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Groups lobby for political mapmakers to take LGBTQ community into account

More than 70 challenges against district maps have been filed across the country



Missoula Pride participants in Missoula, Mont., in 2022. Montana is among the states that LGBTQ activists are targeting in 2024. (Photo courtesy of Lo Hunter Photography)

Redistricting and updated political maps are at the heart of American democracy. 

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau tells lawmakers the demographics of their constituents, and likely, how they’ll vote. Lawmakers then redraw districts, in many cases, along partisan lines to give advantage to a specific party. This process, called gerrymandering, is at the heart of state legislatures across the country, and poses a significant challenge to LGBTQ rights in many states.

Gerrymandering has been at the heart of multiple court challenges since the 2020 election. As of July, 74 cases have been filed challenging district maps in 27 states as racially discriminatory or partisan gerrymanders.

While the conversation around gerrymandering often focuses on race or political affiliation, the LGBTQ community is often left out, despite having massive voting power.

The LGBTQ community has utilized its voting power for a long time, and famously elected Harvey Milk, the U.S.’s first openly gay person to hold public office, to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Since then, the number of openly-LGBTQ politicians is growing, with a record number expected to run in 2024.

Redistricting played a powerful role in Milk’s election. Despite the LGBTQ population making up one fifth of San Francisco’s voters at the time, the city’s at-large electoral system — where council members were elected by the whole city — put LGBTQ neighborhoods at a disadvantage. 

Milk and other activists led the fight to change the city’s electoral system to district contests, and in 1977, Milk won his seat on the council.

The LGBTQ+ Victory Fund launched a first-of-its-kind campaign to lobby for redistricting that considers LGBTQ populations in map-drawing. The “We Belong Together” campaign, launched following the 2020 election, has two main focuses: Encourage LGBTQ organizations to lobby to keep LGBTQ areas intact and to gather data showing where LGBTQ communities are located within legislative districts.

“[We worked on] basically how to identify large groupings of LGBTQ people, and then advocate to the decision makers who are doing a lot to say, ‘Hey, this is a community of interest, and you need to make sure that they stick together,’” Victory Fund Vice President of Political Programs Sean Meloy said.

Communities of interest are communities of people that are grouped by a common factor — often race and class — that’s taken into account when redistricting happens. LGBTQ people aren’t classified as a community of interest in many states due to sexual orientation not being part of the census. 

“A lot of other demographics are accounted for in the census,” Meloy said. “[The Census Bureau] did a pulse survey recently that asked about LGBTQ people. And that’s a great step in a great direction because every community and demographic has unique vulnerabilities, unique issues that government should understand so that they can help address them because they’re all people that they’re supposed to be working on behalf of.”

The Household Pulse Survey was launched in 2020 and tracks a wide variety of household data including, but not limited to, employment, housing security and access to health care. The survey also tracks sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the Census Bureau’s website, the survey tracks how “emergent issues are impacting households across the country from a social and economic perspective.”

Meloy said that this data collected by the Bureau allows for groups like the Victory Fund to draw maps of “centralized areas where there are same sex married couples.” Using the maps, groups can lobby mapmakers to not “draw a line right through” these communities, dividing up their voting power.

Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan and Montana are all states where maps are drawn by nonpartisan commissions — as opposed to lawmakers drawing the maps — and are the top targets of LGBTQ outreach going into the 2024 election cycle.

“They have fairer districts, and a lot of those states have districts that actually do respect LGBTQ people as communities of interest, and so you know, we had more LGBTQ led legislators elected in California and in Arizona and in Colorado,” Meloy said.

Other areas, such as New York, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta and Boise, Idaho, could all see an increase in LGBTQ public officials if LGBTQ voters were taken into account in redistricting, according to Victory Fund.

“We know that once we elect some LGBTQ people, there is a domino effect that people feel they can come out, they can be in office, it breaks that barrier,” Meloy said. “And we’ve seen that in a lot of other places over the last 30 years, but we still have a lot of places that we need to continue breaking down those little barriers.”



Gay journalist murdered inside Philadelphia home

Josh Kruger’s death has left city ‘shocked and saddened’



Josh Kruger with his cat Mason (Photo courtesy of Josh Kruger's Facebook page)

An openly gay journalist was shot to death in his Point Breeze neighborhood home in the 2300 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia early Monday morning.

According to Officer Shawn Ritchie, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, 39-year-old Josh Kruger was shot at about 1:30 a.m. and collapsed in the street after seeking help. Kruger was transported to Penn Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:13 a.m.

Police said that Kruger was shot seven times throughout the chest and abdomen and that no weapons were recovered nor have any arrests been made. Homicides investigators noted that there was no sign of forced entry and the motive remains unclear.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement:

“Josh Kruger lifted up the most vulnerable and stigmatized people in our communities — particularly unhoused people living with addiction. As an openly queer writer who wrote about his own journey surviving substance use disorder and homelessness, it was encouraging to see Josh join the Kenney administration as a spokesperson for the Office of Homeless Services.

Josh deserved to write the ending of his personal story. As with all homicides, we will be in close contact with the Philadelphia police as they work to identify the person or persons responsible so that they can be held to account in a court of law. I extend my deepest condolences to Josh’s loved ones and to all those mourning this loss.”

WHYY reported Kruger had written extensively with bylines in multiple publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, WHYY, and Billy Penn.

CBS News reported that Kruger overcame homelessness and addiction to work for five years in city government, handling Mayor Jim Kenney’s social media and serving as the communications director for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.

He left city government in 2021 to return to journalism, according to his website.

“He was more than just a journalist,” Kendall Stephens, who was a friend and neighbor of Kruger’s, told CBS News. “He was more than just a community member. He was somebody that fought that great fight so many of us are not able to fight that fight because we’re too busy sheltered in our own homes wondering if someone is going to knock down our doors and kill us the same way they killed him. The same way they tried to kill me. And we’re tired of it.”   

Kenney said in a statement that he is “shocked and saddened” by Kruger’s death.

“He cared deeply about our city and its residents, which was evident in his public service and writing. Our administration was fortunate to call him a colleague, and our prayers are with everyone who knew him.”

The District Attorney’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee issued the following statement:

“Many of us knew Josh Kruger as a comrade who never stopped advocating for queer Philadelphians living on the margins of society. His struggles mirrored so many of ours — from community rejection, to homelessness, to addiction, to living with HIV, to poverty — and his recovery, survival, and successes showed what’s possible when politicians and elected leaders reject bigotry and work affirmatively to uplift all people. Even while Josh worked for the mayor, he never stopped speaking out against police violence, politicized attacks on trans and queer people, or the societal discarding of homeless and addicted Philadelphians.

We are devastated that Josh’s life was ended so violently. We urge anyone who has information that could lead to an arrest and prosecution for Josh’s murder to contact the Philadelphia Police or the DA’s Office directly. LGBTQ+ Philadelphians experience violence of all kinds every day; few people used their platforms to remind powerful people in government of that reality as effectively as Josh Kruger did. Josh and the communities he advocated for every day of his life deserve nothing less than justice and accountability for this outrageous crime.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017



(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs



The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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