BY ERIN REED | Republican attorneys general from seven states have signed a letter to Target, insinuating that the retailer’s LGBTQ youth content and merchandise may be considered obscene and in violation of law.
The letter criticizes Target for offering youth-sized clothing featuring Pride themes and asserts that the states are obliged to “enforce state laws protecting children” from “content that sexualizes them,” including obscenity laws. The letter also suggests that Target may be breaching the law by making decisions that are allegedly “unprofitable” and not in the best interests of its shareholders, citing this as a violation of the company’s fiduciary duty.
The letter, which is six pages long, does not provide specific details regarding potential legal consequences if Target continues to sell the merchandise in question. Notably, this follows a wave of bills introduced in various states that aim to ban LGBTQ content under obscenity laws, including measures to ban drag, ban books with LGBTQ characters, and restrict LGBTQ content in schools and libraries.
Here is the relevant portion of the letter implying potential violations of obscenity laws:
Earlier this year, Target was the focus of a vehement campaign led by far-right groups for offering LGBTQ merchandise. Figures like Matt Walsh played a leading role in this campaign, which resulted in an onslaught of threats, violence, and harassment aimed at the store’s employees.
In one tweet, Walsh proclaimed the aim was to “make Pride toxic,” ensuring that companies endorsing Pride would “pay a price.” Target, in response, removed the controversial merchandise from numerous locations to safeguard its staff. However, the threats persisted throughout Pride Month. Inspired by those threats, these Republican attorneys general now have issued stern warnings of potential legal repercussions to the store.
Obscenity laws have previously been invoked in efforts to target LGBTQ content in the U.S. Earlier this year, several states either proposed or enacted legislation classifying LGBTQ content as obscene.
For example, Texas passed a law widely interpreted as banning LGBTQ books from schools. Llano County in Texas also enacted a ban on several LGBTQ books, which was subsequently blocked by a judge on the grounds of likely unconstitutionality. Moreover, a number of states approved laws categorizing drag — defined by these laws as dressing and performing in a gender different from one’s assigned birth gender — as obscene.
Among the proposed laws that did not pass were a West Virginia bill that sought to label “exposure to transgenderism” as obscene and a Montana amendment aimed at designating LGBTQ internet content as obscene if accessible by minors. The invocation of obscenity laws as a tool to eliminate LGBTQ content from public view shows signs of escalating, as evidenced by the recent letter aimed at Target.
The U.S. is also not the first country in recent years to use obscenity to target LGBTQ content in public. These laws and threats follow in the footsteps of more authoritarian countries that have successfully implemented such measures. Hungary, for instance, recently instituted a law that declared Pride flags and gay characters on television shows could only appear in late night TV or else would be considered obscene. Russia likewise has passed extreme laws that declare “promotion of homosexuality” illegal and obscene.
Lacking legislation that specifically declares content such as Target’s Pride line as obscene, some state attorneys general may turn to interpreting old obscenity laws as including LGBTQ content. The list of attorneys general who have signed onto this letter threatening Target with promoting “obscene” merchandise are:
- Todd Rokita — Indiana Attorney General
- Tim Griffin — Arkansas Attorney General
- Raul Labrador — Idaho Attorney General
- Daniel Cameron — Kentucky Attorney General
- Lynn Fitch – Mississippi Attorney General
- Andrew Bailey — Missouri Attorney General
- Alan Wilson — South Carolina Attorney General
While most legislation labeling LGBTQ content as obscene did not pass this year, advocates are concerned about the growing momentum behind such measures. There is an escalating trend among states in targeting the LGBTQ community, particularly on issues pertaining to gender identity. The readiness of attorneys general from several states to suggest that even rainbow logos could be deemed potentially obscene indicates the likelihood of further legislative attempts in 2024. Advocates continue to work to prevent the U.S. from following in the footsteps other countries that have eliminated LGBTQ content from public life entirely.
Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.
Follow her on Twitter (Link)
Website here: https://www.erininthemorning.com/
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Barbara Lee: PEPFAR is ‘more in peril’ than ever before
Congress has yet to reauthorize funding for Bush-era HIV/AIDS program
California Congresswoman Barbara Lee on Sept. 22 said the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is “more in peril” now than at any point since its launch two decades ago.
“This program is reauthorized every five years, but it’s always on a bipartisan basis,” said Lee during a panel at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference that took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. “As we approach the benchmark of an AIDS-free generation by 2023, it is unfortunately more in peril now than ever before.”
Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR.
Lee noted PEPFAR as of 2020 has provided nearly $100 billion in “cumulative funding for HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention and research.” She said PEPFAR is the largest global funding program for a single disease outside of COVID-19.
New PEPFAR strategy includes ‘targeted programming’ for marginalized groups
The panel took place amid the continued push for Congress to reauthorize PEPFAR for another five years. The federal government will shut down on Oct. 1 if Congress does not pass an appropriations bill.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken last December at a World AIDS Day event in D.C. acknowledged HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ and intersex people and other marginalized groups. A new PEPFAR strategy the Biden-Harris administration announced that seeks to “fill those gaps” over the next five years includes the following points:
• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups
• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.
• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”
The Family Research Council Action in an email to supporters urged them to tell Congress to “stop Biden from hijacking PEPFAR to promote its radical social policies overseas.” Family Watch International has said PEPFAR “has been hijacked to advance a radical sexual agenda.”
“Please sign the petition to tell the U.S. Congress to ensure that no U.S. funds go to organizations that promote abortion, LGBT ideology, or ‘comprehensive sexuality education,'” said the group in an email to its supporters.
A group of lawmakers and religious leaders from Kenya and other African countries in a letter they wrote to members of Congress in June said PEPFAR, in their view, no longer serves its original purposes of fighting HIV/AIDS because it champions homosexuality and abortion.
“We wrote that letter to the U.S. Congress not to stop PEPFAR funding to Kenya, but to demand the initiative to revert to its original mission without conditioning it to also supporting LGBTQ as human rights,” it reads.
Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.
American officials earlier this year postponed a meeting on PEPFAR’s work in Uganda in order to assess the potential impact the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act will have on it. The law, which Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed on May 29, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”
Biden in his U.N. General Assembly speech last week noted LGBTQ and intersex rights and highlighted PEPFAR. Family Watch International in its email to supporters included a link to the letter from the African lawmakers and religious leaders.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated both the FRC and Family Watch International as anti-LGBTQ hate groups.
“[PEPFAR is] not about abortions,” said Lee.
U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power during the panel referenced Bush’s recent op-ed in the Washington Post that urged lawmakers to reauthorize PEPFAR.
“The way he put it is no program is more pro-life [than] one that has saved more than 25 million lives,” said Power.
Power referenced the “manufactured controversy that is making it difficult to get this reauthorization.” U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. John Knengasong said a failure to reauthorize PEPFAR would weaken “our own foreign policy and diplomacy.”
“Once again the United States will be missing in action,” stressed Lee.
Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary for Legislation Melanie Egorin and Kenny Kamson, a Nigerian HIV/AIDS activist, also spoke on the panel that MSNBC host Jonathan Capehart moderated.
Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention
Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke
President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.
In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.
Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.
Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”
The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.
Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.
The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”
Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”
“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”
Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:
“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”
Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’
Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’
Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.
A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.
As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”
“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.
Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.
Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk refuses to grant relief to Texas college students who may be punished for hosting a drag show.— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) September 22, 2023
His condemns drag as “vulgar and lewd” “sexualized conduct” that harms children and is likely unprotected by the First Amendment. https://t.co/UPeolMfGON
As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”
The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”
Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.
Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.