Trump Renominates Anti-LGBT Pol for Religious Freedom Ambassador

Sam Brownback, the intensely anti-LGBT Republican who’s been Kansas’s governor and a U.S. senator from the state, has been renominated by Donald Trump as ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

Trump nominated Brownback for the post last year, but since the Senate failed to take action and Senate Democrats refused to allow the nominations to roll over into the new year, he had to be renominated, The Kansas City Star reports. His is one of numerous renominations announced today, several of which are problematic for LGBT people.

Brownback has a long anti-LGBT record, and during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October he refused to answer Sen. Tim Kaine’s question on if there were “any circumstance under which religious freedom can justify criminalizing, imprisoning, or executing somebody based on their LGBT status could be deemed acceptable because somebody asserts they are religiously motivated in doing so,” notes the Human Rights Campaign. HRC and several other groups opposed his confirmation.

As governor of Kansas, Brownback attempted to block marriage equality in the state, even after the U.S. Supreme Court made its ruling for nationwide equality in June 2015. “Brownback’s opposition was so extreme that a federal judge put the state on probation,” wrote Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Kansas affiliate, in an Advocate commentary last August. “Doubting that the state would treat same-sex couples fairly, a federal judge is monitoring every aspect of the state’s implementation of same-sex marriage for the next three years!”

Brownback also rescinded a previous governor’s executive order protecting state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and he issued another order allowing social service organizations with state contracts or grants to discriminate against LGBT and other clients, without repercussions, if the organizations cite religious objections. Further, he signed into law a bill allowing student religious groups to discriminate, even at state-funded schools.

When Brownback talks about religious freedom, Kubic wrote, he does not mean the right to worship freely. “What he really means is that he believes you should have the right to discriminate against other people as long as there is a religious reason for doing so,” Kubic concluded.

As a U.S. senator, he was an original cosponsor of a federal constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, which he called a “social experiment” that would “take the sacredness out of marriage.” He opposed LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes legislation, saying he feared it would keep people from stating their opposition to homosexuality. He supported the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which kept gay, lesbian, and bisexual troops in the closet and in danger of discharge.

With Brownback’s renomination, GLAAD issued a statement today opposing his confirmation. “The idea that the same administration pushing the Muslim ban is seeking to equitably promote religious freedom abroad is absurd. The renomination of Sam Brownback, is yet another example of President Trump using the Oval Office to target vulnerable communities,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Throughout his career, Sam Brownback has felt entitled to impose his anti-LGBTQ ideology on others, citing his faith while rescinding discrimination protections and voting against hate crime legislation. This deeply troubling record must be taken into full account as Brownback is, once again, sent through the nomination process.”

Other problematic nominees on the renomination list include Trump’s choice to head NASA, Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma who has spoken out against marriage equality, opposed opening the Boy Scouts to gay members, and denounced the Obama administration’s guidelines on equal treatment of transgender students. Renominated for ambassador to the Bahamas is Doug Manchester, a California hotelier who was a major donor to the campaign for Proposition 8, which temporarily rescinded marriage equality in the state. Some anti-LGBT federal judicial nominees also received renominations, including David R. Stras, Stuart Kyle Duncan, and Matthew Kacsmaryk.

And a rare openly gay nominee is Richard Grenell, renominated to be ambassador to Germany. Grenell is a Trump supporter who has an ugly history of insulting liberal women, such as Hillary Clinton and Rachel Maddow, based on their appearance. If confirmed, he would be ambassador to a country led by a woman, Angela Merkel.

Wolff Said Trump Enacted Trans Military Ban for 'No Evident Reason'; But He's Wrong

Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, says Donald Trump’s transgender military ban was a snap judgment that was made with “no evident reason” — a claim in conflict with prior news reports.

The new exposé, which the president called a “phony book … full of lies, misrepresentations, and sources that don’t exist,” provides background to the controversial move Trump announced via Twitter on July 26. The tweet reversed an action of the Obama administration that allowed trans troops to serve openly — although courts have since blocked it from taking effect.

According to Fire and Fury, the week preceding the ban was a “head-slammer” for the Trump administration, which included the ongoing “comic-opera effort to appeal Obamacare,” Jared Kushner’s public denial of connections to Russia “in a reedy, self- pitying voice,” and a West Virginia trip ending in an embarrassing speech to the Boy Scouts of America.

“The quick trip did not seem to improve Trump’s mood: the next morning, seething, the president again publicly attacked his attorney general and — for good measure and no evident reason — tweeted his ban of transgender people in the military,” Wolff recounted.

Earlier in the day, Wolff said, “the president had been presented with four different options related to the military’s transgender policy. The presentation was meant to frame an ongoing discussion, but ten minutes after receiving the discussion points, and without further consultation, Trump tweeted his transgender ban.”

The characterization of Trump’s tweet as out-of-the-blue contradicts a July report from Politico, among others. That week, a spending bill that included funds for a Mexican border wall — a top campaign promise of the president — was compromised due to infighting among House Republicans over the Pentagon’s funding of gender-confirmation surgeries.

Trump learned the proposal to increase the Pentagon’s budget was in danger from anti-trans Republicans, who alerted the president. He then made the snap judgment to institute the ban as “a last-ditch attempt to save a House proposal full of his campaign promises that was on the verge of defeat,” according to Politico‘s Capitol Hill sources.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump tweeted. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Trump’s ban on allowing trans troops “to serve in any capacity” would have been an extreme response to the matter being debated, which centered only on medical costs — the move blindsided many Republicans and military leaders, in addition to the general public. 

However, the assertion that Trump instituted the ban with “no evident reason” is false. The move, if hurried, was made in calculated self-interest. It helped work toward Trump’s campaign promise to not only build a border wall but also to undo the legacy of President Barack Obama.

Moreover, the ban is in line with the president’s bowing to his base — right-wing conservatives. In fact, The New York Times reported that Tony Perkins, head of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council, “pressed Mr. Trump for months to make the statement he issued … saying transgender people would be barred from the military.”

So to view Trump’s attacks on LGBT rights as random outbursts is misleading, because it ignores the influence of those who have long plotted how to take away the rights of transgender people. And now they have the ear of the president.

Oregon Appeals Court Upholds Discrimination Ruling Against Antigay Bakers

The Oregon Court of Appeals Thursday upheld a ruling that a bakery violated the state’s antidiscrimination law by refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

The court affirmed the Oregon Bureau of Labor’s ruling that Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, located in Gresham, illegally discriminated against the couple and are liable for a $135,000 fine, reports The Register-Guard of Eugene.

“The Kleins seek an exemption based on their sincere religious opposition to same-sex marriage,” Judge Chris Garrett wrote in the opinion, according to the newspaper. “But those with sincere religious objections to marriage between people of different races, ethnicities, or faiths could just as readily demand the same exemption.”

The Kleins had cited their Christian beliefs in refusing to provide a cake for the 2013 wedding of Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer. In the Bureau of Labor’s ruling, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian wrote that the Kleins’ action “was more than the denial of the product. … It was the epitome of being told there are places you cannot go, things you cannot do … or be.” The bureau made its finding of discrimination in 2014 and set the fine in 2015. The Kleins filed their appeal last year.

The Kleins, who have now closed their business, resisted paying the fine for several months, despite raising nearly half a million dollars through a crowdfunding campaign, but they finally delivered the money, plus interest, at the end of 2015. The money has been held in escrow during the appeal process and will continue to be, as the Kleins may appeal further, to the Oregon Supreme Court, The Register-Guard reports. They are considering this option, their attorneys said.

They are represented by the right-wing First Liberty Institute, whose president, Kelly Shackelford, issued this statement: “Today, the Oregon Court of Appeals decided that Aaron and Melissa Klein are not entitled to the Constitution’s promises of religious liberty and free speech. In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs.”

The Bownan-Cryers released a statement praising the decision. “In Oregon, businesses that are open to the public are open to all,” they said. “With this ruling, the Court of Appeals has upheld the long-standing idea that discrimination has no place in America.”a

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this month in a similar case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The commission found that Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips violated Colorado antidiscrimination law by refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, and state courts upheld the ruling. Phillips contended that providing goods for a same-sex wedding went against his religious beliefs and that forcing him to do so infringed upon his constitutional rights to religious and artistic freedom. The high court is expected to issue its decision in the summer.

Miss America Organization on Brink of Collapse After Email Scandal

The CEO of the Miss America organization, along with the COO and a board chair, have resigned after The Huffington Post published emails from them where they fat-shamed, slut-shamed, and even joked about the death of a former pageant winner.

One day after being suspended, CEO Sam Haskell resigned on Saturday from his position, which reportedly paid nearly $500,000 a year. COO Josh Randle and board chair Lynn Weidner will be gone in the next few weeks, while Dick Clark Productions, which produces the annual beauty pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., severed ties with the nonprofit organization, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Leaked emails show Haskell allowed or participated in discussions of former pageant winners where their sex lives and weight were derided; 2013 Miss America winner Mallory Hagan (pictured above, at the 2013 GLAAD Awards) received the lion’s share of criticism. But Miss America 1998 Kate Shindle was also a target of ire, mostly for criticizing Haskell’s exorbitant paycheck. When former winner Mary Ann Mobley died in late 2014, an organization employee wrote an email to Haskell with the subject line, “It should have been Kate Shindle.”

Haskell replied, “Thanks so much Coach…even in my sadness you can make me laugh…how was the Kennedy Center Honors? Love you and appreciate you! Sam.”

Gretchen Carlson — a pageant winner in 1989, a former board member of the Miss America Organization, and a former Fox journalist who sued Roger Ailes for sexual harassment and exposed a culture of terror at Fox News — was also regularly criticized and described as a “snake” and “INFUCKINGSANE.” 

A writer with the 2014 pageant also suggested calling former Miss Americas “cunts”; Haskell responded to the email by writing, “Perfect… bahahaha.”

In addition to Dick Clark Productions severing ties with the pageants, the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals is conducting an investigation to determine whether they will still accept funding from the nonprofit. Aside from contributing to charities like the Miracle Network, Miss America provides scholarships to the young women in its pageants.

Texas Marriage Equality Plaintiff Runs for State Senate

A man who sued Texas for the right to marry his same-sex partner is running for the state’s Senate next year.

Mark Phariss, who with partner Victor Holmes and another couple sued over Texas’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2013, announced Tuesday that he will run as a Democrat in a Dallas-area district, The Dallas Morning News reports. He would be the first openly gay state senator. There have been out LGBT members of the state House.

“When I was accepting the fact that I was gay, there were two things I kind of thought I had to give up: one, getting married, and two, running for political office,” Phariss told the News. “I need to quit assuming what people will think. I need to allow them the choice.”

Phariss is a lawyer in the Dallas suburb of Plano, with a practice focusing on business. The suit that he and Holmes, an Air Force veteran, brought against the state’s marriage ban was in progress when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all such bans in June 2015. They married a few months later, having been together for 18 years at that point.

Phariss said recent Democratic victories in Virginia and Alabama encouraged him to run for office. One other Democrat, Brian Chaput, has announced his candidacy for the same seat, from District 8 in Collin County, encompassing several Dallas suburbs. There are also two Republicans seeking the seat, Angela Paxton and Phillip Huffines. Paxton is the wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has an anti-LGBT record, and Huffines is the twin brother of Don Huffines, a state senator representing Dallas. The party primaries will be March 6 and the general election November 6.

Phariss has already received endorsements from Jim Obergefell, the Ohio man who was the named plaintiff in the Supreme Court marriage equality case, and Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In addition to his role in the marriage equality case, Phariss is known for his friendship with an antigay Republican officeholder, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was previously the state’s attorney general and defended the marriage ban. They met in law school at Vanderbilt University, and during the marriage case Phariss recalled visiting Abbott in the hospital in 1984, when Abbott had suffered a spinal injury. “He was a very good friend then, and I consider him a very good friend now,” Phariss said in 2014, although the two have lost touch over the years.

Of his legislative priorities, Phariss told the News, “The legislature needs to refocus its attention on our state’s important issues — like attracting good jobs and reducing traffic congestion — and avoid divisive policies that hurt our state’s reputation and competitiveness, like ‘show me your papers’ laws. Most importantly, the legislature needs to fund our children’s educational programs.” Getting in a dig at Texas’s failed attempt to pass an anti-transgender “bathroom bill,” he added, “Classrooms, not bathrooms, will determine our children’s and our state’s future.”

“I’m absolutely gay. There is no way to hide that,” he continued. “But I’m running as a Texan, and I will absolutely represent every constituent in my district if I win. So even those who vote against me — even those who vote against me because I’m gay, I will want to listen to them and represent them. … Our marriage equality case was all about saying we are just like everyone else.”

Roy Moore Still Won't Concede, Begs for Cash to Fund 'Election Integrity Program'

Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore last week by over 20,000 votes in a U.S. Senate race in Alabama, but Moore refuses to concede the election and is begging supporters to fund his “Election Integrity Program.”

A fundraising email sent to supporters Monday asked for contributions to the “program,” which supposedly will uncover enough fraudulent votes to overturn last week’s election; an outcome that is highly unlikely. Moore is seeking $75,000 and, according to a tweet from journalist Lauren Walsh, he’s received less than $50,000.

“Reports of potential voter fraud and various other irregularities are streaming in from all across the state,” reads the email. “Campaign staff and volunteers are chasing down and investigating each and every report the moment they’re received. Sorting through the information is a slow and laborious process. As you can see, my campaign worked around the clock the past several days to create and launch this critical Election Integrity Program on a moment’s notice. But time is running out to submit each report before the certification deadline.”

The Moore campaign hasn’t submitted any official fraud complaints to officials, Alabama’s secretary of state told a local CBS affiliate. 

Moore — accused by several women of either assaulting, touching, or pursuing them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s — has been urged to officially concede the race for Jeff Sessions’s former Senate seat by both Jones and Donald Trump

These Schools Get Millions Of Tax Dollars To Discriminate Against LGBTQ Students

LYNCHBURG, Va. ― Sunnie Kahle used to think that if she promised to be good, she could go back to her old school.

She’d plead with her great-grandmother to let her enroll again at Timberlake Christian Schools, where she had gone since she was 3 years old. Even if teachers were mean to her, even if other kids said bad things about her, she wouldn’t be mad. She just wanted her old life back.

Her great-grandmother and guardian, Doris Thompson, 74, didn’t know how to tell Sunnie she wasn’t allowed back at the school. Administrators didn’t want her there. In a 2014 letter to Thompson that essentially expelled Sunnie, the school referenced several passages from the Bible as to why they wouldn’t take her back. They suggested Sunnie wasn’t acting “Christlike” by wearing her hair short and preferring pants to skirts.

Sunnie was 8 years old. She wasn’t traditionally feminine enough for them.  

Timberlake Christian Schools in Virginia is one of over at least 700 religious schools in America currently receiving public money while openly advertising and practicing anti-LGBTQ policies, HuffPost has found in a new investigation.

HuffPost has been examining private schools that receive taxpayer dollars through voucher or tax credit programs. We created a database of more than 7,000 schools in 25 states and the District of Columbia with private school choice programs that give public money to private religious schools. 

In the first story of this investigation, which we published earlier in December, we looked at what was being taught. We discovered thousands of schools that used evangelical Christian curricula, largely considered inaccurate and unscientific. In our second article, we singled out a handful of schools that purported to be secular but maintained strong ties to the Church of Scientology. For this story, we researched the number of schools in our database that practice discrimination toward LGBTQ students and staff members.

We visited every website of each school in search of evidence of their attitudes and policies on gender-nonconforming and LGBTQ students. If a school did not advertise a specific policy, we followed up via email or a call. For Catholic schools, we looked for diocese-wide policies on these issues. Often, these schools had policies against heterosexual sex before marriage, as well.

We found at least 14 percent of religious schools take an active stance against LGBTQ staff and students. Some of these schools have policies on their websites generally broadcasting their opposition to same-sex marriage or even stating their belief that homosexuality is a sin on par with bestiality. Others have harsher policies ― specifically stating that students can face punishments, like expulsion, for displaying signs of a “homosexual lifestyle” or “alternate gender identity.” At least 5 percent of these schools also have explicit policies against hiring or retaining LGBTQ staff.

On the other hand, we also found many schools that have policies specifically protecting students from discrimination based on sexual orientation.  

Many more of these schools belong to larger churches that preach anti-LGBTQ sentiment. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is “opposed to homosexual practices and relationships,” per the denomination’s website. The Roman Catholic Church says marriage can occur only between a man and woman. We did not assume that schools identifying with these groups were hostile places for LGBTQ students. In our count, we included only schools (or dioceses) that had a specific anti-LGBTQ policy. In that way, our numbers represent a bare minimum of schools where LGBTQ students may encounter hostility.

Religious schools are generally exempt from the types of regulations that would protect students and teachers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s only in recent years, though, that these schools have received an injection of taxpayer funds with the rise and expansion of state-level private school choice programs.

Since President Donald Trump and his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, have expressed the desire to use federal dollars to increase private school choice, it’s worth closely examining which students are served and which are not. 

After Sunnie was kicked out of Timberlake, her great-grandma transferred her to public school. Thompson, who is emphatic when she talks about Sunnie, in the way only proud grandmas do, has a tattoo on her wrist that says, “Family is forever.”

Sitting in her living room, the walls lined with photos of Sunnie, here in this city just a couple of hours from Richmond, the Virginia capital, Thompson explained how she came to be Sunnie’s guardian. It’s a complicated tale of mental illness and addiction, but since Sunnie was 2 months old, Thompson has been her protector.  

In February of 2014, when Sunnie was in the second grade, the school principal sent a letter home to Thompson saying that, although Sunnie was a “very bright girl,” she recommended that Sunnie not re-enroll the next year if she wasn’t able to “dress” and behave accordingly with her “God-ordained identity” as a female.

Thompson pulled her out of the school immediately.

“They pretty much ruined a little girl’s life,” said Thompson, who helps with her husband Carroll’s truck repair business.

Sunnie didn’t attend Timberlake using a publicly funded scholarship through Virginia’s tax credit program for low-income students. But the year she was kicked out, other students did. During the fiscal year of 2014, Timberlake received $104,121.57 in scholarships. That number has increased. For the fiscal year of 2017, the school received $237,500, per the Virginia Department of Education.

In Virginia, tax credits are given to individuals and corporations that donate to scholarship programs. These scholarship groups then help low-income students attend private schools. Voucher programs are more direct: Taxpayer funds help provide voucher scholarships for students who meet certain requirements to attend private schools.

A 2016 analysis of voucher program rules conducted by Indiana University professor Suzanne Eckes found that not a single one had protections preventing discrimination for LGBTQ students. Eckes did not include tax credit programs in her research.

So HuffPost conducted a similar analysis including programs that were left out by Eckes. We found the same trend. Only one state’s program, Maryland’s, protected students from discrimination based on sexual orientation. While in our research we found a handful of Maryland schools that expressed opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexuality, each stopped short of saying they would deny these students admission.

DeVos has been pressed before on if private schools receiving federal money under a possible voucher program would be required to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination. In June, testifying before a Senate subcommittee, DeVos said that such a program would have to follow federal law.

Indeed, in an email to HuffPost, a spokesperson for DeVos emphasized the fact that there is no federal voucher program and that, if there were, it “would have to comply with federal law.”

The problem is federal law is murky.

The Obama administration interpreted Title IX ― the federal law banning sex discrimination in schools ― to include protections for LGBTQ students. The Trump administration seems to think these decisions should be made at the local level.

“There’s no federal protections for LGBTQ students outside of Title IX,” said Nathan Smith, director for public policy for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. “We still think it covers LGBTQ students, despite the fact that this administration doesn’t think so.”

Advocates of school choice emphasize that anti-LGBTQ bullying is a problem in all schools, not just private religious ones that participate in voucher programs. They preach the bigger cause of giving parents the ability to choose the most appropriate school for their child. Indeed, voucher programs are typically targeted to low-income families who normally wouldn’t be able to afford the private school of their choice.

“I abhor discrimination and I would hope that schools would not discriminate against LGBTQ students even if the issue is part of their statements of faith,” wrote Robert Enlow, CEO and president of EdChoice, an education reform group, in an email. “I also recognize, though, that we live in a pluralistic society that values choice, individual freedom and an abiding respect for all faiths. I trust parents to make the best choices for their kids based on their shared values and goals.”

But Thompson hopes leaders at Timberlake know that their interpretation of faith is one without merit. 

I feel sorry for them,” Thompson said, referring to administrators at Timberlake, “if they have to answer and stand before our God one day.”

The 74-year-old describes Sunnie as the great love of her life. Even after raising two kids and helping with three grandkids, Sunnie is her ultimate baby. The child has always been fiercely loyal and unfailingly independent, and she has a heart as sweet as apple pie, Thompson said, beaming with pride when asked about Sunnie’s personality.

But now, at 12, Sunnie is also angry and sad.

Life was never going to be easy for Sunnie. Sunnie’s mom had her as a teen. Sunny’s father has not been a consistent presence, Thompson said.

Sunnie’s story of being kicked out of Timberlake was largely covered in the media when it first happened in 2014. Headlines screamed outrage. Sunnie was another victim of homophobia, another viral story here today and gone tomorrow.

What wasn’t covered is what happened next. Sunnie didn’t want to leave Timberlake. From her point of view, it was a place where she was loved and accepted by her friends.

At her new public school, she was teased. The other students would call her “it” and “gay.” Sunnie made one friend ― he used to come over on weekends, and they would play games, Thompson recalled. Then, suddenly, the boy’s father stopped letting him come over. The father said Sunnie needed to “find out her gender” before they could hang out again.

Things didn’t get better. First, Sunnie faked being sick so often that truancy became a problem.

Sunnie didn’t talk to HuffPost for this article for reasons that HuffPost is not reporting to protect the privacy of a minor.

But Thompson wants Sunnie’s story to be heard.

“Being so young, she really doesn’t know how she feels. She doesn’t know what she wants to be. Or who she wants to be,” Thompson said as her eyes welled with tears, reliving the trauma Sunnie experienced. 

Sunnie still doesn’t talk about feelings she may or may not be having. She’s on the verge of puberty. But Thompson worries about what will happen next.

At the time that Sunnie was kicked out of school, lawyers for Timberlake Christian Schools told the media: “Parents and guardians send their children to the School because of our Christian beliefs and standards. We have a duty to create an environment that is supportive of these Christian values.”

HuffPost reached out to the school and asked if they had anything further to add about Sunnie’s situation, years later. They said they did not.

The school’s anti-LGBTQ policy remains in place.

Punishable behaviors include, “but is not necessarily limited to, living in, condoning or supporting sexual immorality; practicing homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity; promoting such practices; or otherwise having the inability to support the moral principles of the school,” according to the school’s website.

Sunnie’s story is unusual because of how young she is. She had adult thoughts and projections pushed on her before she was even close to having them herself.

But a similar version of this story plays out around the country regularly.

In 2012, the same year 15,000 Indiana students used vouchers, Warren came out to his family and friends as transgender, he told HuffPost. At the end of his junior year, he informed the principal at his Catholic school that he would be returning as a boy for his senior year.

The bishop from the diocese overseeing Cathedral High School thought this was unacceptable. But instead of kicking Warren out, or telling him not to come back, administrators ignored the way he chose to identify, Warren said.

Teachers were told that if they called Warren by his chosen name, they would face reprisal. Those with whom Warren was close, who wanted to respect his new identity, were afraid to buck the diocese, he said. Some found workarounds by calling him by his last name or initials.

Warren was deeply involved in the school marching band as well as the school’s plays. During the marching band performances, they would announce the performers. Warren asked announcers to leave his name out, since he knew only his “dead name” would be announced. He asked not to be listed in the programs for the school plays.  

“I was pretty depressed a lot of the  time. I had horrible social anxiety,” said Warren, who’s withholding his last name because his college peers are not aware of his transition.

Even after Warren got his name changed legally that school year, the school refused to accept it. They sent off his high school transcripts to colleges with the wrong name, compelling Warren to explain the confusion to admissions offices, thereby being forced to out himself.

A representative of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis said that it opens its doors to “all who are committed to a quality Catholic education, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, socio-economics, religion, learning differences, etc. Our admissions policies and practices at each local site conform to this approach.” The high school did not respond to requests for comment on the situation.

The diocese does, however, have a policy against employing staff members in same-sex unions, a representative told HuffPost during data collection.

For Warren and Sunnie, other kids at their private schools were not the problem. They were supportive.

It was the adults.

Thompson only hopes the adults at Timberlake learn to treat children with kindness and empathy.

“God wants you to love everybody,” she said. “Especially his children. He loves his children.”

Thompson is attending regular counseling sessions to educate herself on how to be the best parent she can be to her great-granddaughter. 

Course, now I’m 74 years old, so I don’t know that I’m going to be around here 10 years, when she’ll be 22 years old. I hope to God that he will let me stay here until she is grown. But I hope that she will make something of herself. Be somebody, and be proud of who she is.” 

Data and graphics by Alissa Scheller.

If you have experienced discrimination in schools, email

This is the third story in a HuffPost investigation on the policies and curriculum of schools that participate in private school choice programs. The first story, looking at the curriculum used in evangelical Christian schools, is here. The second story, dealing with schools with strong ties to Scientology, is here

New 'Yass' Community Center Linked to Peter Thiel Money

A new LGBT community workspace called Yass debuts next year in San Francisco — if it can survive the backlash of having Peter Thiel as a backer.

Thiel is Silicon Valley’s best known Donald Trump supporter, and Yass would become a members-only community gathering place that costs up to $300 per month in dues. Its website calls it “A headquarters & hangout for today’s generation of queer people to bring out the best in each other.” How much you pay to join (what seems a lot like an LGBT center, which are usually free) depends on your industry.

The Guardian reported Thursday that Thiel’s venture capital firm is its only backer. There’s no word on how much Thiel’s firm has put behind the center; he reportedly gave $1.25 million to the Trump campaign. 

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Thiel’s association isn’t clear cut: “The investment in Yass, though it came from a Thiel-backed firm, was actually made by Cyan Banister, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur who told Wired in 2016 that she identifies as both a man and a woman and calls herself genderqueer. Banister is a partner at Founders Fund, the Presidio-based venture capital firm Peter Thiel co-founded in 2005.”

Still, even that much of a link comes with consequences. The Huffington Post reports that some on Twitter are pledging never to join. 

Thiel’s connection to the LGBT community is tentative. He famously sued Gawker into oblivion in retribution for outing him. He did it by secretly backing a number of unrelated lawsuits, with the Hulk Hogan case breaking the company.

After historian Jim Downs wrote a guest op-ed for The Advocate calling out Thiel for backing Trump, Thiel lashed out at all LGBT people, saying their “intolerance has taken on some bizarre forms. The Advocate, a magazine which once praised me as a ‘gay innovator,’ even published an article saying that as of now I am, and I quote, ‘not a gay man,’ because I don’t agree with their politics. The lie behind the buzzword of ‘diversity’ could not be made more clear: If you don’t conform, then you don’t count as ‘diverse,’ no matter what your personal background.”

Downs had written that, “By the logic of gay liberation, Thiel is an example of a man who has sex with other men, but not a gay man. Because he does not embrace the struggle of people to embrace their distinctive identity.”

Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention and proudly declared he’s gay, helping to drive home the notion that Trump would be a good choice for LGBT people. Trump went on as president to try banning transgender people from the military while rolling back inclusive guidelines for trans students. His Justice Department, led by Jeff Sessions, issued a “religious freedom” order that lets federal agencies and contractors turn away LGBT people without repercussions. Activists call it a “license to discriminate.” Most recently, Trump’s spokesperson said he believes religious freedom means businesses can post “No Gays Allowed” signs.

Having Thiel’s support these days isn’t what it once was. In November, Silicon Valley learned that famed incubator Y Combinator was no longer affiliated with Thiel. That’s according to a news release from 2015 when the company had announced it was welcoming Thiel. It’s now been revised.

Whether Yass can recover from the Thiel affiliation, it will still have to contend with criticism that its name further appropriates ball culture, and that its location is another example of the worst kinds of gentrification. Read more at about those issue from

Aisha C. Moodie-Mills Leaves Victory Fund, Succeeded by Annise Parker

Victory Fund is getting a change in leadership.

Aisha C. Moodie-Mills announced today that she’s resigning as president and CEO of Victory Fund and its sister organization, Victory Institute, and former Houston Mayor Annise Parker will take over the post Monday. The groups train and support openly LGBT candidates and elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels.

Moodie-Mills, who has been in the position for two and a half years, made her announcement at the International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C. “Politics are so personal for me, for all of us,” she said, according to the Washington Blade. “Our lives are on the chopping block. And so, it is with a heavy heart but clear purpose that is time for me to leave Victory. This past election has upended the normalcy [of] our politics and our discourse, and I see it as my redefined mission to help progressives set a new course.”

Moodie-Mills did not specify what her next move will be. Victory Fund director of communications Elliot Imse, speaking to The Advocate afterward, did not offer specifics either, but said Moodie-Mills wants to work in the broader progressive movement, incorporating LGBT issues and more. She plans to move from Washington to join her wife in New York City. “With the 2018 election cycle heating up, the timing worked out for everyone,” he said.

Parker said that’s certainly the case for her. Since leaving office as mayor two years ago, she’s been working for nonprofit organizations in Houston, including BakerRipley, which aids immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized communities. She resigned from BakerRipley at the beginning of November, and she soon got the call from Victory Fund. “The stars aligned, and the timing was perfect,” she told The Advocate. “The right call came in on the right day, and I said yes.”

“I am really, really passionate about LGBT issues and bringing more people into the political process,” she added, further noting, “I’m a lesbian activist at heart.”

Parker wants to build on Victory Fund’s successes, she said. “We’re going to do more of the same,” she said. Moodie-Mills helped inspire more LGBT people of color to run for office, for instance, and Parker wants to continue increasing those numbers.

It’s also important to continue increasing the number of transgender candidates, she said, after a year that saw some major victories for trans candidates endorsed by Victory Fund, with Danica Roem defeating anti-LGBT incumbent Bob Marshall for the Virginia House of Delegates, and Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham elected to the Minneapolis City Council.

“One of the reasons it’s really important to support transgender candidates is that there’s been a ramp-up in attacks on the transgender community,” she said. While many straight and cisgender people know someone who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual, far fewer know someone who is transgender, and that makes it easy for anti-trans forces to create an image of trans people as a “feared other,” she said.

She saw that happen up close during the effort to repeal the trans-inclusive Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which voters did in 2015. Opponents of the ordinance, which the City Council passed in 2014, ran a fearmongering campaign alleging that it would allow predatory men disguised as women to terrorize women and girls in public restrooms.

“The fight over HERO was the start of a wave of very focused attacks on the transgender community,” she said. It was also a learning experience for Parker and others who support equal rights for trans people. “It was a great reminder that we have to get out early and we have to own the narrative in these political campaigns,” she said. That’s a lesson she plans to bring to her work with Victory Fund, she said, adding that greater acceptance of trans people will be transformative for the whole LGBT community.

Parker served three terms as mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city, the largest ever to have a mayor drawn from the LGBT population, and left office due to term limits. Before that, she spent three terms as city controller and three on the City Council. She received Victory Fund support at each level.

Previously, she worked for 20 years in the oil and gas industry, a major part of Houston’s economy. She had a conservative Republican boss – Robert Mosbacher, who was also a member of President George H.W. Bush’s Cabinet and has a lesbian daughter, Dee. Parker was “oil company employee by day, activist by night” in those years, she said. “I was about the most visible lesbian activist in Houston in the 1980s,” she said. Her activism actually goes back even farther; she attended her first LGBT political event in 1975, which was before Moodie-Mills was born.

Now, she said, she sees a great increase in young people interested in politics, and the size of Victory Institute’s candidate training classes has grown enormously. “They’re young, they’re driven, and they’re really passionate,” she said of these aspiring pols. “The trick will be translating that into the nuts and bolts of campaigning.”

She doesn’t plan to relocate to Washington, although she will be at Victory Fund’s headquarters frequently. The group is involved in campaigns nationwide, and it’s often easier to travel from Houston. Parker shares her home there with wife Kathy Hubbard; they’ve been together for 27 years and married for four. They have four children, the youngest of whom is 22, and one grandchild.

Victory Fund/Victory Institute leaders expressed faith in Parker and were proud of Moodie-Mills’s record. “As the first openly LGBTQ mayor of Houston, Annise understands the challenges inherent in running and winning elected office, and she’s ideally positioned to help us fulfill our mission now and in the future,” One Victory board chair Kim Hoover said in a press release. “During Aisha’s tenure we grew the organization’s leadership initiatives to ensure LGBTQ people from across the country were prepared to run for office and be a voice for our community. We invested in game-changing campaigns and took on anti-equality incumbents with historic LGBTQ candidates, and won. And we strengthened and grew our network of LGBTQ elected officials, who work tirelessly to be the change we want to see in the world. We are grateful for her leadership, and now we are excited to build on her great work and use Annise’s experience and expertise to ensure Victory Fund and Victory Institute have an even greater impact moving forward. And she is eager to get started.”

“Over the last two years I’ve been fortunate to lead an incredible team at Victory, and together we have achieved great progress in in our efforts to elect LGBTQ candidates across the country,” Moodie-Mill, said in the same release. “We witnessed a surge in the number of LGBTQ people from across the country who want to run for office and be our voice in the halls of power – and it has been so personally rewarding for me to have helped historic candidates win elections thought impossible just a few years ago. Most importantly, I am proud that we’ve positioned the organizations for growth at a critically important time – a turning point in our movement to build LGBTQ political power and wield it on behalf of equality. I am so happy that such a capable leader like Annise will be continuing the vital work of Victory Fund and Victory Institute, and look forward to supporting the organizations as they continue to secure representation for our community.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill to Orrin Hatch: Your Tax Bill Is a Fraud

Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill boiled over this week when she realized the Republicans’ bait-and-switch on their proposed tax overhaul.

As part of their tax bill, the Republicans propose repealing the Obamacare mandate — a fee levied on those who don’t sign up for health coverage. Those funds will be end up being replaced by lower-income people — for the benefit of corporations — McCaskill pointed out.

“If you’re getting rid of [the mandate and the money it generates] how does miraculously $320 billion show up for you to spend on corporations? I’ll tell you why, because you’re eliminating $185 billion in payments of subsidies to people who are getting insurance,” McCaskill said, directing her ire at Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch.

The Utah senator contended that the bill would not cut Medicaid, but the Congressional Budget Office disagreed — their analysis said Medicaid would see $25 billion in cuts and add $1.5 trillion to the deficit.

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