Louisiana’s Richest Person Bets Big On The Gulf South

Billionaire Gayle Benson, owner of NFL’s New Orleans Saints and NBA Pelicans, discusses her venture capital firm and its new biotech investment.

One of the wealthiest women in America, Gayle Benson is best known as the owner of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints team and the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. The richest person in Louisiana, she inherited the sports teams and at least ten other businesses from her late husband Tom Benson (d. 2018). These days she spends most of her time overseeing the teams, going to every Pelicans home game and flying around the country to attend every Saints game.

But Benson has bigger ambitions. “People think what I do today is glamorous, but there’s nothing glamorous about going to 42 Pelicans games and 18 Saints games,” she insists. So she is refashioning herself as a venture investor, betting on her home state and, specifically, the Gulf South, which includes the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida). Adds Benson, “I was always an entrepreneur and always wanted to create new things.”

Benson set up venture firm Benson Capital Partners (BCP), in New Orleans in 2019; it now has more than $125 million in committed capital from roughly two dozen unnamed high-net-worth individuals and institutional investors including $20 million of Benson’s own cash. The firm has two funds, both of which are focused on investing locally, something the New Orleans-born-and-raised Benson wanted—and had the flexibility to execute—because of her resources and connections. There is a $57 million venture capital fund, which closed in 2020, focused on tech and healthcare, and a $69 million real estate fund, which closed in January.

Benson doesn’t handle the day-to-day operations of the four-person fund (that’s up to the firm’s managing director Mike Katz, director Caroline Crumley and two other full-time investors). But she does attend its weekly investment committee meetings. It was at one of those that she pitched the idea of Benson Capital’s real estate fund. “I really enjoy real estate,” Benson says. “It’s tangible, and it’s something you can have and hold on to. It’s interesting how it’s all come full circle.”

That fund, which is almost a year old, has closed on two investments so far, but still has nearly $60 million to put to work.

BCP’s first investment, in 2021, was in New Orleans biotech startup AxoSim, which creates lab-grown human cells that mimic human organs with the goal of making drug development, particularly for neurodegenerative diseases, faster and cheaper. On Tuesday, AxoSim, which is in the process of raising its third round of funding, announced that it will acquire the human-organoid-related assets of Vyant Bio, a public biotech company that recently delisted from the Nasdaq, for $2.25 million.

“Frankly, New Orleans isn’t maybe known for being a biotech hotbed,” says AxoSim CEO Lowry Curley, adding that accordingly, early-stage funding is relatively difficult to raise in the region. “The support of someone like [Benson] and her team that’s so business-minded and successful … has let us hit some really big milestones, not the least of which is this acquisition.”

AxoSim is representative of the types of investments BCP’s first fund seeks out. That fund has 13 portfolio companies and has room for eight to ten more investments, according to Katz, BCP’s managing director, meaning they generally invest $1 million to $3 million per deal for a median 20% stake.

Benson, 76, inherited her now $5.3 billion fortune five years ago, but she officially started her own business at age 34 in 1981. A couple of years prior, Benson says she left her secretary job and borrowed $10,000 (interest-free) from a friend in the medical field to start an interior design firm, Gayle Bird Interiors. “I just said, ‘Oh, I’m just going to do this on my own,’ and so that’s what I did,” Benson says. She eventually started buying and reselling some of the residential properties she designed—then moved into commercial property, landing several notable clients including Hyatt Hotels, the Ritz-Carlton and the Omni Hotel. In 2000, she helped renovate the public spaces at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. “It was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t always glamorous like people think,” adds Benson.

Throughout its quarter decade of operation, though, the interior design business had both years of positive cash flow and years of significant debt; Benson faced more than a dozen lawsuits related to her company, mostly alleging that she didn’t pay small bills on time or otherwise breached contracts. It’s not clear what happened in most of those cases from many years ago but in one case, at least, her firm was ordered to pay back $1690. Nevertheless, Gayle Bird Interiors cemented her identity as an entrepreneur and her place as a well-connected New Orleans resident.

In 2004, she married Tom Benson, whom she met at mass at the St. Louis Cathedral (which she is currently leading a multimillion-dollar effort to repair). Roughly a year later, she dissolved Gayle Bird Interiors and got herself involved in her third husband’s network of a dozen businesses, from the New Orleans Saints to auto dealerships to a wine company. She founded thoroughbred horse racing company GMB Racing in 2014.

Tom Benson’s apparent heirs at the time weren’t happy with Gayle’s growing role. Benson, who had been widowed twice before marrying Gayle, announced he did not want his daughter and grandchildren to be heirs of the Saints, Pelicans and other major businesses in 2015; they sued, alleging he was mentally unfit to manage his life and companies; the messy dispute ended in a confidential settlement that left Gayle Benson as sole heir of Tom Benson’s main businesses when he died in 2018. (The deadline to challenge the will passed seven months ago).

Her goal now, she says, is to “continue his legacy of business and economic development in the region.” While the sports teams are struggling with middling records, it’s a bit early to tell if her venture firm’s strategy is paying off yet: BCP’s fund is “slightly up” for now, according to Katz, who says they’re targeting a 30% internal rate of return for that fund.

Still, one advantage her firm has: being one of fewer fish in the pond. “Strategically, this part of the country, with some rare exceptions, lacks institutional capital at scale, and as a result, there really aren’t other firms that we’re bumping into” when competing for deals, says Katz.

It’s not clear, though, how long it will stay centered so closely on the Gulf South. With AxoSim’s acquisition, BCP will have its first investment in the Midwest—related assets of Vyant Bio subsidiary StemoniX include a facility outside of Minneapolis—but AxoSim “will always have a presence in New Orleans,” Curley said.

Like AxoSim, BCP is also hoping to expand outward. About 60% of the first fund’s capital and 50% of the second fund’s capital comes from investors with ties to New Orleans, and Katz says he only expects that to decrease with future funds, although it will remain rooted in New Orleans. For now, the firm has investments mostly in Louisiana as well as Alabama, Texas and Florida, but hopes to expand to Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas and South Carolina soon.

Meanwhile, Benson circles back to the connection between the worlds of the NFL, the NBA and venture capital: “Whether we are talking about the business of sports or the business of high tech investments, success comes down to the people,” she says. “And we’re deeply committed to identifying, empowering and retaining the best talent that we can.”

“I stepped into some pretty big shoes. I felt like in the beginning I was floating around it,” Benson says. “But I’m just starting to get my footing.”

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A 45-year-old got pregnant in a state with a ban on abortions. She flew across the country to get one | CNN


When 45-year-old Victoria realized she was five weeks late and the lines showed as positive on two pregnancy tests, the New Orleans resident dreamed up a plan to get an abortion.

Traveling out of state was the only abortion option for Victoria, who asked CNN to withhold her last name out of fear of backlash against her and her family. Louisiana is one of several states that have essentially banned all abortions.

“It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to go through, from the moment of discovering that I was pregnant at age 45 to actually having to have to take time off work, travel across the country, do a meeting with a doctor, and then take the pills and then skedaddle back home and then go to work like nothing had happened,” Victoria told CNN of her experience earlier this year.

Victoria’s story about the distance she traveled and the hardships she endured to get an abortion reflects a wider American reality, where women seeking the procedure must navigate through a patchwork of states with varying levels of access.

The average travel time to an abortion facility more than tripled, from less than 30 minutes to more than an hour and a half, after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, according to a November study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And for women in Texas and Louisiana, average travel times to the nearest abortion facility were seven hours longer – almost a full workday in travel time to get an abortion.

Victoria says she was grateful she could drop everything and afford to spend $1,000 for the procedure, including same-week airfare with connections both ways and appointment and medication fees.

“It was so hard for me wrap my head around the fact that I was able to do this, but I’m one of the lucky ones and that there are so many women who are in much tighter positions,” Victoria said. “And, God, what are they going to do?”

Victoria says plans materialized quickly once she knew which states seemed more accessible.

She researched the parameters for abortion in a state, how long she would have to take off work, travel options and how soon she could get an appointment. She found abortionfinder.org to be a helpful and reliable source, she says.

“Because the situation is so fluid, it changes from day to day, that was really of paramount importance for me to be able to have a reliable source of information,” she said.

Driving to a neighboring state was not an option, as every state adjoining Louisiana has a similarly restrictive law that bans virtually all abortions. Victoria says she considered close states, like Florida, but she ultimately dismissed them because available appointments were farther out.

“Once I saw that Oregon was so, so protective of reproductive rights, I said, ‘Why would I think about going anywhere else?’” she said. “The second I got the definitive pregnancy result, I was like, ‘OK, let’s book a flight to Oregon. When can we do this?’”

She reached out to a friend from college and asked if she could stay with her, detailing the reason for her visit. She then made an appointment and booked a flight for that week, she says.

The provider sent instructions, including that the patient must be in Oregon for the telehealth appointment, according to documents provided to CNN. They contacted her within an hour of making the appointment to make sure she had proof of travel documents because she had made it from Louisiana, where the procedure is illegal.

Victoria planned to take a day off to fly across the country and work remotely for two days, which fits her hybrid work situation. She says she was grateful to have a supportive, female boss who showed understanding for why she had to take the unexpected time off.

“She was the only person I actually kind of broke down and cried for,” Victoria said. “I think it’s because I had been holding it back all week, and telling her was sort of the last thing that I needed to get in place before I could do everything.”

Victoria says the hardest part of her experience was telling her mother because she didn’t know how her mom would feel about it. Victoria and her siblings were raised Catholic. Her father had a strong faith and her mother was a non-practicing Catholic, her mother says. Victoria’s mom asked not to be named for privacy reasons.

Victoria’s mother says she wanted to support her daughter, even if she does not agree with what her daughter did. Victoria coming to her with tickets purchased and a full plan made it easy for her mother to support her, the mother says.

“I agreed to drive her to the airport and that that was the only thing I could do because this would be a real game-changing thing in her life,” her mother said. “I wanted to support what she wanted to do because she has supported me on several family crises. I just wanted to do it because I love her. “

Victoria said she appreciated her mom for being supportive in a way she didn’t expect. They talked about some of her mother’s friends who had abortions throughout the years, both say. Victoria’s mother even told her about when she tried to get her tubes tied, but her husband found out and she did not pursue it.

“I feel like, if anything, it’s made our relationship stronger,” Victoria said. “We already had a fantastically strong relationship, though. So, it’s another rock in the wall.”

After boarding early on a Wednesday in March, Victoria traveled for eight hours on two flights and landed in Portland, Oregon.

Victoria reunited with her friend, and they did the things that old friends do, from staying up late talking about college memories to talking about why Victoria was there. They both described the situation as surreal.

“The vast majority of reproductive conversations I have with friends at this point are people who are trying desperately to get pregnant,” said her friend, Emily, who asked that CNN not use her last name to keep Victoria’s privacy. “The sort of irony is that there could still be an unplanned pregnancy and it would still be just as devastating as it would have been when we were in our teens and twenties was kind of a shock to me.”

Emily, who has been friends with Victoria for about 25 years, says it took so little effort for her to drive to the airport and let her friend stay with her.

“I felt honored that she trusted me,” she said. “I was really proud of Victoria. I was impressed that she had taken this in stride and that she had reached out to someone she knew – I think a lot of people would have been ashamed or hidden it.”

After the telehealth appointment the next day, Victoria received an overnight package.

Victoria took two medications as part of a medication abortion. She took mifepristone at her friend’s home. The next day she took misoprostol before boarding her flight home – she was careful not to take them in her home state, where it’s illegal.

Misoprostol, taken after mifepristone, is a common combination prescribed for a medication abortion.

“It was like a heavy period,” she said. “I took some Aleve, had to get some extra jumbo pads, and I bled a lot on the flights home, but it was fine.”

Physically, she felt fine – it was more of what was happening psychologically that she noticed, she says.

“I had this feeling that I should be having some kind of deep, psychological moment of reckoning or something, but I didn’t really feel that,” Victoria said of the experience. “I’ve never wanted to have a kid. I wasn’t torn about this decision.”

When Victoria learned she was pregnant, a big part of the shock came from not thinking she could get pregnant at age 45, she says.

“You hear so much culturally out there about you’re in your forties, are told you’re too old to get pregnant and carry a child to term,” she said. “I feel like I had sort of a false sense of security.”

Victoria joked that she’s “careening toward menopause,” but she says she has not been diagnosed as perimenopausal.

Her pregnancy news came several months after she was treated for a uterine fibroid, a benign growth, in July 2022, according to medical records. Victoria also tested positive for a PALB2 gene mutation, which can lead to an increased chance of breast cancer, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. She underwent a preventative double mastectomy and reconstruction earlier in 2022, according to medical records provided to CNN.

She says she got an excellent standard of care around her surgeries, but it felt dissonant with her state’s laws around abortion.

“It felt so surreal to get this really high standard of care around my secondary sexual characteristics, but then to have that freeze, slam shut when it comes to reproductive health, it just felt abrupt,” she said.

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Supreme Court Decides ‘Democracy’ Can Stay, For Now

Fears of the End of the Republic were forestalled until sometime between the next Trump rally and November 2024, as the Supreme Court decided today that state legislatures can’t just make up any old election laws — or results — they want to, without any oversight from state or even federal courts. In Moore v. Harper, the Court decided in a six to three decision — which should have been nine to zero — that the so-called “independent state legislature theory” is dumb and bogus, not to mention seriously fucked in the head. We paraphrase, but only slightly; Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, actually said the idea was “Insane in the membrane, insane in the brain.”

As many suspected following the oral arguments in December, the three dissenting justices were Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch, who probably belong on a terror watch list.


Big Day At Supreme Court As It Hears Case Of ‘Democracy v. LOL’

Moore v Harper Oral Hearings: Democracy Maybe Only MOSTLY Dead!

NC Supreme Court Brings Back The Racist Gerrymandering Republicans Need To Win

The Independent State Legislature (ISL) Fan Fiction, as NYU Law Prof Melissa Murray likes to call it, starts with a thing that is real and then piles on, with no precedent or reason at all, a bunch of assumptions with virtually no actual backing in case law, US history, or common sense. The Constitution’s elections clause says simply that

The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.

According to the fabulists who made up the ISL foolishness a few decades ago, that clause means that no other state authority, including state courts, governors, or county elections officials, can challenge the legislature’s decisions on federal elections, even if they appear patently unfair.

The case involves an extreme gerrymander passed in 2021 by the heavily Republican North Carolina Legislature, which would give the vast majority of the state’s 14 congressional seats to Republicans. As the Brennan Center explains, the redistricting maps are “so extreme that an evenly divided popular vote would have awarded 10 seats to the Republicans and only four to the Democrats.”

Because North Carolina’s constitution includes a “free elections clause” that prohibits such partisan gerrymandering, the state Supreme Court struck down the map in 2022, calling it an

egregious and intentional partisan gerrymander . . . designed to enhance Republican performance, and thereby give a greater voice to those voters than to any others.”

That prompted the North Carolina Lege to turn right around and pass a whole new extreme partisan gerrymander, and when it was challenged in state courts, Republicans went to the US Supreme Court to demand that it let the map stand, because independent state legislature, can’t you people even read?

In his decision today, Roberts wrote — actually this time — that several previous Supreme Court precedents had already made clear that state legislatures do not have “exclusive and independent authority when setting the rules governing federal elections,” and that the Elections Clause doesn’t invalidate the fundamental principal of judicial review as established in Marbury v. Madison. He also pointed out that “when legislatures make laws, they are bound by the provisions of the very documents that give them life,” i.e., state constitutions, and so obviously state courts have the power to rein in a state legislature in keeping with that state’s constitution. “You stupidheads,” Roberts did not add.

[NYT / Moore v. Harper]

While we’re at it, let’s also take a quick look at some other Supreme Court decisions we haven’t written about yet this term, just so we have ’em on record for you:

Sex Abuse Lawsuit Against Ohio State U Can Go Forward, you listening, Rep. Jordan?

On Monday, the Court decided not to hear an appeal of a lower court decision that allows more than 230 men to sue Ohio State over sexual abuse by the late Dr. Richard Strauss, who worked at Ohio State from 1978 to 1998. The university has apologized to those abused by Strauss, who killed himself in 2005, and has settled lawsuits with at least 296 victims, to the tune of over $60 million. But it tried to have the unsettled cases dismissed, claiming that the time limit to sue had expired. The AP explains:

The remaining plaintiffs have argued that they filed timely claims and that the time limit didn’t start running until the 2018 investigation into Strauss’ abuse made his conduct public. The men say that was when they first learned that the school had been aware of Strauss’ abuse and failed to protect them from him. Many also only realized then that they’d been victims of abuse since Strauss disguised his abuse as medical care, their lawyers said.

Among those named in the lawsuits is Rep. Jim Jordan, who was the assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State from 1986 to 1994 but insists he never knew what Strauss was up to. A spokesman for Jordan yesterday reiterated Jordan’s claim that he “never saw or heard of any abuse, and if he had, he would have dealt with it.”

[AP / NBC News]

If Alabama Has To Fix Its Racist District Maps, So Does Louisiana

In another short, unsigned decision, the Court on Monday slapped down an “emergency” attempt by Louisiana to block a lower court’s finding that Louisiana has to redraw its congressional district maps to create at least two districts where Black voters have a chance to elect a congressional member of their choice. The Supreme Court refusal to fast-track the case follows its decision earlier this month to toss out a similar racial gerrymander in Alabama, a decision that left many surprised that the Court hadn’t decided to stomp a little more life out of the Voting Rights Act.

The case now goes back to the notoriously rightwing Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which may end up affirming Louisiana’s contention that no, its racial gerrymander is very different and more constitutional than Alabama’s, so it’s entirely possible the case will still make it back to the Supremes next term anyway.


Hey Navajo Nation, You Get A Reservation. Water Rights Not So Much

In one of the more bizarre rulings in a while, the Court decided last week that the US government’s 1868 treaty with the Navajo Nation, which established the largest Native American reservation in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, didn’t actually require the government to ensure that the tribe would have access to water. ProPublica tries to explain what seems inexplicable: After decades trying to negotiate with the state of Arizona, the Navajo Nation sued, in hopes of getting the Court to define what the tribe’s water rights were, and to order Arizona to stop delaying and allow the Navajo Nation reliable access to water.

ProPublica notes that while tribes have always had to negotiate for water with states, the federal government has also acted on tribes’ behalf by “helping account for how much is needed and available.” But when it came to intervening in the protracted negotiations between the tribe and the state, the Court, in a 5-4 decision, said nah, not our job.

Writing for the majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the tribe’s treaties do not impose “a duty on the United States to take affirmative steps to secure water for the Tribe.”

The case has been dragging through the federal courts since 2003, eventually accumulating briefs from “four states, more than 100 tribes and 27 trade groups representing mining companies and other water-intensive industries.” So much for all that! Now it’s back to the Navajo Nation trying to get an agreement with Arizona, which is already fighting to get enough dwindling Colorado River water for its very important subdivisions and agriculture barons.

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren said he hopes an agreement may be more likely with Arizona’s new governor Katie Hobbs, who promised while campaigning last year that she would work with tribes to resolve water claims.

Following the Court’s decision last week, Hobbs announced the appointment of four tribal officials — from the Navajo Nation, the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the Gila River Indian Community, and the Ak-Chin Indian Community — to the “Governor’s Water Policy Council,” which already includes Maria Dadgar, the executive director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. So at least there’s a formal place at the water policy table, which is different from the water table (just a little hydrology joke there).

Justice Neil Gorsuch continued his advocacy for tribal rights with a scathing dissent in which he agreed with tribes that the 1868 treaty does so guarantee “enforceable water rights” that the federal government is obligated to define.

“The Navajo have tried it all. They have written federal officials. They have moved this Court to clarify the United States’ responsibilities when representing them. They have sought to intervene directly in water-related litigation,” Gorsuch wrote. “At each turn, they have received the same answer: ‘Try again.’”

ProPublica also notes — drily, as is only appropriate — that if negotiations with Arizona go nowhere, the Navajo Nation’s “other option is continuing a water adjudication case in state court that began in 1978, involves 14,000 claims and has no end in sight.”

[ProPublica / Gov. Katie Hobbs / NBC News]

Keep Wonkette lawsplaining it all for you, if you are able!

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Southern Baptists Solve Shrinking Membership By Reminding Girls They Aren’t Allowed

The Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, voted Wednesday to finalize the expulsion of two member churches because they have women pastors, something they’re quite sure Jesus would not approve of. The Prince of Peace hasn’t even once shown up to disagree with anything else Southern Baptist leaders have done since the denomination was founded in 1845, when the SBC broke with other Baptists so it could advocate slavery without any backtalk.

The SBC had actually expelled the two churches in February, along with three others that didn’t appeal the decision. At the SBC’s annual meeting in New Orleans, delegates — called “messengers” because it’s more Bible-y — refused to reinstate California’s Saddleback Church, the megachurch led by rightwing evangelist Rick Warren, who didn’t even get a pass for hating gays and abortion or even for calling Barack Obama an enemy of Christianity years ago, even though he’d been inexplicably invited to pray at the first Muslim president’s inauguration.


Defensive Obama Team Defensively Defends Stupid Rick Warren

Obama On Rick Warren: ‘Uhh… Hope?’

Rick Warren Joins Furious Wingnuts: Obama’s ‘Freedom To Worship’ Is War On Religion

Bonus: Yr Editrix on Saddleback, from the Before Times at OC Weekly

But Saddleback has some lady pastors, so it couldn’t be reinstated, and neither could the smaller Fern Creek Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky. Lord knows you wouldn’t want to risk a lady pastor leaning over the pulpit and accidentally brushing against the Holy Bible with her dirtypillows.

The SBC’s “statement of faith” holds that only men can be pastors, because of some Bible verse that is as indisputable as the fact that Earth was created out of nothing about 6,000 years ago (to the great surprise of the Sumerians, who had already figured out agriculture, math, and writing at the time). So it wasn’t terribly surprising that the votes were overwhelming; 9,437 to 1,212 to reject Saddleback’s appeal, and 9,700 to 806 to refuse readmission for Fern Creek.

“I knew they would uphold the expulsion. However, I guess I am a bit naive. I did not think it would be that drastic a result. I thought there were more people left in the Southern Baptist Convention who support the autonomy of the local church, if not women in ministry,” said the Rev. Linda Barnes Popham, Fern Creek’s pastor.

She said some messengers came up to her to say while they disagree with her, they “appreciate our passion for the Gospel.”

She’s from Kentucky, so she should certainly know that the messengers couldn’t be taken literally when they said “well bless your heart.”

Before the vote, Warren appealed to the good sense and Christian forbearance of the messengers, apparently forgetting for a moment that he is himself a Southern Baptist:

“We should remove churches for all kinds of sexual sin, racial sin, financial sin and leadership sin – sins that harm the testimony of our convention,” Warren told the convention. But churches with “women on pastoral staff have not sinned,” he said. “If doctrinal disagreements between Baptists are considered sin, we all get kicked out.”

Well sure, and Jesus never said anything about gay people or abortion, but here you are. Or aren’t anymore.

The Associated Press helpfully clarifies that since all Baptist churches are independent, the convention can’t boss them around, but it can expel them, or in the official parlance, can declare they are “not in friendly cooperation,” or in severe cases of doctrinal disagreement, “not in friendly cooperation, motherfucker.” The AP also notes this appears to be the first time any churches have been booted for having women pastors.

The AP also notes that posting a big NO GURLS ALLOWED sign on Southern Baptist pulpits, the messengers also did some less dickish things like

upholding the expulsion of Freedom Baptist Church in Florida over its alleged mishandling of a sexual misconduct allegation.

They also voted to give a task force in charge of implementing abuse reforms more time to work. The task force launched last year.

The task force has also set up a website that includes a database of “pastors and church workers credibly accused of sex abuse,” so thank Crom those particular groomers aren’t being covered up. Any more.

The messengers also returned to terrible form by passing a resolution condemning gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth, who, the resolution said, are pursuing “a futile quest to change one’s sex and as a direct assault on God’s created order.”

You could say the same of automobiles, modern medicine, and Michael Bay movies too.

Just to make sure affiliated churches don’t go getting any funny ideas about women being allowed to have authority over men, the messengers voted to amend the denomination’s constitution to make absolutely clear that Southern Baptist churches are to

“affirm, appoint or employ only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.” To go into effect, it needs to be approved at the next annual meeting.

Sarah Clatworthy, member of Lifepoint Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas, advocated for the amendment, urging the SBC “to shut the door to feminism and liberalism.”

“In a culture that is unclear about the role of men and women, we have to be crystal clear,” she said. “We should leave no room for our daughters or granddaughters to have confusion on where the SBC stands.”

We will simply observe that no matter what Ms. Clatworthy says about doctrine, there’s no guarantee that Baptists’ daughters or granddaughters will buy into it going forward — as, indeed, they aren’t doing now, what with 2022’s decline in membership being the single greatest drop-off in a 16-year-trend of shrinking attendance. Also, we aren’t quite sure what one would need to do to be worthy of clat in the first place.

After being declared unfriendly and uncooperative, Warren issued a statement calling for Christians to party like it’s AD 99:

“There are people who want to take the SBC back to the 1950s when white men ruled supreme and when the woman’s place was in the home. There are others who want to take it back 500 years to the time of the Reformation,” he said. “I say we need to take the church back to the first century. The church at its birth was the church at its best.”

That would be pretty sweet, what with speaking Aramaic like Jesus, the Romans keeping the streets clean, Paul’s letters being fresh in your email inbox (including presumably the ones he didn’t write, because who’d fact-check ’em even then), and of course the opportunity to really be martyred instead of pretending that martyrdom consists of Target having a Pride display, the end.

[AP / Onion / AP / Photo (cropped and photoshooped) by Gerry Dincher, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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Louisiana Republican Considers Medical Evidence, Nixes Anti-Trans Bill. No, Really!

On Wednesday, a pretty remarkable thing happened in the Louisiana state Senate: The Republican chair of the Health and Welfare Committee, state Sen. Fred Mills, voted against moving a ban on gender-affirming healthcare for minors to the full Senate, killing the bill, at least for now. (Other Republicans are already pushing to bring the bill up for a floor vote by bypassing the committee process; more on that in a bit.) So for now at least, Louisiana is the only Southern state to to have rejected a ban on gender- affirming care. The vote gives trans kids and their families a bit of breathing room, not only in Louisiana but also in nearby states that have banned the lifesaving care that’s endorsed by every major medical and pediatric professional association in the country.

Possibly even more remarkable: Mills, a pharmacist, said he decided to vote against the bill because he had paid attention to the testimony during hearings, and had read a report the Louisiana Department of Health published in March. That report reviewed Medicaid statistics between 2017 and 2021 and found there had been exactly zero surgeries for gender reassignment performed on minors in Louisiana. What’s more, in the same period, very few Louisiana minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria — just 14.6 percent — received either puberty blockers or hormone therapy, and among those who did, the vast majority, more than 75 percent, were 15 to 17 years old. What’s more, the report found that trans minors who did receive such care had better mental health, and that there was an extremely low rate of patients who later regretted getting the treatment — about one percent, which is lower than the two or maybe four percent regret rates for breast enhancement that we found in an extremely cursory search (we ignored the stats from law firms).

So hey, Mills decided, not exactly an issue needing the state to interfere in medical decisions made by families and their doctors.

Mills told the Louisiana Illuminator — and could we please have more newspapers with 19th Century names like that? — that the report didn’t back up the wild claims made by the people wanting to ban gender-affirming care.

“My decision was really, really based on the numbers,” Mills said. “All the testimony I heard by the proponents that children are getting mutilated, I didn’t see it in the statistics.”

It was a pretty big setback for the fascist busybodies who think families and their doctors shouldn’t be allowed to decide on the health care they believe is appropriate, as indy journalist Erin Reed points out. Louisiana’s House had voted for the ban, House Bill 648, 71 to 27, which led to an intense effort by LGBTQ rights advocates to educate Louisiana senators about the medical data. Ultimately, though, Mills seems to have been most influenced by the report from the state health department, which Reed points out is in line with most reliable academic research, as well as the positions of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Reed adds that, up to now, the Louisiana report has gotten comparatively little attention, in contrast to a seriously sketchy 2022 report that the government of Florida commissioned in support of Florida’s ban on gender-affirming care for patients on Medicaid. That Florida report claimed — against the consensus of American medical associations — that gender-affirming care is “experimental” and “harmful.”

But wait, hold the fuck on: The Florida report was politically tainted garbage full of manipulated data, and was sharply criticized in a review by several healthcare researchers (and a law prof for good measure) at Yale University:

We are alarmed that Florida’s health care agency has adopted a purportedly scientific report that so blatantly violates the basic tenets of scientific inquiry. The report makes false statements and contains glaring errors regarding science, statistical methods, and medicine. Ignoring established science and longstanding, authoritative clinical guidance, the report instead relies on biased and discredited sources, including purported “expert” reports that carry no scientific weight due to lack of expertise and bias.

So repeated and fundamental are the errors in the June 2 Report that it seems clear that the report is not a serious scientific analysis but, rather, a document crafted to serve a political agenda.

Politically skewed medical “research” from Ron DeSantis’s medical bureaucracy, which is presided over by antivaxxer quack Joseph Ladapo? Well fetch our salts.

Oh, and it gets worse, as Reed explains:

In a lawsuit aiming to reverse Florida’s Medicaid ban, the discovery process unearthed documents from the Florida Surgeon General’s Office. These papers reveal the unambiguous objective of the research: to arrive at an outcome where “care is effectively banned.”

Gee, massaging the data to force a conclusion you prefer seems to be some kind of trend in Florida’s politicized healthcare bureaucracy. Whenever DeSantis is finally gone, the entire state health apparatus will need to be de-Ladapofied.

Reed also notes the report was written by members of the rightwing “American College of Pediatricians,” a hate group whose name mimics that of the legitimate American Academy of Pediatrics, but which is explicitly anti-LGBTQ and endorses “conversion therapy” to torture the gay and trans out of people.

But back to Louisiana: The reaction of the anti-trans bigots has been swift. The state Republican Party — repeating the lie about “genital mutilation surgery” that the state report showed isn’t happening — called for the state Senate to “override the committee vote” and to put HB 648 on the floor where it can be passed by all the sensible Rs who don’t bother with facts.

If it gets that far, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, seems likely to veto the bill, but the Rs have just enough seats in the Lege to override, even if Mills voted against. But who knows? Maybe Mills has a friend or two who also know how to read!

National anti-trans bigots have also called on the Internet Flying Monkey Hate Brigade to go after Sen. Mills, as the Illuminator illuminates:

“Fred Mills has sided with the butchers and groomers,” Matt Walsh, a conservative commentator tweeted to his nearly 2 million followers. “He will regret it. This is the biggest mistake of his political career, and also the end of his career. He’s going to be infamous and disgraced by his own base. We’ll make sure of that.”

The paper notes drily that Mills is term limited, and hasn’t said whether he’ll seek another office when his term ends. Other prominent wingnuts have been more explicit, like some asshole named Greg Price, who told his nearly 300,000 Twitter followers to “let Senator Mills know how you feel about him single-handedly killing this bill to ban sex changes for kids” and helpfully directed them to his state Senate website for his contact details. (The phone numbers appear to only be for his office, fortunately.)

The stupidest fucking response came from one Andy Ross, the president of something calling itself the “State Freedom Caucus Network,” who suggested that Mills himself must be some sort of drag performer perv, because

“This RINO Republican – Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills – once dressed in drag as a 1st grader in a TV commercial. And now he just killed the bill that would ban transgender surgeries on minors.”

Sen. Mills told the Illuminator he isn’t worrying about the rightwing backlash:

“Why should I?,” Mills said in an interview. […] “They don’t live in District 22. They don’t have a 337 area code.”

“I didn’t run for office to serve those people.”

He added,

“Always in my heart of hearts have I believed that a decision should be made by a patient and a physician. I believe in the physicians in Louisiana. […] I believe in the scope of practice. I believe in the standard of care.”

Yes, we checked, and the man really is a Republican, and has a perfect score from National Right to Life, the antiabortion group. But on this bill, he saw the research and made the rational decision. And for now, trans folks in Louisiana and their families can breathe a little sigh of relief.

[Erin in the Morning / Louisiana Illuminator / Daily Advertiser / Louisiana Department of Health / Yale doctors’ review / Erin in the Morning]

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You Got Your Abortion Bill In My Trans Ban!

There was a hell of a lot of news just yesterday about the ongoing effort to make sure women, children, and some men too don’t get any silly ideas about having bodily autonomy, so let’s dig right in, with the reminder that the GOP’s drive to ban abortion everywhere is hugely unpopular with everyone except the hardcore anti-abortion folks who now dominate the Gruesome Orc Party.

North Carolina: GOP Lege Overrides Veto, Passes 12-Week Ban

The Republican supermajority in both houses of the North Carolina Legislature voted Tuesday to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s recent veto, passing a ban on abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The veto override wouldn’t have been possible in the state House without the party switch by state Rep. Tricia Cotham, who suddenly announced in April that she had decided to become a Republican. That move cemented a two-thirds GOP majority in the House, and now we’re sure Cotham is very happy with her 30 pieces of flair from GOP donors. Back in ancient times — i.e., January of this year — Cotham cosponsored a bill that would have codified abortion rights into state law, but honestly, who remembers January any more? We have a feeling that voters may remember Cotham’s switcheroo in 2024.

Yesterday’s vote means that there are now no states south of Virginia and east of New Mexico where abortion remains legal and relatively easy to obtain. Even inside the 12-week limit, abortions in North Carolina will require a 72-hour waiting period between an initial visit and the actual provision of abortion services, even for medical abortions using mifepristone, if it remains legal. Doctors must be present when patients take the pill as well. [Politico]

National: Appeals Court Hears Abortion Pill Ban Today

The federal appeals court in New Orleans is hearing oral arguments today in the unspeakably shoddy lawsuit to reverse the FDA’s 2000 approval of the abortion drug mifepristone. The lawsuit, custom made for Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas, should have been laughed out of court from the start because the plaintiffs have no plausible standing in the case, and because the alleged “scientific” evidence that the FDA wrongly approved the drug is crap, but then, that’s the Trump judiciary we have. The case is being heard in the notoriously rightwing Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals by a three-judge panel consisting of two Trump appointees and a GW Bush appointee, all of whom have histories of supporting abortion restrictions. One of the judges, Trump appointee James Ho, called abortion a “moral tragedy” in a 2018 opinion, and you just ignore the research showing that 99 percent of women who’ve had abortions continue to believe it was the right choice even several years later. They’ve all been brainwashed to rationalize their decision, you see.

In addition to the bullshit Texas case, the appeals court will also hear the case from Washington state that ruled the FDA can’t reverse its approval of mifepristone. That case has been combined with the one from Texas. In April, the Supreme Court issued a stay on enforcement of Kacsmaryk’s ruling, meaning that mifepristone will remain available at least until the Fifth Circuit rules in the case at some point following today’s arguments. Whatever the outcome, get ready for the entire shitshow of legal uncertainty to start all over again until the case eventually gets to the Supreme Court. [NBC News / AP]

Montana: Greg Gianforte Signs Abortion Restrictions Days After State Supreme Court Upholds Abortion Rights

In Montana Tuesday, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte body-slammed reproductive freedom by signing four anti-abortion bills, which included a 12-week ban on all dilation and evacuation abortions after 15 weeks. Other restrictions signed by Gianforte will add new regulations on clinics and restrict Medicaid coverage for abortions.

As the Montana Free Press reports, Gianforte’s approval of the abortion restrictions came just days after the Montana Supreme Court

upheld a nearly 25-year-old legal precedent allowing abortion access under the state Constitution’s right to privacy. That case, Weems v. State, found that advanced practice nurse practitioners with proper training can provide abortions in Montana and reaffirmed that women have a fundamental right “to seek abortion care from a qualified health care provider of her choosing, absent a clear demonstration of a medically acknowledged, bona fide health risk.”

But then, what does the state supreme court know about state law anyway? Gianforte issued a statement saying he was “proud to round out our legislative session with another suite of pro-life, pro-family bills that protect the lives of unborn babies in Montana,” and if your family includes anyone who thinks they need an abortion, then clearly it’s not a real family.

The legislation is likely to face a legal challenge, what with the earlier state supreme court ruling. Also, as the Montana Free Press notes, the legislation

bars “dismemberment abortion,” a nonmedical term that the legislation defines in part as “the use or prescription of any instrument, medicine, drug, or other substance or device” to intentionally terminate pregnancies and the “insertion of grasping instruments” to remove a fetus.

The law includes exceptions for the treatment of ectopic pregnancies, and for “medical emergencies,” which of course can be a dicey determination that leads to delays of any treatment until a patient is close to death. Planned Parenthood of Montana immediately filed a motion in state court Tuesday to prevent the new law from being enforced. [Montana Free Press]

Nebraska: GOP Breaks Filibuster Of Anti-Trans Bill By Adding Abortion Ban, Because Why Not Oppress Everyone?

Finally, the GOP’s two most repulsive movements to restrict human freedom merged in Nebraska yesterday, as Republicans in the state’s unicameral Legislature sought to use a ban on abortion to break the three-month filibuster against the Republicans’ attempts to ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors. Democratic state Sens. Machaela Cavanaugh and Megan Hunt (who has a trans son, aged 12) have been absolute BOSSES in their ongoing efforts to kill the anti-trans bill, refusing to allow any legislation at all to move forward until Republicans dropped it. And it worked for months, until yesterday.

Independent reporter Erin Reed reports that in the latest attempt to move the anti-trans bill, LB 574, Republican state Sen. Ben Hansen amended the bill with a ban on abortions after 12 weeks. (Really 10 weeks, since pregnancy by statute “begins” with the the patient’s last missed period.) In addition, his amendment hands all authority on rules related to healthcare for trans youth to the state’s Chief Medical Officer, who of course was appointed by the Republican Gov. Jim Pillen. Says Reed,

While some may label this as a compromise, it feels like a more radical turn. It underlines the unsettling truth that the battles over gender-affirming care and abortion rights are not separate, but rather two faces of the same coin, driven by the same factions, using the same justifications to limit access to vital care.

The amendment technically drops the part of LB 574 that forbids puberty blockers and hormone therapy, instead only banning gender-affirming surgical procedures for anyone under the age of 19. That seems like a compromise, since the vast majority of trans people don’t seek surgery until after they’re adults anyway.

Oh, but then there’s the catch: By transferring all authority to set rules on gender affirming care to the state’s Chief Medical Officer, the amendment simply shifts the banning of puberty blockers and hormone treatment from the Lege to that appointed bureaucrat, Dr. Timothy Tesmer, who will almost certainly eliminate the treatments — and would also be free to add other restrictions that weren’t in the original version of LB 574. Sneaky, huh?

The amended bill moved forward last night in a procedural vote that broke the filibuster by a single vote.

Sen. Cavanaugh this morning gave a powerful speech evoking the words of Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, condemning the dishonest tactics used by Republicans in forcing an end to the filibuster by combining two Republican obsessions, punishing women for having sex, and punishing trans people for existing:

“You literally have to cheat at every moment of this debate. In every possible way, you are cheating. […]

“Women will die. Children are dying. It is your fault. It is your fault! And you are allowing it to happen. You DO literally have blood on your hands, and if you vote for this you will have buckets and buckets of blood on your hands.”

After a final round of debate today, the combined measure is likely to pass — and then the fight to protect trans young people’s lives will shift to the courts. Sen. Hunt noted minutes ago on Twitter that she’s already getting death threats, but she’s not afraid. The more the bastards attack people’s rights to be themselves and to have autonomy over their own bodies, the more they will lose. She also eloquently pointed out that the Nebraska case makes clear once and for all that these are not separate issues (and for that matter, neither are the attacks on schools and libraries).

“Trans rights are directly tied to the greater fight for reproductive rights and bodily autonomy – we are all in this fight together, no one is siloed away from being impacted by the rollback of our collective rights.

“What’s happening in Nebraska is proof.”

Americans are not going to stand for this, and we all need to come together to protect our rights. Get ready for a long fight, and organize, organize, organize. We’ll close with a prayer from Rev. Molly Ivins, from her final column. She was talking about the Iraq War and George W. Bush, but it applies here, today, just as well; just substitute “women and trans kids” for “troops” and it’s right on target:

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we’re for them. […] We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, “Stop it, now!”


[Erin in the Morning / Omaha World-Herald / Photo: Ted Eytan, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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