Robinson, Walker respond to criticism of LGBTQ comments, connections to right wing religious group

This week Policy Watch published a story delving into the connections between Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker and right-wing religious group the American Renewal Project.

The group rejects the separation between church and state -particularly in public schools –  condemns LGBTQ people and Muslims and regularly uses religious war rhetoric while portraying Christians as marginalized and oppressed in America. Robinson, Cawthorn and Walker attended one of the group’s events in Asheville this week. Robinson is scheduled to headline more events for the group through the end of the year.

Since the story was published, Robinson – the state’s highest-ranking Republican elected official – has found himself at the center of yet another controversy over anti-LGBTQ remarks.

This week the group Right Wing Watch posted to Twitter a video of Robinson speaking at Seagrove church in June. In the speech he railed against public schools and LGBTQ people in the sort of language that has been common throughout his time in office. But this video, like the 2018 clip of a public speech on gun rights that took him from political obscurity to high public office, went viral online.

“There’s no reason anybody, anywhere in America should be telling children about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth,” Robinson said in the video clip of his church speech. “Yes, I called it filth.”

The comments have led to calls for his resignation from prominent Democrats and condemnation from the White House.

“These words are repugnant and offensive,” said Andrew Bates, White House deputy press secretary, in a statement Friday. “The role of a leader is to bring people together and stand up for the dignity and rights of everyone; not to spread hate and undermine their own office.”

Robinson is defending the remarks in interviews and statements. On Friday night, he used the controversy in a fund-raising e-mail in which he asked supporters to help him “continue the fight against the left.”

The letter, in its entirety:

Democrats and RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) are calling on me to resign from my position because I am taking a stand against the sexualization of our children in public schools.
Let me be clear: I. WILL. NOT.
I will not resign, and I will not stop the fight. The left is attacking me because I scare them. I’m a black man who grew up poor and am a Christian Conservative. I am the first black Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina who stands on conservative values.
I am a fighter who doesn’t cower to the left, and because of that they hate me. They attack me, they call me names. WRAL even went so far as to depict me (A member of the State School Board) as a member of the KKK!
These calls of resignation are intended to bully me into silence. It will not work.
I will continue to fight for the children of our state, and for the rights of parents to decide when and how sexual content is discussed with their kids.
I am not a politician, and I hope that I am never seen as one. I am a Patriot, and I need other Patriots to stand with me.
I am calling on 1,000 Patriots to show their support by donating $5, $10, $25, $50, or more so that we can continue the fight against the left. Together, we will push back against the radical left and their tactics of intimidation.
STAND WITH ME
Mark Robinson
Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina

Robinson has still not responded to Policy Watch’s questions about his association with the American Renewal Project, his views on LGBTQ people or his recent remarks.But we did hear from Walker Friday afternoon. The former congressman and current U.S. Senate candidate said Policy Watch’s story didn’t give a nuanced view of his politics or his support from across the political spectrum. He also took exception to the story’s characterization of his criticisms of Bruce Springsteen over his cancelling a 2106 concert in Greensboro North Carolina over HB2.

Walker’s e-mail to Policy Watch: Read more

“This is about dignity.” Mecklenburg County advances non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBTQ people

With Tuesday’s unanimous vote, Mecklenburg County is poised to become the 13th local government in North Carolina to approve LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections.

The ordinances ensure protections in private employment and places of public accommodations – such as restaurants and businesses – from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and natural hairstyle.

Commissioner Leigh Altman told her colleagues on the board it was time to listen to the concerns of the LGBTQ community.

“We are all God’s children, and we are entitled to live in peace and dignity. But that doesn’t happen by well wishes alone,” said Altman in her prepared remarks.

Commissioner Pat Cotham also spoke passionately about the need to embrace this change.

Commissioner Pat Cotham

“This is about dignity. But you don’t have dignity, unless you have strength. And this ordinance is the strength. Because otherwise you can say ‘Here’s your dignity’ but if you can’t do anything about it, you really don’t have dignity,” Cotham explained.

The amended ordinance include all employers.

While the move by the county commissioners will require one more vote to become law, the action is drawing praise from advocacy organizations across the state.

“Measures like these will make Mecklenburg County a better place, especially for people with multiple layers of marginalization,” said Kendra R. Johnson, Executive Director of Equality North Carolina. “We applaud the Commissioners for taking this action, and we encourage them to pass this NDO swiftly.”

“Now Commissioners must finalize the vote and join 12 other communities across North Carolina with strong nondiscrimination ordinances on the books. It’s time to ensure that no one is left vulnerable to discrimination in our state,” said the Campaign for Southern Equality’s Allison Scott.

With the sunset of HB142, numerous municipalities have passed nondiscrimination ordinances this year including: Apex, Asheville, Buncombe County, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, Hillsborough, and Orange County.

Click below to hear Commissioner Leigh Altman’s remarks:

HRC President to NCAA: time to pull tournaments in states that discriminate against trans athletes

The president of the Human Rights Campaign is asking the NCAA president and governing board to pull tournaments from states that have passed laws and executive orders barring transgender women from women’s sports.

As Policy Watch has reported, a bill is still in play in North Carolina that could do just that. As HRC President Alphonso David points out in his letter, similar bills have already passed into law in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. A ban is in place in South Dakota by executive order.

NCAA and pro athletes have called for the NCAA to take the step, to which it has not yet explicitly committed. The NCAA has a policy that allows for the inclusion of transgender athletes and has said that it will work to be sure transgender athletes are safe from discrimination in states where it operates events. But tournaments are scheduled for Alabama and Tennessee in less than three weeks.

“This is a national crisis, and one that necessitates united action, including from the NCAA,” David wrote. “In sanctioning states that enact blatantly discriminatory laws in violation of NCAA policy, the NCAA will not only be standing on the right side of history, it will also be putting itself squarely in line with the overwhelming majority of the American people. A poll released on April 16 made clear that the vast majority of Americans, including a majority of Americans in all political parties, oppose legislation limiting the rights of transgender student athletes.”

Read David’s full letter below:

Dear President Emmert & NCAA Governance,

Thank you for your response to my March letter. I am also grateful for your subsequent statement condemning anti-trans sports legislation and committing to tournament host sites that are “safe, healthy, and free of discrimination,” but we need the NCAA to turn that commitment into action to achieve impact for athletes. According to our analysis and after hearing from transgender athletes across the country and in these states, the anti-transgender legislation being passed and enacted do create an unsafe, unhealthy, and discriminatory environment for transgender athletes. This merits and necessitates action from the NCAA to withdraw championship events from the states that have already enacted such legislation, and make clear that states that enact them in the future will face the same consequences.

In Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Dakota there are now overtly discriminatory laws or, in the case of South Dakota, executive orders, banning transgender athletes from participating in sports. Similar bills are currently awaiting signature or veto by governors in Montana and West Virginia, and could soon be enacted into law. With NCAA tournaments scheduled to take place in Alabama and Tennessee in less than three weeks, the time for concrete actions is now.

As I wrote to you last time, the number of anti-LGBTQ bills we are seeing in state legislatures across the country is unprecedented. And sadly, an unprecedented number are likely to become law. 2021 is poised to surpass 2015 as the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history. So far in 2021, 11 anti-LGBTQ bills have already been enacted, and another nine are already on governors’ desks awaiting signature. If these bills are enacted into law, it would mean that states will have enacted more anti-LGBTQ laws this year than in the last three years combined.

This is a national crisis, and one that necessitates united action, including from the NCAA. In sanctioning states that enact blatantly discriminatory laws in violation of NCAA policy, the NCAA will not only be standing on the right side of history, it will also be putting itself squarely in line with the overwhelming majority of the American people. A poll released on April 16 made clear that the vast majority of Americans, including a majority of Americans in all political parties, oppose legislation limiting the rights of transgender student athletes.

We appreciate the NCAA’s past and present leadership, including its most recent statements. But there is more that must be done because the lives of young LGBTQ people are on the line.

And to be clear, people are already dying. These bills are further fueling the stigma that is driving a wave of anti-trans violence devastating our community. So far in 2021, we are on track to more than double the number of trans and gender non-conforming people killed in 2020, which was already the deadliest year on record.

With the NCAA’s commitment to safety, how can holding tournaments in these states possibly keep student-athletes safe? The only way forward to protect the people the NCAA works so hard to serve is by sanctioning the states fueling hate and violence against our community.

Thank you again for continuing to be in dialogue with me about this issue. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions. My staff and I stand ready to assist with any information and to support the work ahead.

Alphonso David

President of the Human Rights Campaign

He/Him/His

Student, professional athletes push for NCAA to pull events over transgender athlete bans

Student and professional athletes joined LGBTQ advocates Friday to ask the National Collegiate Athletic Association to take action against states passing bills to exclude transgender women from women’s sports teams.

“This is a moment of national crisis where the rights and very existence of transgender young people are under attack,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a virtual press event. “This year’s state legislative sessions mark the highest number of anti-transgender bills in history — more than 50 — which target the ability of transgender athletes to participate in sports.”

In North Carolina last month, Republican lawmakers filed a bill to bar transgender women from competing against other women at schools and universities. Just this week, they filed bills that target transgender health care, seek to force teachers and counselors to report children who exhibit “gender nonconformity” and legally protect scientifically debunked “conversion therapy” that seeks to cure LGBTQ people.

As North Carolina saw five years ago, during the battle over HB2, the economic and cultural impact of sports organizations withdrawing competitions from states with discriminatory laws can make a difference. In response to that bill, the NCAA moved seven championship events scheduled to be held in the state as other major organizations and corporations boycotted the state. The final economic impact was estimated at nearly $4 billion.

Last month nearly 550 current NCAA athletes from across the nation signed a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert and the NCAA Board of Governors asking that they reaffirm the organization’s existing non-discrimination policies and pull championship events in states where transgender athletes are banned from competition. More than 700 NCAA athletes have now signed the letter.

Alana Boja, track and field athlete at Washington University.

“We noticed more and more states slated to host championships were putting anti-trans bills on the table but the NCAA was just staying silent,” said Alana Boja, a Washington University track and field athlete who helped spearhead the letter.

“We couldn’t just sit back and watch as the right to play sports was stripped from our fellow athletes,” Boja said.

The bills are a threat to all women athletes, Boja said.

“It’s impossible for women athletes to feel safe and supported in an environment where their personal identity and integrity is questioned,” Boja said. “The reality is many of these bills cannot possibly be enforced without inviting policing and bullying of all student athletes who do not meet stereotypes of gender and could empower any person to force any student athlete to undergo invasive physical exams or hormone tests in order to ‘prove their gender,’ whatever that means.”

Transgender women don’t threaten women’s and girl’s sports, Boja said.

“They’re my teammates, who want to play for the exact same reasons that I do,” Boja said. “To have fun, to improve ourselves, to make friends and be physically fit.”

Boja’s Washington University teammate, Aliya Schenck, said Republican legislators aren’t supporting or protecting women’s sports by discriminating against transgender women. If they want to do that, she said, they can concentrate on funding underfunded women’s sports programs all over the country.

The NCAA has had a policy allowing for the inclusion of transgender athletes since 2011. The organization should treat the current legislation like the threat to its policies and values that it is, Schenck said.

“Trans girls have been competing for a long time without incident,” Schenck said. “The NCAA needs to take action and withdraw all athletic competition from states considering anti-transgender sports bills.”
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Two new bills target transgender rights, health care

Two new bills filed this week target transgender North Carolinians, part of a wave of anti-trans legislation filed by Republicans across the country.

Senate Bill 514 would prohibit transgender people under the age of 21 from receiving medical care related to gender transition, even if judged medically necessary by their parents and doctors.

The bill closely mirrors a similar legislation filed across the country, including in Arkansas this week where a similar bill was passed into law this week. To enact the law, that state’s legislature overturned the veto of Republican governor Asa Hutchinson, who condemned it as “government overreach.”

But in several respects SB 514 goes beyond the law passed in Arkansas.

The bill would also require state employees, including teachers and counselors, to inform parents in writing if they have knowledge of a minor who exhibits “gender dysphoria, gender nonconformity, or otherwise demonstrates a desire to be treated in a manner incongruent with the minor’s sex.”

Gender non-conformity can include anything from young men who paint their nails and young women who prefer to dress in clothes traditionally considered masculine to non-binary and gender-fluid people who do not identify strongly as male or female. The bill would require those children’s teachers and counselors to report them to their parents if they “exhibit symptoms” of gender non-conformity, even if they do not consider themselves transgender.

The bill also seeks to legally protect so-called  “conversion therapy,”  a scientifically discredited practice  that attempts to “cure” lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The practice, which research has repeatedly found causes depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, has been banned in 20 states. In 2019 Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order forbidding taxpayer money to be used to pay for its use on minors in North Carolina. Polling shows overwhelming support for banning the practice in North Carolina, but multiple bills to do so have gone without a hearing or a vote.

Taken together, these provisions of the bill establish a legal mandate to identify and report children who may be transgender, prevent their parents and doctors from making medical decisions about their care and legally protect methods of “curing” them that have been established to be harmful.

“It’s heartbreaking – though not unexpected – to see these direct, repeated attacks on trans and gender-nonconforming youth in North Carolina and across the country,” said Kendra Johnson, Executive Director of Equality NC, in a statement Wednesday. “These attempts to control the bodies and medical decisions of parents and their transgender children are invasive, inappropriate, and outright dangerous.”

“Decisions about a child’s medical welfare should be made between that child, their doctor, and their parents or guardians – not lawmakers.,” Johnson said. “We cannot legislate the transgender community out of existence. It is the job of all lawmakers to understand the entirety of their constituency and mitigate challenges instead of creating barriers.”

At the heart of the bill are arguments about whether transgender identity exists and whether certain of their rights are protected by law. These are disputes that have already been largely resolved by the scientific community, federal policy and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Significantly, gender dysphoria is mischaracterized throughout the bill. The American Psychiatric Association makes clear it is not a mental illness, instead defining it as “a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.”

More than 40 years of research into and treatment of transgender people experiencing dysphoria has led psychiatric and medical professionals to conclude the most effective course of treatment is gender transition — aligning one’s life socially and sometimes physically to better match their gender identity. Not all transgender people choose to medically transition, but for those for whom it is judged necessary, medical experts agree that it can be life-saving.

The bill would also legally prohibit any state government health plan or state provided insurance from paying for that care.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina, which administers the State Employee Health Plan, recognizes the necessity of transition care. It has, since 2011, recognized dysphoria as a serious medical issue and covered treatments related to transition, including hormone therapy and gender confirmation surgery. But as Policy Watch has reported, the trustees of the state health care plan cut off that coverage to state employees.

The board of trustees of the state health care plan voted to begin covering treatments for gender dysphoria at the end of 2016, near the end of Janet Cowell’s term as State Treasurer. The change was necessary to comply with the Affordable Care Act. When Republican Dale Folwell came into office in 2017, he opposed the move, calling care related to gender dysphoria elective and unnecessary. The plan’s trustees allowed the coverage to expire at the first opportunity and have never reinstated it. Transgender state employees and employees with transgender family members cut off from their coverage sued the state over the change.

Ignoring scientific consensus and federal law that recognizes transgender peoples’ identities and upholds their rights, the bill seeks to legally conflate gender identity and biological sex. It describes sex as “the biological state of being female or male, based on sex organs, chromosomes, and endogenous hormone profiles, and is genetically encoded into a person at the moment of conception, and it cannot be changed.”

Making no distinction between biological sex , gender and gender identity, the bill characterizes transgender people as confused and says that if they are not encouraged to transition, any gender dysphoria they experience will naturally dissipate.

That judgement is opposed by every major legitimate medical and psychiatric association that has examined the issue.

A second bill, Senate Bill 515, would allow any medical provider  to refuse to perform any form of care or service “on the basis of conscience, whether such conscience is informed by religious, moral, ethical, or philosophical beliefs or principles.” That would including providing referrals to others who may provide the care or service. LGBTQ advocates call it a “license to discriminate” against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people among, among others, for religious reasons.

“This is the latest in a series of coordinated attacks on healthcare access for trans and gender-nonconforming youth across the country, the true aim of which is to push trans and non-binary people out of public life,” said Chantal Stevens, Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, in a statement Wednesday.

“Not only are these bills rooted in falsehoods, hate, and fear-mongering, but they also invade the private interactions between each of us and our medical providers,” Stevens said. “Just as North Carolina is recovering from the damage wrought by HB2 on our reputation and economy, let’s move forward together to build equitable communities rather than doubling down on being a state that legislates hate.”

These two bills follow the filing last month of House Bill 358, which would bar transgender women from competing against other women in sports at schools and universities in North Carolina.

Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, warned the current wave of ant-trans legislation could lead to the sort of division and harmful backlash that accompanied HB2, the law that excluded LGBTQ people from non-discrimination protections five years ago.

“Our state learned a lesson all too painfully with HB2,” Beach-Ferrara said in a statement Wednesday. “Extreme bills that target LGBTQ people harm individuals, communities, and the fabric of our state itself.”

“We’re working toward building communities across North Carolina where every LGBTQ person can thrive,” Beach-Ferrara said. “That means being treated with dignity and respect, it means living free from discrimination, and it means being able to access the health care you need and deserve in your hometown.”