Arkansas — Yes, Arkansas — Quietly Begins Issuing Gender-Neutral IDs to Non-Binary People

An unlikely state has joined the wave of municipalities recognizing the identities of trans, non-binary, and intersex people: Arkansas.

At least two transgender people have been issued gender-neutral ID cards since the beginning of October. When Zach Miller saw that a friend, long-time trans organizer Beck Witt, successfully updated their state identification with an “X” marker on Oct. 8, Miller went down to the local DMV in Little Rock to do the same.

While the DMV representative was initially confused by the request, Miller described her as “receptive.”

“Hey, you learn new things every day,” the representative reportedly said when informed that Miller identifies as neither gender. In conversation with INTO, the nonbinary activist identified as “gendervoid” and requested that this story use neither male nor female pronouns when referring to Miller.

The request was processed immediately, Miller claimed. An updated ID was issued on Monday.

“It was very affirming to me,” said Miller, who serves on the board of the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition. “It makes it clear that we exist — that gender nonconforming, non-binary, intersex, and trans people exist.”

When INTO reached out to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, the office confirmed the reports.

According to spokesperson Scott Hardin, that policy has been on the books for eight years. It was quietly rolled out in December 2010, when former Assistant Commissioner of Operations and Administration Mike Munns announced the change in an internal email shared with INTO.

“Our official policy is to allow a licensee to change their gender as requested, no questions asked, no documentation required,” he told staff. “Please see that this policy is followed.”

Munns could not confirm having sent the email. He passed away in Nov. 2011.

The change was implemented, however, without a formal announcement. The state of Arkansas has historically operated without a clear public policy as to changing gender markers on driver’s licenses and IDs.

Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager at the National Center for Transgender Equality, confirmed a policy shift for the state.

“Across the country, states and municipalities are finding solutions that respect the safety and privacy of every citizen, regardless of gender,” Branstetter said in an email. “Every state should have policies in place allowing their official documents to accurately reflect the diversity of its residents.”

Lambda Legal called the change in policy a “great step forward for people in Arkansas.”

“I think you will continue to see states move in this direction with regard to identity documents from state identification to birth certificates,” said Paul Castillo, a senior attorney for the nationwide LGBTQ advocacy group.

Just a handful of U.S. municipalities offer some form of recognition for nonbinary, trans, and intersex residents — or anyone who doesn’t wish to have a gender marker listed on their identification. Last June, Oregon was thought to be the first state issue non-binary ID cards. Since that time, California, Maine, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C. have all rolled out similar options.

In addition to pursuing non-binary state IDs, Lambda Legal has been pressing the Department of Justice to issue gender-neutral passports at the federal level.

In 2015, the organization filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Dana Zzyym, an intersex person who has claimed choosing between “male” and “female” gender markers would force them to lie. Zzyym won their suit in 2016, but the DOJ has failed to issue a nonbinary passport. The case was recently reopened.

But sources say allowing trans and nonbinary people to list a gender-neutral pronoun on their passports and IDs is more than just about accurately reflecting their sense of self. It’s also about safety.

Miller remembered being pulled over a few years ago with a headlight out and presenting a female ID card.

“The police officer wasn’t especially aggressive, but then when I showed him my ID, he had a second officer come up,” Miller recalled. “He had his hand on his weapon. They accused me of having a fake ID. Then even when I told them that I was transgender, they became more aggressive. I was very concerned for my safety.”

To avoid hostile interactions or unwanted questions, Miller learned to stealthily cover the gender marker with a thumb. Being outed as trans, though, remained a major risk — whether it’s applying for jobs or presenting an ID at the bar.

Miller looked forward to giving the information to other trans people to help them avoid those unfortunate — and potentially dangerous — situations.

The Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition plans to fund the cost of IDs for those members of the community who cannot afford to update their gender marker, said Miller. Although the DMV offers low-cost options based on financial need, trans people face staggering levels of poverty.  

The resources will be drawn from the group’s emergency funding pool, which is also available for those who cannot afford rent, food, or even bus passes.

Individuals in need will be able to apply through the organization’s website.

Image via Getty

Kanye and Kim Visited Brutal Ugandan Dictator Behind ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill

Kanye West is having a week.

After a much-publicized meeting with President Trump in which he claimed wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat makes him feel “like Superman,” West met with Uganda’s head of state on Monday. Accompanied by wife Kim Kardashian West and father Raymond West, he visited President Yoweri Museveni at the State House in Entebbe to discuss the country’s tourism industry.

According to Reuters, the 41-year-old rapper pledged to open a “world-class tourism school in the country,” saying it would become a “foundation of tourism not only in Uganda but the east Africa region in general.”

Calling Uganda his “second home,” he suggested the country model itself after the fictional amusement park from Jurassic Park.

The famous couple reportedly exchanged gifts during their conversation with Museveni. West gave the president a pair of autographed sneakers, while the leader blessed them with African names. West received the name “Kanyesigye,” which translates to “I trust.” Meanwhile, Kardashian West’s moniker, “Kemigisha,” reportedly means “the one with blessings from God.”

It’s not clear whether the rapper broached the subject of LGBTQ rights, despite the fact that Museveni is one of the most vocal opponents of equality in Africa.

In February 2014, he signed into law the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, which criminalized sexual activity “against the order of nature” with up to life in prison. When the legislation was first introduced in 2009, it mandated the death penalty for charges of “aggravated homosexuality.”

When he approved the “Kill the Gays” bill four years ago, Museveni called LGBTQ people “disgusting,” “terrible,” “abnormal,” and “unnatural.” He also compared queer and trans Ugandans to “prostitutes” and “mercenaries.”

The law was short lived. The Anti-Homosexuality Act was struck down later the same year by Uganda’s constitutional court on procedural grounds.

Museveni’s government, however, has continued to attack queer and trans Ugandans even after the law’s repeal. Last August health minister Simon Lokodo shut down Pride events after claiming “gay gathering and promotion” would not be permitted in the conservative nation. When LGBTQ activists announced the opening of Uganda’s first queer resource space, Lokodo called it “a criminal act.”

“They will have to take it somewhere else,” he told press. “They can’t open a center of LGBTQ activity here. Homosexuality is not allowed and completely unacceptable in Uganda,” he said. “We don’t and can’t allow it.”

“LGBTQ activities are already banned and criminalized in this country,” Lokodo added. “So popularizing it is only committing a crime.”

Given West’s previous critiques of homophobia in the music industry, there was a time when it might have been surprising to see the hip-hop artist supporting a brutal anti-gay dictator. But as West prepares to drop his second new record of 2018, Yandhi, inflammatory behavior is now part of his album release cycle.

Prior to meeting with President Trump last week, he called to abolish the 13th amendment, which made slavery illegal, on Twitter.

“This represents good and America becoming whole again,” West said on Sept. 30, tweeting a photo of himself in his pro-Trump red baseball cap. “We will no longer outsource to other countries. We build factories here in America and create jobs. We will provide jobs for all who are free from prisons as we abolish the 13th amendment.”

Images via Getty

Trailblazing Trans Specialist in the UK Faces Sentencing For Online Clinic

For many transgender people in the UK, she has been a saving grace, the only path toward transition in a system bogged down in wait lists and red tape.

But Dr. Helen Webberley’s extraordinary approach to treating trans people across Britain has not been met with the same enthusiasm by government officials.

After three years of treating trans patients through a groundbreaking online system, Webberley’s web practice has been shuttered by authorities in Wales.

Webberley fills a unique if not odd role in the United Kingdom, where trans people looking to medically transition have historically relied on The National Health Service (NHS), the publicly-funded health system.  

Many patients and parents of trans kids have lamented long wait times in accessing trans treatment through NHS. In some cases, waits can be up to four years.

Webberley, a generalist family doctor, stumbled into treating thousands of trans patients almost accidentally after she moved to Wales a few years ago.

She was interested in the ways that the internet might make health care more accessible for people, and wanted to try treating patients online.

“It’s just silly, and so many things could just be a quick email to the doctor and a quick photo,” Webberley said. She was treating a handful of transgender people at the time. So, she listed transgender health care on her online clinic and clicked “publish.”

The next day, she awoke to a flood of inquiries.

“Every morning still, I can’t believe that we haven’t exhausted all the transgender people,” Webberley said.  

Webberley provides something almost unheard of: Using her online clinic, a transgender person can get hormones, therapy, and medical advice without ever leaving home. Patients can even get blood test kits sent to their homes. There is no physical examination, a major barrier for many transgender people in accessing health care.

Such practice is hard to come by, even in the U.S., where Webberley has looked for model standards for care for treating trans patients. One such practice, QueerMed in Atlanta and New York, operates a tele-med clinic for trans patients, but patients are still legally required to attend an in-person visit.  

That is life-saving work in the UK, where transgender people face discrimination in every facet of life. According to a report this year from UK LGBTQ advocacy organization Stonewall, 42 percent of trans people who would like to transition medically won’t because they fear consequences in their family lives. A staggering 44 percent of trans people avoid certain streets in the UK out of fear for their safety. And, most applicable to Webberley’s case, 41 percent said they avoided health care because physicians don’t understand trans health.

Webberley says it’s crucial to her work that patients don’t have to risk their safety to access care.

“What they have to do in Wales is they have to get on a train in a dress,” Webberley said.

But if this practice administering health care via the internet seems risky, that’s because it is.

Webberley has faced intense backlash in the media and from regulating medical bodies. The Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW) has blocked her from administering practicing medicine online after concluding earlier this month that she illegally provided health care services without registering under the country’s Care Standards Act 2000.

“The Prosecution follows a period in which Dr. Webberley had refused to stop providing services to patients,” said a spokesperson for HIW in a statement to INTO. She will be sentenced on Nov. 2 and is expected to be fined.

Webberley contends that she tried to register the clinic with HIW two years ago, and then again last February. Webberley claims the Inspectorate could not decide how to classify the clinic and refused her requests to meet to before starting proceedings against her.

It’s the second time in as many years Webberley has faced troubles over her operation. Last year, she faced an investigation by the UK’s General Medical Council after she prescribed hormones to transgender 12-year-old. The move went against NHS recommendations, which suggest waiting until a child reaches 16 years of age. Webberley defended the move as life-saving and says both parent and youth were desperate for treatment that NHS would not provide.

“There was so much talk about self-harm and anguish that I wonder if that child would have been here if we had not done it,” she said.

Webberley claims that her legal troubles are the upshot of anti-trans discrimination and the proprietary nature of health care in the UK. Many NHS doctors supplement their incomes with private practices and critics in recent years have said that wait lists for trans health are in fact a money-maker for NHS doctors who practice on the side.

While she awaits a sentence from HIW, her husband Dr. Mike Webberley continues to keep the practice going. Webberley says the clinic currently treats between 1,100 and 1,200 transgender patients. Those patients still need services.

“Getting transgender care right saves lives,” she said. “Definitely. Full stop.”

Image via Twitter

Gay Illinois Candidate Depicted As Limp-Wristed Puppet in ‘Homophobic’ Attack Ad

A seemingly quiet race for an Illinois county board drew national attention last week following the release of an attack ad many claim is “homophobic.”

A mailer sent out to households in the 15th District on Thursday depicts Democratic challenger Kevin Morrison as a puppet controlled by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who is also a Democrat. Morrison — who is gay — took issue with the fact that he is depicted on his tiptoes with an exaggerated limp wrist.

In conversation with INTO, Morrison argued it was a coded attack on his sexual orientation.

“Everyone knows that, especially if you are a member of the LGBTQ community, a male with a limp wrist is just a classic, bigoted caricature of a gay man,” he claimed in a phone interview. “It’s used to offend our community and bring us down.”

“I saw that for exactly what it was,” Morrison added, noting the flier was mailed out on National Coming Out Day.

LGBTQ groups agreed the flier intentionally crossed a line. Annise Parker, President and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, claimed in a statement that Republicansknew exactly what they were doing.”

“For too long, openly LGBTQ candidates were defeated by opponents who appealed to homophobia in a desperate effort to win votes,” Parker claimed, “but I am confident this attack ad will backfire. […] Cook County voters are demanding leaders who unite their constituents, respect differences, and put forward positive solutions for the region.”

But the Illinois Republican Party, which mailed out the flier, has denied any allegations the illustration was intended to be anti-LGBTQ.

In a statement, Executive Director Travis Sterling told INTO the controversy is “nothing but a desperate attempt from Kevin Morrison to try and hide the fact that he takes his orders from Toni Preckwinkle and Mike Madigan.”

“The whole image paints the entire picture clearly,” Sterling asserted in an email.

In the full illustration, the mailer’s caption emphasizes that Madigan — the alleged puppet master controlling the marionette  — has Morrison “right where he wants him.”

Confusingly, the attack ad refers to Morrison by Madigan’s last name.

“Kevin ‘Madigan’ Morrison walks in lockstep with Mike Madigan and will take any opportunity to increase your property taxes,” the flier alleges. “Kevin ‘Madigan’ Morrison hasn’t paid property taxes but wants to raise our taxes.”

“Say ‘No’ to Kevin ‘Madigan’ Morrison’s plan to increase our property taxes,” it continues.

What the Illinois GOP neglected to mention, though, is that the mailer is extremely similar to a much-criticized attack ad in last year’s Fort Lauderdale mayoral race. In fliers mailed out by his opponent, openly gay mayoral candidate Dean Trantalis was depicted as a tuxedoed ventriloquist dummy in makeup.

Supporters of Trantalis’ campaign claimed the ad played on decades-old stereotypes of male effeminacy. The candidate, though, brushed off the attack, claiming he “would never be seen in” such an outfit.

Trantalis ultimately defeated his opponent, Bruce Roberts, by 29 points. In doing so, he became the Florida city’s first openly LGBTQ mayor.

Morrison believes Illinois’ 15th district is also poised to make history.

Representing the northwest suburbs of Chicago, the district has been held by the GOP for decades. Morrison, though, describes the area as politically “in transition.” Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won five out of the six counties in the Chicagoland area during the 2016 election. She took his district by 20 points.

Although Morrison wouldn’t cite specifics, he claimed early polling showed that he was ahead of Republican incumbent Timothy O. Schneider.

As a former bullied youth, Morrison said it’s been particularly heartening to see his candidacy be embraced by voters in the area. The candidate told INTO he “never thought [he] would one day be able to run in [his] home district,” let alone have a shot at winning in November.

“It has been overwhelmingly positive experience,” Morrison claimed. “People like my message, and the responses overall are incredibly positive, even when I’m talking to Republicans.”

If elected, he would be the first openly LGBTQ-identified commissioner on the Cook County Board.

As a commissioner for the 15th district, Morrison pledged to stand up for marginalized groups — whether LGBTQ people, women, or racial minorities — and ensure everyone has a seat at the table. He cited the Trump administration’s “negative attacks on every disenfranchised group you can imagine” as inspiring his run for office.

“I want to be a voice that pushes our county in a better direction,” Morrison said.

RIP Another Queer Woman Character On TV

*Caution: Spoilers for the Lifetime series You ahead*

“James Franco and I did not end well,” is just one of the absurd quips to cross the lips of Peach Salinger on Lifetime’s new stalker-drama series You.

Played by Shay Mitchell — who also played gay on Pretty Little Liars — Peach was queer and struggled with her identity in the narrow-minded world of haughty Manhattan socialites. She was the fictional heiress of J.D. Salinger and was equal parts caring and manipulative in an obsession with her best friend that spiraled beyond her control.

She was probably one of my favorite TV characters of all time, her queerness being just the icing on her bitchy cake — and yes, I’m using the past tense, because last night, Peach Salinger was killed off of You.

Though she was often cruel and conniving, she deserves to be eulogized just like every other victim of the Bury Your Gays trope. So, let’s pour out an expensive cocktail for Peach. 

You is based on the novel by Caroline Kepnes and follows Beck (Elizabeth Lail) and Joe (Penn Badgley) — or rather, Joe is the one following Beck. Beck is your average starving poet who has a habit of bewitching everyone she encounters, including Joe, a hopeless romantic bookstore clerk with a dark side. (To borrow Penn Badgley’s nickname from Gossip Girl, he’s basically Lonely Boy 2.0.) He becomes obsessed with Beck and begins stalking her, then dating her while stalking her and putting hits out on anyone who treats her badly. It’s terrifying, but a brilliant testament to the writing (the writers’ room skews female) that viewers can even care about him when he’s, well, just another murderous stalker dude.

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Joe’s first major roadblock is a guy Beck is hooking up with, who he murders in cold blood. But he finds his greatest enemy in Beck’s best friend from college, Peach, who we come to find out is also in love with — and sort of stalking — Beck. Because Beck and Joe are both bookworms, Peach is like a shiny, glittery celebrity when Beck first introduces them. Beck points her out to Joe and brags: yes, like “that” Salinger. Peach is always wearing the chicest and sexiest outfits, sipping swanky drinks, and popping pills in a way that only rich people on TV tend to — as in, “I’m rich, I need a Valium to take the edge off.”

Right off the bat, Joe finds out that Peach cares deeply for her best friend, and shows it in the only ways she knows how — by spoiling her with rent checks and generous offers like “let’s move to Paris together, for free.” However, he also learns not to trust Peach, and sees how she dangles her charisma, her closeness with Beck, and her generous favors over her best friend’s head like they’re in a gang together—which they’re not, but if Gossip Girl taught me anything, it’s that well-dressed, drug-addled socialites really are in their own mafia-like family.

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So, if Peach is so awful, why do we love her? Well, first of all, I have a type, and it’s mean girls with defined clavicles who are Shay Mitchell. But seriously, we’ve all had that friend who holds things over our heads in a visibly unhealthy way — one that’s toxic in hindsight, but can be easily confused for a meaningful, mutually respectful relationship. So, I get why Beck loves her, and when you have so much rich history together, like they do, it can be hard to sever ties.

Plus, Peach is the most elegant monster I’ve ever seen. She traffics in chicness, exchanging favors for introductions to Manhattan’s finest—she knows everyone, and she lets you know it. In one of her final episodes, she decides she has a stalker, in that problematic, victim-blamey “I’m hot and rich, obviously somebody wants to stalk me” type of way. And even though it’s Joe who’s tailing her, she immediately assumes it’s James Franco. All of Peach’s “friends” are drug users, social climbers, and douches, one of whom gets fucked up and gropes Beck, and when Beck reports the incident back to Peach, Peach quips, “He hasn’t used since 9/11!”

Peach is iconic, from every jeer to every devilish smirk and long tress of Pantene commercial-looking hair she flips over her bony shoulders. She’s easy to worship in the same way that Regina George once was — if Regina was queer and desperately needed to be held and freed from her childhood traumas.

Late in Peach’s storyline, Joe uncovers a result of such traumas — Peach’s biggest secret: a folder on her laptop titled “GB” (Guinevere Beck — Beck’s real name), which is loaded with photos of her best friend, from as far back as college. Some of the photos are nude — most of them were taken without her permission.

Afterward, Joe monologues about how bad he actually feels for Peach, his greatest competition, having been raised in world that made her stifle who she was and who she wanted to love so much so that she buried it away, told herself it was dirty, locked it in a secret folder, and suffocated it until it screamed for air and transmogrified into a psychotic obsession.

You offers an important commentary on the real-life dangers and repercussions of repression, homophobia and internalized homophobia. So, while it’d be easy to lump Peach’s character into the trope of evil bisexuals, or the Bury Your Gays trope — she’s more complicated than that. To be fair, the show is just following the original narrative from the book, and her death wasn’t gratuitous, or all for nothing. You is definitely a queer ally — one that smirks at you with a depraved, wink-wink-nudge-nudge type of grin.

With that being said, Peach is absolutely an evil queer—but it’s just sort of awesome. In her final moments, she saunters toward Joe wearing jet black lingerie and a silk robe, aiming a handgun at his skull, and suddenly, I found myself wanting her to murder me. There I was Sunday night, sinking deep into my couch nest, wanting to get chased through the bright green grassy grounds of an heiress’s estate by an armed, evil bisexual.

Peach Salinger was sinister — every word that spilled from her glossy lips was a veiled threat. If she told you “nice jacket,” you’d know damn well not to show your face in public again in that jacket. And I know by this point I sound like the “One time she punched me in the face — it was awesome” chick from Mean Girls, but seriously; one time, Peach Salinger (allegedly) leaked a video of her friend drunkenly making racist remarks at a college party, simply as retribution—earlier that day, that same friend posted a #tbt of her and Peach before Peach’s nose job—a carnal sin.

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But while I’m being the “one time she punched me in the face” girl, here’s a run of Peach’s greatest hits: She took molly and pegged a man in her mansion. She demanded Beck ask Joe to leave because “having male energy in her healing space” wasn’t “optimal.” She faked an overdose so Beck would ditch her man and come sleep over. Peach is a psychotic closet monster who’s completely devoid of any self-awareness, and I fucking stan.

But I also feel for her. A younger version of me would’ve been completely spooked and offended by any sort of predatory depiction of a queer woman on TV—but this one wasn’t necessarily predatory, even if she did get Beck high and kiss her (WHICH ROCKED), and ultimately left Beck feeling confused and manipulated. But Peach fell in love with her best friend in a world that told her she’d never be able to say that out loud, or receive that love back — and sure, she spiraled into a well of irreparable, sociopathic darkness — but it made my heart sink to watch.

So, rest in peace, Peach Salinger. I’m sorry you never loved yourself enough to feel worthy of another person’s love. I’m sorry you had to bury your secret and cover it with drug use, bombast, and drop-dead gorgeous dresses. You were thrilling to watch, and I’m devastated by the loss of another queer character, especially one this vivacious.

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And though I’ll miss your cheap shots and wicked leers, I’m not mad it’s over — I’m grinning devilishly because it happened.

Header image via Getty

Lambda Legal Goes After Kansas Trans Birth Certificate Ban

Kansas is one of just three states that bar trans people from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates, and Lambda Legal is taking aim at that ban.

On Monday, the group hit the state with a federal lawsuit on behalf of four transgender Kansans who want their birth certificates updated.

“The birth certificate policy at issue in this case is archaic and discriminatory,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, in a statement. “By denying people the ability to correct their gender marker on their birth certificates, Kansas is forcing transgender people in effect to lie about who they are and to navigate life with inaccurate identity documents.”

Among the plaintiffs is Jessica Hicklin, a Missouri inmate who made history earlier this year by successfully challenging that state’s policy of denying trans people affirming medical care they weren’t receiving prior to arrest. Hicklin was born in Kansas, and the state will not issue her a birth certificate recognizing her as female.

Other plaintiffs include LGBTQ youth and anti-violence activist Nyla Foster as well as transgender and disability advocate Luc Bensimon. A fourth trans male plaintiff who wishes to remain anonymous has been identified only by the initials C.K. He lives in Tulsa, Okla., where he worries the birth certificate places him at risk of violence from being outed.

The suit further argues that the current policy forces trans people to out themselves in sensitive situations, like starting a new job.

Plaintiff Luc Bensimon, who has a mild form of cerebral palsy, said the policy complicates every aspect of his life.

“Having to present a birth certificate that incorrectly identifies me as female makes it easier for people to discriminate against me based on my gender identity, on top of the discrimination I already confront based on my disability,” he said in a statement.

The suit says the state violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. It also points out that it’s out of sync with federal procedures on updating passports and in-state protocol for issuing driver’s licenses.

In an email to INTO, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Deputy Secretary of Public Affairs Theresa Freed said the matter has already played out in a state court. In 2016, a Topeka woman unsuccessfully sued to change her birth certificate. In that case, a Shawnee County District Court judge ruled that it was beyond the Department’s purview to amend birth certificates.

“The Kansas Department of Health and Environment does not have the authority to change an individual’s birth certificate, with the exception of minor corrections or by court order,” Freed said. “Gender identity would not be considered a minor correction.”

Image via Lambda Legal

Stacey Abrams Pledges to Be ‘Ally in the Governor’s Mansion’ After Historic Appearance at Atlanta Pride

The woman who could be Georgia’s first black female governor was also the first to march in the Atlanta Pride Parade this weekend.

Democrat Stacey Abrams made history on Saturday by addressing the exuberant crowds gathered in midtown for the 48th annual LGBTQ event. In a speech to the estimated 300,000 attendees, Abrams — who arrived in a white SUV — pledged to uphold the rights of queer and transgender people if elected to office next month.

“We’re here because we stand together, because we know that allies do not run from fights and because we know we all have pride in Georgia,” she said, in comments first reported by the Atlanta Constitution-Journal.

“We stand with you and not against you,” Abrams added.

The candidate expanded on those sentiments in comments shared exclusively with INTO, in which she pledged to be an “ally in the governor’s mansion.”

“I am running to be the governor for all of Georgia because I am committed to making our state an inclusive place where everyone — no matter who you are, who you love, or how you identify — feels welcomed and has the opportunity to thrive,” Abrams said in a statement.

“As a woman of faith, I believe in standing up for everyone and ensuring they can live up to their highest potential,” she continued.

Prior to this weekend’s Pride parade, Abrams pledged her support for “robust anti-discrimination laws” which protect the rights of “all workers.” As the minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives for six years, she voted against the passage of a 2016 bill combining anti-LGBTQ elements of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) and the Pastor Protection Act.

If passed, the proposal would have allowed people of faith to deny services to LGBTQ people on the basis of their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

In 2015, Abrams co-sponsored legislation which would have prevented state government employees from being fired or denied employment on the basis of their sexual orientation. Georgia is one of 30 states which lacks fully inclusive statewide laws preventing discrimination against LGBTQ workers.

These positions place Abrams in stark contrast to her Republican opponent.

Republican Brian Kemp has voiced his support for a “religious liberty” bill if he is tapped to replace incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal next month. Kemp stated that he hopes to sign a “mirror image” of the federal legislation President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993, which states that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.”

“It’s time to do that, put that behind us so we can move on. It’s the same bill Nathan Deal voted on when he was in Congress,” the conservative said in August. “That’s all I’m committing to do.”

“Anything else, I’ll veto it,” he promised.

In 2016, Deal vetoed a Georgia RFRA bill after companies like Disney and Marvel threatened to pull out of the state in protest. The superhero movies Captain America: Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 were both filmed in the state, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue.

While Kemp suggested any bill would be more limited in scope than that effort, the candidate’s actions send a decidedly mixed message.

On Oct. 11, Vice President Mike Pence appeared at a “Victory Dinner” in support of Kemp’s gubernatorial bid — the second time this year he stumped for Kemp. The fundraising event, which was rescheduled due to flooding from Hurricane Florence, just happened to coincide with National Coming Out Day.

As governor of Indiana, Pence signed into law a controversial RFRA bill which led to a $60 million boycott of the state. Provisions allowing people of faith to discriminate against the LGBTQ community were later removed.

The local Democratic party alleged Kemp was “trolling Georgia’s LGBTQ community” by inviting Pence to the state just days before Pride.

“By inviting the pioneer of RFRA to Georgia on the eve of Pride weekend, it seems Brian Kemp is trolling Georgia’s LGBTQ community and the 400+ major Georgia employers who oppose his plan to sign RFRA into law after all the chaos this law wreaked on Indiana’s economy,” said Seth Bringman, a spokesperson for the Georgia Democratic Party, said in a statement to the LGBTQ website Project Q.

“Unfortunately for Mr. Kemp, Georgians won’t stand for discrimination,” he added.

Kemp did not appear at Atlanta Pride this weekend, nor did organizers say he reached out about doing so. In contrast, Saturday’s event actually marked the second time that Abrams has marched in the parade; she first appeared alongside Democratic primary opponent House Rep. Stacey Evans last year.

Recent polls show that Abrams and Kemp are statistically tied in an extremely close race. According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey, he leads by just 1.4 points.

If elected, Abrams would be the first black woman to serve as governor of a U.S. state.

Image via Getty

Azusa Pacific University Reinstates Ban on LGBTQ Relationships On Campus

Well, that was fast.

On Thursday, September 27 – only nine days after Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, CA formally announced their new campus policy allowing LGBTQ students to date on campus, as well as the formation of Haven, an official LGBTQ support center – the board of trustees met to plan their response to the mounting pressure from conservative critics of the new policy.

The policy had been in the works for more than a year, with many sides of the LGBTQ debate considered, but the conservative backlash to the final decision moved quickly. In the nine days since the story broke, parents had threatened to withdraw their students from the school. Donors were calling and emailing and commenting on Facebook, refusing to give another cent until Azusa Pacific changed the policy. At least one faculty member demanded that university president Jon Wallace immediately resign. Right-wing and evangelical media outlets like the Christian Post, LifeSite, and the American Conservative had mounted a firestorm of criticism, claiming that the school had “caved” to liberal values and lost the meaning of its “God first” motto.

Just a day after the board’s meeting, with little to no prior warning given to the LGBTQ student community, the board of trustees released a statement officially reinstating the ban on LGBTQ relationships. In addition, the students on staff as Haven’s leaders must rename the office and receive board approval for any planned events.

Alexis Diaz, a queer student at Azusa Pacific who previously praised the administration for their new policy of acceptance, quickly organized a protest in response. Overnight on Sunday, September 30, dozens of students chalked up the campus with rainbows and filled the grounds with sticky notes featuring LGBTQ-affirming messages. The following afternoon, on Monday, October 1, about 200 students gathered in front of the Richard and Vivian Felix Event Center to pray and sing in opposition to the decision.

“This decision didn’t really seem like it [was made] in the best interest of students,” Diaz said. “Things were happening at a hundred miles per hour, and it felt like we weren’t a priority. Like, ‘Oh, what’s the next item of business? Yes, let’s just go ahead and reverse that.’ It didn’t seem well thought-out.”

Diaz cites threats from donors and parents as a key reason the board decided to change the policy. “From approving the LGBTQ pilot program in the first place, it sounded like [the administration] had thought about it, and that felt really good. Now to have it switched around and to have all of these different terms and conditions under which we [LGBTQ students] can meet, it just feels like… outside factors made them think it was the wrong decision.”

Azusa Pacific University certainly is facing its fair share of financial problems. According to ZuNews, the school’s student newspaper, the university ended the 2017-18 school year with $10 million in debt, and in response, the university has cut $17 million of projected spending this year.

Despite this, the university denies that financial burdens played any role in the board’s decision. Rachel White, Azusa’s associate director of public relations, emphasized, “The board takes its responsibility to steward the mission of the university seriously, while staying at the table in dialogue about how to support all students. The board’s decision reflects its convictions and unwillingness to be swayed by any pressures.” White could not clarify whether these outside pressures included the LGBTQ students with whom the university had already been negotiating for over a year.

Similarly, in an interview with AirTalk, board chair David Poole declined to answer whether the board would ever reconsider their swift backtracking. “We remain firmly anchored to our biblical position that we have adhered to for many years,” he said, “but we are engaging and talking with the community about how we can best minister to them in the context of who we are as the university.”

A major concern for LGBTQ students now is whether those who opened up about their relationship status during the period in which the dating ban was dropped will now face disciplinary measures. Previously, students in a same-sex relationship faced “vague” consequences, according to Courtney Fredericks, one of Haven’s leaders. “If a student complained about two students being in a same-sex relationship, that would initiate a conversation [with administration],” she said. “If the accused students are in leadership, they’ll be given a choice of stepping down from leadership or breaking up.”

Fredericks has not yet heard from the board or administration about what will happen to students who now must go put their relationships back in the closet, but she expects a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell kind of policy. “I think it’s most likely that students… will just be given a pass, that it will just be ignored,” she said. “It’s not like APU wants to go out and find students who are in relationships.”

Since the October 1 protests, students have not taken other steps to address the change. However, Erin Green, a lesbian alum of APU who helped craft the original policy change, insists that the fight will continue. She now serves as co-executive director of Brave Commons, a college-focused “intersectional, queer and POC-led Christian organization seeking to provoke a movement of faith and justice in the academy and beyond.”

“We’re taking a breather for a couple weeks and coming back with some serious energy around what we want to do. What’s in the works right now is a letter to the board and a petition… to show the extent of the support for the students at APU,” Green said.

While a letter and petition may build up a network of allies, Diaz questions what it will take for the board to listen to students. “Do they even care about student feedback if the policy reversal happened in the first place? I don’t know how much they actually care about what we’re experiencing,” she said. “I want to stay positive, but I think a lot of students are really guarded right now.”

And of course, beyond stubborn board members and angry donors, one of the greatest challenges the students face is time. Amidst organizing work, students still have to, well, study. And of course, eventually, students graduate and have the opportunity to build a life outside of a discriminatory campus. When the board can, in one afternoon, overturn a decision that was a year in the making, the four years students typically spend at Azusa suddenly seem very short.

Diaz, a senior, feels this pressure. While she’s not entirely sure what her post-grad plans hold, she remains committed to advocating on behalf of students that face discrimination. “Because I do really care about the university and what it has offered me, and because I do care about students who are affected by this policy, it would be hard for me to just walk away from that.”

Cayla Hailwood, another queer senior at Azusa Pacific, faces the same problem, but she remains motivated by the larger justice movement she sees happening in Christian spaces like the progressive Episcopal church she was raised in. She’s working with the student government association to craft a resolution in support of LGBTQ students. “God is moving within this,” she said. “We are seeing a shift within our generation of Christians. We are having Biblical Studies professors who study the word of God and are teaching about it with a very open interpretation of Scripture. More and more students are saying, ‘Let’s err on the side of love and not hate.’”

There’s much uncertainty about what the future holds for LGBTQ students at Azusa Pacific, but one thing seems clear: LGBTQ and ally students and alumni are done with just talking. They’re ready to act. “David Poole said… more dialogue is a part of remaining anchored and centered in Christ. Well, I think we’ve heard enough dialogue,” Green said. “We’re done talking. We’ve lost trust in the university and their capacity to handle discussion. So the next steps are action because if we just sit around talking, we’re not going to get very much done.”

Texas Conservatives File Lawsuit Against Austin’s LGBTQ-Inclusive Nondiscrimination Laws

Two conservative groups in Texas filed lawsuits against Austin’s nondiscrimination ordinance claiming it infringes on their religious beliefs.

The first of these was filed in federal court last Saturday on behalf of the U.S. Pastor Council, which claims to represent 25 churches in the Austin area.” The complainants allege that Austin’s laws banning discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, or disability” fail to uphold the “religious freedom” of faith groups opposed to LGBTQ rights.

“Because these member churches rely on the Bible rather than modern-day cultural fads for religious and moral guidance, they will not hire practicing homosexuals or transgendered [sic] people,” the lawsuit reads.

In a letter to the Austin City Council, U.S. Pastor Council Executive Director argued these laws effectively force churches to hire “homosexuals as clergy.”

“These are the stingiest religious exemptions we have ever seen in an anti-discrimination law,” he wrote in July. “It is inexcusable that you would purport to subject a church’s hiring decisions to your city’s antidiscrimination ordinance.”

The U.S. Pastor Council claims Austin’s hiring laws violate a slew of state and federal laws that it argues allow churches to fire or refuse to hire anyone they like if employing those individuals would violate their religious beliefs. In addition to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the group says the ordinance contravenes the Texas Constitution and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Passed in 1999, Texas’ RFRA proclaims that governmental agencies cannot “substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion.”

While the U.S. Pastor Council’s complaint specifically regards the Austin’s regulation of local hiring practices, a second suit filed just days later is far more sweeping in its scope. The conservative policy organization Texas Values seeks to allow landlords to deny housing to LGBTQ tenants, clergy to refuse to perform same-sex weddings, and employers to deny partner benefits to LGBTQ employees,

Its lawsuit also includes a backdoor attempt to ban trans people from using public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. According to complainants, faith-based businesses should have the right to restrict bathroom access based upon “biological sex.”

The complaint, however, doesn’t just apply to members of the LGBTQ community.

Texas Values argues that property owners should have the right to refuse to rent to individuals “who are engaged in non-marital sex of any sort, including homosexual behavior.”

City officials claimed Austin would not back down from protecting its LGBTQ citizens in all areas of public life.

“The ordinance reflects our values and culture respecting the dignity and rights of every individual,” said city spokesperson David Green in a statement released earlier this week. “We are prepared to vigorously defend the City against this challenge to the City’s civil rights protections.”

LGBTQ advocates believe the city of Austin will prevail in court.

“Nondiscrimination ordinances are designed to protect populations that are vulnerable to discrimination, and they exist because these municipalities have determined that discrimination is wrong and that fairness and equal treatment are values that they want to support,” Equality Texas CEO Chuck Smith told the Austin American-Statesman in a statement.

“These are lawsuits whose purpose is to demonize and stigmatize LGBTQ people and attack municipalities that enact ordinances that reflect the views and values of residents of those cities,” Smith added.

Supporters of the nondiscrimination ordinance point to the fact that critics of the law have yet to cite injuries resulting from its enactment.

After filing its challenge to the law in an Austin District Court on Monday, Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz said the group receives calls “all the time” from people who “are afraid if they simply exercise their rights that they are going to be prosecuted or punished.”

But when local news media asked Saenz for any instance in which a person of faith’s rights were infringed upon, he reportedly could “not provide a specific example.”

Although Texas is one of 30 states without laws forbidding discrimination on the basis of both gender identity and sexual orientation, several cities have enacted laws like Austin’s with little backlash. These municipalities include Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio.

Image via Getty

Pence’s Wife Supports GOP Candidate Who Thinks America Was Great When Being Gay Was Illegal

Mike Pence’s wife stopped in North Carolina this week to stump for a Republican candidate who thinks America was great when homosexuality was a crime.

On Monday, Karen Pence appeared as a special guest of the “Women for Mark Harris Bus Tour” in support of one of country’s most virulently anti-LGBTQ candidates. Harris, who is running in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, waxed nostalgic about locking up LGBTQ people in a 2015 speech.

“We have watched in one generation where homosexuality was once criminalized to now we see the criminalization of Christianity,” the evangelical preacher claimed.

More recently, Harris claimed in an interview with Roll Call that wives “should submit fully to their husbands,” before adding that “submitting to her husband does not mean that they are not equal.” In the same conversation, he alleged that being gay is a “choice.”

Hoping to lead conservative women put off by his comments back to the Republican Party, Mrs. Pence claimed now is not the time to stray.

“I’m here because this race is so important,” she said earlier this week, in comments first reported by Right Wing Watch. “[…] You have the chance to make a national impact. The road to the majority leads right through North Carolina. This seat, this race, it is critical to keeping the majority in Congress.”

Mrs. Pence added that unless voters elect Harris, the president’s “agenda is going to be stopped short.”

Harris’ district is one of the many vulnerable seats Democrats hope to flip in the November midterms. To win a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since 2011, liberals need to claim victory in at least 24 districts currently held by Republican lawmakers.

North Carolina’s 9th is considered anyone’s race. While a poll conducted by Civitas in early October claimed Democrat Dan McCready was ahead by four, a more recent New York Times survey showed Harris leading by five.

Mrs. Pence stressed that female voters will prove crucial in a close contest.

“Every single vote in every single race is going to count in this election,” she told the crowd of 100 people gathered at UNC Charlotte. “Women need to vote in this election.”

“[Harris is] the kind of strong, principled conservative leader who will stand with this administration to deliver results,” Mrs. Pence also said during the address. “He’s a husband, a father, a pastor, a leader. He has devoted his life to his service to others … a devoted servant of God.”

It’s not surprising that the Second Lady would admire someone like Harris, considering that he and her husband share many of the same views.

As a pastor at the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, Harris supported a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in North Carolina. He also campaigned against an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance in 2016, even donating $50,000 of his own money to the effort.

He has said that fighting against equality is a matter of “standing up for the values and principles that have been a part of the fabric of American society.”

Pence has supported nearly identical policies during his 20 years in public life.

On at least three occasions, he backed a federal amendment defining marriage as a union between “one man and one woman.” As the governor of Indiana, he signed a law allowing businesses to deny service to LGBTQ people on the grounds of religious faith.

Both men are strongly tied to the Family Research Council, which has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Recently, Pence became the first sitting vice president to address the anti-LGBTQ lobby organization’s Values Voter Summit. Harris is a member of its “Watchmen on the Wall” network.

Headed by close Trump advisor Tony Perkins, the FRC supports conversion therapy, believes trans people “threaten the safety of women and children” in bathrooms, and claim LGBTQ advocates want to normalize pedophilia.

Like Harris, the group has also advocated for outlawing same-sex intercourse.

After her 10-minute stump speech for Harris, Mrs. Pence stopped for a chat with Elizabeth Johnston, a conservative extremist known as the “Activist Mommy.” Johnston has called bans on conversion therapy “un-American,” believes LGBTQ Pride parades arepublic displays of lewdness and nudity,” and says LGBTQ sex-ed classes “rape the minds of children.”

Although Mrs. Pence has largely stayed out of the spotlight prior to this week, she revealed in a Washington Post profile last year that her husband refuses to eat alone with other women.