The NYC Pride March has been canceled for the first time in its half-century history, along with all in-person events leading up to the annual June event, which draws millions of participants and revelers every year.
Heritage of Pride, the organization that runs the march, made the announcement Monday, shortly after New York Mayor Bill De Blasio announced the cancellation of permits for all large events for the month of June.
“This probably will not surprise you,” De Blasio said at a coronavirus briefing before announcing the cancellation of June’s Celebrate Israel, Puerto Rican Day and LGBTQ pride parades. The mayor promised these events would go on in some format “when it’s the right time.”
“This year is the 50th anniversary of the pride parade, and it’s a very, very big deal,” De Blasio said in Monday’s briefing. “That march is such an important part of life in this city, but this year in particular it was going to be something that was a historic moment.”
The first pride march, in June 1970, honored the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising the year before, which helped sparked the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Last year’s NYC Pride March on the 50th anniversary of the rebellion, #Stonewall50, drew an estimated 5 million people.
Instead of an in-person pride march this year, Heritage of Pride endorsed an effort led by InterPride, an international organization comprised of local, regional and national pride planning organizations, to hold a 24-hour virtual “Global Pride” event on June 27, to be broadcast around the world.
Ron deHarte, co-president of the United States Association of Prides and a member of the InterPride organizing committee, said “the plan is to have this 24-hour program that will be a worldwide celebration of pride.”
“It will peak in time zones around the world, and in each of those time zones, those regional pride organizations and those local pride organizations will be directly involved in that programming component,” deHarte said.
Cathy Renna, a representative of Heritage of Pride, suggested this year’s events might resemble something like televised New Year’s Eve celebrations, which cascade around the world’s time zones.
Prior to New York City’s announcement on Monday, a number of other major cities across the U.S. had already announced they were canceling or postponing their pride events: Los Angeles postponed, San Francisco canceled and Seattle said it would “go virtual.” The European Pride Organisers Association has been maintaining an open source online count of pride events around the world that have either been canceled or postponed due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
As households across the United States start to receive their 2020 census packets, LGBTQ advocacy groups are ramping up efforts to ensure lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people living in the country are counted and understand what’s at stake when it comes to the decennial survey.
“We want LGBTQ folks to know that census data are used to allocate political power,” said Meghan Maury, policy director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, which runs the Queer the Census campaign. The drive, formed just before the 2010 census, works to raise LGBTQ awareness and participation in the population count.
The organization’s efforts are increasingly important as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the globe and upends the daily lives of people across the U.S. and beyond. This public health crisis has complicated the Census Bureau’s plans to deliver by year-end an accurate count of every person living in the country.
The 2020 census asks respondents about their relationship to the person with whom they share their home, and now includes “‘opposite-sex husband/wife/spouse,” “same-sex husband/wife/spouse,” “opposite-sex unmarried partner” and “same-sex unmarried partner.” In previous surveys, the options were “husband and wife” or “unmarried partner.”
According to NBC News’ reporting from 2017, LGBTQ advocates pushed to add an explicit question about sexual orientation and gender identity, and they briefly rejoiced when a draft of the census was leaked in 2017 showing such a question. But soon after, the Census Bureau issued a statement saying that the question had been a “mistake.”
Even so, the LGBTQ data the 2020 census does collect will be useful, according to advocacy groups. Knowledge about the “number of same-sex couples that are raising kids, the geography of where same-sex couples live, and the race and ethnicity of people in same-sex couples” will all help policymakers better understand at least the cohabiting part of the LGBTQ community, Queer the Census said in a statement.
What’s at stake?
Census data is used to help allocate more than $675 billion in federal funding each year on everything from infrastructure to job training services, according to the Census Bureau. The data also helps determine a community’s emergency readiness needs and how many seats each state has in the House of Representatives.
This information is also used to disburse funds for programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid and public housing, all of which Maury said “LGBTQ people are disproportionately likely to use.”
Maury said one of her organization’s biggest efforts revolves around educating LGBTQ people about the census. She said at-risk communities — including LGBTQ people, people of color, immigrants, those experiencing homelessness and people with low incomes — are “overwhelmingly undercounted in the census.”
The National LGBTQ Task Force has found that not only are at-risk communities undercounted, but also “privileged” and wealthy people are overcounted, which “reinforce[s] systems of power and oppression in this country.”
Where can I fill out the 2020 census?
All home addresses in the U.S. should soon receive a packet that contains a private code, which can be used to fill out the survey online at my2020census.gov. Those who are unable to fill out the questionnaire online, which the Census Bureau says will take 10 minutes on average, can request a paper questionnaire.
Households that do not fill out the census as required by law will be visited by an in-person census taker. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, the Census Bureau is delaying certain aspects of its survey collection and counting process. While online and mail collections are proceeding normally, census takers won’t go out into the field until May to knock on doors of homes whose residents haven’t yet filled out the survey. And the deadline for counting everyone in the U.S. has been delayed by two weeks, moving from the end of July to mid-August.
Data from the 2020 census is expected to be available to the public beginning in December 2021.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans came out in disproportionately high numbers to vote in their states’ Democratic primaries this year, and they skewed younger and more liberal than non-LGBT Democratic primary voters, according to a review of the NBC News Exit Poll conducted in 18 of the states that have voted so far.
While former Vice President Joe Biden has won the most delegates so far, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has been the clear favorite among LGBT Democratic primary voters. Sanders was the pick of 41 percent of these voters, with Biden at 21 percent. The rest of the vote was split among candidates who have suspended their campaigns: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., with 19 percent; former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg with 8 percent; former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 7 percent; and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., with 1 percent.
Asked to choose one of four “candidate qualities,” 36 percent of LGBT Democratic primary voters said they wanted someone who “can bring change”; 27 percent said someone who “can unite the country”; 26 percent said someone who “cares about people like me”; and 8 percent said “a fighter.”
(Editor’s note: The NBC News exit poll covers Alabama, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, and does not include data from the Iowa and Nevada caucuses.)
Young and liberal
Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the LGBT Democratic primary voters were 44 or younger, versus one-third (33 percent) of their non-LGBT counterparts. And 79 percent of LGBT Democratic primary voters identify as “liberal,” while just 21 percent say they are “moderate” or “conservative.” For non-LGBT Democratic primary voters, those numbers are 60 percent and 40 percent, respectively.
LGBT Democratic primary voters are also on board with “Medicare for All”: Seventy-two percent support replacing all private insurance with government insurance, versus 24 percent who oppose it.
More LGBT Democratic primary voters identify as liberal (79 percent) than as Democrats (63 percent), suggesting that a portion of the 36 percent of LGBT voters who say they are independent consider themselves to be further left than the Democratic Party.
“Even as society moves toward more legal recognition, more acceptance, more tolerance and therefore more assimilation of the LGBT population, it’s interesting — and these data certainly back it up — to see that they remain such a distinctively progressive group,” said Patrick Egan, an NYU political science professor who also serves as an elections analyst for the NBC News Exit Poll.
“After gay marriage happened, a lot of activists were wringing their hands saying, ‘Gay people are going to become conservatives now that they can get married,’ and we are just not seeing that in the data,” he continued.
‘Angry’ about Trump
The NBC News Exit Poll found LGBT Democratic primary voters were largely dissatisfied with President Donald Trump: Eighty-three percent said their feelings were best described as “angry,” and 13 percent said “dissatisfied.” Just 4 percent of these voters said their feelings toward the Trump administration were best described as “satisfied” or “enthusiastic.”
In the 2016 election, the NBC News Exit Poll found that 78 percent of LGBT voters chose Hillary Clinton, while 14 percent chose Trump.
‘The progressive vanguard’
Estimates by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law show there are 9 million LGBTQ Americans registered to vote in the 2020 election. Approximately half of them are registered Democrats, 15 percent are Republicans, 22 percent are independents and 13 percent are unsure.
Across swing states like Arizona and Florida, where LGBT people make up an estimated 4.5 and 4.6 percent of the population, respectively, these millions of voters could have a decisive impact in favor of a Democratic candidate in a close election. In the states that pushed Trump to an electoral college victory in 2016, the winning vote margins were far less than each state’s estimated LGBT population.
Just over a year after launching his historic campaign for the White House, Pete Buttigieg on Sunday announced the suspension of his presidential campaign, saying that the best way to advance his campaign’s goal of defeating Donald Trump “is to step aside and help bring our party and our country together.”
“By every historical measure, we were never supposed to get anywhere at all,” the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor said to a cheering crowd of supporters Sunday night, before turning to the still-unseen impact of his historic candidacy.
“We send a message to every kid out there wondering if whatever marks them out as different means they are somehow destined to be less than,” Buttigieg said. “To see that someone who once felt that exact same way can become a leading American presidential candidate with his husband by his side.”
For many LGBTQ advocates, Buttigieg’s run served as a historical counterpoint to the notion that Americans would never vote for a gay president — and a sign that many more LGBTQ candidates would seek elected office.
Roberta Kaplan, the attorney who defended lesbian widow Edie Windsor in United States v. Windsor, the landmark Supreme Court case that gutted the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, found that there was much to marvel at in Buttigieg’s run.
“If you had asked me after we won the Windsor case seven years ago whether I thought an openly [gay] candidate could credibly run for president in 2020, I would have said you were nuts,” Kaplan tweeted.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of national LGBTQQ advocacy group GLAAD, said Buttigieg’s historic campaign “showed the world that Americans are ready to accept and embrace qualified LGBTQ public leaders.”
“His candidacy came after decades of LGBTQ Americans fighting to be heard, be visible, and have a place in the American experience,” Ellis said. “Pete’s success will no doubt lead to more LGBTQ candidates in political races large and small.”
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ rights group, praised Buttigieg for a run that centered around “his ideas, not his sexual orientation.”
“History will remember him for never backing down from a fight and never settling for less,” David said.
Tim Miller, a gay former Republican who was “shocked” by Pete’s improbable run, said he was “sad to see him go.”
“I hear from a lot of closeted young gays, I presume because I’m a visible Republican-type, and his campaign really had an impact on them,” Miller told NBC News.
“I think it also shows that we aren’t all the way there,” Miller continued. “Had Pete been straight or older, we may have seen more of the consolidation around him after Iowa that Biden is getting today.”
An NBC News THINK op-ed by Joe Cabosky, a journalism professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, argued that polls showing 76 percent of Americans open to voting for a gay president were in fact a sign of Buttigieg’s uphill battle: He couldn’t earn the votes of 24 percent of Americans just because of his sexuality.
For former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, now the president and CEO of the Victory Fund, an LGBTQ organization dedicated to training and electing LGBTQ political candidates, Buttigieg’s strong run for president marked a high point in the organization’s political activism and a “revolution” in American politics.
“We do not do policy, we do not do allies — we only support LGBTQ individuals,” Parker said Monday.
And even then, Victory does not endorse just any LGBTQ office seeker. The candidate has to have a path to victory. Buttigieg, the first viable LGBTQ presidential candidate, was Victory’s first-ever presidential endorsement.
“We didn’t endorse Pete when he put his exploratory committee together, we didn’t endorse Pete when he formally entered the race,” Parker said. “We didn’t endorse Pete until six months after he started down this path, and by then he had demonstrated over and over again his viability.”
For Victory Fund’s “back bench” — candidates or elected officials in lower offices or those who seek to run for office one day — there has been a noticeable “Pete effect,” Parker said.
“When our candidates see that, they think, ‘He can do it, I can do it, too,'” she said.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat, made history last week when he became the first governor in the state to appear at a rally for the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign, upholding a campaign promise to support LGBTQ rights.
Each year since 1999, when Kentucky’s first-ever nondiscrimination ordinances were passed into law by the city councils of Louisville and Lexington, the Fairness Campaign has lobbied lawmakers to make such discrimination illegal statewide.
While Beshear’s presence at the rally made headlines, it was a photo of him with local chapters of the activist drag troupe the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence that launched a separate scandal that has ensnared a conservative Kentucky lawmaker with a history of making controversial remarks.
Speaking at a political event this week, Republican Sen. Phillip Wheeler pulled out his cell phone and showed his constituents the image of the governor with the drag queens.
“This is what our Democrat governor is about today,” Wheeler said, forebodingly. “These are the values that the Democratic party of today is out there trying to convince our children’s the right way to live.”
“I would have never thought that there’d be a day where we’d have people dressed in devil horns celebrating with our governor in our beautiful capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky,” Wheeler continued, saying governor Beshear “celebrates it being defiled.”
But Beshear had no apologies, and instead defended both the drag queens and his appearance in the photo.
“Everyone in Kentucky counts,” Beshear said, according to local NBC affiliate WLWT. “I would absolutely take that picture again.”
Beshear called Wheeler’s comments “absolutely homophobic” and said he owes “an apology to every single person in that picture,” adding, “I think he should do it personally.”
Local Democrats are now calling for Wheeler to resign.
“It’s time for Phillip Wheeler to go,” said Marisa McNee, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Democratic Party, calling his remarks “gross and dangerous.”
“If Senator Wheeler does not resign, the Senate must censure him immediately,” McNee added, noting Wheeler had recently been caught in a scandal for using a slur to describe Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
For his part, Wheeler said he would not resign and objected to what he described as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence mocking “traditional religion.”
“I think it’s being presented as an LGBTQ issue, and in my opinion, it’s not an LGBTQ issue,” Wheeler told NBC’s Lexington affiliate. “It’s a question of decorum, and this particular group — the post with the governor — I mean, part of their agenda is to mock people of religion by using specific religious garb. Like, I think the one used a habit made out of a KFC bucket. One used devil horns.”
For the activist drag troupe, controversy like this is nothing new — it’s part of their DNA. And Shane Ranschaert, one of the drag activists in the Beshear photo, said the stir sparked by the image has been good for the group’s political goal of passing a statewide nondiscrimination law.
“We are continuously amazed at our governor, first at him coming out in support, and second coming out and defending taking that photo and going as far to say he would do it again,” he said.
Ranschaert added that the recent support they’ve gotten from state Democrats is “something we are still trying to fathom, because it’s not something we are accustomed to.”
“That same senator that made those comments has had to backtrack on those comments and say that he supports LGBT people and supports not discriminating against them,” Ranschaert said. “The [Republican] speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives says he supports fairness.”
“Because of that senator’s homophobic remarks, he added. “it’s making our senators and representatives take a position on this.”
More than 40 years after the now-national Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence was founded in San Francisco, Ranschaert said it’s nice to see their tactics are “still working.”
“We are still using the same campy attitude and the same campy ways to stir up controversy and to get people thinking” he said.
Swiss voters on Sunday approved a referendum to ban anti-gay discrimination in a landslide, 63 percent to 37 percent, reaffirming an antidiscrimination law approved by the Swiss Federal Assembly in 2018.
The reaffirmed law makes it illegal to publicly denigrate, discriminate or stir up hatred based on a person’s sexual orientation. The 2018 bill was an expansion of a law passed in 1995 that banned denigration, discrimination and hate speech on the basis of race and religion with potential fines and prison sentences for violations. The new law does not ban gender identity discrimination.
Only three of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, or states, had majorities vote against the public referendum on Sunday, which was forced after opponents of the 2018 antidiscrimination law gathered enough signatures to force a public vote on the issue.
“After the clear ‘Yes,’ the LGBTI community will use this momentum to push for the equal application of the law and enforce marriage equality for everyone,” Pink Cross, a Swiss advocacy group said in a statement posted in German. Same-sex civil unions have been legal in Switzerland since 2007, and a bill to legalize same-sex marriage for all is pending in the Swiss Pariament and could see passage this year.
Pink Cross also called for better recording of hate crime statistics, and for an overhaul of what it called the “bureaucratic effort” required to change gender on official documents for transgender and intersex Swiss people — “the part of the LGBTI community that cannot benefit from today’s yes,” the group wrote.
The BBC reported that some of the country’s right-wing political parties and evangelical Christian groups opposed the measure. The country’s largest parliamentary party, the far-right Swiss People’s Party, opposed the antidiscrimination law, saying it would silence “unwelcome opinions and voices.”
Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter, a member of the seven-person Federal Council that serves as Switzerland’s executive branch, said voters “are saying unmistakably that hatred and discrimination have no place in our free Switzerland.”
“Freedom of expression remains guaranteed,” she said, noting that courts have been “restrained” in their application of the existing law and “anyone who remains respectful need have no fear of being convicted.”
Transgender individuals who received puberty blockers during adolescence have a lower risk of suicidal thoughts as adults than those who wanted the medication but could not access them, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Pediatrics.
“These results align with past literature, suggesting that pubertal suppression for transgender adolescents who want this treatment is associated with favorable mental health outcomes,” the study states.
The finding suggests that a major — and politically controversial — aspect of transgender health care for minors could help reduce the trans community’s disproportionate risk of suicide.
“Puberty blockers” are a type of reversible medication injection or implant that pause puberty. These drugs are prescribed to children who experience early onset puberty and for transgender youth experiencing gender dysphoria. Natural puberty resumes when the injection wears off or the implant is removed.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Jack Turban, a resident psychiatrist at the Harvard Medical School, said the findings add to the “growing evidence base suggesting that gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth is associated with superior mental health outcomes in adulthood.”
The study surveyed 20,619 transgender people and found that 90 percent of trans adults who wanted, but could not access, puberty blockers experienced suicidal thoughts. For transgender adults who had been able to access puberty blockers, it was a significantly lower 75 percent.
Less than 3 percent of trans adults who say they wanted puberty suppression during adolescence actually received it — showing how hard it has been, historically, to access this particular treatment for gender dysphoria.
The study also found that a minority of trans adults — 17 percent — say they ever wanted puberty blockers, suggesting that not all trans youths will seek this particular type of treatment.
For decades, doctors who treat transgender children have argued that an affirming, supportive gender transition is the best way to help trans people thrive and survive. Norman Spack, the Boston pediatric endocrinologist who in 1998 pioneered the use of puberty blockers in the treatment of gender dysphoria, said doing so can “save lives.”
But as the use of puberty blockers in trans kids has became more mainstream — thanks to endorsementS from major medical associations such as the Endocrine Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics — backlash has grown in Republican-dominated legislatures across the country.
Even as medical professionals have publicly argued that puberty blockers are safe, reversible and likely to help reduce gender dysphoria in transgender kids, conservative lawmakers in states such as South Dakota, Georgia and Kentucky are moving forward with efforts to criminalize the provision of transition-related health care, including puberty blockers, to trans minors.
In these states, the proposed bans on the prescription of puberty blockers would only apply to transgender children. In cisgenderchildren who are prescribed puberty blockers to treat early onset puberty, these bills would not restrict their use.
“Transgender people, our families and our doctors are begging legislators to follow the science when crafting policy that could alter the very path of our lives,” said Gillian Branstetter, a transgender advocate and press officer at the National Women’s Law Center. “Transition-related care is only controversial among people who know nothing about it, and lawmakers must treat the suicide risks faced by transgender youth as the public health crisis it is.”
For some, “queer” is a loaded word — a negative epithet from a less accepting time that was hurled at anyone perceived to be gay. But for others, particularly younger LGBTQ people, it is a reclaimed term and a less restrictive self-identifier.
While the word’s use — and its 21st century reclamation — has been mostly anecdotal up to this point, a new report from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law has put scientific data behind the population of queer-identified people in the United States. According to its findings, nearly 6 percent of sexual minorities identify as queer, while 47 percent identify as lesbian or gay, just over 40 percent identify as bisexual and about 7 percent identify as “other.”
“We find in this study that queer individuals make up a sizable proportion of sexual minorities, who are distinct in a number of important ways from other sexual minority people, both in terms of demographic characteristics and sexuality, and across gender identity,” said lead author Shoshana K. Goldberg, a research consultant at the Williams Institute and an assistant professor focusing on LGBTQ health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Diving deeper into the data, the most striking demographic characteristic of the self-identified queer community comes into focus: age. Ninety-eight percent of queer people are ages 18 to 44, with the vast majority (76 percent) ages 18 to 25, or Generation Z. The study found that just 2 percent of queer-identified people are ages 52 to 59, the oldest age cohort in the study.
The vast majority of queer-identifying people, according to the report’s findings, were assigned female at birth (83 percent), with over half identifying as cisgender women. Queer respondents were also significantly more likely than lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents to identify as “genderqueer/nonbinary.”
Queer respondents also reported significantly higher education levels than lesbians and gay men and were less likely to be living in poverty than other sexual minorities. They were also more likely to report being attracted to transgender people, and transgender men in particular.
Eighty-five percent of cisgender queer women report being attracted to both men and women, and two-thirds of them say they’re attracted to both cisgender and trans people. Roughly half of cisgender queer men report being attracted to both men and women, and 72 percent report attraction to both cisgender and trans men.
“Queer identity seems to represent greater openness to partners of all gender identities,” said study author Ilan H. Meyer, a public policy researcher at the Williams Institute. “Some young people may perceive it as an identity that is more fluid than ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay.'”
Robyn Ochs, a bisexual activist and campus speaker and editor of Bi Women Quarterly, said she is “not surprised at all” by the survey’s results, since she sees the trend among young people in her work as a campus speaker.
“We come to our identities for strong personal reasons, and it’s my belief that if we took the entire LGBTQ+ community and locked us in a room and told us we can’t come out until we reached consensus, we would spend the rest of our lives in that room,” she said.
Ochs said that coming out as bisexual still elicits negative responses, even today, for a variety of reasons, including an assumption from other non-straight people that bisexuals benefit from heterosexual privilege. Ochs said she added the word “queer” to her identity in the 1990s and recently added “pansexual,” too.
“I see those three different words almost as describing: Is something blue, or is it turquoise or is it azure?” Ochs said. “I think that they are all overlapping terms; they can overlap comfortably.”
While the Williams Institute report asked respondents to choose their current sexual identity label, many sexual minorities, like Ochs, use multiple, overlapping identifiers at the same time.
Journalist Trish Bendix said she identifies as “a lesbian, a dyke and a queer woman.” She said “queerness feels more all-encompassing,” noting that some corners of the lesbian community are not inclusive of women who are attracted to trans, nonbinary and genderqueer people.
“This is why, although many women who may technically be lesbian-aligned will choose ‘queer’ as their identifier — to set themselves apart from what they see as a closed community,” Bendix said.
For others, “queer” is a catchall term that doesn’t force someone into a restricting box.
Gillian Branstetter, a writer and transgender advocate, said self-identifying as queer “can be a very liberating way to identify precisely because it’s so vague.”
“It allows each person to create their definition for it free of expectations or judgment,” she said.
Seven Republican lawmakers in Florida filed anti-LGBTQ bills late Monday, just hours before the deadline to file new bills for the coming legislative session.
If passed, the bills would ban gender-affirming health care for transgender children, repeal municipal and county ordinances protecting LGBTQ workers, and legalize so-called gay conversion therapy in places that had banned the medically debunked practice.
The state lawmakers — Rep. Anthony Sabatini, Sen. Dennis Baxley, Rep. Bob Rommel, Sen. Joe Gruters, Rep Michael Grant, Sen. Keith Perry, and Rep. Byron Donalds — together introduced the four pieces of legislation, each with a companion bill in the House and the Senate.
Rep. Shevrin Jones, one of Florida’s openly LGBTQ lawmakers, said in a statement that it is “shameful that Republican lawmakers are wasting tax dollars attacking Florida’s most vulnerable communities rather than prioritizing the issues that impact everyday people’s lives.”
“Clearly they’ve decided that discrimination and hate are central to their election-year platform despite our state’s incredible diversity,” Jones wrote. “Just as I’ve done since I was elected in 2012, I will continue to fight any legislation that marginalizes or threatens any Floridian’s shot at a secure, safe, and bright quality of life.”
Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBTQ rights group, also decried the late-session bill dump.
“This is the most overtly anti-LGBTQ agenda from the Florida Legislature in recent memory,” Jon Harris Maurer, the group’s public policy director, said in a press release. “It runs the gamut from openly hostile legislation that would arrest and imprison doctors for providing medically necessary care, to legislation that would carelessly erase critical local LGBTQ protections.”
Gina Duncan, Equality Florida’s director of transgender equality, called out the proposed trans health bill, saying, “Transgender youth are some of the most at risk in our community.”
“It is outrageous that conservative legislators would threaten their health and safety,” she said in a statement. “Medical professionals, not politicians, should decide what medical care is in the best interest of a patient. Forcing a doctor to deny best practice medical care and deny support to transgender youth can be life-threatening.”
NBC News reached out to the legislators behind the bills but did not receive any responses before press time. After initial publication, however, Sen. Gruters responded saying his Senate bill — unlike its companion in the House — “includes protections” in the preamble by stating that “nothing in this act is intended to alter” local policies prohibiting employment discrimination.
“The bill certainly does not authorize an employer to discriminate against employees who are members of protected classes, whether protected by federal or state law or local ordinance,” Sen. Gruters told NBC News in an email. “While I do not believe the bill has any impact on local anti-discrimination ordinances, in an abundance of caution, I included language in the bill’s preamble to make clear that the preemption would not affect local anti-discrimination laws, and any court would interpret the preemption consistent with that preamble.”
However, Joe Saunders, Equality Florida’s senior political director, said the preamble is just the bill’s introduction and is not considered part of the law.
“We appreciate that Sen. Gruters put that in,” Saunders said, but “it’s not policy; it’s not considered part of the bill.”
Conservative Republicans across the country have lately moved to introduce bills that would criminalize the provision of medical care for transgender children — including treatments endorsed by all major medical organizations. Florida’s trans health care ban proposal joins a list of similar bills that have been filed in recent weeks by staunchly conservative lawmakers in Tennessee and Texas.
“Sadly, the medical care of transgender youth has been sensationalized and politicized,” Jack Turban, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, said. “Gender-affirming medical care for transgender adolescents is endorsed by major medical organizations, including the Endocrine Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. It should go without saying, but providing standard medical care should not be a felony.”
Stuart Kyle Duncan, a judge on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, issued an advisory opinion Wednesday that dismissed a transgender defendant’s chosen pronouns and the broader concept of gender identity, just less than two years after LGBTQ advocates warned that Duncan would not rule fairly if confirmed to the bench.
Kathrine Nicole Jett, a transgender woman who was known as Norman Varner when she pleaded guilty in 2012 to attempted receipt of child pornography, moved to have her conviction records updated to match her changed name, according to the decision. A lower court judge dismissed her motion because there was no “defect” in the original judgment paperwork, in that “Norman Varner” was her legal name when the documents were produced.
Jett’s appeal appeared before the 5th Circuit, where Duncan sits. In his majority opinion, Duncan vacated the lower court ruling that denied Jett’s appeal, saying the court lacked jurisdiction, but then he proceeded to mock Jett’s court motion that she be referred to using female pronouns and her new name.
Duncan refers to Jett only using “he” pronouns throughout and refers to her as a “gender-dysphoric” person, instead of as a transgender person.
“Federal courts sometimes choose to refer to gender-dysphoric parties by their preferred pronouns,” Duncan wrote, and “our court has gone both ways.”
In fact, the 5th Circuit has broadly respected the identities of transgender defendants for at least four decades. In 1980, the 5th Circuit wrote in Rush v. Parham that it would follow the “convention” in “medical literature” of referring to transgender people using their preferred pronouns.
In his argument against using Jett’s pronouns and name, Duncan cites eight cases from 1980 to 2014 in which the 5th Circuit referred to transgender people using their correct pronouns. He cites three cases in which the 5th Circuit did not, including edge cases, such as one in which a prisoner who once identified as a gay man had later come out as a transgender women.
“Congress has said nothing to prohibit courts from referring to litigants according to their biological sex, rather than according to their subjective gender identity,” Duncan correctly observes, noting that the “convention” is and continues to be a “courtesy.”
Duncan goes on to warn that respecting a transgender person’s gender in the same way courts respect a cisgender person’s gender “may unintentionally convey its tacit approval of the litigant’s underlying legal position.” He warns that respecting transgender people’s gender identities “may well turn out to be more complex than at first it might appear” because of a “galaxy” of genders, citing what he says is a “widely circulated” University of Wisconsin LGBTQ+ Resource Center guide to pronouns. (A Google reverse image search of the pronoun guide included in Duncan’s opinions returned no matches.)
Before his confirmation, LGBTQ advocates like Lambda Legal and Congressional Democrats decried Duncan’s nomination, saying he could not be trusted to rule fairly in cases regarding the LGBTQ community.
Indeed, Duncan was part of the legal team that represented the Gloucester County, Virginia, School Board in its case against Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school student who was unable to use the restroom that aligned with his gender identity.
“The idea that Mr. Duncan will cast aside his bigoted beliefs overnight, and miraculously transform into an impartial judge, is ludicrous and reckless,” Lambda Legal Executive Director Rachel Tiven said in 2018, before Duncan was confirmed.
Chase Strangio, a transgender advocate who is a staff attorney for the ACLU, said Duncan’s opinion Wednesday was “far outside the standard practice within the entire legal profession.”
Strangio said Duncan went “on this long advisory opinion about the legal implications of pronouns and the nature of sex discrimination and things that have nothing to do with the case or the question before it.”
“At this point, if the court lets this stand without, on its own, amending the opinion or rescinding it, then it ultimately makes the court look like a political body rather than a legal one,” Strangio said, adding that he thinks the 5th Circuit could vacate the opinion — “even just for the reason that this is just an extensive advisory opinion on all sorts of questions not before the court, which is way outside the bounds of what federal courts generally do.”
Judge James L. Dennis, whom President Bill Clinton appointed to the 5th Circuit Court, filed a blistering dissent that questioned Duncan’s authority to issue an “advisory opinion” — a judicial ruling addressing an issue not brought up before the court — and said “it is not necessary to use any pronoun” in adjudicating the appeal.
“As the majority notes, though no law compels granting or denying such a request, many courts and judges adhere to such requests out of respect for the litigant’s dignity,” Dennis wrote.
Dennis cites nine cases from 1993 to 2018 in which federal courts referred to transgender people by their gender identity.
“Ultimately, the majority creates a controversy where there is none,” Dennis wrote. “The majority then issues an advisory opinion on the way it would answer the hypothetical questions that only it has raised.”
“Such an advisory opinion is inappropriate, unnecessary, and beyond the purview of federal courts,” Dennis wrote, citing a precedential federal court ruling that stated “federal courts have never been empowered to issue advisory opinions.”
“The majority’s lengthy opinion is dictum and not binding precedent in this court,” Dennis wrote. “For these reasons, I respectfully but emphatically dissent.”