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U.S. complicit in Chechnya horrors

Ignoring lessons of Holocaust, Trump caters to Putin while gay men die

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The city of Grozny in the Russian republic of Chechnya. Authorities have sent gay men in the semi-autonomous Russian republic to secret prisons that have been described as “concentration camps.
(Photo by Alexxx1979; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Listening to President Trump deliver remarks on Holocaust Remembrance Day last week proved yet another galling exercise in surreal hypocrisy. 

The same president who tapped Stephen Bannon to serve as his top adviser had the nerve to criticize Holocaust deniers, adding “we must never, ever shrink away from telling the truth in our time.”

And so, let’s tell some truth. 

Truth: Bannon established Breitbart News as “the platform for the alt-right,” as he boasted last summer. While clever enough not to openly espouse anti-Semitic views himself, he deliberately cultivated Breitbart as the go-to place for expressing misogynistic, white supremacist and anti-Semitic views. Former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke praised Bannon’s White House appointment, which alone should tell you all you need to know about this dangerous figure. Alt-right lunatics are now ensconced in the White House, including among the press corps. Two fake journalists recently flashed “white power” signs inside the White House press briefing room and shamelessly posted the photos to social media. As first reported by the Independent, “Freelance journalist Mike Cernovich and Cassandra Fairbanks, a reporter for Russian news outlet Sputnik, posed for a picture behind the podium in the White House briefing room. In the photo, they are making a hand sign that can be used to signify ‘white power.’” 

Truth: According to a report from the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic attacks increased by 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017. Between January and March, the ADL reports there were 541 anti-Semitic incidents in the country compared to 281 during the same period last year. Trump’s gullible supporters — who are not influenced or constrained by facts, logic or reason — will dismiss those numbers as a coincidence. But for those of us with more than three functioning brain cells, it’s obvious that America’s deplorables have heard the dog whistles emanating from this White House and are acting accordingly. The bigots are unleashed and validated after being forced to endure an America led by a black man for eight years, their worst nightmare. 

Truth: Speaking of dog whistles, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters recently that Adolf Hitler never used chemical weapons against his own people and referred to concentration camps and gas chambers as “Holocaust centers.”

Truth: As Trump belatedly and hypocritically condemned anti-Semitism — after empowering bigots and ignoring attacks on Jewish community centers and cemeteries — gay men are being rounded up, tortured and killed in secret prisons in Chechnya. Holocaust Remembrance Day sounds like an opportune time to condemn those prisons, which have been widely described in the media as “concentration camps.” But Trump didn’t mention Chechnya and hasn’t denounced the government’s actions to cleanse the country of gays. Hillary Clinton lambasted Trump over his silence on Chechnya. The State Department, which remains woefully understaffed such that it hasn’t been holding press briefings, is silent. Only Nikki Haley at the U.N. could be coaxed into denouncing Chechnya.

Why is that? Well, Chechnya is controlled by Vladimir Putin, whose own campaign against Russian gays is well known and documented. Trump’s ongoing love affair with Putin (or is our president being blackmailed by the Russian murderer?) precludes him from speaking out. 

And so, amid cries of “never forget,” we do just that in Chechnya, turning away from the well-documented horrors being committed there against gay men. America’s pledge to respect the lessons of the Holocaust is now a hollow sham, a photo op that offers the appearance of caring while masking our government’s complicity in atrocity. 

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Ryan Walters, Libs of TikTok, gay blogger redefine Nex Benedict

Raichik spreads false info including anti-trans pseudoscience about trans identity & experiences that stoke fear, distrust & hatred

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Ryan Walters, Libs of TikTok's Chaya Raichik, gay blogger Chad Felix Greene and Nex Benedict (Los Angeles Blade file photos)

By TJ Payne | LOS ANGELES – A newly amplified twist in Nex Benedict’s narrative only continues to do him and other trans youth harm.  This latest iteration is being driven by Chaya Raichik, the notorious anti-LGBTQ+ creator of Libs of TikTok, her ally Oklahoma’s state Superintendent of its education system Ryan Walters, and Chad Felix Greene a gay blogger who contributes to the far right extremist website Red State.

Raichik’s social media posts and public appearances often focus on demonizing LGBTQ+ people. Raichik spreads false information including anti-trans pseudoscience about transgender identity and experiences that stoke fear, distrust and hatred of trans people.

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), without any consideration to Nex or his family, Raichik shared intimate details regarding the sexual abuse he endured at the hands of his father. Details of which that were known to multiple media outlets, but not considered germane to the suicide of the 16-year-old outside of being one of several contributing factors to his death with the primary areas of focus on the environment in the high school which included ongoing instances of severe transphobic bullying.

Editor’s note: Caution, the following contains transphobic rhetoric and misgendering:

“It’s the suicide lie again. Nex didn’t commit suicide because she was bullied for being LGBTQ. she committed suicide because she suffered from mental health issues and was a victim of sexual abuse by her father. She wrote suicide notes in the weeks before her death and her father was arrested again 2 weeks before she overdosed. Her issues weren’t addressed, she wasn’t helped, and she was suffering” Raichik posted two days ago.

On March 28 Raichik then posted this:

Followed by this post which embedded an article published by the anti-trans gay blogger Chad Felix Greene at the far-right website Red State:

Raichik’s attempt to redefine the circumstances regarding Benedict’s death and the causes was drawn from Greene’s published article wherein he misgendered and dead named Benedict and blamed his death on a “failed legal system, trauma struggles with mental health, and a young girl far too overwhelmed to handle it all on her own.”

This statement fails to leave out one crucial component of Benedict’s life – the harassment and bullying they experienced literally up until the day they died. Let us not forget that this all began with a fight at school, where Benedict was not allowed to use the bathroom that aligned with his gender identity. This is due to the passing of yet another anti-trans bathroom bill. The school (district) chose funding access over the safety of their students. They failed to do their one basic job and that is to protect all of the students, not just some. 

As we continue to learn more about who Nex Benedict was, and what he experienced as a young trans person, it does not surprise me that people like Greene would hop at the opportunity to blame the victim.

Benedict experienced abuse at the hands of his father at a very young age. This is a mitigating factor in his tragic death, but it is in no way the whole story. Anyone attempting to push that narrative is sorely incorrect and is failing to see the intricacies of a trans person’s life and the impact that a volatile and hateful school superintendent (Ryan Walters) can have on young people’s well-being.

Beyond Ryan Walters and his archaic ideology, an entire state that is hostile towards transgender people, with over 60 anti-trans laws introduced in 2024 alone, you cannot deny the overarching themes here. Benedict was not safe. He should have been safe at school, at the very least, and yet the Owasso High School administration failed at this. Benedict was failed more than once in his life and while his past traumas may have played a part in his decision-making, the travesty here is a system that would rather see children die, than change their ways. 

As there are escalating tensions and controversies surrounding not only the death of Benedict, but the treatment of LGBTQ+ students, especially trans and non-binary in Oklahoma schools, Superintendent Ryan Walters’s comments at a State Board of Education meeting on Thursday has further sparked anger among LGBTQ+ advocates.

Referring to the death of Benedict, Walters accused of LGBTQ advocacy groups of exploiting the tragedy for political gain.

“A woke mob formed around the death of a child. They lied. They attacked. Truth has come to light and we will not back down,” Walters said.

“At the time, we had radical left-wing activists who were aided by the fake news media who made outrageous and unfounded claims on the situation from the beginning. These radical groups lied, intentionally so, to push a political narrative,” he added.

“They wanted to use the death of a child to support a political agenda, and I think it’s absolutely disgusting, and you are going to hear these groups, this woke mob, continue to push an agenda and lie to further the most radical agenda this country has ever seen,” Walters alleged.

He then said “I will never back down to a woke mob. I will never lie to our kids or allow a radical agenda to be forced on our kids.” Walters publicly has declared that there are “not multiple genders” and that state’s schools “would not perpetuate what he considers a lie that transgender and nonbinary people exist.”

Since Benedict’s passing, the Indiana-based nonprofit the Rainbow Youth Project which provides LGBTQ+ mental health crisis counseling, has had a 500% increase in calls. Between February 16th and 20th they received 349 calls from Oklahoma, during a time they normally would average 87 calls per week. 69% of those callers mentioned Benedict’s death. 85% said they were experiencing bullying at school, 79% were in fear of their physical safety, and more than 10% were students at Owasso High School, where Benedict attended. 

According to the 2022 U.S Transgender Survey, 60% of 16 and 17-year-old respondents experienced one or more forms of “mistreatment or negative experience, including verbal harassment, physical attacks, online bullying, being denied the ability to dress according to their gender identity/expression, teachers or staff refusing to use chosen name or pronouns, or being denied the use of restrooms or locker rooms matching their gender identity”.

In Oklahoma (U.S Trans Survey, 2015) 46% of those students were verbally harassed, 19% attacked, and 10% sexually assaulted. 17% faced such severe mistreatment that they left school all together. 56% of trans people in Oklahoma avoided using a public restroom because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems they might experience. 

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TJ Payne is an investigative journalist and forensic analyst based in Los Angeles. He is a doctoral candidate at the California School of Forensic Studies, where he is researching the Trans Panic Defense. TJ enjoys exploring abandoned places, napping with his dog Brody, and road trips. 

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What happens now? Autopsy confirms what we already knew

But if we keep pushing, keep organizing, and keep shining our lights on the real villains in America, maybe we can save some of our kids

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Nex Benedict's gravesite in Collinsville, Oklahoma. (Photo By TJ Payne)

By TJ Payne | LOS ANGELES – As my day is coming to an end, in my sweet protective bubble State of California, I am still sitting with Nex Benedict’s autopsy report. Since first reading it while I sipped my black coffee this morning, from the comfort of my couch, I’ve printed it out and shuffled through it several times throughout the day.

Each time I’m left feeling as if I am sinking further into the ground where I’ll eventually shrivel away and be forgotten. As if this were a place where all trans people go to be forgotten, the void if you will. I never want Nex to be forgotten. I never want to forget Nex. Maybe that is why I subject myself to the discomfort of reading his full autopsy report that was released to the public this morning.

It doesn’t come close to what I imagine Nex was feeling for quite some time. It is hard to articulate what it feels like as a transgender person to read through this report though, of a young trans teen. The language used to describe our insides, as we lay on a freezing cold metal table; intact, not unusual, and normal. Why is it that we can’t be described like this in other spaces, instead of being called filth? Instead of being villains, pedophiles, or perverts, why are we not granted this dignity in life, as we are in death? 

Earlier this month, I decided to take it upon myself and visit Owasso, Oklahoma in hopes of meeting those closest to Nex. To get a better sense of the culture, the vibe, even, that pulsed through this small town in the south.

I met with local and national organization leaders who expressed their disgust with the current trend in anti-trans legislation that continues to flood the entirety of the state. Several of them informed me that since Nex’s death, crisis call centers have had a 300%+ increase, with data analysts learning that callers directly referenced Nex’s death. anti-trans legislation, Christian rhetoric, and Ryan Walters as reasons for their calls and suicidal ideation.

A close friend and ex of Nex who met with me shared that “The biggest issue, for trans youth, for LGBTQ youth, for the youth in the state, the biggest issue is Ryan Walters. And the state government. We should not have a state senator calling children, filth. Point blank.”

He was fired up, passionate, and perhaps terrified as he expressed this to me. I understood all of these feelings too well as someone who was adamantly afraid of Trump coming into more power in the 2016 election. 

I also met with three mothers. Mothers of children who have experienced bullying and harassment because of their trans-identities, or their parents being out and queer. These protective mama bears shed tears for their kids having to deal with added stress at school. As if junior high and high school weren’t stressful enough, a transgender student with queer parents is going to be compounded even more than the rest.

I was in awe of such dedicated parents, and such protectiveness. That wasn’t my own experience with my mother- who misgenders me even now, as a nearly 36-year-old man with a beard and exposed chest hair. I wished I could tell these mothers’ kids just how lucky they are, and that they are in good hands, no matter what. I listened to their stories, many full of fear for their kids, but also fear of retaliation from the school, or other community members.

Their emails have gone unanswered for months by the Owasso School District administration, leaving these mothers to make the hard decisions of pulling their kids from school, some transferring to a nearby school, and some trying out homeschooling. Both outcomes blame the child, instead of the adults in positions of power taking even an ounce of accountability. Turning a blind eye to these incidents risks another child slipping through a very small crack in an already badly damaged system. 

I continued talking to residents of Owasso since I returned to Los Angeles. I’ve learned more and more about Nex, and about the injustices he experienced throughout his life before even arriving at Owasso High School.

In all my conversations with friends and family, the fact that Nex experienced trauma was not ignored, but it was not his defining characteristic, as it isn’t for so many of us. It would be ignorant to say that abuse does not impact a person, but it cannot be said how exactly that looked for Nex.

I wanted to learn who this person was, the whole person, and this is part of his story, but I can assure you there is much more to him than all of the darkness that may have clouded him. He loved to cook. Nex’s aunt but legally sister (after he was adopted by Sue Benedict) shared a story with me about Nex coming to Texas to visit her when he was 14.

The family took him to a grocery store and told him to pick out his ingredients of choice and to cook whatever he wanted. He made a magical octopus dish that stunned them all while bonding with his aunt’s partner. While out shopping, Sue picked out an animal skull of some sort, knowing instinctively that he would love it.

He was a defender of his friends and enjoyed play-fighting. Nex was thoughtful and romantic. His favorite band was Ghost, a theatrical metal band that I have come to love now too. He had layers, and intricacies to his being – that includes his gender identity, and the fluidity that comes with that as a young trans person. As a trans person, I can vouch for this process. It is all such a process, a sometimes painful one, and he was barely getting started. He barely had a chance to be Nex. 

We must do better, now. There is no time to dilly-dally or to assume the next generation will take care of our shortcomings. We have to hold people and systems accountable. We have to hold each other accountable. We have to protect one another, hold one another. Because if we don’t, we will continue to lose our youth.

We will have more and more Nex’s, more frequently, more tragically. Nex’s story has placed a microscope on a school district with a rich history of failures, bullying, and now, a child’s death. This is not an isolated incident, however, and there are more trans youth suicides than any other demographic in the United States. Who will be next? Because the reality is, there will be another one.

But if we keep pushing, keep organizing, and keep shining our lights on the real villains in America, maybe we can save some of our kids.

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TJ Payne is an investigative journalist and forensic analyst based in Los Angeles. He is a doctoral candidate at the California School of Forensic Studies, where he is researching the Trans Panic Defense. TJ enjoys exploring abandoned places, napping with his dog Brody, and road trips. 

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The predictable predictability of the Oscars

Despite efforts to ensure greater diversity among its nominees, it’s the individual choices of its voters that determines the final results

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The stage at the 96th annual Oscar ceremony at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood Sunday night. (Screenshot/YouTube The Academy)

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – It’s hard to write a reaction piece about the Oscars when you recognize that the Oscars, by their very nature, are essentially a poll – or perhaps, more aptly, a popularity contest – which reflects an aggregate of personal opinions, and therefore have as much to do with internal Hollywood politics as with rewarding artistic excellence.

I’m not saying that the movies and people being celebrated on the stage at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood Sunday night – all of them, winners and nominees alike – didn’t deserve to be there; on the contrary, 2023 was an outstanding year for cinema, and every one of the contenders could be considered worthy of taking the prize.

If that’s the case, however, how can any of these outcomes be determined without the influence of personal taste? Making movies is not like playing sports, where a win results from the highest number of points scored and goals blocked; there is no such handily objective criteria to rely on in picking an actor, a screenwriter, or an entire film to proclaim as the “best” in its respective category, and it’s inevitable that Academy voters will be influenced by personal bias when they make their choices on that final ballot.

While Sunday’s 96th annual Oscar ceremony, which offered the usual snubs and oversights and no real surprises, might have disappointed me or even occasionally sparked a glimmer of outrage, I cannot fairly say that any of the final results were “mistakes.” And though it may be oversimplifying things to say that being offended by the Academy’s final choices is akin to being angry that someone else’s favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate when yours is salted caramel praline, it’s still enough to convince me that my “reaction” piece to the Academy Awards can really only ever be an “opinion” piece,

With that in mind, here we go.

The presentation itself was the usual blend of witty repartee (mostly provided with success by veteran Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel, though attempts at it from the various presenters ran the gamut from delightful to disastrous).

Musical performances (Billie Eilish and brother Finneas O’Connell’s rendition of “What Was I Made For?”, which went on to win the evening’s only award for “Barbie”, was a particular highlight, alongside the more lavish and deliciously amusing dance production number headed by Supporting Actor nominee Ryan Gosling for “I’m Just Ken” from the same film), uplifting moments (a regal Rita Moreno’s benedictory introduction of “Barbie” Supporting Actress nominee America Ferrera brought tears to my eyes, and I suspect I wasn’t alone).

Show-stopping surprises (John Cena’s teasingly faux nudity presenting the Best Costume Design award was a memorable stunt, to put it mildly, as was the combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito to do the honors in the Visual Effects and Film Editing categories) – yet it also had more than its fair share of embarrassing gaffes, such as upstaging the “In Memoriam” segment with an overblown production number accompanied by father-and-son operatic crooners Andrea and Matteo Bocelli’s duet of “Con tu partirò”, a move that has fueled perhaps more post-Oscars outrage than anything else from this year’s ceremony.

As for the politics, there were the expected barbs making fun of easy conservative targets, but most of the speeches avoided invoking too much progressive fury. The one overtly political moment came with the win of UK director Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest” for Best International Feature, when he read, in prayerlike monotone, a pre-prepared statement warning against the dehumanizing hate depicted in his slice-of-Nazi-life historical drama and calling for empathy for the targets of such hate on both sides of the current crisis in Gaza.

It was met with backlash, of course, especially after a partial quote in Variety omitted key elements of the speech and led many to believe the Jewish filmmaker was refuting his own religion.

As for the winners of the awards themselves (you can find the full list on the Oscar website) the evening’s choices fell more or less in line with my predictions – though not necessarily my preferences. 

The domination of “Oppenheimer” in most of the major categories in which it competed was, for anyone following the pre-ceremony buzz, a foregone conclusion. Few doubted that Cillian Murphy would handily claim the Best Actor prize – thwarting nominee Colman Domingo (“Rustin”) from becoming the first queer actor to win for playing a queer character in the process – or that Christopher Nolan would take the Best Director category, and from there the win for Best Picture felt as inevitable as anything can be at the Oscars.

Equally inevitable was the evening’s most easily predicted “Oppenheimer” win, as veteran Hollywood player Robert Downey, Jr. ebulliently swaggered onstage amid the enthusiastic familial cheers of his peers to claim the Best Supporting Actor prize; his acceptance speech, in which he self-deprecatingly recalled the legal and professional obstacles arising from the substance abuse that nearly derailed his early career, became a testament to overcoming personal setbacks to achieve an even higher success, something that resonated in the words of several other of the evening’s winners.

In the categories where “Oppenheimer” didn’t win, the odds were already in favor of the eventual victors, such as first-time filmmaker Cord Jefferson, whose “American Fiction” earned him the Best Adapted Screenplay Award over fellow front runners like “Barbie” and “Poor Things,” and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, whose winning Supporting Actress turn in “The Holdovers” had been a juggernaut throughout the award season.

Many Oscar fans, though most accepted the predestination of “Oppenheimer” as the year’s big winner, might rather have seen a different candidate come out on top (my own choice, for what it’s worth, would have been “Barbie,” with “Poor Things” and “Zone of Interest” coming up close behind); but even if Nolan’s weighty and technically dazzling biopic was unquestionably a fine film, exploring a deeply disturbing slice of not-too-distant history that still casts a long existential shadow over our world today, it’s impossible for me not to see in its multiple wins an all-too-familiar pattern of “safe” choices.

While “Oppenheimer” might pique ethical discussions over its title character’s choice to build the atomic bomb, few would find controversy in the idea that the destruction unleashed on the world by that choice is a reason for concern.

Its most viable competitors, “Barbie” and “Poor Things” – both of which touched on many of the same existential themes, albeit from a markedly different direction and in a more absurdist style – each stirred divisive opinions around (among other things) a perceived feminist agenda; other highly-acclaimed titles in the running, like the non-English language entries “Zone”, “Past Lives”, and “Anatomy of a Fall”, fell outside the comfortable domestic audience mainstream where Oscar’s favorite picks are usually a little too deeply-rooted to allow much opportunity for a dark horse upset.

While not many expected Bradley Cooper’s ambitious Bernstein biopic “Maestro” to take home any awards, it was considerably more noteworthy that Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” nominated for 10 Awards and widely lauded as one of the year’s most essential films, failed to score a single one of them – though I can’t help also noting that it deals with one of most shameful threads in our American past, inevitably making it a controversial movie for an era marked by deeply divided ideologies around that subject.

It’s perhaps for that reason that “Flower Moon” was not considered a front runner in most of its categories, but there was one in which it was seen as a heavy favorite. With Lily Gladstone poised to become the first Indigenous performer to win the Best Actress trophy, the odds leading up to Sunday’s presentation seemed to position them as the front runner; in the end, however, it was Emma Stone’s tour-de-force in “Poor Things” – in which she appeared in virtually every scene, in contrast to Gladstone’s relatively limited screen – that took it instead.

Though it wasn’t quite a surprise, given the number of wins Stone has garnered already for the film, which also took home the prizes for Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Production Design, it nevertheless felt – to me, at least – like another example of Oscar’s predictable reluctance to court controversy with its choices.

Ironically, but not surprisingly, this conservative approach often just ends up causing a controversy of its own, and this case is no exception. Though I had championed Stone’s brilliant performance as the obvious winner, when her name was announced I found myself feeling disappointment over Goldstone’s loss, even as I was thrilled for Stone’s well-earned victory.

After all, in a contest where the outcome is entirely subjective, Academy voters could have chosen to amplify the excellence of someone from within a marginalized community. Stone, who seemed as surprised at her win as anyone else, did remarkable work, but so did Gladstone; though it truly is “an honor just to be nominated,” it was an opportunity for Oscar to take a step toward correcting a long-ignored injustice at a time when doing so could make a demonstrably constructive impact on our culture and our society at a time when doing so would have a tremendous cultural impact, and it didn’t happen.

It was a moment that struck me with an odd sense of disappointment even as I cheered for Stone; a bit of the sour within the sweet.

That, aside from a sense of missed opportunity over the evening’s consistent pattern of favoring the middle-of-the-road prestige represented by “Oppenheimer” over the edgier, more confrontational material presented by some of the other titles on the slate, was my biggest takeaway from the Academy Awards.

Though I can’t say that any of the winners were unworthy, I can’t help thinking that their victories were somewhat tainted by the virtual shutout of “Barbie”, (which still feels to me like a message for female filmmakers to “stay in their lane”) and relatively low showing for “Poor Things” (which took only 3 of the 11 awards for which it was nominated), and that their underappreciation for such films was for me proof that many of the professionals working within the industry are afraid of material that pushes the medium too far outside its traditional boundaries, that dares to imagine stories and ideas which give voice to “outsider” concerns beyond the level of lip service, or that stretches the accepted limits of narrative entertainment.

More concerning, perhaps, is the minimal change that has come in the wake of the Academy’s much-publicized retooling to promote greater diversity and inclusion among the nominees.

While it’s heartening to see people of color and queer people being brought into the mix more consistently than ever before, it’s also all the more painful when we see them passed over or relegated to the status of “also ran” most of the time.

As a queer writer working for a queer publication, it’s impossible for me not to be impatient when films with strong LGBTQ content are lauded alongside mainstream titles only to consistently be passed over when it comes to the final victory.

While queer subject matter, in varying degrees, was part of movies like “Rustin”, “Nyad”, and even “Barbie,” only two wins in the “major” categories went to films that included significant queer themes – “American Fiction” and “Anatomy of a Fall”, both of which won for their screenplays.

And while it’s now old news, the Academy’s complete omission of Andrew Haigh’s melancholy gay ghost story “All of Us Strangers,” a queer UK film overwhelmingly embraced by other major awards bodies across the world and in America itself and considered a major contender before failing to earn a single Oscar nomination, and female filmmaker Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn,” which hinged – at least ostensibly – on a queer attraction between stars Barry Keoghan and Jacob Elordi, speaks volumes about the comfort level surrounding queer content within mainstream Hollywood.

Even “May December,” a high-profile film directed by queer indie pioneer Todd Haynes but featuring only presumably heterosexual characters, received only a single nod (for Best Original Screenplay) for “May December,” despite being widely considered a front-runner for several acting awards.

While inclusivity doesn’t mean considering every queer-relevant movie a shoo-in for the competition, it’s telling when the Academy all but ignores queer titles that have been contenders and even winners at all the other major film award ceremonies, and frankly, it’s extremely annoying.

While I can’t speak for women, those in the Black community, or other groups with a history of being dismissed by Oscar, I can only assume that their sentiments must resemble my own.

Yet as I reach the end of my observations about the latest installment of the Academy Awards, I find myself falling short of blaming the Academy itself, at least as an organization. While it has had a problematic history of dragging its feet when it comes to evolving toward a more all-embracing approach to bestowing honors, undeniable progress has been made.

That this progress is infuriatingly slow is less a reflection on the awards than it is on Hollywood as a whole; after all, despite Academy efforts to ensure greater diversity among its nominees, it’s the individual choices of its voters that determines the final results – and if those results fail to accomplish more than the occasional token victory for the non-white-heterosexual contenders, it’s a symptom of the fact that those voices are underrepresented within the industry at large.

If we want to see an Academy Awards ceremony that truly accomplishes the kind of all-inclusive spirit for which it has so palpable a potential, we must continue to pressure the Hollywood industry at large to build a more diverse and inclusive creative environment. Otherwise, no matter how much they promise to do better, they will always fall short.

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My reflections on the death of LGBTQ Icon David Mixner

Thank you, David Mixner. It’s time for a well-deserved rest in peace and to see all your old friends again

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David Mixner/Facebook

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – All week, I’ve been thinking of calling David Mixner. We needed to catch up and I wanted to double-check my memory of moments in 1991/92 during which he and ANGLE led the gay movement to elect his friend Bill Clinton as the new President of the United States. I knew he was not in the best shape – but part of me thought he’d be around forever. Wishful thinking doesn’t make it so.

I have lots of powerful memories of Mixner, starting in 1986 with the two of us sitting on a slope in Griffith Park watching scores of peace activists preparing to depart on The Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament. We talked about being clean and sober and our hopes and dreams – mostly an end to all our friends dying.

Years later, after Michael Callen died in late 1993, Mixner and I huddled at yet another memorial in West Hollywood. I produced many memorials for our dead 12 Step friends and he was often the speaker. We gave each other permission to take a break. We told each other that our dead friends would understand.  

David Mixner with Ambassador James Hormel and AIDS Dr. Joel Weisman at an amfAR event where they were honored
(Photo by Karen Ocamb)

As a reporter for the gay press, I interviewed David A LOT, especially about pressing Clinton to lift the ban on gays and lesbians serving opening in the military. He was an ardent pacifist – a follower of non-violence through Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. so why pick the military as an issue to fight for? He said it was our right to serve as patriotic Americans and to be able to access all the benefits that come with it – such as education through the GI Bill and the possibility of leaving poverty, domestic violence and routine bullying to see the world.    

But the moment that shines the brightest for me after hearing about David’s death tonight is the night Bill Clinton stopped in at a small ANGLE (Access Now for Gay & Lesbian Equality) reception before a major fundraiser at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Feb. 28, 1992. 

David, Jeremy Bernard, Scott Hitt, Randy Klose and others had come up with this creative MECLA-like idea to make sure that the Clinton campaign knew that the pledged $75,000 they raised would be clearly designated as GAY MONEY. And it was – with a clear bold thank you in the program book for the fundraiser thrown by Warren Christopher and Mickey Kantor, who acknowledged ANGLE from the stage. 

This was a big deal at a time when the Reagan-Bush administration had embraced political evangelicals who said AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuality.

David Mixner and Presidential candidate Bill Clinton at 1992 reception.
(Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Clinton was late to the reception – but his whole campaign was frenzied after the Gennifer Flowers story broke a month earlier. He and Hillary barely survived a 60 Minutes interview – but he came in second in a crowded field in the New Hampshire Primary 10 days before the fundraiser. He declared himself the “Comeback Kid” – and David was determined to convince every gay person everywhere to support him. 

That night, in a conference room with 60 gay people – some of whom would go on to work on Clinton’s campaign and in his administration – David whispered in Clinton’s ear like a political strategist, treated him like a friend, and served as an LGBTQ ambassador for all our hopes and dreams to the man who would become the next President. 

And Clinton let down his guard and responded. As David wrote in Stranger Among Friends: “The room was very quiet. We realized he was reaching out to us by reaching deep inside himself. He had made the link between his feelings of isolation from his neighbors with our feelings of isolation from society.” 

Bill Clinton thanks his friend David Mixner (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Thanks to David Mixner, Bill Clinton saw us as “a people,” not just a culture war issue. Mixner and ANGLE created a wave of voters, raised $1.3 million in Gay & Lesbian Money for the campaign, and started making demands – chief among them was an AIDS Czar and for Clinton to recognize us in his Democratic Convention speech. Mixner said he and Diane Abbitt held their breath waiting for the magic words – letting the campaign know that if Clinton didn’t SAY the words, they all would make a big show for the TV cameras and walk out. Clinton acknowledged us.  

There are so many David Mixner moments, including his official break with Clinton protesting the betrayal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

David Mixner, (center) protesting DADT at the White House
(Photo courtesy Jeremy Bernard)

Clinton did follow up on his promise to fight AIDS – hard not to do after he and Hillary visited the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt during the 1993 March on Washington.

AIDS Quilt 1993 March on Washington (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

 But to me, tonight, I’m grateful that he lifted up our humanity so we could feel full equality and full of possibility if just for a spell before hateful politics once more took first class citizenship rights away. What would have happened had Hillary won? 

David Mixner, Karen Ocamb, and Hillary Clinton after March 26, 1992 visit at AIDS Project Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy Karen Ocamb)

Thank you, David Mixner. It’s time for a well-deserved rest in peace and to see all your old friends again.

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Karen Ocamb is the former news editor of the Los Angeles Blade. She is an award-winning journalist who, upon graduating from Skidmore College, started her professional career at CBS News in New York.

Ocamb started in LGBTQ+ media in the late 1980s after more than 100 friends died from AIDS. She covered the spectrum of the LGBTQ+ movement for equality until June 2020, including pressing for LGBTQ+ data collection during the COVID pandemic.

Since leaving the LA Blade Ocamb continues to advocate for civil rights and social, economic, and racial justice issues.

She lives in West Hollywood, California with her rescue dog Pepper.

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Lawmaker ejected trans Kansans- her hearing was a disgrace

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, threw several people opposed to anti-transgender bills out of a Kansas House hearing

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Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, oversaw a hearing on two anti-trans bills in the Health and Human Services committee. She is seen here during an Aug. 2, 2023 KanCare Oversight committee meeting. (Photo Credit: Sam Bailey/Kansas Reflector)

By Clay Wirestone | TOPEKA, Kan. – Rep. Brenda Landwehr: What you did to LGBTQ+ Kansans at your Thursday hearing in the Kansas Statehouse has no excuse.

Your committee was considering bills that would criminalize lifesaving care for children. The mere act of debating House Bill 2791 and House Bill 2792 harmed transgender kids across the state. A host of advocates and activists, parents and children, told you this through testimony and email messages, opinion columns and public speeches.

You didn’t listen.

Instead, you issued imperious orders. You expelled prominent LGBTQ+ advocates after one knocked over a water bottle, threatened speakers with capitol police, and cut off testimony that offended you.

You added to the abuse. You negated compassionate souls who were looking out for themselves and those they loved.

“It was more than unnecessary. It was shocking,” said Melissa Stiehler, advocacy director for youth voter engagement organization Loud Light, describing the ejection of one advocate.

A couple of folks used strong words in addressing you and your compatriots on the House Health and Human Services Committee. That’s because the bill you were hearing could lead to the deaths of their friends. They didn’t make that choice. You did. The least you could have done for these brave souls was to sit and listen, as you did when you allowed HB 2791 sponsor Rep. Ron Bryce, R-Coffeyville, to call gender reassignment surgery the equivalent of a lobotomy.

But you were too cowardly for that.

This isn’t a joke. This isn’t a show. The Kansas Statehouse doesn’t serve as a stage for you to preen and prattle and make demands of those you see as less than. You serve the people. As a Republican representing Wichita’s District 105, you owe the people better.

LGBTQ+ people have suffered unspeakable torture from the hands of people just like Landwehr for decades. Kansas criminal code still classifies gay intimacy as a misdemeanor. Law enforcement has often played a prominent role in enforcing hate. The fact that the representative would look to officers to do her dirty work shows that the old ways — the old familiar use of the state to enforce one person’s morality on another — run deep.

Watch ignominious moments from the hearing in the video below. You can witness the whole debate here.

Firsthand accounts

With that preamble off my chest, let’s step back a moment.

LGBTQ+ advocates had prepared for this hearing. They submitted a flotilla of testimony and packed both the hearing room and an overflow space. Emotions, as you might expect, ran high. The situation called for a committee chair who mixed both empathy with those speaking and determination to move the hearing along.

In preparing this column, I spoke and corresponded with three people who sat in that room Thursday. They watched the chairwoman up close as she booted or silenced at least four LGBTQ+ advocates.

“The hearing started off very curt and with very vague instructions to attendees and conferees,” said Iridiscent Riffel, a transgender activist who has also written columns for Kansas Reflector. She was later ejected and threatened with a police escort for her testimony. “We were treated as if we were miscreants for simply attending a hearing that would determine our rights. We were told that any noise or disruption would end with us being kicked out.”

Riffel had attended a hearing Thursday morning in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee and said there was little difference in the audience between the two. Yet Landwehr regularly interrupted the afternoon hearing and call for order.

“Landwehr was trying to create a problem that didn’t exist with an excuse to kick us out,” Riffel said. She added the chairwoman “was engaging in providing extra support to supporters of the bill, while shutting down speech by those in opposition of the bill, the very community that would be impacted.”

Taryn Jones works as the lobbyist for Equality Kansas, the state’s preeminent advocacy group for LGBTQ+ residents.

She was also one of those removed.

“At one point during the hearing, I picked up my water bottle and as I sat it down whispered something to the person sitting next to me,” Jones said. “Rep. Landwehr banged her gavel down and kicked us out saying that she had warned people in the committee room about disruptions. However, the people in the row in front and back of me hadn’t heard anything and seemed very confused by what was going on.”

She highlighted the central injustice of the entire affair: “I find it curious that out of the four-five people that Landwehr kicked out or silenced during the hearing, they were all people opposing the bill. How is this democratic? Well, it’s not. Does Landwehr really want the optics of kicking out the Equality Kansas Lobbyist for water and a whisper on a hearing to ban trans healthcare?”

I can answer that question: She doesn’t care about the optics.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, threw several people opposed to anti-transgender bills out of a Kansas House hearing Thursday for defying ground rules for decorum
 Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, threw several people opposed to anti-transgender bills out of a Kansas House hearing Thursday for supposedly violating her ground rules for decorum. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Unequal treatment

Loud Light’s Stiehler watched the entire hearing from the room and corroborated both Jones’ and Riffel’s accounts.

“I did notice many anti-trans activists engage in more disruptive behavior than (the water bottle incident) without any reprimand from the chair, such as cell phones going off, general murmuring, or bringing their signs into the committee room to keep at their feet,” she said. “One bill proponent held up his sign and was asked to leave after Rep. Susan Ruiz pointed him out to Chair Landwehr, but returned to the committee room shortly after. That was the only enforcement of the chair’s rules on any proponent.”

Stiehler watched as Bryce claimed that gender-affirming care somehow equated to lobotomies. Such a statement insulted all the transgender people in the room. Yet Landwehr never asked them to revise their testimony or leave. That testimony came alongside a mountain of “discredited studies and factually inaccurate statistics,” to use Stiehler’s words.

As I’ve noted in this space before, all major medical groups and health care groups support gender-affirming care for those younger than 18.

Not one or two. Every one.

That doesn’t matter to Landwehr or those supporting these grotesque proposals. The chairwoman gave them a wide berth to demean, disparage and demonize the transgender people who showed up to defend their rights. She refused to allow the same rhetorical scrutiny of her committee.

“This bill claims that gender affirming care for minors is abusive, and proponents of it said that if legislators didn’t support this bill they were enabling this abuse,” Stiehler said. “Yet when two transgender women from Kansas, Iridescent Riffel (a leader in Equality Kansas) and Jaelynn Abegg (Rep. Landwehr’s opponent in the upcoming election) said that it is proven through many peer reviewed studies and reports that bills like this cause an increase in depression and risk of suicide, and if you vote in favor of these bills then you will be responsible for that result, that was considered disparaging to members of the Legislature that haven’t even yet voted on these bills. The remainder of their testimony was shut down.”

I reached out to Landwehr for her take on the hearing. She didn’t respond.

If Kansas GOP leaders can do this to transgender youths, they will follow up by doing it to transgender adults. They will then target, as they have before, gay and lesbian and bisexual youths and adults. Those who somehow believe they can turn the “LGB” against the “TQ” in the “LGBTQ+” initialism don’t understand the history of this movement or the way the community works. Trans people and those crossing gender lines have always been part of the community, and an attack on any particular part of the community must be understood as an attack on everyone.

Think of it another way. Type 1 diabetics need insulin to survive. Would that House panel consider denying insulin to people under age 18 because they’re too young and impressionable? Would Rep. John Eplee, the Atchison Republican and physician who sat next to Landwehr, even countenance such a proposal?

Of course not.

So ask yourself why transgender kids don’t count the same as diabetic kids in the state of Kansas.

A participant in the March 31, 2023, March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy at the Kansas Statehouse holds a sign that reads: "Make no mistake, they are killing us."
 A participant in the March 31, 2023, March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy at the Kansas Statehouse holds a sign that reads: “Make no mistake, they are killing us.” The demonstration was a response to legislative attacks on the LGBTQ community, including the ban on transgender athletes. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Another hearing

The chairwoman has already done an immense amount of damage.

She has shattered a vase into a thousand pieces, and while that vase could be mended with enough time and attention, it will never look the same. She has wielded her power to punish transgender Kansans who showed up in good faith to participate in the democratic process. Even if those bills fail, Landwehr has betrayed hardworking Kansans in her zealous pursuit of culture warrior status.

However, she could still make a difference. From what I hear, leaders can hold informational hearings on just about any subject they like.

Landwehr could call an informational hearing on her own performance as chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee. I’m sure that Riffel, Abegg, Jones and Stiehler would be more than willing to share their thoughts. She needn’t only hear criticism, either. The chairwoman could hold a second day of hearings for those who want to praise her.

We didn’t have to be in this place. These bills didn’t have to be introduced. They didn’t have to be heard in committee. And the hearing didn’t have to be turned into a public embarrassment.

But here we are.

Landwehr owes those she kicked out the opportunity to confront her publicly. She should hear what her behavior meant to them, how she made them feel, and what her proposals mean for LGBTQ+ youths across the state of Kansas. She might even acknowledge the harm she caused.

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Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

The preceding article was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished with permission.

Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector’s opinion editor. His columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has written and edited for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania.

He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, and cnn.com. Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director.

Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.

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American Evangelicals’ deadly silence on Nex Benedict

Anti-queer theology is not just inaccurate, it’s deadly, & causes tangible harm to millions of queer people around the world every single day

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American Evangelicals worshiping. (Screenshot/YouTube BBC)

By Rev. Brandan Robertson | QUEENS, N.Y. – Nex Benedict is dead, and far too many American evangelicals are silent. On one hand, this is not surprising at all. We’ve come to expect that those who claim the name of Jesus to not respond to anything that doesn’t concern their own interests- namely their privilege, power, and wealth.

On the other hand, it is almost unbelievable that anyone who follows the Jesus who said “Let the children come to me” (Matthew 18:3) and who spent his days speaking up for the marginalized and oppressed would not speak up or stand in solidarity with the death of a 16 year old student who was relentlessly bullied and beaten in the bathroom of their school and is now dead.

Even beyond Christian faith and values, the most basic standard of human decency demands that we mourn with those who are mourning, and yet once again, many American evangelicals fail at even this. 

At the time of my writing, over a week after Nex’s death, FOX News, the top news source for American evangelicals doesn’t even have one mention of Nex on their website, nor does The Christian Post or Christianity Today.

Instead of highlighting the very real suffering of transgender and non-binary Americans, these networks have chosen to make invisible the suffering of queer people. Nex’s death represents the persistent struggle of non-binary and transgender people across America who face bullying, violence, and discrimination every single day, much of which is motivated by so-called Christian values.

When churches continue to teach that queer people are unnatural, abominations, and intrinsically disordered, the result is millions of Christians stigmatizing, ostracizing, and actively working against queer people.

Anti-queer theology is not just inaccurate, it’s deadly, and it causes tangible harm to millions of queer people around the world every single day.

This is especially true for children who grow up hearing that queer people are sinful in their churches and then act on these beliefs by bullying queer children at their schools. Anti-queer theology is not just inaccurate, it’s deadly, and it causes tangible harm to millions of queer people around the world every single day. 

American evangelicals know this. They know that their theology hurts people like Nex and it appears that they don’t care. They won’t even acknowledge the suffering and death of Nex by sharing their story and highlighting their suffering. They won’t take this tragic moment to turn inward and reflect on the way that their teaching and politics perpetuate such harm to queer people like Nex each and every day.

Evangelicals like Oklahoma State Superintendent of Schools Ryan Walters actively work to make the lives of trans and non-binary students more difficult, bans both diversity initiatives and books that mention queer characters, and target queer educators, even pressuring a gay principle to resign for performing as a drag queen outside of school on his personal time.

This sort of harassment and targeting of the queer community is not an aberration for evangelicals- it’s the norm. They seek to use every ounce of power and privilege they can muster to marginalize the queer community because they know that we threaten their grip on American society and challenge some of their deeply held regressive beliefs and values.

And because of this, it’s essential that compassionate and progressive people of faith rise to this moment, honoring Nex’s life by shining a light and demanding accountability for the toxic rhetoric spewed by religious and political leaders and demanding more protections under the law for non-binary and transgender people in our country.

In this moment, all people who align with Jesus’ value of loving our neighbor as ourselves need to think carefully about how we might love and support our trans and non-binary neighbors who are experiencing a great deal of pain in following the death of Nex Benedict. And it is clear the love demands that we honor Nex’s life by speaking up and demanding that those who promote anti-trans rhetoric and ideology be held accountable for the impact it has on the lives of vulnerable trans and non-binary people everywhere.

Beliefs are not neutral and political positions impact the lives of real people across this country. Nex’s tragic death is just the latest evidence of the real-world consequences of anti-queer rhetoric, and the best way to honor their life is commit to fighting with all that we have to expose evangelicalism as the death-dealing, anti-Christ movement that it has become.

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Rev. Brandan Robertson is an author, activist, and theologian, serving as the Executive Director of The Devout Foundation and Pastor of Sunnyside Reformed Church in NYC.

Known as the “TikTok Pastor” with a substantial following, he also hosts the influential podcast “Faith For the Rest of Us” and has penned 20 books, notably “True Inclusion.”

His expertise in progressive spirituality has garnered recognition in major publications like TIME, NBC, and The Washington Post, and accolades from Rolling Stone Magazine. An ardent advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, Robertson collaborates with various organizations dedicated to this cause.

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Trans 101: Nex Benedict vigil speech & bullying

We must work together to end bullying by unpacking each of our own learned and internalized transphobia, homophobia & racism

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Los Angeles Blade featured columnist, Rose Montoya being interviewed by KABC 7 Los Angeles. (Screenshot/YouTube KABC 7)

Los Angeles Blade featured columnist, Rose Montoya, is a hugely popular YouTube, Instagram & TikTok creator with her ‘Trans 101′ 1 minute video shorts which offer tips, advice, and support for Trans people and solid information for Trans allies and others seeking answers.

By Rose Montoya | LOS ANGELES – A special vigil was held a service at West Hollywood United Church of Christ. During an interview with KABC 7 News, I noted: “Trans people have the highest rates of violence against us, more specifically Black trans women, and as a Latino trans woman myself, I know this all too well.”

Here’s my full speech at the vigil for #NexBenedict and here are the questions I posed: How much safer could our society be if we stopped placing value on the enforcement of gender roles? How is our government protecting trans and nonbinary children? What could it look like to form a concerted effort to create a world where this doesn’t ever happened again? How will you honor the sacredness of Nex and every 2SLGBTQPIA+ person, including yourself? Thank you @ryancassata @shaneivannash @justxodiak @queerxact for organizing:

Watch:

We must work together to end bullying. It starts individually by unpacking each of our own learned and internalized transphobia, homophobia, racism, anti-Blackness, classism, ableism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, etc. All of us are responsible for ending bullying.

Watch:

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Rose, is a Hispanic, bisexual, nonbinary transgender woman. Rose’s pronouns are she/her/hers and they/them/their/theirs. She works as a model, actor, public speaker, makeup artist, advocate, and content creator.

Rose is also a board member of Aadya Rising, a nonprofit working to fill in the gaps to help the transgender community. She has been in campaigns and featured by TomboyXSavage X FentyYandyFX NetworksNew York City PridePlanned Parenthood, and more. Their goal is to spread love and education about their community as they share their story.

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To follow Rose:

rosemontoya.com 

TheTrans101.com

Instagram.com/TheRoseMontoya

TikTok.com/@rosemontoya

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Death of Nex Benedict hits close to home for New Jersey therapist

Their death is a manifestation of a larger issue that involves hostile rhetoric, misinformation re: gender-diverse youth & anti-LGBTQ culture

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The life of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student was brutally cut short after an altercation in a bathroom at Owasso High School in Owasso Oklahoma. (Family photo)

By Laura Hoge | UPPER MONTCLAIR, NJ. – The life of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, was brutally cut short after an altercation in a bathroom at Owasso High School.

Their untimely death should prompt a critical dialogue about the circumstances leading to such a horrifying incident. And we should not fool ourselves by thinking New Jersey is immune to the dangers that transgender and nonbinary youth face in schools and public spaces nationwide.

As many grapple with the aftermath of this terrifying hate crime, we all — Oklahoma to New Jersey to Florida — must address the systemic issues that contribute to the vulnerability of marginalized students, in particular transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming youth.

The New Jersey Safe Schools Coalition with Columbia High School Spectrum Club will hold a candlelight vigil in Nex’s memory on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. at Maplewood Town Hall, 574 Valley St.

In my role as a gender specialist and trauma therapist, addressing the aftermath of violent incidents such as these demands a process of “zooming out” from the hate crime itself and examining the unsettling realities of what other journalists have already referred to as stochastic terrorism, a term used to describe the use of mass communication, such as social media or online platforms, to incite or inspire individuals to carry out acts of terrorism without directly organizing, directing, or participating in the violent acts themselves.

The term “stochastic terrorism” carries significant weight, and grasping its meaning requires clarifying its key component: implicit communication. Implicit communication operates beneath the surface of explicit words and actions. It plays a significant role in shaping perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors while at the same time maintaining “plausible deniability.” We all have people in our lives whose attitudes toward groups of people are widely known, even if they aren’t explicitly spoken and would likely be denied. We all have felt implicit messages from our bosses, spiritual leaders, teachers, or politicians, reminding us of what is and is not acceptable in our work, faith practice, classrooms, and communities.

As we process the death of Nex Benedict, we must look at the culture in which they were living, one with a history of hostile discourse toward transgender people and influenced by social media outlets that are known purveyors of anti-trans sentiments. In the aftermath of Nex’s death, it is unsurprising that they are being misgendered and deadnamed in the community where they lived. Even amid tributes to their life, implicit messages are being sent that offer absolution to those who might be harboring guilt about their participation in a culture that could have caused something so horrific and a clear message that transgender and gender-diverse youth have no place in Owasso High, alive or dead.

While many of us would like to believe that our communities are immune to this type of violence, it is naive to think that similar acts of hate would never happen in our own schools. Anti-trans rhetoric is ubiquitous in New Jersey. It can easily be found in our Statehouse, family gatherings, and most recently in our school board meetings, where attitudes similar to the ones in Owasso were amplified in heated debates over school policy 5756 — a policy that supports transgender and nonbinary students seeking to be referred to by a different name or pronoun, and which has sparked discussions about whether schools should be obligated to inform parents of these changes.

While journalists share information about the role of Libs of TikTok and its influence on the community of Owasso, New Jersey residents need to understand that we have similar influences acting in our own backyard, like the Center for Garden State Families, Moms for Liberty, Parents Defending Education, and others, with many of them misleading the public with deceptive and legitimate sounding names while spouting anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, calling for book bans, and/or forced outing of gender diverse students. These groups explicitly advocate for parental rights and child safety, while concurrently employing implicit messaging that creates an atmosphere where transgender youth, as well as their supporters, are made to feel unsafe.

Implicit intolerance is pervasive and, if it continues to proliferate without challenge, will erode the protections that this state currently offers. To counteract this, allies must remain vigilant and take explicit actions that endorse and celebrate gender-diverse experiences within our communities. This could include speaking out in favor of trans-affirmative policies at school board meetings, spreading trans-affirming messages and stories online, teaching cisgender children about gender diversity and how to be an upstander in their friend circles, and/or advocating for trans-affirming rights and recognition in government. Neglecting to engage in these actions sends its own implicit message, and tacitly sanctions the proliferation of harmful attitudes and biases.

I believe that residents in New Jersey are uniquely positioned to disrupt the transphobia that exists here. We are backed by our brand: a progressive state with laws that support inclusion. Sharing accurate information about gender diversity, as well as the experiences and challenges that transgender and nonbinary students face, can demystify misconceptions and foster life-saving empathy and understanding.

We must acknowledge that Nex’s death did not exist in a vacuum and is not an isolated incident. Their death is a manifestation of a larger issue that involves hostile rhetoric, a targeted misinformation campaign against transgender and gender-diverse youth, and a culture that permits anti-LGBTQ toxicity to proliferate.

Nex’s death is a poignant reminder of the landscape in which gender-diverse children are asked to live and grow, and which, in the case of Nex, can be deadly.

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Laura Hoge is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New Jersey. Laura is also an educator and an activist. She has worked as an adjunct at Rutgers and Montclair State, training individuals who are studying to become drug and alcohol counselors, and social workers. In addition to organizing, Laura participates in efforts throughout the state of NJ that champion equity in education and medicine for transgender children.

The preceding article was previously published by the New Jersey Monitor and is republished with permission.

New Jersey Monitor provides fair and tough reporting on the issues affecting New Jersey, from political corruption to education to criminal and social justice. We strive to hold powerful people accountable and explain how their actions affect New Jerseyans from Montague to Cape May.

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Libs of TikTok appointed to “make schools safer,” but trans kid dies

Nex, a trans teen, dies after a year of transphobic bullying in a school targeted by the biggest anti-trans influencer. When will it end?

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Nex, (Photo from the family’s gofundme)

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – The stories of transgender children being killed are among the hardest I am tasked with writing. I refer to them as stories because, regrettably, there have been multiple incidents over the past two years. Eden KnightBrianna GheyAriyanna Mitchell—names that will forever resonate with me—all young, tragically stripped of their lives in a world where individuals like them face relentless dehumanization and maltreatment by those holding power.

This week, we have yet another name to add to a list already unbearably long from the first addition… Nex, a gender-fluid transgender high school student, was brutally attacked in an Oklahoma bathroom and lost their life, only a month after Chaya Raichik of Libs Of TikTok was appointed as part of a plan to “make schools safer” in Oklahoma.

The news emerged over the weekend through a post highlighting a student allegedly assaulted by three peers in a high school bathroom at Owasso High School West Campus. This post revealed that a student named Nex had been killed, criticized the media for deadnaming them (using their old name), and noted that their transgender status was being ignored.

Now, following widespread attention drawn to Nex and their transgender status, their mother has provided more information to The Independent.

Though details about the specific incident remain sparse, we learned that Nex had been repeatedly bullied at school for being transgender and that the bullying erupted into violence toward them. In what has been described as a “physical altercation,” Nex suffered a severe head injury in a high school bathroom at the hands of three girls.

Allegedly, No ambulance was called, though Nex was taken to the hospital by their mother and was discharged. They succumbed to their head injury the next morning.

Twenty-five years ago, another LGBTQ+ student had their life taken from them too soon. Matthew Shepherd, who was horrifically beaten and left to die, also succumbed to his own severe head injuries.

His death sparked a wave of awareness about how the demonization of gay people in the 1990s led to the killing of gay youth and the fear that so many LGBTQ+ people felt during the gay panics of the 1990s and early 2000s. His death changed things forever and eventually was cited in the passing of hate crime legislation.

Many look at Nex’s death and wonder if their legacy may also shine a light on the horrific consequences of the anti-trans panic sweeping the world today, fueled by a handful of hate accounts and influencers.

According to an investigation by The Independent, Raichik targeted a teacher Nex had greatly admired through her anti-trans account, Libs of TikTok – the school was among the earliest targeted by the account. The account has since become infamous for making posts that are often followed by bomb threats and violence.

Concurrently, the state schools superintendent Ryan Walters put out a horrific video the following year calling transgender youth in bathrooms “an assault on truth” and dangerous to other kids.

He has been a fierce opponent towards LGBTQ+ people in schools, even going as far as to demand a principal be fired for being a drag queen in his time off. He has also prevented students from changing their gender markers in school records, saying that he “did not want [transgender people] thrust on our kids.”

Just last month, Walters decided to appoint Raichik of Libs of TikTok to the Department of Education’s library media panel. In the letter appointing her, Walters stated that Libs of TikTok was part of his plan to “make schools safer for kids.”

Transgender children in Oklahoma and their family members, however, watched in horror as they have now learned what “safety” really means: the violent and brutal suppression of transgender people in the state, and the death of transgender children.

How could it ever gone differently? We know that bomb threats follow Libs of TikTok posts. We know that Kiel, Wisconsin schools were shut down for a month with bomb threats after she targeted that school district over a trans kid. We know violent threats have followed posts targeting the University of South Dakota, a library in North Carolina, and even a librarian in Oklahoma’s Union Public Schools district. She posed proudly with a paper that pointed out the way violent threats follow her targets.

We are in a mass rainbow panic, and conservatives continue to turn up the temperature. Michael Knowles calls for transgender “eradication” while Matt Walsh advocates for an end to legal recognition.

Conservative legislators dehumanize transgender people and their families. Oklahoma Senator Shane Jett, just one year ago, compared the parents of transgender youth to parents who kill their children.

There is a child who was killed – Nex was their name. Embraced and cherished by an affirming family, Nex will rest beneath a tombstone etched with the name that those legislators and hate influencers sought to erase.

A name that, in a just world, would bring about change.

You can find the family’s gofundme > (here)

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

The preceding post was previously published at Erin in the Morning and is republished with permission.

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Protecting our future: Standing united against attacks on trans kids

A coalition of LGBTQ+ and allied organizations address a range of attacks on transgender youth in California

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Courtesy of trans activist Landon Richie

LOS ANGELES – As a coalition of LGBTQ+ and allied organizations, we write to address a range of attacks on transgender youth in California. In 2023 alone, states around the country introduced hundreds of bills restricting the rights of transgender young people.

California has long been one of the most inclusive and welcoming places in the nation for LGBTQ+ people, but even we are now facing a distressing surge of threats against the rights and safety of transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex youth.

Across our state, far-right school board members are pushing policies that deny students access to essential historical information about LGBTQ+ people, forcibly out transgender students, and undermine the basic rights of transgender youth to use facilities and participate in school activities aligned with their gender identity. These actions jeopardize the safety of all students and undermine the fundamental values of equality and dignity that should be the bedrock of California schools.

And now, many of these same extremists are collecting signatures to advance a ballot measure that would roll back the rights of all transgender youth in California. Their hateful efforts would strip away vital civil rights protections painstakingly established for transgender youth and their families, including their rights to safely be themselves at school, participate in youth sports, access school facilities consistent with their gender identity, and receive life-saving gender-affirming care. The weight of this moment is heavy, and we share the fears and worries expressed by many Californians. 

Protecting the rights of every LGBTQ+ person, safeguarding our loved ones, and nurturing an inclusive future for transgender youth are non-negotiable. Our organizations, along with many other partners and allies, have been working tirelessly to address the harm that these attacks have on our youth, and we stand ready to take action whenever and wherever needed to protect our communities.

Nothing is more crucial to us than safeguarding your rights, your loved ones, and your children’s future. We are continuing to actively monitor the proposed ballot measure and stand ready to take any essential action necessary to prevent its advancement. Together, we will overcome these attacks on our community and pave the way for a California where every individual, regardless of gender identity, can continue to thrive in safety and dignity.

Coalition Authors: 

Tony Hoang

Executive Director, Equality California

Jodi Hicks

CEO, Planned Parenthood of California

Bamby Salcedo

President and CEO, The TransLatin@ Coalition

Camila Camaleón

President, San Gabriel Valley LGBTQ Center 

Ezak Perez 

Executive Director, Gender Justice LA

Kathie Moehlig

Executive Director, TransFamily Support Services

Ashley Morris

Organizing Director, ACLU of Northern California

Amanda Goad

Audrey Irmas Director, LGBTQ, Gender & Reproductive Justice Project, ACLU of Southern California

Tai’Rance S. Kelly Sr. 
Founder/CEO, Tranz of Anarchii Inc.

Terra Russell-Slavin

Chief Impact Officer, Los Angeles LGBT Center

Imani Rupert-Gordon

Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights

Ebony Harper

Executive Director, California TRANscends

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