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Out Olympic athletes inspire LGBT people around the world

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Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy are among the 15 out athletes who are at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. (Image courtesy of Twitter)

The out athletes who are competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang have become an inspiration for LGBT people around the world.

Gus Kenworthy, a gay American skier who finished last in Sunday’s ski slopestyle on Feb. 17, kissed his boyfriend, Matt Wilkas, during the competition. NBC broadcast the moment during its Olympics coverage.

“Didn’t realize this moment was being filmed yesterday, but I’m so happy that it was,” wrote Kenworthy on his Twitter account on Monday. “My childhood self would never have dreamed of seeing a gay kiss on TV at the Olympics, but for the first time ever a kid watching at home CAN! Love is love is love.”

Brent Minor, executive director of Team DC, on Monday noted to the Washington Blade during a telephone interview that gay American figure skater Adam Rippon is “certainly the breakout star” of the games.

“He’s proud,” said Minor. “He’s unapologetic.”

Johnny Weir, a former figure skater who is now an NBC commentator, on Feb. 16 wrote on his Twitter page after Rippon skated in the men’s free skate event that he “had to hold a press conference to defend myself against people questioning my gender” after he skated in men’s free skate program at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Weir then added he is “watching the world accept a vibrant and powerful hero in Adam Rippon.”

“I am so proud and thankful to those who came before us,” wrote Weir.

Canadian figure skater Eric Radford became the first openly gay man to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics when he and his teammates won the team figure skating event.

Irene Wüst, a Dutch speed skater who is bisexual, has won a gold and silver medal in Pyeongchang. She is the first speed skater in history to win 10 consecutive Olympic medals.

American speed skater Brittany Bowe is also among the 15 out athletes who are competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“Every out athlete is important,” Cyd Zeigler, Jr., co-founder of Outsports.com, an LGBT sports website, told the Blade on Monday in an email. “Each one inspires someone else to live their life authentically.”

David McFarland, founder of United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment, agreed.

“Visibility matters,” he told the Blade. “Adam, Gus and Brittany showed up on the world stage shining a spotlight on the lack of inclusion, respect and equality for LGBT athletes in sport. We need to see more of these inspiring moments from athletes so young LGBT athletes know they too can fulfill their Olympic and athletic dreams without having to live in silence.”

Zeigler pointed out Outsports.com’s tagline is “Courage is Contagious” because “we see the impact that every out LGBTQ athlete has on youth and adults alike.” He, like Minor, specifically singled out Rippon.

“At these Olympics, though, Adam Rippon has done something special, something we haven’t seen before,” Zeigler told the Blade. “He is out there with all the flash and sass we’ve been told for centuries that male sports heroes can’t exhibit. Yet here he is, being his own true self, and America is falling in love with him.”

“Brittany and Gus and Eric Radford and the rest of the out Olympians from around the world are all having a positive impact on the lives of countless people,” he added. “Adam is a breakthrough like we’ve never seen before, not even with Johnny Weir.”

Canada hosts Pyeongchang Pride House

Wüst won two gold medals and three silver medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Kenworthy won a silver medal in men’s freestyle skiing at the games, but he was not out at the time.

Russia’s LGBT rights record overshadowed the Sochi games. The issue sparked global outrage, even though the majority of athletes who competed in the Olympics remained silent.

The International Olympic Committee in 2014 added sexual orientation to the Olympic Charter’s anti-discrimination clause, known as Principle 6. The IOC also added an anti-discrimination clause to host city contracts.

The U.N. General Assembly last November adopted a gay-inclusive “Olympic Truce Resolution” that calls for peace around the world during the Pyeongchang games. The U.S., France and Brazil blocked Egyptian and Russian efforts to remove a reference of Principle 6 from the resolution.

The Pyeongchang Organizing Committee has adopted the IOC’s gay-inclusive anti-discrimination provisions. The Canadian Olympic Committee is hosting a Pride House the Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center, a Seoul-based LGBT and intersex advocacy group, and Pride House International organized.

“People now know that they shouldn’t discriminate (against people because of their) sexual orientation or gender identity,” Candy Yun, a bisexual rights advocate who is the Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center’s International Solidarity Manager, told the Blade earlier this month during a Skype interview from Seoul. “I hope at the Olympics or after the Pride House that people may try to understand that any person in the sporting community can be out.”

Out athletes ‘standing up for what they believe in’

Vice President Pence and his wife attended the Pyeongchang games’ opening ceremonies.

Rippon in recent weeks has repeatedly criticized Pence for his opposition to LGBT rights. Both he and Kenworthy have also said they would not meet with the vice president.

Kenworthy on Feb. 15 posted on Twitter a picture of an x-ray that shows the thumb he broke during practice. He said it “won’t stop me from competing . . . but it does prevent me from shaking Pence’s hand.”

“Silver linings,” proclaimed Kenworthy.

Minor told the Blade that Kenworthy and Rippon are getting even more attention during the Olympics because they are “simply standing up for what they believe in.”

“Everybody can appreciate them,” said Minor.

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Africa

Botswana attorney general seeks to again criminalize homosexuality

High Court heard case on Oct. 12

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(Public domain photo)

GABORONE, Botswana — On June 11, 2019, Botswana moved toward being a state that no longer held some of its citizens (and, by extension, visitors) as criminals if they identified within the LGBTQ spectrum. However, the government didn’t take too long before it declared its intention to appeal the High Court judgment that asserted that consensual same-sex sexual activity in private was not to be a criminal act.

The appeal hearing took place on Oct. 12.

There are some key things to understand about what the High Court did for people in Botswana. The judgment, written and delivered by Justice Leburu, not only put a clear delineation between the state’s powers to intrude in people’s private sexual lives, but it also stated that laws that served no purpose in the governance of the people they oversaw were most likely worthy of “a museum peg” more than being active laws of the land.

In the hearing on Oct. 9, a full bench of five judges of the Court of Appeal was treated to the government’s case—as presented by advocate Sydney Pilane of the Attorney General’s Chambers—along with hearing the rebuttals from the legal counsel representing Letsweletse Motshidiemang, who brought the original case against the government, and LEGABIBO, an NGO admitted as amicus curiae, a friend of the court. The appeal, two years in the making, would have been expected to be based on facts rather than opinions of what could and could not be accepted by hypothetical Batswana. Pilane even went so far as to contest that President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s utterances about how people in same-sex relationships were “suffering in silence” were taken out of context as he was talking about gender-based violence and not endorsing their relationships.

The 2019 ruling of the High Court, the most supreme court of incidence in the country, not only declared people who were or had interest in engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity not criminals, but it also allowed non-queer people to engage in sex acts that would otherwise be considered “against the order of nature” freely. The latter clause had often been interpreted as being solely about non-heterosexuals but on greater interrogation one realizes that any sex act that doesn’t result in the creation of a child was considered against this ‘order of nature’ and that nullified much of heterosexual sexual exploration—further painting these clauses as out of touch with contemporary Botswana as Leburu expressed.

In some of his appeal arguments, Pilane stated that Batswana “do not have a problem with gay people”, yet he based his contention on the fact that Batswana “respect the courts’ decisions;” as such they would not take up arms at the court’s decision to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Pilane maintained that the decision to decriminalize should be left to the Parliament on the recommendation of the courts. The bench was swift to query whether a body of politicians elected by a majority would be the best representatives of a minority that was oppressed by laws that the very politicians benefitted from.

Botswana’s legal system allows for the High Court ruling to remain the law of the land until such a point as it’s struck down. The Court of Appeal ruling in favor of Batswana’s sexual liberties will be a nail in the proverbial coffin of residual colonial sex-related laws plaguing Botswana. This will not be the end by any means though. Where the attorney general can form a case stating that decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations could be likened to people locking themselves in their houses with animals and having their way with them, we know that mindset changes need to be prioritized to ensure that all Batswana understand their constitutionally protected rights to privacy, expression, and freedom of association as relates to their personal and sexual lives.

The 2010 Employment Act of Botswana already protects people from being discriminated against based on their sex or gender identity. The nation’s sexual violence laws were made gender neutral, thus covering non-consensual sex (rape) in all its possibilities. In upholding the ruling of the High Court, the Court of Appeal will allow the LGBTQ and SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics) movements in Botswana some respite as attention is then channeled toward other pressing matters such as name changes, access to healthcare, and other culturally pertinent issues.

The Court of Appeal is expected to hand down a judgement following their deliberations in 4-6 weeks (mid to late November), however, this remains at their discretion. As it stands, since the High Court ruling in 2019, Botswana has experienced increased social accommodation for LGBTQ matters and figures—however, this is not to say there have not been any negative instances. With the continued sensitization, the expectation is that the courts, the government and NGO players will all contribute to a broad, national, culturing of LGBTQ rights in Botswana devoid of colonial residues.

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California

H.S. students steal Pride flag, defecate on it & post video to TikTok

“It was definitely an act of hate directed at the LGBTQ community and a lot of students felt it, you know, felt that attack very acutely”

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Paso Robles High School via Google Earth

PASO ROBLES, Ca. – Earlier this school year two students walked into a science teacher’s classroom at Paso Robles High School, they proceeded to rip down the LGBTQ+ Pride flag hanging in the room and fled out the door. The theft took place as there was a classes break and as science instructor Evan Holtz took out after them he lost them in the throng of students in the hallway.

Holtz, who is a chemistry teacher, tutor, and swim coach, has been teaching at Paso Robles since 2019. In an interview with the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Holtz told the paper he had displayed the Pride flag to show solidarity with the school’s LGBTQ students, making sure that they knew they were welcome and safe in his classroom.

What happened immediately after the theft has left the high school’s LGBTQ+ students angered and alarmed. First, the Tribune reported, a video surfaced on TikTok of students attempting to flush the rainbow Pride flag down a toilet. Then, the video showed one student defecating on the flag in the toilet, according to those who had seen and heard about the video.

“It was definitely an act of hate directed at the LGBTQ community,” Geoffrey Land, a social sciences teacher told the paper. “And a lot of students felt it, you know, felt that attack very acutely.”

The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District said that administrators at the high school had taken “disciplinary action” after being alerted to the situation and the TikTok video by students. The next action undertaken on October 1st by the school district has left LGBTQ+ students disillusioned and further upset.

District Superintendent Curt Dubost sent a memorandum letter to faculty that read:

The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District has received multiple concerns about certain flag displays in teacher classrooms, including those that are large and distracting and those that alter the American flag.

I want to start by reiterating my statement from last year that rainbow flags mean different things to different people but to many are a symbol of safety, inclusion and equity. All students deserve protection against bullying and harassment. A safe, caring learning environment is essential if students are to achieve their academic potential.

We have a duty as a school district to ensure that hate speech and bullying conduct does not create an unsafe campus environment. Students in protected classes are often among the most vulnerable and susceptible to bullying and discrimination.”

Superintendent Dubost then laid out the new district policy: No flags bigger than 2 feet by 2 feet may be displayed in classrooms, and no flags that are “alterations of the American flag” may be displayed in classrooms.

In a follow-up interview with the Tribune Dubost justified his actions telling the paper, “We don’t want to turn it into a politicized issue where a student enters a classroom and looks up, ‘Oh, there’s a rainbow flag here, or there’s a blue lives matter flag here — that determines what the partisanship is of my teacher.’ We think that that’s a real slippery slope. And so we continue to believe that this is a very reasonable compromise solution that allows rainbows, but within reason.”

In an op-ed written by PRHS students on National Coming Out day last week, they expressed their dismay over Dubost’s actions.

October 11 is National Coming Out Day, when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people can celebrate support for LGBTQ equality. But in Paso Robles, where we attend high school, we cannot celebrate. Too often, LGBTQ students feel unwelcome, unsafe and targeted by hate.

After briefly mentioning the theft, video, and the action to ban flags other than a U.S. National flag taken by Superintendent Dubost they added:

Eventually, the school imposed minor discipline upon the offenders, and nearly two weeks later issued a policy statement that includes a ban on rainbow flags larger than 2’ x 2’. As the standard flag size is 3’ x 5’, the school purposefully banned the very flag that was desecrated. What message does this send to students? The flag ban means the school has allowed the haters to win, while LGBTQ students feel punished for wanting to be seen and supported.

The students cited a 2018 oral history project at PRHS which interviewed students in the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District area high schools of Templeton, Atascadero and Paso Robles.

They found that offensive slurs and open hostility directed at LGBTQ+ individuals were commonplace in classrooms. LGBTQ+ students reported not feeling included in their school culture. Students interviewed reported that teachers who wore rainbow colored pins or posted supportive flags or posters in their classroom walls helped create welcoming, safe spaces. Over the years, PRHS has witnessed loss of life, violence and intimidation — all in the name of anti-LGBTQ hate.

In their call to action the students stated that; “Enough is enough. How many more students will be traumatized by systems and people who fail to embrace the beauty and diversity of their students? The school’s response is a collective slap in the face of all LBGTQ students at PRHS. From our perspective, the school’s flag ban means they’re more interested in appeasing the bullies than protecting the safety of the victims of hate.”

There is a community forum event scheduled for Wednesday, October 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the PRHS performing arts center. Organized by students, the event, “Coming Out Against Hate,” is an opportunity for students to “share their experiences and visions for a more welcoming, inclusive educational environment,” and it’s the first forum of its kind in Paso Robles, according to a news release sent out about the event.

With the forum, we’re hoping that things change and they stop normalizing hate against us,” a senior told the Tribune, “I’m really proud of the fact that so many people are brave enough to come up against the adversity that is very obvious here. We might get a ton of hate for this. We might get hate-crimed ourselves.

But we can’t let this continue. We have a culture of homophobia here. We literally have no other option than to put ourselves kind of at risk and in danger. Because we can’t let this continue.”

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Florida

Black & LGBTQ+ inclusive wall mural cited for multiple code violations

The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee that would affect the rights of minorities & the LGBTQ+ people

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Photograph courtesy of United Teachers of Dade

MIAMI SPRINGS, Fl. – A colourful wall mural in Dade County has attracted the ire of municipal authorities who say the mural, which includes a child of color reading a book, a verse from a Maya Angelo poem, and an LGBTQ Pride rainbow symbol, violates building codes.

The United Teachers of Dade union has been cited by Miami Springs for code violations after it unveiled the mural on its office building the Miami Herald reported this past week.

“If you do not see the word mural on an ordinance this does not mean it’s allowed, means you should make an inquiry with the Building & Zoning department first and present your mural,” Miami Springs Councilwoman Jacky Bravo said in an email to the Herald. “We are not talking about a small stamp on the wall. Seems like they took a blind eye on this one, and unfortunately has caused an issue to be dealt with.”

The Herald reported that was it unveiled last March, and was titled ‘Rise’ to send a message to lawmakers in Florida’s capitol in Tallahassee as a series of laws were being introduced that negatively impacted the minority and LGBTQ+ communities in the state.

Luis Valle, a Miami-based artist who was commissioned by the United Teachers of Dade union to paint the mural told the paper, “The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee, at the time, that would affect public schools, as well as the rights of minorities and those in the LGBTQ+ community. It is about inclusivity for all people and all cultures.”

Although the UTD Union had submitted and paid for a permit, the Miami Springs City Code Compliance Department, which requires permits be obtained before work commences, had already issued a “notice of violation” on March 25 to the union site’s property owner, UTD Building Corp., for violations that included:

–improper size of wall sign

–improper placement and/or width of wall sign

–improper construction of sign

–failure to comply with applicable color palette

“Failure to correct the violations by the time due shall cause this case to be set for hearing before the code compliance board and may result in fines, costs and/or a lien levied against you and the property,” the notice said. “Fines imposed shall not exceed $250 per day for a first-time violation.”

The city gave UTD until April 24 to correct the violations, according to the notice. Potential fines, as of Oct. 13, could run as high as $43,000 the Herald noted.

Currently discussions are ongoing. “UTD reviewed all the codes before contracting our mural artist in order to perform our due diligence,” United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats said in an emailed statement to the Herald on Oct. 11. “Additionally, we spoke to a former council member to double check our findings and that individual also concluded that the Miami Springs City Codes did not address this topic.”

“The art piece is not a sign for the building or our organization; it has no logo or company name on it because it is an artistic expression in the form of a mural with no other intent,” Hernandez-Mats’ added.

Attempts by the Miami Herald to reach Miami Springs Mayor Maria Mitchell, and City Council members had been unsuccessful by this past Thursday afternoon, however the next Miami Springs City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25.

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