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State legislatures wrap, leaving terror in their wake

‘It’s hard to not be alarmed about the direction that this is all heading’



Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Conservative state legislatures from Florida to Idaho, have finished or will soon finish their business, leaving transgender Americans and their loved ones reeling from the onslaught of attacks against them.

Between 400 and 600 bills were introduced since January that target LGBTQ folks, disproportionately transgender kids – a figure that has often been cited by LGBTQ groups and elected Democrats.

What is often lost in this accounting, however, is how harmful the legislation is (or will be, in the case of so many bills that have yet to take effect), because for those who are directly targeted by the ceaseless legislative and rhetorical attacks, they are hardly an abstraction.

On Monday, Oklahoma became the 16th state to ban guideline-directed best practices healthcare interventions for the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors and the fourth state to make it a felony for providers to administer that care to their patients.

Then, on Tuesday, Montana became the 17th state, having just evicted duly elected state Rep. Zooey Zephyr from the chamber because, in her words, “I dared to give voice to the values and needs of transgender people like myself.”

In March, Kentucky passed what was then deemed “the worst anti-trans bill in the nation,” a healthcare ban augmented by language pulled from Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which criminalizes discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.

The following month, just across the border, the torch was passed to Missouri, whose Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey issued an emergency rule prohibiting gender affirming care for youth as well as adults and then published a form allowing citizens to formally record complaints about “a gender transition” they have “experienced or observed.”

Powerful conservative Christian advocacy groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom have lobbied for anti-LGBTQ bills and defended them from legal challenges. The organization has backed anti-trans measures from restrictions on access to gender affirming care to “Don’t Say Gay” laws.

For trans people, the prospect of having to flee their home states “doesn’t feel theoretical anymore,” Ari Drennen, LGBTQ program director for Media Matters for America, told the Washington Blade.

“The thing is,” she said, “I feel like we got there a while ago, and I just kind of adjusted, and now it’s like this weird world where I have multiple adult friends who are leaving multiple states for their own safety.”

“It’s hard to keep perspective of just how bad it’s gotten and just how quickly,” Drennen said.

She added the recent polling data, which indicates “most voters do not think that this is a good use of the government’s time and energy” offers cold comfort because “when that doesn’t seem to stop them, it almost makes it scarier.”

Drennen said the reality for so many of these Republican legislators is “they are just so genuinely opposed to the existence of trans people” that they will continue apace with these legislative crusades, political consequences be damned.

Another concern, often overlooked, is the escalation of transphobic rhetoric that abets the work of anti-trans GOP legislatures and to some extent makes their goals more reachable.

“You can look at The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles giving his big speech at CPAC,” Drennen said, in which he argued “that transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.”

“Those were his exact words,” she said, and “what he’s saying there is that trans people should not be in public, really under any circumstances, and I think that’s where a lot of the right wing media has gotten.”

“This has escalated very quickly in a couple of years from, ‘oh, well, you know, we just have some concerns about the fairness of trans people who are competing in sports,’ to multiple states passing bathroom bills or considering bathroom bills, multiple states expanding what kinds of gender affirming care they’re considering trying to take off the table,” Drennen said.

“And it’s hard to not be alarmed about the direction that this is all heading,” she said.

At this juncture, according to the ACLU:

  • Anti-LGBTQ bills can be divided into seven categories: Healthcare (e.g., bans on gender affirming care); public accommodations (e.g., laws prohibiting trans people from using restrooms and facilities consistent with their gender identity); schools and education (e.g., “Don’t Say Gay” laws, bans prohibiting trans student athletes from competing in sports); free speech and expression (e.g., restrictions on drag performances, book bans); accurate IDs (e.g., laws prohibiting trans people from obtaining documents that reflect their gender identity); civil rights (e.g., measures to allow discrimination against LGBTQ people); and other (e.g., Alabama’s proposed bill to define “woman” based on sex characteristics at birth).
  • Fifteen states have introduced more than 10 anti-LGBTQ bills: Arizona, North Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Missouri, Mississippi, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida.
  • Four states and the District of Columbia have not introduced any anti-LGBTQ bills: Pennsylvania, Delaware, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
  • 318 anti-LGBTQ bills are now advancing through state legislatures. Forty-five have been signed into law; 105 have been defeated.


DeSantis stumbles into 2024 race with chaotic, disorganized announcement

Fla. governor defended the state’s anti-LGBTQ policies



Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Photo courtesy of DeSantis' office)

More than 300,000 Twitter users were logged in at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday to hear Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis begin his 2024 presidential campaign in an announcement address featuring the social media platform’s owner, Elon Musk.

Moments after moderator David Sacks kicked off their conversation, however, the audio cut out due to technical glitches that persisted for nearly half an hour as the event was steadily hemorrhaging listeners.

Those who joined or rejoined the event at various times after about 6:30 p.m. ET might be forgiven for thinking the topic was Musk rather than DeSantis, who is widely considered the candidate likeliest to unseat former President Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s frontrunner for the nomination.

At one point, for instance, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) entered the chat to tell the polarizing billionaire tech entrepreneur, “I’m one of your biggest fans” and brag, “I’m one of the first members of Congress to own a Tesla,” the electric carmaker founded by Musk.

Following reports on Tuesday of DeSantis’ unorthodox plans to announce his run for president, pundits saw a golden opportunity for the Florida governor to generate buzz around his campaign, which seemed to lose momentum leading up to its official launch.

Responding to questions from Sacks, DeSantis defended Florida’s spate of anti-LGBTQ policies, like last year’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which criminalizes classroom discussion of LGBTQ subjects and, earlier this month, was broadened to cover more grade levels.

LGBTQ groups, Democratic Florida lawmakers, and other critics argue the law was written with discriminatory intent, to create a chilling effect that will discourage educators from creating welcoming environments for LGBTQ students.

Disney came out against the measure, kicking off an ongoing spat with DeSantis, who said on Wednesday that the company “obviously supported injecting gender ideology in elementary school.”

The governor also objected to what he characterized as the media’s misleading coverage of Florida’s adoption of policies restricting the educational materials made available in schools.

LGBTQ groups air objections to DeSantis’ presidential run

In advance of Wednesday’s conversation with Musk, DeSantis filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission formally declaring his plans to enter the race as LGBTQ and other civil rights advocacy groups registered their objections to his candidacy as well as to Florida’s policies under his leadership.

“Dangerously out of step with average Americans’ views on freedom and equality, DeSantis has weaponized his position as governor to target and punish anyone he considers his political enemy, including LGBTQ+ families,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said in a statement Wednesday.

Following Tuesday’s statement from the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which called DeSantis a “transphobic bigot” who has “no place in government — let alone the White House,” the LGBTQ Victory Institute on Wednesday said his entry into the race is “bad news for America — and even worse for anyone who’s part of a community he’s targeted while in office as governor.”

Over the weekend, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for Florida because of “DeSantis’ aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion programs in Florida schools.”

HRC and Equality Florida followed suit on Tuesday with a jointly issued travel notice that cites the potential impact of the state legislature’s recent passage of six anti-LGBTQ bills, several of which have already been signed into law.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to specifically address the travel advisories during Tuesday’s press conference, but said Florida Republicans “have attacked diversity. They’ve attacked inclusion efforts. They’ve limited the teaching of Black history. And they’ve launched attacks on the LGBT youth, immigrants, educators and women’s reproductive freedom.”

“That’s what you have seen from lawmakers in Florida,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that the Biden-Harris administration will “continue to speak out against discriminatory policies.”

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DeSantis to announce presidential bid in a live conversation Wednesday with Elon Musk

Victory Fund denounces Florida guv as ‘transphobic bigot’



Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) (Screenshot/YouTube)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will reportedly announce plans to run for president in 2024 during a live conversation with Elon Musk Wednesday evening on Twitter Spaces.

The unorthodox move might generate renewed interest in DeSantis, who was long expected to enter the primary race against former President Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, but seemed to lose momentum as the official launch of his campaign drew nearer.

It also comes on the heels of DeSantis signing last week a slate of anti-LGBTQ bills including an expansion of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which criminalizes classroom discussion of LGBTQ subjects.

Musk, who has a trans daughter from whom he has been estranged, has expressed his affinity for DeSantis in the past while also courting other public figures known for expressing transphobic views, such as the comedian Dave Chappelle.

The polarizing and often pugilistic billionaire was widely blamed for allowing anti-LGBTQ and especially transphobic abuse to proliferate on Twitter since he purchased the social media platform last year.

On Twitter, Musk has occasionally complained about or mocked the use of personal pronouns by trans and nonbinary people, and he was widely criticized last year for promoting a false and baseless anti-LGBTQ conspiracy about the violent attack on Paul Pelosi.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund denounced DeSantis’s candidacy on Tuesday ahead of his announcement, writing, “Transphobic bigots like Ron DeSantis have no place in government, let alone the White House,” the LGBTQ Victory Fund wrote in a statement issued Tuesday.

“Not only does Governor DeSantis’ appalling record against LGBTQ+ people and communities of color disqualify him from the Presidency, the rhetoric he will spew on the campaign trail as he and Donald Trump race to the bottom will have long-term consequences for our community and LGBTQ+ kids in particular.

“LGBTQ+ leaders are our best defense against hate, which is why his announcement is a rallying cry to the LGBTQ+ community and our allies that we must redouble our efforts to elect pro-choice LGBTQ+ candidates in 2023 and 2024. On Election Day, our message must be resounding: we are not going back.”

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Anti-LGBTQ Republican Sen. Tim Scott enters 2024 presidential race

Opposes marriage equality, compares homosexuality to adultery



U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), who filed paperwork on Friday with the Federal Election Commission to run for president in 2024, kicked off his campaign for the GOP primary with an announcement address Monday morning in Charleston.

The only Black Republican member serving in the Senate, Scott developed a strident anti-LGBTQ record since entering national politics in 2010 with his first election to the House, during which time he told Newsweek homosexuality is a “morally wrong choice, like adultery.”

Today, Scott remains opposed to same-sex marriage, writing on his Senate bio that South Carolinians “have voted overwhelmingly to protect the traditional definition of marriage, and I stand with their decision.”

Last year, Scott cosigned a letter with 20 other Senate Republicans urging the GOP caucus to oppose the Respect for Marriage Act unless it contained provisions allowing for discrimination against LGBTQ couples. Scott, 57, is single and never married, which has led to some speculation about his sexual orientation.

In February, with GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, Scott introduced legislation that would cut funding for any elementary or middle school in the country that changes a student’s pronouns, gender markers, or access to sex-based accommodations like locker rooms without first obtaining consent from their parents or legal guardians.

Having developed a reputation as a fiscal and social conservative who is well-liked by his Republican Senate colleagues, Scott hopes to build a coalition of establishment types and evangelical conservatives who are skeptical or critical of the party’s 2024 frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.

According to Vox, Scott is polling around 1 percent, but he will be able to transfer $22 million from his Senate campaign coffers to help fund his presidential bid and has begun aggressively buying up television ads in early primary states as campaigns get underway in the next few months.

The junior senator from South Carolina will face off against the state’s former Republican governor, Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration. Haley, who appointed Scott to fill the Senate seat vacated by Jim DeMint in 2012, announced her bid for president in February.

Caitlin Byrd, senior politics reporter for the Post and Courier, noted on Twitter that South Carolina Democrats are broadcasting mobile billboards that echo the same arguments they used to oppose Haley’s candidacy, seeking to portray the candidates’ platforms as indistinguishable from Trump’s.

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