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School boards are the battlefield for LGBTQ+ Rights

Progressive university student activist says struggle is closer to home than you may realize

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Moms For Liberty national summit in Philadelphia on June 30, 2023. (Screen capture via NBC News)

Queer people are under attack across the United States, whether it be through legislation which strips the LGBTQ+ community of hard fought protections and rights, attempts to censor queer literature and media, or outright violence against the community.

Many have rightly laid the blame for this spike in anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment on demagoguery spewed from leading conservative figures such as Governor Ron DeSantis. However, decidedly less attention has been paid to the role local school boards have played in facilitating grotesque bigotry within the public school system.

School boards and the school districts they oversee, like most municipal authorities, have generally been regarded as an afterthought by larger allied electoral organizations, which is reflected by the measly resources they have put into controlling them. This oversight has proven to be an immensely costly one, and to the detriment of queer and trans young people everywhere. 

Although some state governments are headed by rabid homophobes such as Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott, South Dakota Republican Governor Kristi Noem, and Florida’s Republican governor, all indeed responsible for enacting pieces of highly-publicized anti-queer legislation- it lies largely in the purview of school boards to both interpret and implement them.

The former of which is a particularly important power, given that the most harmful of the laws in question, such as DeSantis’ signature “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, were intentionally written vaguely as to empower conservative school districts to impose the most extreme application of the law possible. 

Over the past few years, far-right forces have successfully captured school districts across the country. Perhaps the most notorious of these forces is Moms For Liberty, which has distinguished itself not only as a dangerous hate group according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but also as the foremost vehicle for the propulsion of bigots into positions of power within educational institutions.

M4L channels large sums of unaccountable dark money to blanket cities with mailers and other advertisements rife with frantic misinformation, which is able to drown out any rebuttal from under-resourced opponents. After employing this dubious strategy during the 2023 election cycle, candidates backed by MFL or other like minded groups won a score of school board seats. Not only in places where you’d expect, but also in deep-blue communities in states as New Jersey, Maryland and even California.

In Florida, the hysterical culture war spun up by Republicans manifested into Moms For Liberty’s most decisive victory in the nation. Ron DeSantis himself joined MFL in bankrolling dozens of their handpicked goons. Out of sixty-seven endorsed candidates, forty-one were elected. As a result, DeSantis’ administration has worked in-tandem with nominally independent school districts to impose fervent anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry within the state’s public schools.

The battlefield for LGBTQ+ rights is closer to home than you may have thought

These victories represented a terrifying new reality in which systemic homophobia could perniciously expand to new extents. Many of the increasingly outrageous headlines surrounding new anti-LGBTQ+ regulations in schools can be attributed to far-right school board members that were swept into office upon a platform of explicitly anti-queer sentiment.

These rogue school boards, despite an outcry from the students they are charged with serving, have pushed onward with a radical agenda. Teachers who support LGBTQ+ students have found themselves doomed to non-renewal of their teaching contracts. Superintendents face pressure to throw marginalized students under the bus lest they too find themselves abruptly fired.

Furthermore, school boards have embraced transphobia by taking aim at transgender student athletes and their ability to use facilities which correspond to their gender. Perhaps most abhorrently, many school boards have considered mandating the Outing of vulnerable LGBTQ+ students to unaccepting parents, opening the door for abuse and abandonment. Beyond just LGBTQ+ issues, far right board members have pushed for arming teachers, disbanding student identity clubs, and other regressive measures that also pose an existential threat to public education in the United States.

Defeating the far right campaign to hijack our education is imperative, and it is possible. I should know, because I have done it. Flagler County, Florida where I grew up, is one of the epicenters of the culture war in the state.

For instance, our small town made headlines after a sitting school board member, supported by another, (both of which being M4L cheerleaders, natch) filed a police report against district library staff for offering literature which served queer students and students of color. In the Summer of 2022, some friends and I organized a campaign to replace these two members of our school board with true champions for issues students care about.

We spent our hot Summer days knocking on thousands of doors, registering our peers to vote, and sign-waving along busy intersections. We were outspent massively, by both Moms For Liberty and Ron DeSantis’ personal super PAC. We faced long political headwinds in a county which voted for DeSantis by over thirty-five points in the last general election. Despite all of those challenges, we successfully unseated both incumbents on election night, representing one of only a handful of school boards that did not shift to the right. 

Courtney Vandebunte, Alysa Vidal, Cameron Driggers and Jack Petocz gather on election night in Aug. 2022 after successfully unseating both anti-LGBTQ+ incumbents of the school board in Flagler County, Fla. (Photo Credit: ‘Recall Flagler County School Board’)

The kind of grassroots movement I experienced in my hometown is exactly what is needed across not only Florida, but the entire country. The likes of Moms for Liberty are well-funded by far-right dark money donors. But while they might have the money, young people have something far more important: energetic passion. That is to say, the fuel which empowers a scrappy band of high schoolers to spend their Summer changing hearts and minds to defy the odds.

With that said, providing resources to young people eager to take on far-right school boards in their own communities must be an urgent priority, because the battlefield for LGBTQ+ rights is closer to home than you may have thought.

Cameron Driggers is progressive student activist attending the University of Florida. As a highschooler, Cameron led state-wide campaigns to resist anti-queer measures, such as the Don’t Say Gay School Walkouts of 2022.

Presently, Cameron continues to advocate for empowerment of young people to make change as an Organizing Fellow for People Power For Florida.

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Pinto leads Council in working with Bowser to fight crime

We must not coddle young criminals or repeat offenders

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D.C. Councilmember Brooke Pinto (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The time has come for the D.C. Council to join with Mayor Bowser and pass her crime bill on a permanent basis. Councilmember Brooke Pinto worked to pass part of it in July as emergency legislation. We must accept residents are scared. Some for good reason; others because of hyped media reporting. But the spike in crime is real, though not evenly spread across the city. Most don’t know crime fell from 2021 to 2022. But it is here today, and we must do everything we can to stem it.

We can no longer coddle young criminals or repeat offenders. We can’t say if only we could deal with the root causes of crime things would be OK. While we must do that, work to provide better housing, enough food, better education, and family life, let’s also recognize most young people in our community, including those who deal with some of the same issues as the criminals, are not turning to crime. How they deal with the hardships they face, manage to go to school, and live productive lives, should be a focus so we learn from them. Recently the D.C. attorney general awarded the eighth annual Right Direction Awards. Thirty young people were saluted for overcoming significant challenges on their road to achievement. We need to share more of their stories. 

How do they manage to stay away from guns and drugs? What allows them to succeed? It’s time for the media in D.C. — the Washington Post, and TV and radio stations — to report more comprehensively on youth in the city. For every crime story reported, find a positive story to tell. There are clearly more positive stories out there. It requires more work than following the police blotter. Send reporters into schools, recreation centers, libraries, houses of worship, and they will find the good stories.  

I have long advocated for working with Congress to set up internships for D.C. students in every congressional office; 535 kids a year would get experience, good connections, and a resume boost. If we are serious about this, and have a focus on our youth beyond those who commit crimes, everyone will benefit.  

Council Judiciary Committee Chair Brooke Pinto introduced several bills including the The Active Act. This legislation would further beef up penalties for gun crimes, creating a new offense for illegal disposal of a gun or ammunition while a person is fleeing police. Then increasing penalties for endangerment with a firearm and firing many bullets at once. At the same time, she looks to expand alternatives to incarceration, creating a task force to examine possibilities for diversion programs to avoid jail time for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses such as drug possession. The Active Act also creates more hurdles for pretrial release in cases involving people charged with violent or dangerous offenses. It would require judges to issue written explanations if they decide to release before trial a person charged with committing a violent offense.  

In response to the LGBTQ community, Pinto with Council members Christina Henderson, Robert White, Charles Allen, Vincent Gray, Matt Frumin, Janeese Lewis George, and Anita Bonds, introduced the “Transgender and Gender-Diverse Mortality and Fatality Review Committee Establishment Act of 2023.” Pinto wrote, “Although data are limited, some studies suggest transgender people are “twice as likely to die as cisgender people” due to “heart disease, lung cancer, HIV-related illness and suicide,” with trans women being “two times as likely to die” compared to cis men and “three times as likely” compared to cis women being disproportionately vulnerable to the aforementioned risks, as well as to violence and murder, with one in four trans women likely to be victimized by a hate-related crime.” It is anticipated the information from this committee will contribute important data and analysis, and provide important resources, for the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention and for transgender and gender-diverse people across the country informing future strategies and interventions to drive down the disparate outcomes we are currently seeing. 

We must ensure the legal system is not a revolving door. That crimes committed with guns are punished seriously, and young people who commit violent crimes can be held without bail if they are ongoing serious threats to the community. Clearly, going easier on violent criminals is not working the way some hoped it would. Again, simply saying we will deal with it by getting to the root of crime will not deal with the crime we have today. It should happen, and will have an impact, but not right away, and we need to reduce crime today.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Is anyone else sick of Cassidy Hutchinson?

Trump loyalist feted by mainstream media after belated change of heart

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Cassidy Hutchinson (Screen capture via USA Today YouTube)

Cassidy Hutchinson, the former Trump loyalist who belatedly turned on her boss, the man she “adored,” is this week’s mainstream media obsession, turning up multiple times on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, “The View,” and seemingly everywhere else. The only person getting more airtime this week is Taylor Swift, after urgent news broke that she’s dating an NFL player. (The “Today” show led twice with that very important story this week.)

For sure, Hutchinson’s testimony before the Jan. 6 committee in front of 13 million viewers took courage, given how many Trump supporters are inclined to violence against his critics. 

But Hutchinson remained loyal to Trump even after the Jan. 6 insurrection and planned to move to Florida for a job with him after he left the White House on Jan. 20. She initially took the advice of Trump’s attorneys to claim she didn’t recall the events leading up to the attack on the Capitol.

Some of us saw Trump for what he is back in 2015: a racist criminal and pathological liar, an ‘80s has-been and washed-up reality show host in orange makeup and a bad wig.

Where’s our party? 

Easily duped people like Hutchinson helped elect Trump and then supported him throughout all the too-numerous-to-mention scandals — mocking the disabled, insulting a Gold Star family, ridiculing war heroes, siding with Neo Nazis in Charlottesville, and on and on. Not to mention a botched response to a pandemic that killed more than one million Americans. Trump refused to wear a mask (we recently learned because it smeared his extensive makeup) and poked fun at Joe Biden for wearing one. 

Most of Trump’s die hard supporters jumped ship after Jan. 6, but not Cassidy Hutchinson. She even told Mark Meadows that she would “take a bullet” for Trump. She told “The View” that it was a “difficult moment” to watch former White House staffers denounce Trump after Jan. 6, due to her blind loyalty to him. She resisted her own mother’s pleas to abandon Trump and not move to Florida with him. She blamed Trump’s advisers for his bad decisions.

It all smacks of brainwashing. Anyone who is so weak willed that they are easily manipulated by the “charms” of Donald Trump has no business anywhere near the White House. Hutchinson has demonstrated not just bad judgement, but disastrous judgement. 

And now that she has a book to peddle, the mainstream media predictably line up to sing her praises and she spills all sorts of tea, from Rudy Giuliani allegedly sexually assaulting her to Mark Meadows burning White House documents in his office fireplace. She didn’t follow the parade of staffers who quit after Jan. 6 and she didn’t report Meadows for allegedly destroying government property. And now we’re supposed to shell out $30 for her vapid book about finally seeing the light, long after the rest of the world had figured out Trump for the incorrigible threat to democracy that he represents. 

Hutchinson deserves our gratitude for her Jan. 6 committee testimony. But nothing more. And the mainstream media have got to stop their practice of reckless revisionist history and praising the undeserving.

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Speaker Kevin McUseless calls for Biden impeachment inquiry

Stunt will backfire on Republicans in 2024

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Congress has joined the world of the insane with Republicans calling to impeach any Democrat they disagree with. It is happening in Wisconsin to the new Supreme Court justice, and now lily-livered Kevin McUseless, facing threats from his MAGA members, announced an impeachment inquiry of President Biden.  

He could name no reason, and in fact during the nine months of Republicans investigating Biden, they have found none. Two weeks ago, he said he wouldn’t do this without a vote of the House, but moderate Republicans rightly figure this will all backfire on them, so wouldn’t agree to vote for it. Meanwhile the country is waiting for House Republicans to do their job and pass a budget, which they are unable to do. The result could close the government again. That will also backfire on them, as it will hurt so many people. 

So, what better time for Democrats, thinking independents, and any sane Republican left, those willing to put the country above their own party, and in the case of Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), even their own reelections, to just vote all these Republican clowns out of office? 

Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.), who will lead the inquiry on Biden, has for the nine previous months come up with zilch — nothing meriting impeachment or even further investigation. The IRS whistleblowers’ testimony he touted was contradicted by the FBI in sworn testimony. But then it isn’t Comer asking for this impeachment inquiry, it is Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, and the MAGAs holding McUseless hostage. Those two should be arrested for criminal behavior, charged with being an embarrassment to the country. They are joined by the likes of Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), recently thrown out of a Denver theater for groping her boyfriend, vaping, taking pictures, and recording a show, Beetlejuice. This is today’s Republican Party. 

Clearly, most elected Republicans are not willing to stand up to these jokers; all afraid of the Trump cult, aka the Republican Party. They are being threatened with a primary by Trump if they do. They would lose the primary, part of the reason Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) just announced he would not run again. The Trump cult controls roughly 35% of the party and you can’t win without them. But Trump-supported primary winners have shown they lose general elections. 

I am more confident than some in a Trump/Biden replay, Biden will win by 10 million votes this time, but not get one more electoral vote. It will again be about seven or eight states. If Republicans go ahead with this impeachment Democrats will win in 2024.

As to Hunter Biden, he should be punished for anything he did wrong, like any private citizen; whether it is not paying his taxes or lying on a gun permit application. President Biden should stop inviting Hunter to the White House, and curtail his public embrace of his son. It hasn’t helped his son, and is clearly not helping his own campaign, or for that matter any other Democrat. What he does in private is his business. The president has two homes, one in Wilmington, and one in Rehoboth Beach, where he can meet with, and entertain his son. I think the president owes that to the people he is asking to support him. He owes it to the party to not put himself in positions his opponents can take advantage of. 

Joe Biden has been a public servant since he was 28 years old, starting on the New Castle County Council, in Delaware, in 1970. He ran and won his Senate seat in 1972. He has never been accused of any impropriety until the Republicans decided they could make unfounded accusations for political gain. He has shown himself a decent and honest man. A man with empathy for those less fortunate; and a president with one of the most successful administrations in modern times. 

So McUseless, do your worst. Bend over for the MAGAs and get screwed. Hope it hurts. You have no balls as depicted in a recent funny meme where Barbie is shown on her knees in front of Ken, saying she finally understood; McUseless was the model for Ken. 

The country will survive McUseless and the congressional Trump cult and be stronger for it. The decent people of the country will end up winning and McUseless, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and their cronies, will be relegated to the dustbin of history with nary an asterisk to their names. If there is an asterisk it will read that they were useless, venal, and screwed up.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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