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Trans military ban halted by war threat

LGBT groups file lawsuit as White House reportedly finalizes guidance

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transgender military ban, gay news, Washington Blade, transgender service

President Trump caved to pressure from religious conservatives and announced a ban on trans service members. (Photo The White House Youtube channel)

It took the threat of nuclear war with North Korea to reportedly get the White House to put a hold on the policy re-instituting the ban on open transgender service in the military.

A White House source, who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity, said “A Guidance Policy for Open Transgender Service Phase Out”— which had been certified by the White House Counsel’s Office after repeated advice that it would result in lawsuits—was expected to be sent to Defense Secretary James Mattis sometime during the week starting Aug. 7.

However, according to a Pentagon source, after President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un got into a fiery verbal sparring match on Aug. 8, the Defense Secretary sent a message to major U.S. commands letting them know that the threat by North Korea was his overriding priority and that other issues “were to be temporarily sidelined.”

Additionally, the Pentagon source says that Mattis intends to put a hold on all personnel matters, though disciplinary issues such discharges will continue. However, anything that affects military strength and readiness, specifically troop numbers, will be put on hold. Meanwhile, the Pentagon confirmed to the New York Times Aug. 9 that it has not yet received the trans guidance.

More pressing is possible nuclear war. On Aug. 5, the United Nations Security Council imposed tougher economic sanctions on North Korea after the isolated country tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles. China and Russia voted with the United States, something of a diplomatic coup, considering China’s connections to North Korea. Trump and his advisers had been warned by President Obama and National Security Adviser Susan Rice that Kim Jong-un was developing a threatening nuclear program—a fact made more concerning when the Washington Post reported that North Korea has developed a miniaturized nuclear weapon that can fit on top of an ICBM, which is capable of reaching the United States. Los Angeles, considered a prime target, is 5,935 miles from North Korea.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” warned Trump from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening — beyond a normal statement,” Trump said of Kim Jong-un. “As I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

North Korea threatened a preemptive strike creating “enveloping fire” against Guam, a sovereign U.S. territory that’s home to combined Navy and Air Force forces at Joint Region Marianas, with 6,000 service members, a port for nuclear submarines and other major military forces and more than 162,000 Americans. Last June, Guam held its first LGBT Pride parade with 150 people, including Guam Legislature Speaker Benjamin Cruz.

While Mattis did not specifically mention tabling the transgender service ban, it can be extrapolated that dealing with such a major policy change would be exceedingly disruptive during a time of crisis, especially when a military leader would want the ability to deploy all available troops.

Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann is continuing to do his job, despite President Trump’s announcement that he intends to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Meanwhile, GLAD and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a “Doe v. Trump lawsuit on Aug. 9 in federal court in D.C., seeking an injunction against Trump’s directive to reinstate a ban.

“President Trump is needlessly attacking courageous transgender service members who put their lives on the line for our country,” GLAD and NCLR said in a press release. “Trump’s efforts to reinstate the ban are already harming service members, who have been blindsided and are scrambling to deal with what this means for their families and their futures—including the loss of job security, retirement benefits, healthcare, and other serious harms.”

The two LGBT-focused law firms note that the military has already carefully studied the ban, which led to former Defense Secretary Ash Carter agreeing to lift the ban on open trans service in June 2016 after a RAND Study he commissioned indicated there would be no problems either with service or limited costs for medical care. Thousands of trans service members subsequently came out and have been serving openly without incident. The firms represent five of those active duty service members.

The lawsuit asserts that Trump’s tweeted directive violates the equal protection and due process guarantees of the Constitution, discriminates against one group with no legitimate purpose and contradicts the military’s own conclusion that there is no reason for the ban.
Transgender service members also relied on the continuity of the policy after Mattis’ Jan. 12 confirmation hearing in which he assured lawmakers that he would not roll back the Obama administration rules. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) asked specifically if Mattis thought there was anything innate about being a woman or LGBT that would disqualify them from serving in a lethal force, Mattis said, “No,” The Hill reported.

“We are heartened by Gen. Mattis’ stated commitment during his testimony not to reverse the profound progress we have made in ensuring LGBT service members and their families are able to serve our nation with pride,” American Military Partner Association President Ashley Broadway-Mack and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Matt Thorn said in a joint statement.

So how did the White House, the Defense Department and the LGBT community come to this point, especially after then-candidate Trump promised to protect the LGBT community?

Trump, shows a crowd at Colorado campaign rally an upside down Rainbow flag. Upside down flags are a sign of distress. An omen of things to come (Trump campaign Instagram)

“Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” he tweeted on June 14, 2016.

Then there was his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016. “Only weeks ago, in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist. This time the terrorist targeted our LGBT community. As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology,” Trump said.

But that promise clashed with another promise Trump made to his more reliable base, the evangelical community, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

The specific drive to repeal and replace the open transgender service commitment started behind the scenes with a series of anti-LGBT nominations in March and April, with the growing sense that some military officers were pressing the chiefs to roll back the policy through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. They found an opening when on May 10, USA Today reported on two transgender cadets at the Air Force Academy and at West Point. That exposed a glaring loophole in the accessions policy, the procedure for accepting new troops into service.

“Currently, there is an Air Force Academy cadet who has identified as a transgender individual,” said Lt. Col. Allen Heritage, an academy spokesman, told USA Today. “The cadet can graduate. But, per the current (Defense Department) transgender policy, this cadet cannot commission into the Air Force. However, we are strongly recommending this individual for Air Force civil service as an option for continued service after the academy.”

On May 21, USA Today reported on a May 8 memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work instructing the service secretaries and chiefs of the armed services to assess the military’s “readiness to begin accepting transgender applicants on July 1, 2017.” Their assessments are due May 31.

“The personnel policies of this Department are designed to enhance the warfighting readiness and lethality of the force that protects our country,” Work wrote. “We do not intend to reconsider prior decisions unless they cause readiness problems that could lessen our ability to fight, survive and win on the battlefield.”

Brad Carson, a top Carter official for military personnel and an advocate for lifting the ban, told USA Today he was concerned about how the other ordinary memo, for a new administration, could be interpreted.

General Mattis – Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates speaks with outgoing acting U.S. Central Command commander Lt. Gen. John Allen (right) and incoming commander Gen. James N. Mattis before an assumption of command ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., on Aug. 11, 2010. (Photo for Department of Defense by Cherie Cullen)

“This could be seen as an opportunity to reconsider the policy,” Carson said. “It is certainly possible, and it would invite litigation. I do have full confidence in (Defense Secretary) Jim Mattis to do the right thing here.”

He was right. The articles exposing the loophole in the accessions policy and the May 8 memo, triggered a Religious Right chain reaction, with the Heritage Foundation reaching out to the Military Times to follow up. This was also during the same period that there was much coverage of Chelsea Manning in the media. On May 16, 85 conservative leaders, many like Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, and scores of retired anti-LGBT military officers, issued a statement opposing transgender service.

“Conservative leaders urgently suggest that the Trump Administration review and rescind the Obama-era policies that hinder military readiness and overall effectiveness,” the statement said. “Politically correct policies have been imposed largely through administrative fiat. They can be removed in like manner while further study and congressional guidance is obtained. The most problematic policies in this category are those addressing the presence of transgender individuals in the military.”

That was enough to motivate a number of religious Republican conservatives in the House — led by Rep. Duncan Hunter of California and Rep. Vicki Hartzler from Missouri — to launch a series of amendments to the NDAA.

By now, Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Mo Brooks from Alabama, Steve King from Iowa, and Trent Franks from Arizona were involved.

Meanwhile, Perkins, along with his colleagues Ken Blackwell and Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (ret), went to Vice President Mike Pence who agreed to step in and help if he could, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The LGBT movement leadership knew what was going on but tried to keep everything quiet. “We were trying desperately to get to May 31 because we knew at that point the accessions policy would be locked into place by the Pentagon,” said a source who asked to remain anonymous. “Then it was just a simple matter of letting it ride until Secretar Mattis signed off on it.”

The LGBT coalition quietly working on this were confident (if they could get to May 31) because there had already been one year of open service without incident for an estimated 15,000 trans service members in all five branches of service, and because of the assumed power of the RAND Study.

But Hartzler’s focus on the Pentagon not paying for what Hartzler called “transition surgeries,” as well as hormone therapy, became a media talking point. “The job of Congress is to ensure that our military is the most effective, efficient and well-funded fighting force in the world. With the challenges we are facing across the globe, we are asking the American people to invest their hard-earned money in national defense. Each dollar needs to be spent to address threats facing us,” she said in a July statement. She threw out wild estimate that the surgeries would cost “a billion dollars over the next ten years.”

The RAND study flat contradicted that, underscoring that “not all of these transgender service members would be expected to seek medical treatment related to their gender status or become non-deployable.”

“Only a small portion of service members would likely seek gender transition-related medical treatments that would affect their deployability or health care costs,” said Agnes Gereben Schaefer, lead author of the study and a senior political scientist at RAND.

RAND estimated that “between 30 and 140 new hormone treatments could be initiated a year and 25 to 130 gender transition-related surgeries could be utilized a year among active component service members. Additional health care costs could range between $2.4 million and $8.4 million, representing an approximate 0.13-percent increase.”

Vice President Mike Pence addressed The Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual political conference attended by conservative activists and elected officials from across the United States. (Photo by Gage Skidmore, Wiki Commons)

Hunter, Hartlzer, Brooks, Franks and Meadows approached White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs Rick Dearborn to get involved. “Dearborn has the ear of Vice President Pence. So he and the VP talked about it,” the source said.

This same week, there was a meeting of evangelical leaders at the White House and they briefly discussed the transgender issue. “But when Pence got back to his office, he made a call over to Meadows and they had another discussion about it,” the source says.

It was at this point that Rep. Pete Sessions, who is chair of the House Rules Committee, was basically saying we’re not going to let it in on the final rule, it’s basically going to have to go as an amendment to the bill on House floor. Speaker Ryan agreed.

Hunter and Hartzler, Brooks and Franks lined up as many votes as they could get, as did the pro-LGBT side.

The day before the vote, on Wednesday, July 12, the Pentagon source says Mattis reached out to Hartzler herself. Late that night, the source said Hartzler, “in a very polite way, told him to fuck off.”

The LGBT side needed all the Democrats and at least 25-30 Republican moderates to cross over, which happened after it was confirmed that Mattis had lobbied against the amendment. Though it was a narrow vote—214-209—the amendment was defeated. But the issue didn’t die, even after Mattis spoke directly to Ryan and others.

Hunter, Hartzler, and Meadows would not take “no” and eventually went to Pence.

While Trump was on his way to a rally in Ohio, Pence, Dearborn, Steve Bannon, and others held a conference call with the Republican legislators. At some point, the source says, Pence made a call to the plane and discussed the situation with Trump. About five hours later, Pence called the plane again as it was on its way back to Joint Base Andrews.

The issue was brought up again the next morning during the morning briefing and 25 minutes after that came the first tweet. There was a nine-minute gap, then came the second tweet, and then that was quickly followed by the third tweet.

Mattis and the Pentagon were told something was going on the day before, but not what it was. They were told to stand by for a change of direction in policy. They were all reportedly caught off guard by the tweets. And everyone was caught off guard by the swift backlash from such conservatives as Sens. Orin Hatch of Utah and Joanie Ernst of Iowa. The consensus was that this is not how policy is done.
Reversing the policy of inclusion for transgender service members has been a priority of Pence’s base—the religious right—since the ban was lifted on June 30, 2016. Just because of the possibility of war, a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the expected White House guidance, and the fact that Mattis does not want the anti-trans policy should not mean the LGBT community should drop its guard. Trans service may be constitutional but it’s still under attack in a war of the Religious Right’s making.

The Blade is producing a detailed timeline on the transgender military issue that will be posted online.

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New York

Pride flags vandalized at Stonewall National Monument – again

The Stonewall National Monument, the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ+ history, was dedicated in 2016

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A rainbow flag at the Stonewall National Monument, established 2016, with the NPS arrowhead flying in Christopher Park. (Photo Credit: USNPS)

WEST GREENWICH VILLAGE, NY – During Pride month every June, Stonewall National Monument volunteers put up 250 LGBTQ+ Pride Flags on the Black iron decorative picket fence that rings the Christopher Street park.

This year, according to a statement from an New York Police Department spokesperson, 160 of the flags were torn down and damaged between Thursday evening and Friday morning. The NYPD said that no arrests have been made and that the vandals climbed over the Black iron decorative picket fence that rings the Christopher Street park to gain access to the monument.

This is the second year in a row for an vandalism incident on the Stonewall National Monument. In 2023, Park volunteers found at least 70 of those flags torn down and damaged in what the New York Police Department‘s Hate Crimes Task Force investigated as a hate crime and later arrested three men.

Openly gay New York City Councilmember Erik Bottcher, whose district includes West Greenwich Village, posted photos of the snapped flags on Instagram and X on Friday. 

“Last night, bigots vandalized the Stonewall National Monument, snapping flag sticks & stealing 3/4 of the flags around the permitter of the park. Also, someone burned Pride decorations at 22nd St. in Chelsea. Anyone who thinks this will intimidate our community is badly mistaken,” Bottcher wrote.

Reacting to the vandalism at Stonewall, New York City Mayor Eric Adams in a statement said that “hate has no place in our city.” The mayor added “Our administration wants every member of our LGBTQ+ community to know: we are here for you and our administration will always have your back,” Adams said. “We will work in close coordination with the NYPD to identify and hold accountability whoever committed this heinous act.”

The Stonewall National Monument, the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ+ history, was dedicated in 2016. It encompasses a park across the street from the Stonewall Inn, a bar where patrons fought back against a police raid on June 28, 1969, and helped spark the contemporary LGBTQ+ rights movement.

In a graphic published Saturday by NBC News, over twenty acts of hate against LGBTQ+ Pride have occurred so far this month:

Source: News reports. (Graphic: Nigel Chiwaya / NBC News)
CityState
ArvadaColo.
BoiseIdaho
BurienWash.
CarlisleMass.
Cedar ParkTexas
German VillageOhio
KennebunkMaine
Little RockArk.
MadisonN.J.
MandevilleLa.
MercedCalif.
MissoulaMont.
MitchellS.D.
MoretownVt.
New YorkN.Y.
NewbergOre.
PoulsboWash.
SpokaneWash.
WailukuHawaii
WalpoleMass.

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District of Columbia

Fentanyl dealer, distribution charge in deaths of two D.C. gay men

When the cause and manner of death were disclosed by the Medical Examiner, D.C. police said the investigation into the deaths remained open

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Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Body Cam footage from a non-related incident as a MPD uniformed officer makes an arrest. (Screenshot/YouTube MPD Washington D.C.)

WASHINGTON – The Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. has announced that federal prosecutors on June 13 obtained an indictment against one of two D.C. brothers previously charged with multiple counts of illegal drug distribution that now charges him with “distributing cocaine and fentanyl” on Dec. 26, 2023, that resulted in the deaths of D.C. gay men Brandon Roman and Robert “Robbie” Barletta.

In a June 13 press release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Jevaughn ‘Ledo’ Mark, 32, is charged in a new “secondary superseding indictment” linked to the Roman and Barletta deaths. It says he and his brother, Angelo Mark, 30, “previously were charged on April 9 in a 17-count superseding indictment for participating in a conspiracy that distributed large amounts of fentanyl and cocaine in the metropolitan area.”

The press release says Jevaughn Mark is currently being held without bond on charges that include eight counts of unlawful distribution of fentanyl, cocaine, and heroin and distributing 40 grams or more of fentanyl between Jan. 10, 2024, and March 13, 2024. According to the press release, the charges were based on six illegal drug purchases from Jevaughn Mark by undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and undercover D.C. police officers.

Court records show that Angelo Mark was charged in a criminal complaint on March 22 with multiple counts of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and is also being held without bond.

D.C. police and Fire and Emergency Medical Services reports show that Roman, 38, a prominent D.C. attorney and LGBTQ rights advocate, and Barletta, 28, a historic preservation expert and home renovation business owner, were found unconscious when police and emergency medical personnel responded to a 911 call and arrived at Barletta’s home on Dec. 27. The reports show that Roman was declared deceased at the scene and Barletta was taken to Washington Hospital Center where he died on Dec. 29.

A police spokesperson told the Washington  Blade in February that police were investigating the Roman and Barletta deaths, but investigators had to wait for the D.C. Medical Examiner’s official determination of the cause and manner of death before the investigation could fully proceed.

Both men were patrons at D.C. gay bars and their passing prompted many in the LGBTQ community to call for stepped up prevention services related to drug overdose cases, even though the cause and manner of death for the two men was not officially determined until early April.

In April, the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner disclosed that the cause of death for both men was an accidental consumption of several drugs that created a fatal “toxic” effect. The Medical Examiner’s office said Barletta’s death was linked to the consumption of at least four different drugs and Roman’s death was caused by the “combined toxic effect” of six drugs. The Medical Examiner’s office disclosed that cocaine and fentanyl were among the drugs found in the bodies of both men. And for both men, the manner of death was listed as “Accident/Intoxication.”

When the cause and manner of death were disclosed by the Medical Examiner, D.C. police spokesperson Tom Lynch said the police investigation into the deaths remained open but said, “There are no updates on the investigation that we are ready to release to the public.”

But the Medical Examiner’s findings prompted Johnny Bailey, the community outreach coordinator for HIPS D.C., an LGBTQ supportive organization that provides services and support for those who use recreational drugs, to say he strongly believed that Barletta and Roman did not intentionally consume some of the drugs found in their system.

“I’m going to say I do believe this was a poisoning,” Bailey told the Blade. “I think it is unfair to call some things an overdose because an overdose is when you do too much of a drug and you die from that drug,” he said. “This is like if you have a few glasses of wine every night and someone puts arsenic in your wine, no one would be like, ‘oh, they drank themselves to death.’ They were poisoned. And that’s what I think is happening here,” he said in referring to Barletta and Roman.

In announcing the new charges against Jevaughn Mark that link him to Barletta and Roman’s deaths, the U.S. Attorney’s press release discloses that he supplied fentanyl in the drugs he sold unknowingly to the undercover DEA and D.C. police officers when one of the officers, posing as a drug buyer, did not ask for fentanyl.

“In each instance, the DEA/MPD agents requested to buy ‘Special K’ or Ketamine from Jevaughn Mark,” the press release says. “In every instance, Jevaughn Mark supplied a mixture of fentanyl and other substances, including heroin, but not ketamine,” it says.

The release says that after the earlier indictment against Jevaughn Mark was issued, law enforcement agents conducted a search of his Southeast D.C. home and “recovered two firearms, cocaine, fentanyl, about $38,000 in cash, body armor vests, and drug trafficking paraphernalia.” It says on that same day authorities executed another search for a second residence linked to Jevaughn Mark, where they located a bedroom used by his brother Angelo Mark.

“From Angelo Mark’s bedroom, law enforcement recovered seven firearms, 900 rounds of ammunition, dozens of pills, cocaine, fentanyl, drug trafficking paraphernalia, and about $50,000 in cash,” the press release says, adding, “Based on the evidence, both brothers were indicted in the first superseding indictment.” 

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Michigan

Governor & Michigan lawmakers recognize June as Pride month

House lawmakers passed a resolution Wednesday recognizing June 2024 as Pride month and acknowledging the push for equality for LGBTQ+ people

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Michigan Pride at the Capitol in Lansing, June 25, 2023 (Photo Credit: Angela Demas/Michigan Advance)

By Lucy Valeski | LANSING, Mich. – It’s Pride month in Michigan, an annual recognition of the LGBTQ+ community marked by parades and celebrations in every corner of the state

In Lansing, House lawmakers passed a resolution Wednesday recognizing June 2024 as Pride month and acknowledging the push for equality for LGBTQ+ people in Michigan, past and present. 

The LGBTQ+ community has celebrated Pride month since June 1970, the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. The month was first recognized in the United States in 1999 by President Bill Clinton. The Michigan legislature did not formally recognize Pride month until 2021. 

“Resolutions like this aren’t policy, obviously,” state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) told the Advance. “But it’s important that we do everything we can to make sure that folks in Michigan, and particularly our LGBTQ residents, know that they’re welcome and that they have a government that recognizes them and appreciates them and respects them.”

Pohutsky, a member of the House LGBTQ+ Caucus, sponsored the resolution. She said the resolution is especially important this year, as GOP lawmakers previously blocked the recognition of Pride month.

In 2022, the then-GOP-controlled Senate blocked a vote on a resolution recognizing Pride month. Republican lawmakers wanted to add language reflecting that not every Michigander “agrees with the lifestyle of the LGBT community.” The resolution passed the previous year in 2021, but not in 2019 or 2020.

“There was such a long time where we couldn’t even get the bare minimum of a Pride resolution passed,” Pohutsky said. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also formally recognized the Pride month with a proclamation on June 1. Whitmer was the first governor to march at the Motor City Pride parade and fly a Pride flag on a state building in 2019. 

“Michigan will always be a place where everyone has the freedom to be who they are and love who they love,” Whitmer said in a release. “Our work is not done, but every year, we make progress to move Michigan forward. Let’s keep getting it done.”

LGBTQ+ legislation in Michigan

During this session, Michigan’s Democratic-controlled Legislature has passed several bills aimed at protecting the LGBTQ+ community in the state. Whitmer, a Democrat, signed legislation expanded Michigan’s anti-discrimination law to include LGBTQ+ people last year and banned conversion therapy for minors.

These bills had languished in the Legislature for years when it was led by Republicans.

Lawmakers are also working on a bill that would ban gay and trans panic defenses. The defense excuses crimes, like assault, of an LGBTQ+ person because it lets the perpetrator blame their identity. 

But Pohutsky said it is important to think about how any bill will impact the LGBTQ+ community. Laws relating to legal name changes or reproductive rights can affect queer Michiganders in unique ways, she said. 

“I think one of the really wonderful things that has happened as a positive consequence of us electing more LGBTQ leaders is that we are more apt to recognize how policies impact the community, and that’s been really important,” Pohutsky said. 

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Lucy Valeski

Lucy Valeski is a States Newsroom fellow for the Michigan Advance. She is currently a student at the University of Missouri, where she studies journalism and political science. She previously covered local government for the Columbia Missourian, statewide news for Missouri Business Alert and technology policy for MLex in Brussels.

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The preceding story was previously published by the Michigan Advance and is republished with permission.

Corporate media aren’t cutting it. The Michigan Advance is a nonprofit outlet featuring hard-hitting reporting on politics and policy and the best progressive commentary in the state.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Indiana

‘You will lose access’: Pornhub says as age verification takes effect

Pornhub — joined by other explicit content providers and a free speech group — sued the state in an attempt to block the law

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Starting July 1, Hoosiers wanting to access adult content websites, like PornHub, will be required to upload age-verification documents online thanks to a new Indiana law aimed at protecting minors. (Screenshot from website)

By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz | MONTREAL, Canada – Pornography video-sharing website Pornhub says it’ll block access to Hoosier users as Indiana prepares to enact a recently approved age verification requirement. Its exit is planned for June 27.

And it’s warning users directly.

“You will lose access to Pornhub in 13 days,” a website pop-up read Thursday.

“Did you know that your government wants you to give your driver’s license before you can access Pornhub?” it continued. “As crazy as that sounds, it’s true.”

It comes days after Pornhub — joined by other explicit content providers and a free speech group — sued the state in an attempt to block the law.

Pornhub parent company Aylo said it has publicly supported age verification for “years” but added, “the way many jurisdictions worldwide have chosen to implement age verification is ineffective, haphazard, and dangerous.”

Senate Bill 17 requires that “adult-oriented websites” hosting explicit materials — such as pornography or other “material harmful to minors” — verify a user’s identity before allowing access. That could be by scanning a driver’s license or registering with a third-party verification service.

 The user notice pop-up on Pornhub. (Screenshot of website)

Lawmakers tussled over the legislation in committee and on the floor. Despite that, they overwhelmingly voted to pass the law, according to the Legislature’s bill action tracker.

“We have children who have seen hardcore content before they have their first kiss,” bill author Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, said in January.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis — the bill’s most outspoken opponent — held that the legislation lacked information privacy “guardrails.” He raised concerns about how securely the proof of age documents will be handled.

That’s an argument Pornhub is making directly to its users.

In its pop-up, Pornhub said it doesn’t want minors accessing its website, but that “putting everybody’s privacy at risk won’t achieve that.”

Rather than attempt to verify Hoosier users’ ages, Pornhub plans to close up shop in Indiana.

Parent company Aylo said Pornhub was “one of the few sites” to comply with Louisiana’s age verification law when it took effect in early 2023.

“Since then, our traffic in Louisiana dropped approximately 80%. These people did not stop looking for porn,” Aylo said. “They just migrated to darker corners of the internet that don’t ask users to verify age, that don’t follow the law, that don’t take user safety seriously, and that often don’t even moderate content.”

“In practice, the laws have just made the internet more dangerous for adults and children,” Aylo continued.

The company has instead advocated for “device-based” age verification, and said it was “happy to collaborate” with government, technology companies and other partners to work on a “solution.”

Critics have said the approach, which uses a device’s built-in features to verify a user’s age, doesn’t protect children who use a parent’s phone or other device. Aylo also suggested people use existing parental control features.

“The safety of our users is our number one concern,” Aylo concluded. “We will always comply with the law, but we hope that governments around the world will implement laws that actually protect the safety and security of users.”

Indiana’s law goes into effect July 1 — unless a judge blocks it.

Pornhub and the other plaintiffs filed suit on Monday, alleging that the law is unconstitutional — violating the First Amendment — and unenforceable. They asked a federal judge in Indianapolis to issue a preliminary injunction against the law.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita defended it Tuesday as a “commonsense” way to protect children.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Indiana Capital Chronicle and is republished with permission.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Florida

Openly gay Carlos Guillermo Smith elected to Florida State Senate

He is the second gay man elected to the Florida Senate, after Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Miami Gardens Democrat

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Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-FL10) congratulates Florida state Senator-elect Carlos Guillermo Smith. (Photo Credit: Office of Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Former State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith officially won his race for the Florida State Senate (District 17), becoming the second openly LGBTQ member elected to the chamber in state history.

“He’s making history AGAIN as the 1st LGBTQ+ Latino in the Florida Senate. Together, we’re growing the multi-racial, multi-generational, working-class movement in Central Florida. Let’s go!” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost who represents Central Florida in the House.

In 2022, while seeking reelection to the Florida House, Guillermo Smith was targeted by the Florida State Republican Party, who invested millions campaigning to defeat him. Now less than two years after losing his re-election, Guillermo Smith won election unopposed to succeed Democratic State Senator Linda Stewart.

In a statement to reporters, Senator-elect said:

“My heart is full of gratitude for this community who has entrusted me with the responsibility of serving as their state Senator,” Smith said.

“Since last year, our campaign has knocked on over 10,000 doors in Senate District 17. We know that voters are frustrated with the direction our state has been heading and they’ve had enough. Rents and property insurance premiums are soaring, over a million Floridians have recently lost health care, and Tallahassee has turned our classrooms into political battlefields.”

Florida Politics noted:

Smith served in the House for six years, where he was among the most outspoken progressive activists in the Democratic minority. He was also the first openly gay Latino LGBTQ member of the House, and will soon hold the same distinction in the Senate.

He is the second gay man elected to the Senate, after Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Miami Gardens Democrat.

During his time in the House, Smith developed a reputation both as a progressive champion and a scorn of conservatives. The onetime Orange County Democratic Party Chair represented a University of Central Florida-centric district for three terms, first elected in 2016.

Stratton Pollitzer, Chair of Equality Florida Action PAC, said in a press release:

“We’re thrilled that voters are sending Carlos back to Tallahassee to continue the fight in the Florida Legislature. Carlos is an unflinching progressive and one of the governor’s sharpest critics. He consistently exposes the governor’s lies, hypocrisy, and agenda to strip away our rights and freedoms. When the governor hid public information from voters, Carlos took him to court and won. Carlos is on the front lines, working to ensure the safety and well-being of all Floridians.”

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Congress

House Republicans pass NDAA with anti-LGBTQ riders

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases

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U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) during the debate on Thursday over the National Defense Authorization Act (Screen capture via C-Span)


WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases during a debate over the annual National Defense Authorization Act spending bill on Thursday.

The appropriations package, which contains five anti-LGBTQ riders pushed by House GOP members, was passed on Friday.

“We know there are a lot of threats to the health and well-being of our service members and their families: poisoned water, toxic mold in military housing, PTSD, and suicide,” said Garcia, who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“So I’m stunned to see that the Republican idea to protect our troops is to ban drag shows,” he said. “Mr. Speaker, my Republican colleagues want us to believe that ‘these gays are trying to murder us.’ They want us to believe that drag is harmful, or immoral and wrong. This is ridiculous.”

“We can document and celebrate drag shows on military bases since the late 1800s, and through both world wars,” Garcia continued. “The USO and the Red Cross supported drag during World War II. That’s right: the Army that defeated Hitler and saved the world included drag queens.” 

“Ronald Regan starred in a movie called ‘This Is the Army!’ — a movie about World War II that featured four drag performances,” he said. “And he’s not the only Republican president who knew that drag can be fun and sometimes silly.”

Garcia displayed a photo of former president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump alongside former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was dressed in drag.

“Mr. Speaker,” the congressman said, “drag is Art. Drag is Culture. Drag is Creativity. Drag is Comedy. And no, drag is Not a Crime. It’s not pornography. The real obscenity is when one of our colleagues, the gentlewoman from Georgia, shows literal posters of revenge porn in our Oversight Committee! If we want to end porn in government facilities, let’s ban that.”

In a statement on Friday, the Equality Caucus called out House Republicans’ politicization of the military appropriations bill.

“Like last year, House Republicans voted to add poison pill, anti-LGBTQI+ provisions to the NDAA that discriminate against our LGTBQI+ servicemembers and their families,” said Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) “The Equality Caucus remains committed to preventing these discriminatory provisions from becoming law.”

Along with Brecheen’s drag show ban, the caucus highlighted four of these riders from this year’s NDAA:

  • Amendment 46 by U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), which would “prohibit funds for the Department of Defense Education Activity from being used to purchase, maintain, or display in a school library or classroom books that include transgender and intersex characters or touch on topics related to gender identity or variations in sex characteristics,”
  • Amendment 49 by U.S. Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.), which would “ban Pride flags from any workplace, common access area, or public area of the Department of Defense,” and
  • Amendments 52 and 53 by U.S. Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Ralph Norman (S.C.), which would, respectively, “ban TRICARE from covering and furnishing gender-affirming surgeries and hormone treatments,” and “prohibit the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) from covering or providing referrals for “gender transition procedures”—including puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgeries—for servicemembers’ dependent minor children.”

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Federal Government

Administration officials visit LGBTQ-owned dental, medical offices

“There’s a surge in small businesses starting and that includes” those founded by members of the LGBTQ community”

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Second from left, Dr. Robert McKernan, co-founder of Big Gay Smiles, U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabel Guzman, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine, Big Gay Smiles Co-Founder Tyler Dougherty, and SBA Washington Metropolitan Area District Director Larry Webb. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)


WASHINGTON — The Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Administrator Isabel Guzman of the U.S. Small Business Administration toured two LGBTQ-owned small businesses on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. — Big Gay Smiles and Price Medical, accompanied by the Washington Blade.

The event provided an “amazing opportunity” to “talk about the different synergies in terms of small businesses and the SBA, and health equity for many communities,” including the LGBTQ community, Levine told the Blade.

Representation matters, she said, adding, “that’s true in dental care and medical care,” where there is a tremendous need to push for improvements in health equity — which represents a major focus for HHS under her and Secretary Xavier Becerra’s leadership, and in the Biden-Harris administration across the board.

“Small businesses identify needs in communities,” Guzman said. With Big Gay Smiles, Dr. Robert McKernan and his husband Tyler Dougherty “have clearly identified a need” for “dentistry that is inclusive and that is respectful of the LGBTQIA community in particular.”

She added, “now that they’re a newly established business, part of the small business boom in the Biden-Harris administration, to see their growth and trajectory, it’s wonderful to know that there are going to be providers out there providing that missing support.”

The practice, founded in 2021, “is so affirming for the LGBTQIA community and we certainly wish them luck with their venture and they seem to have a great start,” Levine said. “They’re really dedicated to ending the HIV epidemic, providing excellent dental care, as well as oral cancer screenings, which are so important, and they’re really providing a real service to the community.”

Big Gay Smiles donates 10 percent of its revenue to national and local HIV/AIDS nonprofits. McKernan and Dougherty stressed that their business is committed to combatting homophobia and anti-LGBTQ attitudes and practices within the dental field more broadly.

“We try to align our practices here within this dental office to align with the strategic initiatives being able to help reduce HIV transmission, reduce stigma, and help to ensure people have the knowledge and [are] empowered to ensure that they’re safe,” Dougherty said.

McKernan added, “With the Academy of General Dentistry, we’ve done a lot of discussions around intersex, around trans affirming care, in order to help educate our fellow dental providers. It’s very important that every dentist here in the [D.C. area] provide trans affirming care and gender affirming care because it’s very important that someone who comes to a medical provider not be deadnamed, not get misnamed, and have an affirming environment.”

Trans and gender expansive communities face barriers to accessing care and are at higher risk for oral cancer, depression, and dental neglect. Levine, who is the country’s highest-ranking transgender government official, shared that she has encountered discrimination in dental offices.

After touring the office, Levine and McKernan discussed the persistence of discrimination against patients living with HIV/AIDS by dental practices, despite the fact that this conduct is illegal.

“I’ve traveled around the country,” the assistant health secretary told the Blade. “We have seen that many FQHCs [federally qualified health centers] or community health centers as well as LGBTQIA community health centers have had dentists, like Whitman-Walker, to provide that care because many people with HIV and in our broader community have faced stigma and have not been able to access very, very important dental care.”

Prior to opening his practice, McKernan practiced dentistry at Whitman-Walker, the D.C. nonprofit community health center that has expertise in treating LGBTQ patients and those living with HIV/AIDS. Big Gay Smiles is a red ribbon sponsor for the organization’s Walk & 5K to End HIV.

After their visit with Big Gay Smiles, Levine and Guzman headed to Price Medical, a practice whose focus areas include internal medicine/primary care, HIV specialty care, immunizations, infectious disease treatment, and aesthetics like Botox.

There, the officials talked with Dr. Timothy Price about his office’s work advancing health equity and serving LGBTQ patients including those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as the ways in which small businesses like his have benefitted from access to electronic health records and telemedicine.

Levine, Dr. Timothy Price of Price Medical, and Guzman 
(Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

“People being able to access medical care from the comfort of their home or workplace can be very important,” Price said, with technology providing the means by which they can “ask questions and get an answer and have access to a health care provider.”

Often, LGBTQ patients will have concerns, including sexual health concerns, that need urgent attention, he said. For instance, “we’ve had patients need to access us for post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV,” in some cases when “people are vacationing and they have something that might be related to their health and they can reach us [via telemedicine] so that’s the way it’s really helped us and helped the patients.”

Access to technology for small businesses is an area in which the SBA can play a valuable role, Guzman noted.

“The Biden-Harris administration has focused on a whole-of-government approach to making sure we can support the community, and that includes in entrepreneurship,” she told the Blade.

“There’s a surge in [small] businesses starting and that includes” those founded by members of the LGBTQ community “and so you see that there’s products and services that need to be offered,” and the administration is “committed to making sure that we can fund those great ideas.”

Guzman said she sees opportunities for future collaboration between her agency and HHS to help encourage and facilitate innovation in the healthcare space. “Small businesses are innovators creating the future of health tech,” she said.

Levine agreed, noting “we have been talking about that, about different ways that we can work together, because as we think about the social determinants of health and those other social factors that impact health, well, economic opportunity is absolutely a social determinant of health,” and small businesses are certainly a critical way to broaden economic opportunity.

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New York

WABC’s Up Close | Stonewall Inn’s revival & NYC’s equity efforts

WABC-TV Channel 7 is showcasing stories of Pride with a special edition of the Up Close podcast with host Bill Ritter

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WABC 7 news anchor Bill Ritter interviews Ronald Porcelli & co-owners of the Stonewall Inn, Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly. (Screenshot WABC)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – As the 55th anniversary of the queer uprising at the Stonewall Inn in West Greenwich Village, WABC 7 news anchor Bill Ritter interviews Ronald Porcelli, the director of the NYC Unity Project, Mayor’s Office of Equity & Racial Justice, and the co-owners of the Stonewall Inn, Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly.

According to Ritter on his podcast WABC Up Close, Lentz and Kelly share the stories of what inspired them to buy the Stonewall Inn 18 years ago, what the process of reviving it entailed, the challenges they face and what the future holds for this institution, while sharing their own stories of embracing their identities and living their truths.

Porcelli gives listeners and viewers a rare look into how City Hall is working with diverse communities to make New York a more equitable and fair place for all of its people during a time of heightened societal polarization.

Watch:

For readers & viewers in the Tri-State area watch Up Close on Sunday mornings at 11:00 on Channel 7, WABC-TV.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Title IX transgender protections blocked in federal court

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect

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A march for Transgender Day of Visibility passes in front of Jackson Square in New Orleans on Friday, March 31, 2023. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Greg Larose | MONROE, La. – A federal judge has temporarily halted enforcement of new rules from the Biden administration that would prevent discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana issued a temporary injunction Thursday that blocks updated Title IX policy from taking effect Aug. 1 in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana. 

In April, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would expand Title IX to protect LGBTQ+ students, and the four aforementioned states challenged the policy in federal court.

Doughty said in his order that Title IX, the 52-year-old civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, only applies to biological women. The judge also called out the Biden administration for overstepping its authority. 

“This case demonstrates the abuse of power by executive federal agencies in the rulemaking

Process,” Doughty wrote. “The separation of powers and system of checks and balances exist in this country for a reason.”

The order from Doughty, a federal court appointee of President Donald Trump, keeps the updated Title IX regulations from taking effect until the court case is resolved or a higher court throws out the order.

Opponents of the Title IX rule changes have said conflating gender identity with sex would undermine protections in federal law and ultimately harm biological women. Gender identity refers to the gender an individual identifies as, which might differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill, who filed the suit in the state’s Western District federal court, had called the new regulations “dangerous and unlawful.” In a statement Thursday evening, she said the rules would have placed an unfair burden on every school, college and university in the country.

“This (is) a victory for women and girls,” Murrill said in the statement. “When Joe Biden forced his illegal and radical gender ideology on America, Louisiana said NO! Along with Idaho, Mississippi, and Montana, states are fighting back in defense of the law, the safety and prosperity of women and girls, and basic American values.”

Title IX is considered a landmark policy that provided for equal access for women in educational settings and has been applied to academic and athletic pursuits. 

Related

Doughty’s order comes a day after a similar development in Texas, where Judge Reed O’Connor, an appointee of President George W. Bush, declared that the Biden administration exceeded its authority, The Texas Tribune reported. 

Texas filed its own lawsuit against the federal government to block enforcement of the new rules, which Gov. Greg Abbott had instructed schools to ignore. Texas is one of several states to approve laws that prohibit transgender student-athletes from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect. 

Earlier Thursday, Republicans in Congress moved ahead with their effort to undo the revised Biden Title IX policy. Nearly 70 GOP lawmakers have signed onto legislation to reverse the education department’s final rule through the Congressional Review Act, which Congress can use to overturn certain federal agency actions.

Biden is expected to veto the legislation if it advances to his desk.

“Title IX has paved the way for our girls to access new opportunities in education, scholarships and athletics. Unfortunately, (President) Joe Biden is destroying all that progress,” U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Illinois, author of the legislation, said Thursday.

States Newsroom Reporter Shauneen Miranda in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg’s other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Louisiana Illuminator and is republished with permission.

The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Our in-depth investigations and news stories, news briefs and commentary help residents make sense of how state policies help or hurt them and their neighbors statewide.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Georgia

A Georgia Pride Executive Director arrested on drug & gun charges

“We believe that all persons are innocent until proven guilty, including Mr. Hobbs. We offer our support to Mr. Hobbs’ family at this time”

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Photo Credit: Columbus, Georgia Police Department

COLUMBUS, Ga. – The Columbus Georgia Police Department announced on Wednesday that following a months-long investigation, the Columbus Police Department’s Special Operations Unit executed a search warrant at a residence in the 4200 block of 16th Avenue. Jeremy Hobbs, 49, was taken into custody without incident.

Hobbs, the Executive Director of the Debra Smith Wellness Center Inc., doing business as Colgay Pride, was charged with:

  • • Possession of Cocaine with Intent to Distribute
  • • Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Distribute
  • • Possession of VGCSA Schedule I Drug with Intent to Distribute
  • • Possession of Drug-Related Objects
  • • Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Crime

According to Columbus Police, during the search, officers found and seized the following items:

  • 5.4 grams of crack cocaine
  • • 20.7 grams of methamphetamine
  • • 23.8 grams of liquid GHB
  • • An INA .38 revolver

A statement released by Harry Underwood, Vice President of Communications, Colgay Pride and the board of the Debra Smith Wellness Center, Inc. in response to Hobbs’ arrest noted:

“The board of the Debra Smith Wellness Center, Inc., doing business as Colgay Pride, expresses our utmost concern and regret regarding the arrest and charges facing our Executive Director, Jeremy Hobbs. The charges which have been filed against him are serious. The board does not condone the alleged actions and we will cooperate with law enforcement in the coming investigations regarding our operations and finances.

We believe that all persons are innocent until proven guilty, including Mr. Hobbs. We offer our support to Mr. Hobbs’ family at this time.

Our organization will meet to discuss our next steps, including a transition in leadership and strategy in the interim period. Our events and operations are on hold until further notice. With humility, we ask for the understanding and solidarity of the local community in this period. We apologize to our allies, colleagues and partners for the distress caused by these developments.”

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