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High-tech industry campaign highlights gay Chechnya crackdown

Tech4Chechnya launched during WorldPride in Madrid

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Elad Mintzer, gay news, Washington Blade

Elad Mintzer of Ze, a group for LGBT people who work in the high-tech industry, is among those who spearheaded Tech4Chechnya, a campaign during WorldPride in Madrid that sought to highlight the ongoing crackdown against gay men in Chechnya. Mintzer spoke with the Washington Blade on June 29, 2017, at Google’s offices in Madrid. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MADRID — A group of LGBT people who work in the high-tech industry used 2017 WorldPride as an opportunity to try and help the victims of the ongoing crackdown against gay men in Chechnya.

Google on June 29 hosted participants in the Tech4Chechnya campaign at their Madrid offices.

More than 20 people took part in a “hackathon” in which they sought to help develop apps and software that would allow advocates to better communicate with gay men in Chechnya. Tech4Chechnya participants also spoke on Skype with members of the Moscow-based Russian LGBT Network about how they can use technology to provide additional assistance to gay Chechens who have fled their homeland.

Elad Mintzer, the Israel-based managing director of Ze, a group for LGBT people who work in the high-tech industry, told the Los Angeles Blade the advocates with whom he and other Tech4Chechnya campaign participants spoke “need more people that they can trust to help them.”

“It’s hard for them,” he added. “We will try to help them with technology to be more efficient, so [they can] have a more safe way to talk with the refugees.”

Representatives from InterPride, which organizes WorldPride, and others from Google and OutRight Action International are among those who also spoke with Tech4Chechnya participants. A gala the campaign held at a Madrid nightclub on June 30 raised money for English courses for gay Chechens in Russia who want to leave the country.

“Sometimes it’s better for them to not stay in Russia,” Mintzer told the Blade.

Chechnya is ‘a very big problem’

Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim, semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucuses.

Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, in April reported Chechen authorities have arrested more than 100 men because of their sexual orientation — or perceived sexual orientation. Reports indicate several of these men have reportedly died after their arrest, while others have been beaten and tortured and sent to secret prisons.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close Putin ally, and the Kremlin have sought to downplay or even dismiss these reports.

The Russian LGBT Network has expressed skepticism over the Kremlin’s claims it has begun to investigate the crackdown. It said on Tuesday that “persecutions of LGBT people (have) started again.”  

“It is a very big problem,” Escandia Camergo, a Tech4Chechnya participant from Mexico City, told the Blade on June 29.

‘We can do something to change the world’

More than a million people lined the streets of Madrid on June 30 for the 2017 WorldPride march and parade.

Several dozen Russian LGBT rights advocates took part in the march from the Atocha train station to Plaza de Colón. Other participants highlighted their opposition to Putin.

Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena did not specifically mention Chechnya in remarks that she delivered at a WorldPride reception earlier in the week. She did note LGBT and intersex people in many countries around the world continue to face persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Misha Makara, a Tech4Chechnya participant from New York, told the Blade on June 29 the campaign is “a great program that allows us to do more than just party at Pride.”

“We can do something to change the world and hopefully make the world a slightly better place,” he said.

“Being here working with others trying to change the situation is helpful,” added Makara. “But it’s also important to remember that Pride is a demonstration and this is part of that demonstration. So we have to have fun and also have a little bit of work as we do it.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin are among those who have condemned the crackdown against gay men in Chechnya. President Trump — who met with Putin on July 7 during the G-20 summit in Germany — and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have yet to publicly comment on it.

“I would like Donald Trump to comment,” Makara told the Blade. “However, judging by his past efforts, I’m not going to be surprised (if he doesn’t.)”

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Tennessee

Felony arrest in vandalism of Pride Merch at Knoxville Target store

Jonathan Burns was arrested after he was identified by investigators as the suspect in spray-painting a section of LGBTQ+ Pride merchandise

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Arrest mugshot of Jonathan Burns courtesy of the Knox County, Tennessee Sheriff's Office

KNOXVILLE – A thirty-one-year-old West Knox resident was arrested last week by the Knoxville Police Department, with the help of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, and charged with felony vandalism at a local Target store.

Jonathan Burns was arrested after he was identified by investigators as the suspect in spray-painting a section of LGBTQ+ Pride clothing & merchandise.

Knoxville NBC News affiliate WBIR-TV, Channel 10 reported:

On June 13 at 2:49 p.m., Burns entered the Target on Parkside Drive and spray-painted an entire section of merchandise placed out for Pride Month, KPD said. 

Burns damaged $3,884 worth of clothing, according to KPD. They also said he used red spray paint to destroy the entire section of items as well as a sign in the section, and it was the only section that was vandalized. The sign cost an additional $16 in damages. 

An employee had approached Burns and asked him to leave, according to a KPD report.

When Burns left the Target, he dropped the spray paint can on the ground. Fingerprints on the can confirmed Burns’ identity. Evidence of him purchasing the spray paint and a bucket hat from local retail prior to the incident was secured. Video from Target and the retailer where the paint and hat were purchased depicted Burns wearing the same clothing, the report said.

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United Kingdom

British Prime Minster backs ban on trans swimming athletes

When the prime minster was asked whether women can be born with a penis, he replied: “Not without being a man”

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Screenshot/YouTube Al Jazeera

KIGALI, Rwanda – During a break in-between sessions during the first summit meeting of the Commonwealth nations since the coronavirus pandemic in the Rwandan capital this past weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked by a reporter about the FINA ban on trans women athletes.

The prime minster’s response was that there were “particular problems” around “issues of gender.”

Johnson told reporters, “Look it’s very, very important that as a society we should be as understanding of everybody else as possible. I’ve always stood for that. When it comes to, when you start to move from issues of sexuality to issues of gender, you start to raise particular problems,” he said.

In a follow-up question the prime minster was also asked whether women can be born with a penis, he replied: “Not without being a man.”

“I think I’ve spoken of three concerns I’ve had in the past. They are to do with the age at which you can deem it competent to transition, the question of safe spaces for women, and the difficulties you have with sporting competitions,” Johnson continued.

“These are all very difficult problems and you have to be very sensitive. But these are the areas.”

Pressed on whether he backed the swimming ban, Johnson said: “I haven’t studied it in detail but I see no reason to dissent. That follows from what I’ve previously said.”

Nadine Dorries, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport  in a column published this past weekend by the Mail on Sunday wrote:

“I have the greatest compassion for anyone who finds themselves living in a body they don’t recognise. But we can’t pretend that sex doesn’t matter. Sex has biological consequences. If you’re born a male, and you go through puberty as a male, your body develops natural physical advantages over a woman’s. That makes you stronger and faster.

“I’m setting a very clear line on this: competitive women’s sport must be reserved for people born of the female sex. Not someone who was born male, took puberty blockers or has suppressed testosterone, but unequivocally and unarguably someone who was born female. I want all of our sporting governing bodies to follow that policy.”

The Guardian UK noted that Dorries, said she will make it “crystal clear” to British sporting bodies that competitive women’s sport must be reserved for people born of the female sex when she meets them on Tuesday to discuss their transgender policies.

Dorries will urge organisations representing football, cricket, rugby, tennis, athletics and other sports to follow the lead of Fina, the governing body of swimming, by barring from female events trans women who have “gone through male puberty.”

PinkNewsUK reported Monday that since the swimming governing body FINA announced its revised trans eligibility policy, several national and international sporting administrators have followed.

The International Rugby LeagueFIFA and World Athletics, among others, have either temporarily banned or launched reviews into their trans inclusion policies.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court sides with ex-football coach who led prayers at school

“Justice Gorsuch’s majority opinion is yet another dangerous example of this Court overturning decades of precedent”

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The Justices of the United States Supreme Court (Photo Credit: U.S. Supreme Court)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday in a 6-3 ruling sided with the former Bremerton, Washington assistant high school football coach removed for refusing to halt his practice of praying at mid-field after games on school property.

The ruling is a victory for Joseph Kennedy, who in court documents described himself as a practicing Christian whose religious beliefs require him to “give thanks through prayer, at the end of each game.”

When he began his job as an assistant coach at Bremerton High School, a public school in Washington state, he initially prayed alone after games, but over time some of his players – and eventually a majority of the team – joined him. One parent complained that his son, a player on the team, felt like he had to join in the prayer, even though he was an atheist, or face a loss of playing time.”

Bremerton School District officials had attempted to accommodate Kennedy after warning him to stop the prayers as District officials clarified that they did not want to violate the Constitution’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another.

The district offered Kennedy the ability to pray after the crowd had left the stadium or in a private space both options that he refused. Kennedy had retained counsel and the legal team indicated that they would pursue father legal action.

The case eventually ended up at the high court which agreed to hear it at the beginning of this last term in January.

Joseph Kennedy being interviewed by NBC News affiliate KING-TV 5, Seattle, Washington

Reaction from groups advocating for greater safeguards in separation of ‘church and state’ decried the majority decision written by Trump nominated Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Equality California noted that the Court’s ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District effectively was overturning decades of established legal precedent.

“Justice Gorsuch’s majority opinion is yet another dangerous example of this Court overturning decades of precedent to impose the personal religious beliefs of some on the rest of the country — whether that be a public school football coach’s religious beliefs on his team, a legislator’s views on people in their state seeking abortion care or the views of a religious private school on taxpayers now forced to fund them.

“Parents have always been free to send their children to schools that align with their religious beliefs, and coaches who want to lead their players in prayer have always been free to work at private schools where that is encouraged. But students — of any religion or none at all — attending public schools funded by taxpayers should not be coerced into school-sponsored prayer,” Equality California’s Executive Director, Tony Hoang, said in an emailed statement.

“Every public school student deserves to feel safe, supported and welcome at school. Today’s decision undermines that fundamental idea at a particularly dangerous time for our LGBTQ+ students.”

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