Former Vice President Mike Pence is stepping up his outreach in Iowa ahead of a possible 2024 presidential campaign by rallying conservatives against transgender-affirming policies in schools, like one adopted in an eastern Iowa district last year.
The effort by Advancing American Freedom, a group formed by Pence in 2021 and financed by his supporters, will include digital ads, rallies, canvassing and perhaps radio and television spots. It comes as a federal court in Minnesota is scheduled next week to hear a case brought by a group representing parents of students in Linn-Mar Community School District outside Cedar Rapids.
“The strength of our nation is tied to the strength of our families, and we cannot stand idly by as the radical left attempts to indoctrinate our children behind parents’ backs,” Pence said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. “Advancing American Freedom will not rest until parental rights are restored in Iowa and across the nation.”
The Linn-Mar board last year adopted a policy allowing students to request a gender support plan to begin socially transitioning at school and without the permission of their parents. The group representing the parents is suing to overturn the policy.
The planned budget for the effort is more than $1 million, and the push is expected to last several months, said a Pence aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement later Thursday.
The moves by the outside group — separate from any potential Pence candidacy — comes as school policy, notably involving gender identification and sexual orientation, has become an early focus of 2024 Republican presidential prospects.
The issue is particularly relevant in Iowa, given both the court case and the Republican-controlled Legislature advancing legislation barring schools from supporting a student’s social change in gender identity.
Transgender youth in Florida will no longer be able to access gender-affirming treatment — even during clinical trials.
The Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine adopted new rules on Friday banning hormone replacement therapy and puberty blockers for minors.
Also, at a joint meeting of the boards, the Board of Osteopathic Medicine unanimously voided an exception that made it possible for young people to receive medical treatment when enrolled in studies conducted by state universities. This exception resulted from a contentious meeting last year when the two boards voted to have separate standards for different providers when providing gender-affirming medical treatment to minors. As a result, the rules of the two boards are now aligned.
In a Tallahassee hotel where the meeting was held, attendees shouted expletives leading to tense moments that prompted law enforcement officials to position themselves at the front of the room.
“Shame on the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathy for continuing this assault on the health of young people and the rights of their parents to seek the best care possible for their children,” Nikole Parker, director of transgender quality at Equality Florida, said in a statement. “This rule puts transgender youth at higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidality and strips parents of the right to make decisions about care for their kids.”
Supporters and advocates pleaded with doctors on the Florida Board of Medicine and the Board of Osteopathic Medicine to retain access to what many described as lifesaving care. One transgender man gave himself a hormone injection during his speaking period. Many spoke of feelings of suicidal ideation passing with access to gender-affirming care.
However, the board was unimpressed and voted in favor of the governor’s ban anyway.
“Those are the facts that have been purposely ignored by Boards of Medicine and Osteopathy stacked with DeSantis allies and campaign donors who have put their toxic politics over people’s health and wellbeing,” Parker said.
“Transgender Floridians exist. Transgender youth exist. Gender-affirming care is lifesaving care — and it is care that is supported by every major medical organization, an overwhelming majority of medical providers, and should be left to young people, their families, and their doctors; not politicians.”
A press conference was held beforehand to condemn the political moves of the Boards and the DeSantis Administration, which attracted more than 150 advocates for transgender and youth rights.
Transgender young people and families whose lives would be affected by the proposed rule spoke at the press event alongside legal experts, medical professionals, and community leaders.
Nearly 200 past and present contributors to The New York Times have signed on to a damning letter detailing what they say is the paper of record’s “editorial bias” in “reporting on transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people.” The letter follows months of what appears to be heightened criticism, born out of frustration over The Times’ reporting on transgender people.
Numerous, eye-opening examples of how the “Old Gray Lady,” as the paper is often called, positions and frames transgender people and the issues they and their families face are packed into the letter, which compares the paper’s coverage to “far-right hate groups.” Perhaps one of its most consequential call-outs is how The Times’ reporting is used by anti-LGBTQ state lawmakers and other officials to support anti-transgender legislation and policies.
“The natural destination of poor editorial judgment is the court of law. Last year, Arkansas’ attorney general filed an amicus brief in defense of Alabama’s Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, which would make it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, for any medical provider to administer certain gender-affirming medical care to a minor (including puberty blockers) that diverges from their sex assigned at birth,” it reads. “The brief cited three different New York Times articles to justify its support of the law: [Emily] Bazelon’s ‘The Battle Over Gender Therapy,’ Azeen Ghorayshi’s ‘Doctors Debate Whether Trans Teens Need Therapy Before Hormones,’ and Ross Douthat’s ‘How to Make Sense of the New L.G.B.T.Q. Culture War.’ As recently as February 8th, 2023, attorney David Begley’s invited testimony to the Nebraska state legislature in support of a similar bill approvingly cited the Times’ reporting and relied on its reputation as the ‘paper of record’ to justify criminalizing gender-affirming care.”
The letter also packs a punch, using The Times’ long history of anti-LGBTQ reporting, going back decades, to show a pattern and prove its point.
“In 1963, the New York Times published a front-page story with the title ‘Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern,’ which stated that homosexuals saw their own sexuality as ‘an inborn, incurable disease’—one that scientists, the Times announced, now thought could be ‘cured.’ The word ‘gay’ started making its way into the paper. Then, in 1975, the Times published an article by Clifford Jahr about a queer cruise (the kind on a boat) featuring a ‘sadomasochistic fashion show.’ On the urging of his shocked mother, Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger sent down the order: Stop covering these people.“
The letter closes with another unfortunate observation: “There is no rapt reporting on the thousands of parents who simply love and support their children, or on the hardworking professionals at the New York Times enduring a workplace made hostile by bias—a period of forbearance that ends today.”
Many voiced their criticism of The Times on social media platforms like Twitter, where GLAAD CEO and President Sarah Kate Ellis noted, “our youth, and our community broadly, can no longer wait for the Times to do the right thing. We need to see action now: stop printing anti-trans stories, meet with trans leaders, and hire trans journalists.”
“Misinformation about transgender people and issues isn’t just bad journalistic ethics, it is also dangerous and has real-world consequences,” she tweeted, adding, “irresponsible Times coverage contributes to the current anti-trans climate and gives cover to extremist politicians out to exploit and destroy trans lives.”
GLAAD has joined with over 100 organizations and leaders in publishing their own, similar letter to the paper, calling it “appalling that the Times would dedicate so many resources and pages to platforming the voices of extremist anti-LGBTQ activists who have built their careers on denigrating and dehumanizing LGBTQ people, especially transgender people.”
GLAAD, whose purpose is to work “through entertainment, news, and digital media to share stories from the LGBTQ community that accelerate acceptance,” detailed some of its efforts with The New York Times.
“Article after article, page after page, day after day, we have tried to educate you and your colleagues. We have sent emails, made calls, tried to help reporters source stories, and in one case, after more than four months of trying, some of us were even able to sit down and talk with you,” GLAAD says. “It is clear that our behind-the-scenes outreach has had zero impact. What has had impact, however, is your irresponsible coverage.”
“The Science Desk decided to spend more than a year undermining support for transgender youth by writing ‘just asking questions’ stories about medically approved best practices for gender-affirming healthcare,” GLAAD continues. “The Opinion editors gave noted cisgender heterosexual Pamela Paul space for her unfounded thoughts about how LGBTQ people should describe themselves, as if the Times could not find anyone with lived experience in the LGBTQ community to write about our issues. Then the Times boasted about hiring David French, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group that actively spreads misinformation about LGBTQ people and pushes baseless legislation and lawsuits to legalize discrimination.”
“We’re celebrating the fact this law has passed after eight years of tireless work to obtain rights for the trans community,” LGBTQ+ advocacy group FELGBTI+ head Uge Sangil told AFP outside parliament.
“We’re winning human rights with the free determination of gender.
“From today, our lives will change, because we are not ill,” Sangil continued.
It passed through the lower house of Spain’s parliament in late December following a vote of 188 to 150, despite the growing divide between Spain’s coalition government on the subject.
Maria Jesus Moro of the right-wing Popular Party, who opposes the law, claimed it was “too hasty” and had somehow “caused a lot of suffering”.
Spain is miles ahead of UK on trans rights
The vote comes following the divisive decision by the UK government to block a gender recognition reform passed by Scotland’s parliament.
The law would have made it easier for Scottish trans people to change gender markers on their ID and legal documents by minimising the wait time and minimum age.
The announcement by the government that it would invoke Section 35 to block gender reforms was met with overwhelming backlash, as well as renewed calls for Scottish independence.
“The Scottish government will defend the legislation and stand up for Scotland’s parliament,” she added.
“If this Westminster veto succeeds, it will be the first of many.”
Following the controversy, Westminster said it would block similar reforms proposed by Wales if they were to go forward.
An LGBTQ+ action plan by the Welsh government outlined a set of improvements that would help trans people obtain gender-recognition certificates.
But the concept was shut down before it had a chance to move forward, with a spokesperson of the UK government’s equalities office telling PinkNews that it would not budge on preventing further changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
“We share the concerns that others have set out with proposed reforms to the GRC application process, particularly around safety issues for women and children,” a spokesperson said.
“As a result of this, there are no plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act in England or Wales.”
A Christian campaign planning to air two Super Bowl ads to promote Jesus as a loving and accepting figure is reportedly affiliated with anti-LGBTQ+ causes.
The “He Gets Us” campaign, which is not affiliated with a specific church or denomination, has already been airing ads during NFL playoffs. One of the ads says “Jesus disagreed with loved ones. But didn’t disown them.”
Trying to connect him to the modern age, one ad also says Jesus was “an influencer who became insanely popular” but was then “canceled” because he “stood up for something he believed in.
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The ads are designed in such a way that viewers don’t know they are religious until the end.
“We simply want everyone to understand the authentic Jesus as he’s depicted in the Bible — the Jesus of radical forgiveness, compassion, and love,” states the website of the campaign.
And yet, He Gets Us is a subsidiary of the Servant Foundation, which, according toLever, has donated over $50 million to the anti-LGBTQ+ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom.
Alliance Defending Freedom identifies itself as a “legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, parental rights, and God’s design for marriage and family.” The Southern Poverty Law Center describes it as a hate group. ADF has joined with like-minded organizations in Europe in support of forced sterilization of transgender individuals and has represented numerous anti-LGBTQ+ plaintiffs in pivotal legal battles for LGBTQ+ rights. The organization has also been a large force behind the anti-abortion movement.
According toChristianity Today, the Super Bowl ads are part of a three-year, one billion-dollar campaign, with $20 million of that going toward its two-game day ads.
And according to Jason Vanderground, President of the branding firm Haven that is working on the campaign, “That is just the first phase.”
Among the donors to the campaign is billionaire David Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby.
In addition to being called out for its affiliation with the Alliance Defending Freedom, the ads have been criticized by some Christians as well, who say that encouraging people to identify with Jesus is not as important as promoting his divinity.
Missouri has launched a multi-agency investigation into a pediatric transgender center after a former case worker alleged children were being routinely prescribed puberty blockers or hormone therapy without “appropriate or accurate” mental health assessments, the state’s attorney general announced Thursday.
“We have received disturbing allegations that individuals at the Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital have been harming hundreds of children each year, including by using experimental drugs on them,” state Attorney General Andrew Bailey said in a statement. “We take this evidence seriously and are thoroughly investigating to make sure children are not harmed by individuals who may be more concerned with a radical social agenda than the health of children.” The investigation was launched two weeks ago after Jamie Reed, who worked as a case manager at the Transgender Center from 2018 to November 2022, alleged the center caused permanent harm to many of the patients being treated for gender dysphoria. The attorney general’s office, which said it had previously received a sworn affidavit and supporting documentation from Reed, confirmed the existence of the investigation Thursday after Reed went public that same day with her allegations in an op-ed published in The Free Press, a news website started by Bari Weiss, a former op-ed writer and editor at The New York Times. Reed concluded her op-ed by calling for a “moratorium on the hormonal and surgical treatment of young people with gender dysphoria.”
In a 23-page affidavit shared on the attorney general’s website, Reed alleged the staff repeatedly violated the center’s own treatment guidelines. She said the center required minors to meet four criteria — a minimum age, a therapist referral, parental consent and a clinical visit with an endocrinologist or an adolescent medicine specialist — before they could receive puberty blockers, which temporarily pause puberty, or hormone therapy, such as estrogen or testosterone. But she alleged the center’s staff would provide the medication “without complete informed parental consent and without an appropriate or accurate assessment of the needs of the child.”
Reed alleged in the affidavit that providers at the center prescribed hormone therapy to patients as young as 13, even though the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, a nonprofit professional association, recommended at the time that minors be at least 16 years old for such treatment. She also alleged providers at the center only used therapists they “knew would say yes” to a patient’s medical transition and that parents were “routinely pressured” into consenting to have their child receive transition-related care.
In her affidavit, Reed also alleged that doctors at the Transgender Center did not share information with patients and their parents about the possibility of sterility following hormone therapy, though, in her op-ed, she said patients were “told about some side effects, including sterility,” but that she “came to believe that teenagers are simply not capable of fully grasping what it means to make the decision to become infertile while still a minor.” She also said she witnessed minors experience “shocking injuries” from the medication, including one patient who experienced “severe atrophy of vaginal tissue” after receiving testosterone and had to have subsequent vaginal lacerations treated surgically.
Reed alleged she raised concerns to doctors at the center and university administrators for years and was discouraged from tracking adverse outcomes of patients, she stated in the affidavit. She wrote in her op-ed that her experience at the Transgender Center has led her to support a nationwide moratorium on gender-affirming care for young people due to “the secrecy and lack of rigorous standards that characterize youth gender transition across the country.”
Washington University in St. Louis, the parent institution of the Children’s Hospital,said in a statement shared on its websiteThursday that it is “alarmed by the allegations reported in the article published by The Free Press describing practices and behaviors the author says she witnessed while employed at the university’s Transgender Center.”
“We are taking this matter very seriously and have already begun the process of looking into the situation to ascertain the facts,” the statement said. “As always, our highest priority is the health and well-being of our patients. We are committed to providing compassionate, family-centered care to all of our patients and we hold our medical practitioners to the highest professional and ethical standards.”
The state’s Division of Professional Registration, one of the agencies assisting in the investigation, is looking into whether any licensed professionals at the Transgender Center are in violation of their respective licensing board’s policies, while the Department of Social Services will be investigating concerns surrounding fraud, waste or abuse in the state’s Medicaid program, according to the attorney general’s news release.
Missouri is one of at least 24 states that have introduced measures this year to prohibit gender-affirming care for minors. Five states — Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Arizona and Utah — have already placed restrictions on such care, though federal courts have blocked Alabama’s and Arkansas’ laws from taking effect pending the outcome of the litigation.
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s most recent Standards of Care guidance, which is used widely by clinicians who provide transition-related care, recommends that this type of care be provided to minors using a multidisciplinary team of medical experts in a variety of fields, including psychology and endocrinology. The group doesn’t recommend any medical intervention for children prior to puberty. Rather, it recommends that children socially transition, for example, by using a different name and pronouns or wearing a different hairstyle or clothing. Adolescents who begin the early stages of puberty — usually between 8 and 14 — may be eligible for puberty blockers, but the group recommends they meet a list of criteria, including receiving a comprehensive psychosocial assessment.
The group also recommends that older youths meet a list of criteria before beginning hormone therapy. For example, the standards say adolescents have to demonstrate the emotional and cognitive maturity required to provide informed consent for treatment, the adolescent’s other mental health concerns should be addressed, and the adolescent and the parents or guardian should be informed of the potential reproductive effects of the treatment.
Minors rarely receive surgery, but when they do, the group recommends they receive hormone therapy for at least 12 months prior, receive ongoing mental health support and assessments and be informed of the potential health effects of surgery, including infertility.
More than half a dozen studies published in major medical journals over the last few years have found that access to puberty blockers and hormone therapy improves mental health outcomes, including significantly reducing suicidality, for trans youths.
A trans passenger has accused the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of severe mistreatment and is calling on TSA to provide better training to staff.
“One of the worst things about traveling as trans is going through TSA,” said photographer and activist NV Gay in a video posted to Instagram describing their experience.
Gay said they were going through security at the Orlando International Airport when they were flagged by the body scanner.
“Of course, if you’ve got boobs and a bottom part, well it’s gonna flag you, and ya know I’m ready for that, I’m expecting that…The problem is that the TSA continually does not train their employees on how to respectfully pat down and talk to trans people.”
Gay said the person patting them down “continually decided to rub ‘down there’ multiple times all over me and then very loudly put it out there to everyone in the crowd that I was trans with a penis and with boobs and that she had no idea and she didn’t know if she could clear me and that she’d have to get her supervisor to clear me.”
“It’s ridiculous at this point,” Gay lamented. “It’s so easy to just be respectful. Be like ‘hey, you’ve got flagged, I need to check’…Be better TSA.”
In the caption, Gay added that “the most disgusting part was that the TSA officer constantly said that my bottom part was poking her, which was not true at all.”
“Having to go through that was horrible,” they added. “No person should ever be treated this way.”
Gay told LGBTQ Nation that this is far from the only negative experience they have had with TSA and that since posting the video, other trans people have messaged them to share their own “truly horrific experiences.”
“The TSA needs to implement trainings on how to treat all passengers as humans and understand that different people look different and have various body parts,” Gay said.
“They should also have multiple agents present for screenings and make sure that the passenger has given consent. Passengers should also be able to record situations in order to make sure that they are not taken advantage of. This goes for everyone, not just transgender individuals.”
The official account of Orlando International Airport replied to Gay’s Instagram post with an apology for what they experienced and asked them to provide more detailed information about where and when the incident took place so the airport could reach out to the local management team.
This led to a Direct Message conversation between Gay and the airport on Instagram (which Gay shared with LGBTQ Nation), in which the airport representative apologized repeatedly and told Gay to reach back out if they don’t hear back from TSA soon.
On Twitter, TSA replied to Gay’s video that they “appreciate” the “feedback” and “continue to push for technological improvement that will provide effective security w/ out gender identification.”
Gay, who has also filed an official complaint with TSA, then replied that updating technology is a step but that it is far more important to train employees in respectful treatment. “The scan was not the problem. The way the agent treated me was the issue!” Gay emphasized.
In a statement to LGBTQ Nation, TSA stated that it “recognizes the concerns of transgender/non-binary/gender nonconforming passengers with the security screening process, and the agency continues to implement the new algorithm on the Advanced Imaging Technology units to significantly reduce false alarms and improve efficiency for all passengers.”
It continued, “At TSA, we are committed to ensuring every traveler is treated with respect and courtesy. When passengers have complaints about their specific screening experience, we encourage them to contact the TSA Contact Center.”
As anti-trans activists and right-wing politicians in the U.S., along with so-called “gender critical feminists” in the U.K., continue to stigmatize gender-affirming healthcare, trans men who have undergone phalloplasty are sharing their stories.
PinkNews reports that a recent post from an anti-trans Twitter user seems to have sparked a wave of trans men posting about how the surgical procedure, which uses a skin graft to construct (or reconstruct in the case of cis men who have sustained serious injuries) a penis, has had a positive impact on their lives.
In late January, a Twitter user who goes by “terftastic” posted photos of what appear to be scars resulting from a recent phalloplasty skin graft. “Is this liberation?” the user wrote, implying that the scars were unsightly and unnecessary.
Many commenters saw the tweet for what it was: an attempt at fearmongering around gender-affirming surgeries and at othering trans bodies. It’s unclear where the photos originated.
“Trans healthcare is already stigmatized, and scaremongering around phalloplasty only makes this worse,” a spokesperson for U.K.-based LGBTQ+ advocacy organization Gendered Intelligence said. “There is a great deal of misinformation and anxiety around trans health care that is irresponsibly fueled by these kinds of bad faith actors. Phalloplasty is a safe practice before which patients are extensively consulted to ensure they are aware of risks involved, including scarring from graft sites.”
“I see that terfs are scaremongering about phalloplasty again, so here’s my graft site,” Colby Gordon, an assistant professor of literature at Bryn Mawr College, tweeted a few days after the terftastic post, along with a photo of his own scars. “I love my trans body—all of it. And I love your trans bodies, too.”
Other trans men followed suit, posting photos of their own skin graft scars.
“Sharing my graft (partially tattooed now) too because i love my trans body, and the euphoria and connection i feel to my body that once felt like a cage has been life changing,” wrote user Felix, an artist. “Trans bodies are beautiful.”
“The increase in self-confidence and love has been more than I dreamed. I am still amazed at how it feels sometimes,” Felix told PinkNews following his tweet. “I’m able to feel more safe in situations I didn’t before, like locker rooms at the gym. I don’t hate my scars, they each tell a story of a time in my life I made it through a hardship.”
The 25-year-old artist admitted he was nervous ahead of his phalloplasty. “Who wouldn’t be? Fortunately, I had a big support system at home who had put time aside to help me recover,” he explained. “I had also done a lot of research on the surgical team and listened to the experience of other trans people who went to the same surgeon, so I knew I was in good hands.”
“I did have a few small complications,” Felix continued. “I had some places that healed slower than others [and] some that healed with hypertrophic scarring.” But, he says, “If you were to ask anyone in my life if transitioning helped me, it would be a resounding ‘yes’. Transitioning saved my life, sincerely, and it makes me so sad that so many people aren’t able to receive the care they need.”
“My life has been changed beyond all recognition, for the better,” YouTuber and author Finlay Games said of the procedure. Games created a series of videos documenting his recovery after having phalloplasty in 2015. “I wanted a body part I deeply felt was missing and in the process of that part being created, I’ve discovered myself and so much more.”
On Monday, activists gathered at the Oklahoma State Capitol building in Oklahoma City to protest two bills that would dramatically restrict access to gender-affirming care in the state.
Around 150 protesters gathered outside the Capitol, according to OU Daily, before entering the building, chanting “trans lives matter” and holding signs that read “Save Trans Lives” and “Stop Healthcare Bans on Trans.”
The protest took place the same day as the start of the legislative session and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s (R-OK) State of the State address. At issue were two bills introduced by Republican state senators: Senate Bill 129 would ban gender-affirming care for Oklahomans under 26, and Senate Bill 252 would restrict access to gender-affirming care for minors.
One protester who identified herself as Laine told OU Daily she wanted lawmakers to base legislation on interactions with actual trans people rather than anti-trans misinformation. “It would really help if these people got to know us, and weren’t just living off of these unfounded claims,” she said.
“Working to ban HRT and other trans healthcare is active genocide. People will not survive to 26 to get that,” Benjamin Patterson, a trans man, said of S.B. 129. “For a lot of us, it is one of the only things that can help us feel at home in our body.”
State Rep. Mauree Turner (D), Oklahoma’s only out trans legislator, spoke to demonstrators in the Capitol. “I live and I work in a body where I could come to work on a Monday morning and get a death threat just for showing up as Black, trans, Muslim and gender diverse in Oklahoma,” said Turner. “That is the reality, right? That’s the reality that so many of the people in the rotunda face.”
During his address on Monday, Stitts encouraged the state’s lawmakers to pass S.B 252. “We shouldn’t let a minor get a permanent gender altering surgery in Oklahoma,” he said. “That’s why I’m calling for the legislature to send me a bill that bans all gender transition surgeries and hormone therapies on minors in the state of Oklahoma.” Stitts had previously called for such a ban last October and signed into law a bill that bans the Children’s Hospital at Oklahoma University Hospital from using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for gender-affirming care for minors.
Following reports of Monday’s protest, which was peaceful and took place without incident or police involvement, some on right-wing social media began comparing it to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“Trans Lives Matter stormed and occupied the Oklahoma capital today,” tweeted alt-right activist Jack Posobiec, along with video captured by KFOR reporter Nick Camper.
“Oklahoma came under attack today by a group of insurrectionists,” anti-trans activist Chaya Raichik tweeted via her Libs of TikTok account. “I’m sure the FBI is already on it and will use every available resource to identify all these domestic terrorists.”
But as Newsweek notes, protesters at the Oklahoma Capitol gathered peacefully, did not clash with police, and reportedly caused no damage.
“No glass was broken, no bear spray deployed, no police injured or killed, they didn’t bring zip ties or a noose,” one user commented. “They came and clapped. Learn the difference.”
“No beatings of police officers with American flags. No bear spray. No broken windows,” another tweeted in response to Posobiec. “I think stormed is not the appropriate adjective. They likely walked in peacefully into a public building and petitioned their govt for a redress of their grievances.”
“It was quite peaceful,” another user tweeted. “No one built a scaffold or demanded that certain leaders be brought out for hanging. No one broke windows. No one chased anyone. Boring basic citizen redress just as the constitution intended.”
“They are not trying to overturn an election, they are not armed, they are not breaking stuff, attacking and killing police officers,” This is not an insurrection. It’s freedom of assembly.”
Editor’s note: This article mentions suicide. If you need to talk to someone now, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. It’s staffed by trans people, for trans people. The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgement-free place to talk for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Tennessee’s recent decision to reject over $8 million in federal funds to combat HIV was motivated, at least in part, by right-wing provocateurs stoking anti-LGBTQ sentiment, according to four sources within the state Health Department.
The move by Republican Gov. Bill Lee will hamstring, if not cripple, efforts to combat one of the country’s most poorly controlled epidemics of the virus, HIV advocates said.
The announcement followed a political crisis in Tennessee that began in September when conservative media personalities, including Matt Walsh and Ben Shapiro, launched attacks on Vanderbilt University Medical Center over its care of transgender minors, which they alleged was barbaric.
In October, the pressure wound its way to the unit that combats HIV, sexually transmitted infections and viral hepatitis at the Tennessee Health Department.
On Oct. 24, the unit’s director, Dr. Pamela Talley, told employees that because of the social media firestorm over Vanderbilt, information about the Tennessee Transgender Task Force — a volunteer team the unit established in 2018 to focus on trans health and HIV prevention — and other trans resources had been scrubbedfrom the department’s website. That is according to two staffers present, who, like two of their colleagues, spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Then, on Nov. 7, Talley told the unit that federal HIV funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for both the task force and Planned Parenthood in Tennessee would terminate at the end of the year, according to three staffers at the meeting, which took place in person and on a conference call.
“There were at least three different levels of leadership on the call,” a staffer said. “It was discussed that there had been media attention around the Vanderbilt trans health clinic, which led those reporters to learn about the trans task force, and that they were funded by [the state Health Department] HIV prevention program and that all HIV prevention contracts were being reviewed.”
In mid-January, the Lee administration announced it would pull the plug not just on federal HIV-prevention funds for Planned Parenthood and the task force, which total $235,000, but on all $8.3 million from a pair of CDC grants for HIV prevention, treatment and monitoring in the state. The move shocked HIV experts and advocates.
In addition, the Lee administration, which has said it will replace the federal funds with state dollars, has pledged a shift in funding priorities that would effectively steerHIV prevention efforts away from groups at substantial risk of contracting the virus, including gay men and people who inject drugs.
“All of this is willful ignorance on the part of the state government,” said Greg Millett, the director of public policy at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. “People at risk for HIV are going to suffer because of these decisions.”
Right-wing media pile-on
A leading voice in the right’s opposition to the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors, Matt Walsh, a columnist for the conservative media outlet Daily Wire, published a series of widely read tweets on Sept. 20 targeting Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s treatment of minors at its Transgender Health Clinic. “They now castrate, sterilize, and mutilate minors as well as adults,” Walsh said.
The next day, Walsh appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to publicize his investigation, and Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator who co-founded Daily Wire, further amplified Walsh’s attacks on Vanderbilt on his YouTube channel and podcast, decrying the “nonsense garbage that a boy can be a girl and a girl can be a boy.”
The same day, Lee issued a statement calling for a “thorough investigation.”
“We should not allow permanent, life-altering decisions that hurt children or policies that suppress religious liberties, all for the purpose of financial gain,” he said. “We have to protect Tennessee children.”
Walsh, Shapiro, Daily Wire and Fox News did not respond to requests for comment, and the Lee administration did not respond to questions about the impact right-wing media personalities had on the state’s rejection of federal HIV funds.
A Daily Wire article published on Oct. 20, which denounced the Tennessee Transgender Task Force as an “extreme” activist group, appears to have drawn the Lee administration’s attention. The task force, according to its chair, Ray Holloman, is staffed by trans-identified volunteers and focuses on providing HIV educational resources, sharing health insurance information and connecting people to supportive health providers — including those at Vanderbilt.
The article took a victory lap, saying that the Lee administration and the state Health Department denounced the task force “in response to a Daily Wire inquiry” and that information about the task force on the department’s website was “only removed after the Daily Wire asked about it.”
Around the same time, two Health Department supervisors told staffers in private conversations that critical media coverage provoked the Lee administration to scrutinize the source of the task force’s $10,000 in annual funding — a $6.2 million CDC HIV prevention and surveillance grant — two Health Department employees said.
Also under new scrutiny after the article was published, fouremployees said, was Tennessee’s Planned Parenthood program, which received $225,000 a year from the CDC grant, largely for condom distribution.
In a Nov. 7 email that was among a collection of correspondence shared with NBC News by Ashley Coffield, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and Northern Mississippi, Talley informed Coffield that the Health Department’s separate arrangement to supply Planned Parenthood with about 500 HIV test kits a year would be canceled. Talley subsequently wrote to Coffield, “I want to thank you for your statewide efforts in HIV testing and reassure you that this discontinuation was not based on performance concerns.”
Three days later, Coffield said, she got a call from a director at the United Way of Greater Nashville, which distributes the CDC grant funds to dozens of community-based organizations in Tennessee, including Planned Parenthood. The director, Niki Easley, said Planned Parenthood would lose its $225,000 in CDC HIV prevention grant funds at year’s end. Coffield said Easley told her that politics were behind the funding cut. “I think you should fight back,” Coffield recalled Easley’s saying.
But there was a wrinkle in the state’s plan:Because of a 2013 legal injunction, the Lee administration could not legally block HIV-related federal funds specifically for Planned Parenthood.
In the collection of emails and letters Planned Parenthood provided to NBC News, the nonprofit’s attorneys threatened to sue. In an emailed response, the Health Department’s attorney, Mary Katherine Bratton, denied having tried to disqualify the organization for the funds but said the department was “currently reviewing all” CDC grants.
Several officials at the Health Department, including Talley, Bratton and communications staffers, did not respond to requests for comment.
After it contacted Easley and several of her colleagues at the United Way of Greater Nashville, NBC News heard from a spokesperson, who said the group “is working closely with the Tennessee Department of Health to understand the changes being made to this grant funding,” adding that “the details of the changes and how our partner agencies will be affected are still developing” and that “all funding decisions are made by” the Health Department.
‘The nuclear option’
Ultimately, instead of focusing on cutting funds for Planned Parenthood and the Tennessee Transgender Task Force, the Lee administration decided to pull the plug on the entire $8.3 million in CDC grants for HIV prevention, surveillance and treatment.
On Jan. 17, Health Department officials held an 8 a.m. meeting with HIV prevention staffers and informed them of the decision to end all CDC HIV grant funding effective June 1, according to two employees who were present.
“People have been crying all week,” a staffer said in a Jan. 21 interview.
Coffield said “it felt like they were punching me in the gut” when she found out the state was abandoning the grants.
“I couldn’t believe that the governor would take the nuclear option,” she said, adding that she views the decision as the culmination of a “political vendetta against abortion rights groups and transgender people.”
The rejected grants consist of the $6.2 million for HIV prevention and surveillance and $2.1 million for Shelby County, home to Memphis. The latter sum comes from a national plan focused, in part, on improving treatment and prevention of HIV in 50 local hot spots that account for about half of new HIV diagnoses nationally — a plan President Donald Trump endorsed in his 2020 State of the Union address.
Friends for Life, a nonprofit Memphis group that provides services to those living with and at risk for HIV, will lose about $500,000 a year, chief programs officer Mia Cotton said. The imminent lack of any federal grants will also render the organization’s health clinic ineligible for pharmaceutical rebates through a separate federal program that last year brought in $1.2 million to an overall operating budget of $8.5 million, Cotton said.
Molly Quinn, the executive director of OUTMemphis, Tennessee’s largest LGBTQ nonprofit group, said her organization would lose $120,000 a year, or 10% of its operating budget, compromising efforts to provide HIV testing, help clients access the HIV prevention pill, PrEP, and give financial assistance to people with the virus.
‘A fictitious epidemic’
The Lee administration says it will replace the $8.3 million in CDC grants with state funds, giving it freedom to target such resources as it sees fit.
“We think we can do that better than the strings attached with the federal dollars that came our way, and that’s why we made that decision,” Lee said Jan. 20.
Currently, the priority populations for the CDC grant for Shelby County, for example, include LGBTQ people, sex workers and those who inject drugs, are unhoused or are formerly incarcerated.
Lee’s press officer, Jade Byers, said in an email that the administration “is committed to maintaining the same level of funding, while more efficiently and effectively serving vulnerable populations, such as victims of human trafficking, mothers and children, and first responders.”
Those priorities, HIV prevention experts said, are in egregious conflict with the actual demographics of the people most at risk of the virus.
“Tennessee is preferring to fight a fictitious epidemic rather than their very real HIV epidemic,” said Millett, of amfAR. “First responders are just not at risk for HIV anywhere in the United States. Sexual trafficking is awful, but it’s not a major contributor for HIV cases in Tennessee or elsewhere.”
Women comprised 9% of HIV diagnoses in Tennessee in 2019, down from 14% in 2016, and only 1 to 6 babies were born with HIV in the state annually from 2016 to 2020.
More than half of new diagnoses in Tennessee were in men who have sex with men in 2019, according to the state Health Department’s surveillance reports. And in 2016, the CDC released a report warning that 220 of the country’s counties, including 41 in Tennessee, were at high risk of HIV and hepatitis C outbreaks among people who inject drugs (that population accounted for 5% of new Tennessee HIV diagnoses in 2019).
New U.S. HIV cases, the CDC estimates, declined by 8% from 2015 to 2019, but that masks considerable progress in some states and either stagnancy or increases in most Southern states, where the bulk of transmissions occur. Even as HIV has steadily declined in, for example, New York and California, where liberal governments have invested heavily in evidence-based HIV treatment and prevention programs, the CDC estimates that Tennessee’s transmissions increased slightly from 2017 to 2019.
While Lee announced Jan. 20 that the state would forgo the federal HIV dollars, a CDC spokesperson said Thursday that the agency had received no word from Tennessee that it intends to block the $8.3 million in grants.
The political climate has become increasingly toxic for LGBTQ people in Tennessee, advocates in the state say.
Nationally, lawmakersin at least 21 states have proposed bills to ban or restrict gender-affirming care for minors this year. Trump released a video Tuesday on Truth Social pledging to “stop” such care, which he described as “child sexual mutilation.”