Connect with us

Substacks

The Woman Who Stood Up to the Porn Industry—and Won Nancy Rommelmann

Published

on

Laurie Schlegel, a certified sex addiction therapist, first decided to take on the porn industry after hearing Billie Eilish talking about the damage pornography did to her as a child. (All photos by Emily Kask for The Free Press)

Before Laurie Schlegel decided to run in a special election to fill a seat in Louisiana’s House of Representatives in 2021, she asked her son for permission. 

“I asked him and he just boldly told me like, ‘Mom, I’m 16 and I love you and please don’t take offense to this, but I just don’t need you as much anymore,” explains Schlegel, in a black jumpsuit, green liner on her eyes, when we meet at her blonde brick home in downtown Metairie. 

“And so that hurt.” 

But she quickly got over it and immediately started working on her campaign. Even though the licensed sex addiction therapist and pro-life Republican faced a tough race against Eddie Connick, the scion of a storied New Orleans political family and cousin of singer Harry Connick Jr., his pedigree did not help his chances. Nor did a campaign flyer that read, “Sending a social worker to the legislature would be like washing money down the drain.”

His gambit landed with about as much grace as Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables.” 

“Social workers from my district contacted me and were like, ‘How can I help you?’ ” explains Schlegel, 44.

In April 2021, Schlegel won the seat with 52 percent of the vote, and immediately planned to address the usual concerns of the 45,000 residents in her district, such as crime and education. But a few months after she took office in May 2021, she decided on a different agenda: taking on online porn.

What she has since achieved—after two years in office—has made international news. Not only has Schlegel curbed the billion-dollar online porn industry for the first time in history, forcing websites to protect kids in Louisiana and pull out of at least three U.S. states, she has offered a legislative blueprint for others across the country.

“I am truly humbled to see that we began a movement that has swept the country and began a long overdue conversation about how we can protect kids from hardcore pornography,” she says. 

Schlegel’s crusade started back in December 2021. She had listened to The Howard Stern Show and 21-year-old pop sensation Billie Eilish talking about online porn. Eilish told Stern that she began watching “abusive” images at the age of 11, and that this had warped her sense of how to behave during sex and what women’s bodies look like.

“No vagina looks like this,” Eilish told Stern. “I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much porn.”

Schlegel was struck by Eilish’s openness, that she was “just a young girl being vulnerable enough to share those details with the world.” 

The singer’s story also chimed with Schlegel’s professional experience both as a sex addiction therapist and a court-appointed special advocate for abused and neglected children in the foster care system. She knew the issues facing young clients raised on unlimited free online porn—the decoupling of intimacy from sex; the inability to get aroused without porn playing in the background; a warped idea of what your partner actually wants. 

“If you’ve never had your first kiss but you’ve seen hardcore pornography, it’s going to mold the way you view sexuality,” Schlegel said. “You’re not dealing with a fully formed adult brain that’s like, ‘Oh, so I shouldn’t strangle my partner?’ ” 

If Schlegel understood the damage pornography causes, she also knew how easy it is for children to access it. And she realized that now she was a state legislator, she was uniquely positioned to do something about it. 

She soon settled on the idea of legislation that, if passed, would require porn sites to confirm their customers were 18 or older before they could click through to their content. 

“You can’t be 10 years old and go into Mr. Binky’s—that’s an adult bookstore in my district,” she says. “This is public policy we’ve accepted across the board in brick-and-mortar stores, but we’ve just been giving a pass to the internet.” 

While Schlegel attends a nondenominational Christian church and describes her faith as “very important to me,” she had no desire to impose her morality on others over the age of eighteen. “Adults have rights, so I get it,” she says, explaining that all she wanted was to craft a bill making it harder for kids to access videos like “I Invite My Stepsister to Take a Bath to Fuck Her Hard and Cum in Her Ass.”

Opponents to Schlegel’s law claim it stifles free speech. “I think the porn industry’s way to fearmonger is to say, ‘Well, now you adults aren’t going to be able to access it,’ ” she says.

Within days of hearing Eilish’s story, Schlegel contacted Dr. Gail Dines, a sociologist and anti-porn scholar whose 2015 TEDx Talk, Growing Up in a Pornified Culture, captured Schlegel’s concerns. The two women made strange bedfellows—Dines self-identifies as a “progressive, Jewish, pro-sex feminist who believes in free speech”—but they agreed the porn industry had gone too far, and something had to be done to stop it.

Both Dines and Schlegel were frustrated by the way that porn had seized the narrative, convincing the public that any regulation of their content was a death blow to free speech.

“I think the porn industry’s way to fearmonger is to say, ‘Well, now you adults aren’t going to be able to access it,’ ” says Schlegel. 

At Schlegel’s request, Dines delivered a webinar to the bipartisan Louisiana Legislative Women’s Caucus in January 2022. Among its most jarring findings is that minors who view pornography are more likely to believe women enjoy being raped. 

“People were shocked at Dr. Dines’ research and the type of pornography that kids can access on the internet and how it impacts them,” says Schlegel. “You could see from their follow-up questions that they’d had no idea and that many were appalled.” After the session, lawmakers were eager to offer Schlegel whatever support she needed. “I had even some of my Democratic colleagues saying, ‘How can we help you push this?’ ” she says. 

Meanwhile, Schlegel began researching legal precedent. She was looking for a sweet spot where a law would limit minors’ access to pornography without being struck down as unconstitutional. She says she got in touch “with constitutional lawyers, people who can take a look at my ideas and the language and ask, ‘Could this pass constitutional muster?’ ” 

There was also the technical question of how exactly to verify someone’s age online. During the pandemic, an electronic age verification system, called LA Wallet, had been authorized to accept digital driver’s licenses and ID cards as legitimate forms of identification in Louisiana. After getting assurances that LA Wallet could provide the technology to “verify someone’s age without giving any other identifying information,” Schlegel crafted Louisiana House Bill 142

The legislation requires online publishers of porn sites to require age verification, via an LA Wallet program called VerifyYou Pro, Anonymous edition, that users are over 18. 

By February, Schlegel had introduced the legislation in the lower chamber. HB-142 sailed through the Louisiana House (96–1) and State Senate (34–0) in June 2022. And when the law went into effect this past January, Pornhub, the world’s largest porn site, lost 80 percent of its traffic in Louisiana. 

Soon after, two dozen states proposed copycat policies; Arkansas, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia, and Texas have now all passed similar legislation. This summer, Pornhub chose to pull out of Mississippi, Utah, and Virginia entirely rather than comply with the new age verification requirements. 

Visitors in those states are now greeted with a video of a fully clothed Cherie DeVille, star of the films MILFs Like It Big and Slut Inspection, urging users who support internet freedoms to contact their state representatives. Pornhub further cited in a July 2023 statement that the laws “jeopardize user safety and privacy” and encouraged “all members of our community to stand up for your freedom to enjoy and consume porn privately.”

The Free Speech Coalition, which represents the porn industry, has filed lawsuits in several states, arguing age verification laws are “ineffective, unconstitutional, and dangerous.” U.S. District Judge David Ezra recently agreed, calling Texas’s law “constitutionally problematic because it deters adults’ access to legal sexually explicit material, far beyond the interest of protecting minors.” As of September 19, a three-judge panel in Texas reversed the earlier decision and, for now, is allowing the law to stand.

Opponents of age verification say these laws are an overreaction, that publishers are being forced to wall off their sites on the off chance the content might harm a child. As well as First Amendment objections, anti-censorship advocates worry about privacy. They note, for example, that every driver’s license in Louisiana was recently exposed to cyberattack

Schlegel says she understands some of her critics’ concerns, but believes the law is “100 percent not unduly burdensome to adults. . . . If you go on Pornhub’s site in Louisiana, the [age verification] process takes less than a minute for you to get unlimited [access to] whatever pornography you want to look at.”

Meanwhile, Schlegel is thrilled that an idea she had while listening to the radio has had such a widespread effect across the nation. 

“Getting HB-142 passed and signed by the governor felt amazing,” says Schlegel. “While it may sound cliché, I ran for office to make a difference, especially when it comes to kids.”

In August, Schlegel got a second law passed, which heavily enforces the first. “How can you sit back and do nothing? That wasn’t an option for me.”

Over a lunch of po’boys and onion rings, Scott Schlegel explains the challenges he and his wife have faced. “I mean look, we’ve been together since we were 17 years old, we support each other,” says the district court judge for Jefferson County.

There was the time she nearly died in childbirth the week of Hurricane Katrina. Freshly out of the hospital with their newborn son, the couple drove out of New Orleans just before the storm hit. 

“I just felt so bad Scott had to board up the house by himself,” says Schlegel.

There was also Schlegel leaving a 10-year career as a pharmaceutical rep in 2011 to get a master’s in marriage counseling, a decision partly inspired by the Bible study class she led, after which women would stay to talk about their relationships. “I want to be a marriage counselor and help marriages,” Schlegel recalls telling herself during her training. “I just didn’t want to do addiction, and then lo and behold, I’m doing addiction work.”

This happened because her second-ever client, while Schlegel was doing her training at Catholic Counseling Services, told her he was a sex addict whose problem had started with online porn.

“This was something I wasn’t familiar with,” she says. She realized that by helping people with their sex lives, including porn addiction, “I’d still be helping marriages, because a lot of people come in with that, and it’s really working on betrayal, too.”

Schlegel started work as a licensed professional counselor in 2016, and in 2021 got her master’s of arts in marriage and family counseling from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. She still practices—a sensible move, given that Louisiana representatives earn just $16,800 a year. While her opponents complain about the burden HB-142 places on visitors to porn sites, Schlegel is the one helping her clients sort through the wreckage caused by underage porn addiction.

“When you see the naked form, you get aroused. I think that’s very natural,” she says. “But what pornography presents I don’t think is natural, or at least a majority of it. Most of it is very aggressive when it comes to the woman. I think a lot of pornography is violence masquerading as sex. . . . I have seen people lose it when we talk about the addictive quality. Despite the consequences—broken marriages, lost jobs—it’s still a hard behavior to quit.”

With her age-verification legislation in the books, Schlegel also passed bills addressing crime and education during her first term. But she soon returned to her commitment to building a wall between kids and what she calls “the pornoverse.” 

“In order to do better enforcement, I passed a second law, HB-77,” she says. “If you’re not complying with the [first] law, then our AG can bring a lawsuit.” That law went into effect in August.

In order to convince the legislature the second bill was needed, she first went onto one of the porn sites flouting HB-142 and copied down the titles of videos on the landing page. 

“Fifty little thumbnails that any 10-year-old can see,” she tells me, while opening a manila envelope marked, “Please Be Advised Before Opening: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE.” Inside is a list of the titles she saw, which she distributed to lawmakers and which she now reads aloud.

“Daddy, please don’t come inside of me, I AM your daughter.” “Teenage bitch doesn’t know I’m fucking her.” “Ebony Miles loves white man cum to swallow.” “Did our stepdad fuck us last night?” “Sexy stepsis and friend tag team 3 big cocks.” “Intense ass pegging after he cums. . . ” 

She looks up at me. “I mean, I don’t know if you want me to continue.”

Of the pushback from the porn industry, Schlegel says: “They’re obviously fighting this because they don’t want to be regulated, of course; who wants to be regulated? But they haven’t been, and I think that’s why they’re so irresponsible, whether it’s to women or to children. And so yeah, it’s going to be a fight.”

Schlegel herself will be continuing, not only with her political career—she plans to run for reelection in 2024—but with her movement to protect children from pornography. She appreciates that there will be lawsuits, and that people do not want their data mined. But she’s not buying the idea that what she sees as a minimum of safeguards will be the end of internet freedom as we know it.

“Once you understand the gravity of this issue and realize what kinds of hardcore porn young kids freely are seeing online and how it is impacting them, how can you sit back and do nothing?” she asks. “That wasn’t an option for me. And hopefully doing nothing is not an option for the country going forward.”

Schlegel slips the list of obscene titles back in the envelope. “This is the beginning conversation,” she says. “It’s not the end for me.”

Nancy Rommelmann is the co-host of the podcast Smoke ’Em If You Got ’Em and writes the Substack Make More Pie. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @NancyRomm. And read 16-year-old Isabel Hogben’s Free Press essay “I Had a Helicopter Mom. I Found Pornhub Anyway.”

To support our mission of independent journalism, become a Free Press subscriber today:

Subscribe now

 

 

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Substacks

WATCH: ‘This Is My First Rodeo’ | Ben Meets America Ben Kawaller

Published

on

By

In the latest stop on his cross-country quest to understand America, Ben Kawaller watches men hurl cows to the ground.

Last month I attended The American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, a city of around 400,000 souls situated between Dallas and Fort Worth. This was my first rodeo, and it did not take me long after entering its host venue, the gargantuan Globe Life Field, to realize that I did not know what a rodeo was. If you’d asked me six weeks ago to define the term, I would have said something like, “It’s when you watch someone career around an enclosed pen on an animal.” 

Which is actually not too far off. But what I hadn’t realized is that a rodeo is actually a sporting event. 

You see, some people are especially good at bending these animals to their will, and if you are one of those people, you can win competitions for things like making the animals run very fast, or tying the animals up very quickly, or not dying while trying to sit on one of the animals.

Of course, I wasn’t really there for the games; I was there to talk to the crowd about what makes our society so divided. If you’re tuning in for the first time to my new series—“Ben Meets America”—I was born and raised in progressive Brooklyn, I now live in West Hollywood, and I will admit to being soft in some fundamental way. Suffice it to say I get a more transcendent high from watching a torch song than I do from watching a man hurl a small cow to the ground.

But, in fact, theater and rodeo have their similarities. If you’ve been to a play in recent years, you will have suffered the degradation of a “land acknowledgement.” This is when the audience is told before the show—either in an announcement or in the program notes—that they’ve gathered on land stolen from whatever Native American tribe existed there years ago. My sense is that some of this is rooted in the idea that America itself is fundamentally illegitimate. Whatever’s behind it, the inclusion of a land acknowledgement has become de rigueur.

I did not think conservatives did land acknowledgements, so I was surprised when the Native American actor Mo Brings Plenty appeared before the start of one of the competitions and performed a minute or two of indigenous wailing. I believe the intent of this was to, well, acknowledge the fact that Native American bloodshed was central to the expansion of the American West. What I did not expect was the incongruence of what came after. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. I’m still puzzling over its significance.

In the end, however, I decided I prefer the conservative version of a land acknowledgement. Unlike the inane liberal sacrament, it appears to be capable of expressing two truths at once: that oceans of indigenous blood were spilled in the creation of this country, and that we live in one of the greatest nations on earth.

Even if one of our favorite spectator sports is man versus cow.

Only paid subscribers can see Ben’s video on The American Rodeo. Become one today and scroll down to watch.

Subscribe now


Read more

 

Continue Reading

Substacks

April 14, 2024 Garamond

Published

on

By

 

Continue Reading

Substacks

Senate spotlight: A Trump Republican’s China problem Judd Legum

Published

on

By

November’s election will not only determine which party controls the White House but also the United States Senate. Currently, the Democratic caucus holds a narrow 51-49 advantage. Control of the chamber will come down to a handful of competitive races. This is the first installment in a series that takes a deep dive into the issues shaping these campaigns. 

In Ohio, businessman Bernie Moreno (R) is attempting to unseat Senator Sherrod Brown (D). Ohio, once a swing state, has been trending Republican. Moreno’s campaign strategy is to attach himself at the hip to Donald Trump. He refers to himself as the “Trump endorsed Republican nominee for US Senate from Ohio.” This helped him easily win the Republican primary against a field of more politically experienced opponents.  

In a potential second term, Trump is vowing to declare economic war on China, promising to “tax China to build America up.” Trump’s plan is to revoke China’s most favored nation trading status and impose a tariff on Chinese goods of up to 60%. (The policy would cost the typical American household thousands of dollars annually and increase inflation.) Imports of “essential goods” from China, including electronics, steel, and pharmaceuticals, would be completely banned

Moreno has taken a similar approach, saying he is running for Senate to “Beat Communist China.” To bolster his anti-China credentials, Moreno claims to have a history of combating Chinese power. These stories, however, don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Moreno made his fortune through buying and selling car dealerships. As his wealth increased, so did his interest in Republican politics. In 2011, former Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) appointed him to the board of trustees at Cleveland State, one of Ohio’s public universities. Moreno served as chairman of the Cleveland State board from 2016 to 2018.

Confucius Institutes, which offer “Chinese language and culture programs,” were established at numerous U.S. universities beginning in 2005. They were partially funded by the Chinese government. Over time, there were bipartisan concerns that Confucius Institutes were being used to promote Chinese government propaganda or even to facilitate espionage. On the campaign trail, Moreno has repeatedly claimed that, in his role as chair of Cleveland State’s Board of Trustees, he eliminated the university’s Confucius Institute.

Here is how Moreno described his role in a March 2023 campaign event:

I chaired the board of trustees at Cleveland State University, and I’m very proud of the fact that when I was there, we got rid of our Confucius Institute. We made certain that we focused everybody on student achievement, and we respected free speech on campus.

He made a nearly identical claim in October 2023. But it is a lie.

Moreno’s service on the board ended in May 2018. Cleveland State did not shut down its Confucius Institute until 2021. The truth is, while Moreno was on the board, he repeatedly approved funding for Cleveland State’s Confucius Institute. In 2016, when Moreno was still vice chairman, he voted to approve $38,000 in funding for the school’s Confucius Institute. The following year, as chairman, Moreno voted to re-up the funding. Minutes from these meetings show that Moreno did not express any concerns about the Confucius Institute

Subscribe now

Moreno told the Columbus Dispatch that he deserves credit for the elimination of the Confucius Institute at Cleveland State because of “his role in the hiring of Harlan Sands, who was Cleveland State’s president when the institute closed.” There are a couple of issues with this response. First, this is not what Moreno said previously. He clearly said that the board “got rid” of the Confucius Institute while he was chair. Second, Cleveland State did not eliminate the Confucius Institute because of the initiative of President Sands. Cleveland State, along with nearly all other universities, closed its Confucius Institute after Congress passed legislation in 2018 and 2020 limiting federal funding for universities that maintained the Confucius Institutes. From 2019 to 2023, the number of Confucius Institutes operating in the United States went from about 100 to fewer than 5.

The truth about Moreno and Chinese-made SUVs

“When I was a General Motors dealer, I sold Buicks. The Buick Envision was made in China. I told General Motors I wouldn’t sell one of them, don’t even ship it to me,” Moreno said during a February 10, 2024 radio interview. “They threatened me and sent me all kinds of nasty notes… we have to actually take this stand…”

That story, which Moreno also told during his brief run for Senate in 2021, is a lie. 

In reality, Moreno sold the Buick Envision at his dealership for at least five years — from 2014 to 2019 — and promoted the vehicle repeatedly on its social media channels, an investigation by NY1 revealed

A December 13, 2016 video published on the “Bernie Moreno Companies” YouTube page begins with this testimonial: “My name is Kayla McCullough. I purchased a 2017 Buick Envision from Buick GMC of Beachwood… I highly recommend you visit the team at Buick GMC of Beachwood, a Bernie Moreno company.”

Moreno’s campaign “acknowledged to Spectrum News that his dealership did sell the Chinese-made SUVs.” It claimed that “in response to the closure of the Lordstown Plant here in Ohio [in March 2019],  Bernie made a decision to stop any new inventory of Envision’s from being sold at his dealership. After he sold off the inventory he already had on the lot, he refused to take orders for more Envisions.” This explanation, however, makes little sense as the Envision was also produced in China and never at Ohio’s Lordstown Plant. Moreno’s dealerships also continued to advertise for the Envision months after the closure of the plant. 

 

Continue Reading

Shadow Banned

Copyright © 2023 mesh news project // awake, not woke // news, not narrative // deep inside the filter bubble