I had to decide whether today’s newsletter would talk about the ongoing assault on LGBTQ+ equality or about kids, which was, in the end, not really a choice at all. In 2023, it’s hard to mention one without discussing the other.
The Big Takeaway
Republican lawmakers have had a productive year so far, if you measure productivity in terms of pointless-but-prejudiced policy proposals. Nationwide, they’re up to 351 anti-LGBTQ+ bills — the most ever introduced in a single year, let alone two months. Most of them use similar language to suggest “solutions” for things that are not problems, like drag performances or transgender people using the bathroom. Together, the proposals constitute a massive expansion of government oversight into what are traditionally parental and family decisions, which is an … interesting platform for the self-proclaimed party of small government and parental rights. A contradictory set of priorities, you might say.
Or you would if things like “contradictions” still mattered in politics, which of course they don’t. That’s why Iowa Republicans can assure voters that “parents and freedom still matter” at a rally on Feb. 2, and then vote on Feb. 28 for a bill stripping parents of the freedom to make decisions about their child’s medical care. The rhetorical whiplash was even more severe in Indiana, where Senate Republicans on Tuesday approved a bill overriding a parent’s right to approve gender-affirming care for their kids, the Indiana Capital Chronicle reported. The party-line vote came just five days after House Republicans passed a separate measure enshrining a parent’s right to reject their child’s gender identity without being accused of abuse.
Three Republicans joined Democrats to vote against the Senate bill, which would ban puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapies and surgical procedures only for minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Kids with other diagnoses could still receive those treatments, a cruel and nonsensical policy quirk that Republican state Sen. Tyler Johnson attempted to frame as a smart and non-controversial provision.
“It’s common sense public policy to protect your children from unproven, irreversible and life-altering decisions,” said Johnson, the bill’s author. “A child cannot understand the weight and permanency of these decisions.”
But a transgender child might presumably understand the decision itself, which is apparently not the case for Johnson. For starters, puberty blockers and hormone therapy are not “unproven” treatments — they’re safe and effective courses of care when carried out under the direction of a trained physician. And while the effects of hormone therapy are considered permanent, puberty blockers are reversible when prescribed as a stand-alone treatment. He’s right about the life-changing nature of the decision, though — transgender patients who want, and receive, puberty blockers or hormone treatment are less likely to consider suicide than those who are denied gender-affirming care. Unsurprisingly, then, less than 1% of kids who receive gender-affirming care regret it later.
It’s possible that Johnson simply cannot understand the weight and permanency of his proposal, though to be fair, he did not seem to understand much of anything. When asked whether he’s aware of minors in Indiana receiving gender surgery — a rarity among patients under 18 — Johnson said yes, but declined to provide examples, cite specific providers or health care systems, or explain how many children were impacted. When lawmakers asked medical or technical questions about his bill, Johnson (a physician!) gave the same (non) answer: His own “medical, moral and legal obligation” to protect (other people’s) kids.
A similar bill was delayed in Missouri after Republicans came to their senses and — lol JK, it’s because they got into a dumb fight. The drama started Monday as Republican leaders attempted to negotiate with Democrats to find language that might allow the bill — a ban on gender-affirming care for anyone under the age of 18 — to pass. Those talks were crucial for the bill’s survival, according to Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin. But the effort didn’t initially include the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Mike Moon. And he didn’t take it well, per the Missouri Independent.
O’Laughlin said she had asked Moon several times on Monday to set the bill aside to allow more time for negotiations. When he refused, she adjourned the chamber, telling lawmakers it was the only way to “bring this up at a time when it will pass.” Moon retaliated on Tuesday by using a procedural move to wrest control of the floor, forcing his colleagues to listen to him complain about the situation. It was his bill! He’d said no! And no one told him about the need for negotiations until a single hour before the legislation was supposed to hit the floor!
“I am expected to just swallow and sit down and say, ‘do what you will,’” Moon said.
The spectacle was, somehow, simultaneously amusing and mind-numbingly dull. But I guess that’s typical for Missouri Republicans, who have spent the better part of two years waging dumb intraparty fights. Their scuffles got so bad last year that the Senate adjourned a day early, just to end the misery. Lawmakers were hopeful this year might be different after the dissolution of a drama-prone conservative caucus, but old habits die hard. Moon’s Tuesday diatribe was the second procedural retaliation in less than a week.
And nobody can really win these arguments, you know? They’re time-consuming and wonky and thoroughly whiny, and they usually prompt the most outrage from lawmakers who should really be spending their time doing more useful things. Moon, for example, could have spent Monday discussing his bill with state Sen. Greg Razer, a Democrat and the chamber’s only openly gay member. Razer would rather have stopped the legislation altogether, he said, but his party doesn’t have the votes. So he took the other option: Pulling on a pair of adult pants and participating in negotiations in the hope of lessening the fallout.
“Those of you that want to go home and brag that you kicked a transgender kid in the face can say it, but these kids can still have a life and families don’t have to move,” he said.
It’s a low bar, and it’s one that most anti-LGBTQ+ proposals probably won’t clear. There’s a bill in Montana that would define “sex” in state statutes, potentially impacting legal documents, including marriage licenses, for LGBTQ+ residents, advocates told the Daily Montanan. An existing transgender athlete ban in Texas doesn’t go far enough for Republicans, who are now trying to restrict participation among college students, per the Texas Tribune. And it’s an entirely mixed bag in Nebraska, where the whims of legislators will decide whether LGBTQ+ residents face new restrictions or new protections — or some mix of both.
But if state Sen. Michelle Cavanaugh has her way? It’ll be all rainbows.
“I want the LGBTQ+ community, as a whole, to have hope and faith that there are people in positions of power that will not let them down,” she told the Nebraska Examiner. ”I will not let them down. The last thing I will do is fail.”
Plenty of failures to go around: Arkansas panel OKs criminalization of using bathrooms that do not match a person’s biological sex … (Indiana) Senators debate ban on “inappropriate” library materials for minors … (Louisiana) St. Tammany libraries to ‘red flag’ certain graphic novels … (Michigan) Whitmer, Nessel and Dem lawmakers lift up LGBTQ+ rights bill before likely Senate vote … (Mississippi) Lafayette prosecutor: ‘Nothing’s happened’ in case of Ole Miss student charged with murder of LGBTQ+ student … (Nebraska) Charlie Kirk’s visit to Lincoln brings protesters, reported vandalism
State of Our Democracy
A conspiracy-loving, insurrection-attending Michigan Republican is heading up a Michigan House Republican campaign committee, which democracy experts described as a “warning bell” for voters in the state, per the Michigan Advance. (In other words, no, 2023 will not be the year we finally get to stop talking about the 2020 election.)
State Rep. Angela Rigas, a Caledonia Republican, was appointed last month as an executive member of the campaign committee, which works to elect and re-elect Republicans to the chamber. The freshman lawmaker is an election denier who was in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021, and claims to have been tear-gassed on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, where five people died and 140 police officers were injured.
These are badges of honor for Rigas, who takes it as a compliment when people refer to her as an insurrectionist or a terrorist. As far as she’s concerned, people who participated in the riot were just “exercising their God-given Constitutional rights.” When she’s not palling around with extreme right-wingers who are trying to overthrow the government, Rigas spends her time hating on vaccines, protesting pandemic health orders and launching futile quests to make life harder for the state legislature’s Democratic majorities.
Honestly, she’s a great spokeswoman for the modern far-right GOP, and that is probably why House Republicans ignored a question about the optics of naming a Jan. 6 participant to its leadership. (The optics speak for themselves, liberal media! Leave us alone!) But I do wonder if they think it’s good politics, given the thorough shellacking that similar election deniers received in the 2022 midterms. (Probably?) For what it’s worth, the pro-democracy crowd is not impressed.
“In both the 2020 and 2022 elections, Michiganders rejected politicians who denied lawful election results or who distorted facts for political gain,” said Matt Patton, Michigan policy advocate for Protect Democracy. “Appointments like this should be a warning bell for Michigan voters who believe facts matter and that acknowledging clear winners and losers of elections is the bedrock of democracy itself.”
I myself do enjoy facts: A behind-the-scenes look at how Ohio enacted the most restrictive voter photo ID law in America … (Minnesota) Bills regulating toxic chemicals attract high-priced lobbyists … (South Dakota) Primary voters would choose most statewide nominees under bill advancing to the House … Jillian Balow resigns as Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction … (Wisconsin) Protasiewicz says she’d recuse herself from cases involving Democratic Party … Dozens of open records requests to Wisconsin DOJ have sat for more than a year
From The Newsrooms
One Last Thing
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