepristone, authored by a conservative Justice. This ruling reinforces the critical importance of maintaining accessible reproductive healthcare and highlights the necessity of safeguarding these rights from baseless legal attacks.

However, it is imperative to recognize that the Court should never have accepted this case. The so-called Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine lacked the standing to initiate this challenge. Moreover, federal conscience exemptions already exist for healthcare providers who object to offering abortion-related care. 

Medication abortions involving mifepristone constitute the majority of abortions in America, including those sought by LGBTQ+ people. Our community understands the necessity of bodily autonomy and the right to make decisions regarding our own medical care, including reproductive care. Patients deserve access to the medications they need, and providers should be able to deliver that care without unwarranted interference from extremist courts or politicians.   

Attacks on abortion do not end with this decision; millions of people nationwide are still unable to get abortion care and abortion opponents remain focused on their end goal of a nationwide abortion ban. 

Equality California will continue to work with our legislative partners in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., as well as organizational allies, like Planned Parenthood, to help protect and expand access to abortion and reproductive healthcare.”

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National

McBride clears Dem field, poised to become first trans member of Congress

Primary opponent drops out of Delaware race

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Sarah McBride (Washington Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

Delaware State Sen. Sarah McBride has become the Democratic frontrunner for Congress after her primary opponent dropped out of the race. This sets up McBride to possibly become the first transgender member of Congress if elected in November. 

Eugene Young announced on Wednesday he suspended his campaign for Delaware’s At-Large congressional district, leaving McBride as the only Democratic candidate running for the seat. Young’s announcement leaves Republican challenger Donyale Hall as McBride’s only obstacle to the House of Representatives.

As the new Democratic frontrunner, McBride is slated to win the strongly Democratic state’s sole House seat, which is currently held by Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester. Blunt Rochester is leaving the House to run for Thomas Carper’s seat in the Senate who will be retiring at the end of the year. 

According to McBride’s campaign, she has raised more than $2 million and does not appear to be slowing down. Not only could McBride become the historic first trans member of Congress, but her campaign has raised record-breaking amounts — more than any candidate for an open congressional seat in state history.

McBride currently holds a seat in the First State Senate District of Delaware and has used that momentum to mobilize her supporters.

LPAC, an organization that works to get LGBTQ+ women and nonbinary candidates elected to public office, has endorsed McBride’s run for Congress as well as her past campaigns. LPAC’s Executive Director Janelle Perez released a statement regarding McBride’s path to the House.

“LPAC is thrilled that Sarah McBride has cleared the Democratic field and is on a clear path to making history in November as the first out trans person ever elected to the U.S. Congress,” Perez wrote in her statement. “This did not happen by accident: Sarah has actively cleared the field by building an undeniably formidable campaign, connecting deeply with voters and out-raising every candidate in the field by a longshot.”

Other candidates have until July 8 to enter the race, although that is unlikely given McBride’s fundraising advantage and growing momentum. 

“It is no surprise to me that Sarah has reached this point — she is a compassionate leader who truly cares for her community and has a tangible impact on everyone around her,” Perez added. “This is a groundbreaking moment for LGBTQ+ representation in our country and I know that Sarah McBride will make an incredible member of Congress.”

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Pennsylvania

Philadelphia man sentenced to 15-30 years in prison for gay journalist’s murder

Robert Davis pleaded guilty to shooting Josh Kruger last October

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Josh Kruger (Photo courtesy of Kruger's Facebook page)

The man responsible for murder of gay journalist Josh Kruger, 39, last October in Philadelphia was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison on Monday.

Robert Davis, 20, who lived the city’s Point Breeze neighborhood, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and related offenses in a plea bargain worked out with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office prosecutors.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Davis’s guilty plea before Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Barbara A. McDermott also included counts of aggravated assault and illegal gun possession for firing a gun at someone on a SEPTA platform in late September.

Davis’s lawyer, Andrea Konow, could not be reached for comment.

A spokesperson for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner acknowledged Davis’s sentencing, but declined further comment.

Lieutenant Hamilton Marshmond of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Homicide Unit at the time of the shooting told reporters that Kruger was found lying in the street outside his Point Breeze home suffering from seven gunshot wounds. Responding officers rushed Kruger to a nearby hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Davis’s older brother Jaylin Reason, told the Inquirer his brother appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was acting erratically. While trying to calm Davis down, Reason said, they got into a fight. He realized, he said, that the best assistance he could offer his brother was helping him surrender to police.

“I didn’t want him to keep living outside and going around and doing something to put himself in a deeper hole,” he added. Reason told the paper that he calmed Davis down, and then asked his other brother to call the police. Together, they went outside, sat on the steps, and waited for 17th District officers to arrive. Davis surrendered and was taken into custody.

In a series of interviews in early October with the Inquirer, Davis’s family told the paper that a years-long sexual relationship involving drugs factored into the murder. Davis’s mother and older brother are alleging Kruger began a sexual and drug relationship with the teenager four years ago when Davis was 15.

Robert Davis, 20 (Booking photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Police Department)

Kruger wrote for publications like the Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, and the Philly Voice about LGBTQ rights, addiction, AIDS, and homelessness. He worked for the city of Philadelphia, including at the Office of Homeless Services, for five years.

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