Political Notebook: Muslim voter guide raises alarm over 'parental rights' issue

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday February 21, 2024
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The Muslim American Alliance's March voting guide talks about parental rights and also endorses several LGBTQ candidates who support trans youth. Image: From MAA
The Muslim American Alliance's March voting guide talks about parental rights and also endorses several LGBTQ candidates who support trans youth. Image: From MAA

A voter guide produced by Bay Area Muslims is raising alarms for its grading candidates on if they back "parental rights," a euphemism used by those opposed to rights for LGBTQ youth, especially those who are transgender or nonbinary. One local gay Muslim official is calling on those candidates recommended in the guide to repudiate it.

The Muslim American Alliance released the 34-page guide earlier this month, with recommendations in various races in the Bay Area and northern Central Valley. It describes itself as "a set of Bay Area Muslim community activists with the aim of influencing American politics to adopt policies with values compatible or at least accepting of ours, irrespective of the state of the political pendulum."

It gave certain candidates letter grades on three issues, including on their support of a ceasefire to Israel's bombing of Gaza and if they oppose Hindu nationalism in India, known as Hindutva. The third category uses the catchall phrase "Protecting Parental Rights" without specifically using the term "transgender youth."

Instead, the voter guide explains the issue as having to do with "the recent calls for overriding parental consent for underage children to make life-altering medical decisions has the community quite shaken. Most people in the community wish to safeguard the right to make decisions to protect children from the influence and impact of these ideologies, especially in the educational and sports environment."

Candidates were given an A grade for "explicitly championing for parental rights." They received a B grade if they agreed "that the consent of parents must be sought before prescribing puberty blockers or before performing sex change surgeries on under-18 children, or agrees that biological males cannot be in women's sports or locker rooms or are endorsed by a Parental Right organization." Many candidates' grades aren't included in the guide, though brief blurbs about their positions are included.

The favorable grades for candidates who support the anti-trans policies infuriated Harris Mojadedi, a gay Afghan American who serves on the Chabot-Las Positas Community College District board in Alameda County. Seeking an elected seat on his Democratic County Central Committee on the March primary ballot, Mojadedi refused to take part in the voting guide when he was contacted by one of the alliance members.

Instead, he expressed his disgust about being asked if he supported "parental rights."

"This voter guide is very disturbing and specifically calls out any elected officials that have been sympathetic and/or supported LGBTQ+ rights," said Mojadedi, who alerted the Bay Area Reporter to it. "As the first out Muslim American elected, I feel disgusted by these right wing attempts to infiltrate this community. From this voter guide, it appears that this group is attempting to enact anti-LGBTQ+ policies in the Bay Area."

Long an organizer in the East Bay's Muslim community, Mojadedi told the B.A.R. he had yet to encounter parental rights as being a top issue for local Muslims. Rather, ensuring school districts taught about the community and recognized its religious holidays have been the locus of advocacy efforts.

"Yes it is about LGBTQ rights. But I think the much bigger story is these vulnerable populations are being misfed or reading disinformation," he said. "Unfortunately, the LGBTQ community is being cast as an escape goat."

Mojadedi is now calling on those candidates recommended in the voter guide to reject it.

"I would encourage them to repudiate this endorsement," he said. "I want anyone, whether Democrat, LGBTQ-plus or allies, to repudiate this endorsement."

The B.A.R.'s emailed requests for comment from the Muslim American Alliance bounced back with a message they could not be delivered. A call to the contact number included in the voter guide was not returned by the paper's print deadline Wednesday at noon.

Queer parents receive recommendations

Oddly, the guide does recommend voters support not only myriad elected leaders who are straight allies and have backed LGBTQ rights but also a number of LGBTQ leaders, several of whom are queer parents, running in next month's election. In the East Bay race for the open District 7 state Senate seat spanning western Contra Costa and Alameda counties, it recommends Jovanka Beckles, a co-parent with her wife.

However, the guide says nothing about Beckles' stance in terms of parental rights. It merely says she "has been an active and vocal supporter of the ceasefire."

Beckles and her campaign did not respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment about the guide.

In the race for the open District 9 state Senate seat that also includes parts of both East Bay counties, the voter guide recommends single parent Marisol Rubio, a gender-nonconforming, demisexual, biromantic who serves on the San Ramon City Council. The guide initially had noted Rubio's being "vocal against the genocide in Gaza and a supporter of Palestinian human rights. She supports safe gender-assigned bathrooms."

After being alerted to the voting guide's explanation about her position on the issue by the B.A.R., and having a chance to read it over the weekend, Rubio said she contacted the alliance to express her concerns about it.

"After reviewing the language under Parental Consent, I expressed deep concern about the language with the person who contacted me. They are revising the language. Thank you for bringing this to my attention," Rubio wrote in a follow-up email.

As of Tuesday, the voting guide blurb about Rubio had been revised to remove the reference to bathrooms. Instead, it said she "is better on all issues compared to Tim Grayson," the Democratic assemblymember who is also seeking the seat.

Asked by the B.A.R. to be put in touch with her contact with the alliance, Rubio said the person had told her they preferred not to have their contact information shared.

When she was first contacted about the voting guide, Rubio told the B.A.R. that she wasn't given the language used regarding parental rights. She said she had told the person that her stance is a child should be allowed to go to their school's health center and have a private conversation with the medical worker there about whatever issues they are facing.

If they "feel safe" having them contact their parents, "then that is fine, great," said Rubio, adding that "if a child doesn't feel safe then the health care worker can make that decision to protect the child. That was the stipulation I gave, because there are some cultural things."

Rubio told the B.A.R. that she supports the policy adopted by state lawmakers making California a "refuge state" for trans kids and their families fleeing discriminatory laws in their home states that block their access to gender-affirming care.

"Some kids have gotten punished and even killed. We don't want that to happen," said Rubio.

The voter guide also recommends in the race for the District 4 seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors Jennifer Esteen, a co-parent with her wife. It notes she "released an extremely strong statement on Gaza and called for an immediate ceasefire."

Though she is "against parental rights for children," it said Esteen "supports parental rights for minors (under 13's)." Asked about the description of her stance on the issue, Esteen told the B.A.R. that both "the questions and the depiction are super problematic." Like Rubio, Esteen said she "wasn't given anything in writing" when contacted for the guide and "was rushed to answer."

Esteen stressed to the B.A.R. that she believes in gender-affirming care for both young people and adults. She also noted she has no issue with parents not being notified when high school students seek services at their school's health clinic.

"As a parent and nurse I recognize that parents are often deferred to when youth younger than 13 (and younger than 18 in lots of cases) are receiving care but that also begins the age where privacy is respected and children can ask to be seen in doctor's offices without their parents or other adult caregivers in the room," wrote Esteen in an emailed reply. "I emphasized my respect for young people to make their own decisions because this is how and when they can seek safety, guidance and information when they are entering the medical system."

In a follow-up phone interview, Esteen said if she had been given the voting guide language about parental rights then she would probably have declined to respond. She said she had pressed the person who had called her for more specificity about their questioning.

"They asked me if men could come into the locker room. I said, 'So you mean transgender people?' But they wouldn't say it," recalled Esteen.

As for repudiating the recommendation, Esteen told the B.A.R. she sees the situation as a way to have a conversation with those in the Muslim community about LGBTQ issues. While it may seem contradictory, Esteen noted the alliance did endorse a queer mom even though she doesn't align with its position on parental rights.

"I think there is a lot of space for education," said Esteen. "I think I always welcome an opportunity to talk to people about LGBTQ issues as a caregiver and a parent."

Political Notes, the notebook's online companion, returns Monday, February 26.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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