TRENTON -- Gov. Chris Christie was already the most unpopular governor in the history of New Jersey polling. Then came photos earlier this week that showed he'd hit the beach at Island Beach State Park at a time when the park was closed to the public because of a government shutdown. When asked later in the…
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Ten anti-LGBTQ+ bills largely focused on sports and education restrictions are going into effect today across six states — Alabama, Florida, Indiana, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah. Two of the most prominent bills are one in Florida restricting classroom discussion of gender and sexuality, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents, and a bathroom bill in Alabama that was amended to include its own education restrictions.
Collectively, the bills build toward an atmosphere of silence around LGBTQ+ people and restrict how LGBTQ+ youth can learn about themselves and participate at school, advocates say.
National LGBTQ+ advocates are especially concerned that more bills restricting classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity are being passed into law.
“These curriculum censorship bills hurt me the most,” said Vivian Topping, director of advocacy and civic engagement of the Equality Federation, a coalition of state LGBTQ+ organizations.
It is already hard enough for transgender and LGBTQ+ youth to see themselves reflected in the culture or in the academic materials they’re learning from, Topping said — and harder still for LGBTQ+ youth to simply go to school if they are getting bullied. Taking away the ability for students to talk with teachers about their identity or learn about queer communities in school may hamper their ability to dream of a future with people like them in it.
Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at LGBTQ+ suicide prevention organization the Trevor Project, is particularly worried about Alabama’s bathroom bill, which includes an amendment seemingly styled after Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Alabama’s bill passed with an amendment that prohibits public schools from teaching or allowing classroom discussion on gender identity and sexual orientation for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The bill was sent to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk on the last day of the state’s legislative session in an 11th-hour move that shocked the state’s LGBTQ+ advocates.
“We got this weird Franken-bill, this education bill that is also a bathroom bill. That is one I’m particularly concerned about,” Ames said, noting that LGBTQ+ youth in Alabama will be hit with two restrictions in the same legislation.
Also in Alabama, a federal judge has blocked the state’s separate felony ban against prescribing hormone treatment or puberty-blocking medication to trans youth — but the state’s law still requires school counselors and teachers to alert parents if children come out as trans or gender-nonconforming.
Across the state line, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill outright bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade — but LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have interpreted the fine print of the bill to also restrict that instruction in grades four through 12. The law states that such instruction cannot take place in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.
A jury trial for Equality Florida and the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ lawsuit against the state over the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is currently set for February 13 next year. Parties currently have until November of this year to finish exchanging information on witnesses and evidence that they’ll present.
Equality Florida argues that the ripple effect of this legislation has already expanded beyond the classroom: A Florida high school class president was prevented from talking about his experience as a gay student in May, and some Florida teachers have reported being told to take down Pride flags (a trend that surfaced last year among teachers in other states as well).
Anita Carson, a former sixth-grade science teacher in Florida, told reporters on a Friday press call hosted by Equality Florida that the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is one reason she resigned from teaching about a month ago — after spending 12 years in the profession.
“I could not see myself in a classroom where I could not support students in the best way possible,” she said. “This law prevents that.”
Conversations around education have grown “increasingly toxic” in the state, she said, pointing to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and the “Stop Woke Act” — a law setting boundaries on discussions of race that also went into effect on Friday. Teachers have been accused of trying to harm kids while doing their jobs, she said.
“It’s already a hard job. And if you add to that this very toxic narrative surrounding what we do and why we do it, it’s untenable,” she said.
Dempsey Jara, who is trans and will soon enter fifth grade, told reporters on the call that she doesn’t feel safe in school with the bills that Florida has passed. Jara’s mom said that she feels the bills seek to hide and invalidate her child’s existence.
In South Dakota, an anti-trans sports bill and bill limiting classroom discussion on race, sex and ethnicity that advocates say would also affect LGBTQ+ students are going into effect on Friday.
Jett Jonelis, the ACLU of South Dakota’s advocacy manager, said the vagueness of the bill’s language — and how it defines “divisive concepts” that schools should not direct students to affirm — could especially restrict discussions on two-spirit identities. (While being two-spirit means different things to different tribes and Indigenous communities, it broadly refers to gender variation and those who are neither men nor women, who possess both spirits, or who occupy a separate gender identity.)
“It’s very overly broad and it opens the door to a wide variety of dangerous interpretations that would censor free speech and academic freedom,” they said.
Early next month, a Louisiana bill restricting school sports access for trans youth is also expected to go into effect.
Topping warned that a significant amount of confusion may be caused by the enforcement of these laws as they go into effect — whether that’s teachers figuring out how curriculum restrictions work, or how athlete bans would actually be implemented in schools.
“What these bills are encouraging is a culture of censorship and surveillance,” she said. “It’s encouraging people to report on each other.”
Originally published by The 19th.
The Guatemalan teenager gave the priest her name: Serenidad.
They met on Tuesday morning at a children’s hospital San Antonio, where the priest, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, had arrived to comfort one of the youngest survivors of the deadliest migrant-trafficking tragedy in modern American history.
“She smiled several times, a beautiful smile,” the archbishop recalled in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “I asked if she’d called her family, but her cellphone had been confiscated.”
The archbishop urged the girl, whom he estimated to be around 16, to contact her family once she was able. “And then I said: If you can contribute, it would be great if you can smile as much as you can, because then you can make everyone around you feel good. They will see that you are doing well.”
García-Siller said he heard the news around 7 p.m. Monday: Dozens of people had been found dead or near death inside a broiling tractor-trailer that had come to a stop near the intersection of Interstates 35 and 410 on the city’s Southwest Side. As of Friday, the toll is 53 dead, 11 injured. Four men have been detained and charged in the tragedy; two face charges that could carry the death penalty.
The archbishop said he visited survivors at four hospitals on Monday evening, including a Guatemalan woman he estimated to be around 19. (She nodded when he asked and reacted brightly when he mentioned some cities in Guatemala.)
“She could communicate only through her eyes and with her fingers, and she tried to speak but I couldn’t understand her,” he recalled.
He visited two more hospitals early Tuesday, including the one where he met Serenidad. And on Friday morning, he met with another survivor, a young man from Mexico. He noted that that he did not ask for the victims’ legal names, nor would he; undocumented migrants often use pseudonyms or false IDs.
“Most of the victims were unconscious and very seriously ill,” he said. “They were hooked up to all kinds of things. But I was able to be in each room and to be in their presence to pray and to honor them. And think of their families.”
Born in Mexico, García-Siller has led an archdiocese that covers nearly 28,000 square miles and includes an estimated 800,000 faithful; it began as a Spanish mission in 1713. In just over a month, the clergy and lay staff members of the archdiocese have grappled with two epic tragedies: the May 24 school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, which took the lives of 19 students and two teachers, and now the June 27 tragedy, which took the lives of 40 male and 13 female victims, including citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
“What I wish for people is to foster a culture of life because there are so many signs of a culture of death,” he told the Tribune. “What happened was an example of a culture of death. What happened in Uvalde, that’s a sign of a culture of death.”
The gunman in Uvalde was an 18-year-old local who had tortured animals and threatened women, according to the authorities.
“We can say the man was sick, he was in crisis, but we are responsible,” the archbishop said. “We are not sowing seeds of life, of respect of human persons, fostering encounters and relationships. The drug situation, the human trafficking — those are signs and expressions of a culture of death. How do we foster a culture of life? That is all of us. I feel responsible.”
On Thursday evening, San Fernando Cathedral — the oldest standing church building in Texas, founded in 1731 — held a memorial Mass and interfaith prayer vigil organized by the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Interfaith San Antonio Alliance. Jews, Muslims, Protestants, Catholics and Sikhs attended the interfaith service. In his homily, delivered in English and Spanish, the archbishop spoke with compassion about those fleeing poverty and violence to come to the United States.
“You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt,” he read from the Book of Exodus. “If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely listen to their cry.”
He continued: “Not all sins have the same degree of intrinsic evil by which God is offended, nor are their consequences equally serious. The exploitation of the poor, and in particular of migrants — who flee dramatic situations in search of opportunities and hope — is particularly grave.”
In his homily, the archbishop condemned “traders of death who consider lives as merchandise and ultimately as collateral damage,” but also society at large.
“It is not permissible for anyone in our society to remain idle and look the other way in the face of the humanitarian crisis caused by unregulated migration,” he said. “We all have a role to play in solidarity with people fleeing in search of opportunities for development.”
While stopping well short of calling for open borders, the prelate stressed the need for international cooperation and regulation. At least 100 million people worldwide have been displaced from their homes, and as the planet warms, another 500 million people might join them over the next several decades.
“Immigration is a natural phenomenon that arises from the supply and demand for labor and security,” the archbishop said. “It is like a stream of water. If it is not given a channel, it finds it naturally, but not in the right way. Migration is a natural human right. Likewise, the receiving country has the right and the duty to regulate it.”
While the United States has not enacted comprehensive reform of its immigration system since 1986, presidents and governors have made the southwest border a political battlefield — and the Texas-Mexico border in particular has become increasingly militarized under Gov. Greg Abbott’s multibillion-dollar border security push, dubbed Operation Lone Star.
On the federal level, an emergency public health order known as Title 42, enacted early in the COVID-19 pandemic, allows immigration agents to quickly expel migrants without allowing them to request asylum, though the Biden administration has sought to have it lifted. On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that the administration can lift the Trump-era “remain in Mexico” policy that compels asylum-seekers to wait south of the border while their cases wind their way through immigration courts. That policy, too, remains in place as the case returns to a lower court.
At the cathedral, the archbishop asked the faithful to listen to the voices of migrants and to urge politicians to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
“Politics — rightly understood — is the opposite of ideological confrontation,” he said. “It is one of the highest forms of charity. It is a path that begins by loving our closest neighbor — in order to be able to love even those we do not know."
The former leader of the free world may decline to inform his own aides before announcing a 2024 comeback bid on his Twitter-clone social media site.
"The timing of a formal announcement from Mr. Trump remains uncertain. But he recently surprised some advisers by saying he might declare his candidacy on social media without warning even his own team, and aides are scrambling to build out basic campaign infrastructure in time for an announcement as early as this month," The New York Times reported.
That is not the only schism between Trump and his aides.
"The former president’s team remains divided over whether he should even run again. Those opposed to a third White House bid have expressed concerns ranging from doubts about Mr. Trump’s remaining political potency to questions about whether he can articulate a clear rationale for running and avoid a repeat of 2020," the newspaper reported. "Others are urging Mr. Trump to take his time. Donald Trump Jr., his eldest son, has taken a more central role in Mr. Trump’s inner circle of political advisers and has told others that he wants his father to install a more expansive campaign team around him in preparation for a run."
The chaos comes against the backdrop of the investigations into Trump's attempted coup following shocking public testimony by former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson.
"But even Trump aides who are supportive of another campaign worry that the former president’s path to a third nomination has become more difficult than he’s willing to acknowledge. Some close to Mr. Trump have grown concerned about potential legal and political consequences from the congressional hearings into the Capitol riot," the newspaper reported. "Mr. Trump signaled his concern about the potential political consequences of the testimony, reacting in real time to the hearing by posting a dozen messages on his Truth Social website attacking Ms. Hutchinson and denying her most explosive testimony."
Two days after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Twitter permanently suspended Trump "due to the risk of further incitement of violence."
Trump had 88.6 million followers on Twitter on Jan. 6, 2021.
He currently has 3.4 million followers on Truth Social.