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San Diego gym sued for banning trans woman from locker room

El Cajon Crunch Fitness failed “to follow the law and educate its employees about respect for transgender people”

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Christynne Lili Wrene Wood (Facebook)

An El Cajon Crunch Fitness gym in San Diego county has been sued after Christynne Wood, a 61-year old transgender woman, Navy veteran and SEIU union employee, was denied use of the gym’s women’s bathrooms and locker rooms. She is being represented by the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties, along with the law firm of Nixon Peabody LLP.

Amanda Goad, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California stated, “California law makes clear that every person has the right to use facilities appropriate to their gender identity. No one should have to endure the discrimination, harassment, and humiliation that Christynne experienced because of Crunch’s failure to follow the law and educate its employees about respect for transgender people.”

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which enforces the state’s civil rights laws, filed the suit against the gym on April 17 in San Diego Superior Court after receiving her complaint.

The suit, which the ACLU affiliates and Nixon Peabody moved to join, charges that the Crunch Fitness gym and its owner, John Romeo, discriminated against Wood on the basis of her gender identity and gender expression, and failed to properly supervise and train employees in anti-discrimination laws. Also, the gym failed to adequately protect Wood from harassment.

The suit asks the court to order Crunch Fitness gym in El Cajon to provide all current and prospective members access to the locker rooms and bathrooms appropriate to their gender identities. It also asks that the gym be required to provide appropriate training to all managers and employees on obligations under the Unruh Act, with special emphasis on gender identity and the prevention of harassment.

The suit also asks that monetary damages be paid to Wood, including those provided by the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

Wood, who lives in Lakeside in San Diego County, has been a dues-paying member of the Crunch Fitness gym in El Cajon for about 11 years. Health-wise, it changed her life. She joined shortly after undergoing angioplasty surgery and receiving medical advice that she urgently needed to lose weight.

Due to her diligent adherence to exercise programs at the gym-most especially in water aerobics sessions – Wood lost more than 100 pounds. She also made friendships at the gym with both gym members and some fitness instructors.

Early in life, Wood realized that her gender identity was female, but she didn’t feel comfortable expressing that publicly. Only after becoming more acquainted with the LGBTQI community did she gain confidence about identifying as a transgender woman. In 2016, she began transitioning to female with the support of health care providers.

Wood told the instructor and other participants in the water aerobics classes about her transition. She continued to use the men’s locker room, but in September 2016 she began to get harassed there. One man approached her in the locker room, smiled, and grabbed his genitals. Feeling threatened and humiliated, she fled the locker room and reported the incident to a gym manager. But as near as Wood could tell, no action was taken to address the situation.

Wood asked to use the women’s facilities and was told she could do that if she obtained a doctor’s verification of her transitioning. On Sept. 30, 2016, she presented the letter that not only confirmed her treatments, but also stated it was “very important” she be able to use the women’s facilities at the gym.

Still, Wood was denied use of the women’s locker rooms and bathrooms, even after obtaining a Superior Court order legally changing her name and gender. It was only after another harassment incident – a man in the locker room referred to her as a “fucking faggot” – that Wood was finally allowed access to the women’s facilities. This was on Sept. 15, 2017, almost an entire year after she presented the doctor’s letter.

The refusals to give Wood access to the women’s facilities were clear violations of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act that bans discrimination based on “a person’s gender identity and gender expression.” It goes on to define gender expression as “a person’s gender-related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.”

“The discrimination and harassment Christynne experienced is unacceptable,” said Erin Holyoke, attorney at Nixon Peabody LLP. “We hope this lawsuit furthers the message that discrimination of any kind should not be tolerated.”

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Southern California

Equality California decries recall of elected Calexico trans official

During her tenure, Mayor Ureña championed numerous initiatives aimed at improving local infrastructure and public services

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Mayor Raúl Ureña (Screenshot/YouTube Calexico City Council session)

CALEXICO, Calif. – Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, has publicly denounced the recent recall of Calexico Councilmember and former Mayor Raúl Ureña, the first out transgender mayor in the city’s history.

The organization’s response underscores significant concern over what it views as a politically motivated attack leveraging anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments.

Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California, expressed profound disappointment over the outcome of the recall effort, criticizing the focus of the recall on Ureña’s transgender identity rather than his accomplishments in office.

“We are deeply disappointed that a group of far-right extremists succeeded in recalling Calexico’s first out transgender Mayor Raúl Ureña, who has a proven track record of delivering for the people of Calexico,” Hoang said.

“This recall campaign was spearheaded by a group of disgruntled former politicians and littered with misinformation and transphobic rhetoric, focusing on Ureña’s identity and not the successful tangible results she has generated for her city. This was a calculated, anti-LGBTQ+ attack against Ureña that has sadly resulted in her recall and will no doubt lead to backsliding for a community already at a crossroads. 

We were proud to support Mayor Ureña throughout this ordeal, and will continue to speak out against any and all anti-LGBTQ+ attacks.”

During her tenure, Ureña championed numerous initiatives aimed at improving local infrastructure and public services while fostering a community environment that valued diversity and inclusion.

The recall campaign, however, argued that new leadership was necessary to fulfill unmet promises such as reducing water costs, revitalizing public spaces, and addressing homelessness and housing shortages.

Ureña posted a Facebook video addressing the recall along with the following caption: 

“The recall made a lot of promises. The clock of new administration begins. From now on my decisions will not affect the municipality.

My message to the youth: DON’T QUIT!

My message to the recall: Keep your promises between now and November. We want a standing Calexico:

  • All the poles fixed
  • All parks to perfection
  • Streets and new benches
  • Let the cost of water go down
  • Downtown Clean
  • Zero Homeless
  • More Housing
  • Police and Fire Department complete
  • City Wide Transport
  • More recreation for the seniors.
  • Line to Mexicali and traffic solved

I wish them luck for the good of Calexico.”

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Following the recall’s success, statements from the new administration promised to focus on various infrastructure projects, enhancements to public safety, and improved social services for seniors, pledging to transform campaign promises into tangible outcomes.

The decision to recall Ureña has polarized Calexico, with many residents and advocates worried about the potential regression in civil rights gains. Equality California has pledged ongoing support for Ureña and reaffirmed its commitment to fighting anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.

For further details on Equality California’s initiatives and stance on this matter, please visit eqca.org.

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Riverside County

Murrieta Valley School Board votes to defy state over trans policy

The policy includes requests by students to use a name that “differs from their legal name or pronouns that don’t align with their birth sex”

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Murrieta Valley Unified School District support services & administration building. (Photo Credit: Murrieta Valley Unified School District)

MURRIETA, Calif. – The Murrieta Valley Unified School District Board on Thursday voted 3-2 to defy the California Department of Education’s written order and keep its anti-trans parent-notification policy.

The California Department of Education found that it violated the state’s education codes and warned MVUSD that the policy “provided no educational or administrative purpose that could justify the discrimination of LGBT+ students.” The Department of Education stated the policy “singles out and is directed exclusively toward one group of students based on that group’s legally protected characteristics of identifying with or expressing a gender other than that identified at birth.”

The Board essentially countermanded Superintendent Dr. Ward Andrus’ order to his staff reversing the policy after the April 10 DOE order was received. In an emailed notice sent out last Friday to parents, faculty, and staff members, school district administrators stated that the policy was reversed.

The policy, which was originally proposed by school board President Paul Diffley and trustee Nick Pardue and passed states:

[…] any member of a school’s staff “shall notify the  parent(s)/guardian(s), in writing, within three days from the date any District employee, administrator, or certificated staff, becomes aware that a student is: a. Requesting to be identified or treated, as a gender (as defined in Education Code Section 210.7) other than the student’s biological sex or gender listed on the student’s birth certificate or any other official records.”

The policy includes requests by students to use a name that “differs from their legal name (other than a commonly recognized diminutive of the child’s legal name) or to use pronouns that do not align with the student’s biological sex or gender listed on the student’s birth certificate or other official records.”

Last month the MVUSD school board voted 3-2 to keep the forced outing policy on the books even though, according to a Press-Enterprise report, MVUSD Board President Paul Diffley was warned by the district’s law firm, Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo (AALRR), that “‘going ahead (with the policy) in such an environment’ could cost the district $500,000 in legal expenses.”

After the board vote, two district educators, Jamie Goebel and Karen Poznanski, filed a complaint with the California Department of Education about the policy due to its “discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression.”

“This policy not only violated the privacy and dignity of our students but also perpetuated harm and discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals and their families,” Poznanski told the Press Enterprise once the California Department of Education sided with the teachers last week.

Reacting to the board vote, Tony Hoang, the Executive Director of Equality California told the Blade:

“Yet again, the extremist majority on the Murietta Valley School Board put politics over the safety and well-being of students. These politicians ignored the experts at the California Department of Education and their district staff and doubled down on a policy that is unnecessary, cruel, and opens students up to harm and discrimination.

The school board’s own student member Isabella Dadalt said it best – “if you’re a parent, and you feel threatened by the fact that your student is going to a teacher instead of you, I think you need to rethink your parenting.”

The members of the Murrietta Valley School Board should take note of what happened last month when extremist school board members in Orange Unified and Woodland Unified were successfully recalled after they attacked LGBTQ+ students.

Equality California will continue to for the rights of all students to have safe and supportive learning environments in Murietta Valley, and across the state.”

The Blade has reached out to the California Department of Education and the Murrieta Valley Unified School District Board for comment.

 

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West Hollywood

Bouncer at Heart WeHo arrested in brutal beating of gay stylist

Anyone with questions or information about this incident is encouraged to contact the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s West Hollywood Station

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Captain William (Bill) Moulder, commander of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station speaks with KTLA about the beating of 54-year-old Albert Jimenez last month outside of Heart WeHo nightclub. (Screenshot/YouTube KTLA 5)

By Paulo Murillo | WEST HOLLYWOOD – An arrest has been made in the brutal beating of gay hair stylist Albert Vasquez, 54. According to a statement by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, a security guard at Heart WeHo was identified, arrested, and charged with battery causing great bodily harm.

The statement by LASD reads as follows:

On Friday, April 05, 2024, at approximately 10:40PM, the victim attempted to enter a nightclub in West Hollywood. The suspect, who was working as a security guard, did not allow the victim entry due to the victim not having proper identification. Both the suspect and the victim engaged in a verbal and physical altercation, in which the suspect punched the victim once in the face. The victim fell to the ground and was transported to a nearby hospital.

The suspect was identified and arrested for battery causing great bodily injury.

Vasquez’s sister, Gloria Jimenez, tells WEHO TIMES that a detective at the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station reached out to the family earlier today, and she can confirm that the beating happened in front of Heart WeHo. She also said one of their bouncers was arrested.

The family will be allowed to view the surveillance footage to see exactly what happened on Friday night, April 5, 2024, when Vasquez was found in a pool of his blood with two head fractures, bruises to his lungs, a black eye, and scrapes and bruising to his arms and legs.

“They reached out to me and said an arrest has been made,” said Jimenez. “We kept saying it was Heart WeHo and it happened at Heart WeHo and it was one of their bouncers. We want to see the footage, and we’ll be able to see it because we are family, so we can determine exactly where to go from there. We’re glad an arrest was made, and we’re going to take the next step necessary. We don’t know what that step is. He’s still recovering. We don’t know how long his recovery will take. We don’t know.”

Family, friends, and supporters of Albert Vasquez were relentless in getting the story out to the media, and they pressured the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station to step up the investigation. They also demanded that Heart WeHo release video footage from that night.

Heart WeHo complied and released the following statement:

“Heart WeHo remains deeply committed to the safety and well-being of our community. We are aware of the incident that occurred on April 5th and have been actively collaborating with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department to assist in their investigation since the beginning. We have provided the authorities with unrestricted access to our security footage,” reads the statement by Heart WeHo. “We urge anyone with additional information pertaining to this incident to come forward and assist the West Hollywood Department in their efforts to ensure the safety and security of our neighborhood.”

According to authorities, Heart WeHo was asked not to release the footage to family until authorities were able to investigate the footage first.

Jimenez’s sister points out that Heart WeHo turned over surveillance footage to the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station on Monday, ten days after the incident occurred.

Doctors discovered a second skull fracture on the other side of Vasquez’s head ten days after he landed in the hospital, according to his family. They also discovered that his lungs had bruising after the fact, which went unnoticed throughout his stay at the hospital.

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However, despite his newly discovered injuries, Albert seems to be on the mend. He was in a coma for one day when he was brought to the hospital but is currently awake and seems to be aware of his surroundings. He starts therapy this week and is expected to be in the hospital for another week and a half. He has not spoken about what happened to him that Friday night, mainly because he’s heavily medicated, and nurses feel it’s too soon to pressure him to relive the trauma.

Jimenez thanks the community for their support and for being relentless in holding investigators accountable and demanding they get answers. She’s also grateful for the public’s generosity to help cover medical expenses.

Anyone with questions or information about this incident is encouraged to contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s West Hollywood Station Detective Lombera at (310).
358-4028.

The link to GoFundMe campaign is here: (Link)

******************************************************************************************

Paulo Murillo is Editor in Chief and Publisher of WEHO TIMES. He brings over 20 years of experience as a columnist, reporter, and photo journalist. Murillo began his professional writing career as the author of “Love Ya, Mean It,” an irreverent and sometimes controversial West Hollywood lifestyle column for FAB! newspaper. His work has appeared in numerous print and online publications, which include the “Hot Topic” column in Frontiers magazine, where he covered breaking news and local events in West Hollywood. He can be reached at [email protected]

The preceding article was previously published at WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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Federal Government

Lambda Legal praises Biden admin’s finalized Title IX regulations

The new policy also reverses some Trump-era Title IX rules governing how schools must respond to sexual harassment & sexual assault

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U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (Photo Credit: Office of the U.S. Secretary of Education)

WASHINGTON – The Biden-Harris administration’s revised Title IX policy “protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination and other abuse,” Lambda Legal said in a statement praising the U.S. Department of Education’s issuance of the final rule on Friday.

Slated to take effect on Aug. 1, the new regulations constitute an expansion of the 1972 Title IX civil rights law, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding.

Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County case, the department’s revised policy clarifies that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity constitutes sex-based discrimination as defined under the law.

“These regulations make it crystal clear that everyone can access schools that are safe, welcoming and that respect their rights,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said during a call with reporters on Thursday.

While the new rule does not provide guidance on whether schools must allow transgender students to play on sports teams corresponding with their gender identity to comply with Title IX, the question is addressed in a separate rule proposed by the agency in April.

The administration’s new policy also reverses some Trump-era Title IX rules governing how schools must respond to reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault, which were widely seen as imbalanced in favor of the accused.

Jennifer Klein, the director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said during Thursday’s call that the department sought to strike a balance with respect to these issues, “reaffirming our longstanding commitment to fundamental fairness.”

“We applaud the Biden administration’s action to rescind the legally unsound, cruel, and dangerous sexual harassment and assault rule of the previous administration,” Lambda Legal Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project Director Sasha Buchert said in the group’s statement on Friday.

“Today’s rule instead appropriately underscores that Title IX’s civil rights protections clearly cover LGBTQ+ students, as well as survivors and pregnant and parenting students across race and gender identity,” she said. “Schools must be places where students can learn and thrive free of harassment, discrimination, and other abuse.”

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), a Congressional leader on LGBTQ and education issues, also hailed the finalized rule on Title IX from the Biden Administration:  

The Education Department and Biden Administration showed real courage today, delivering on a long-held promise to ensure that the federal government does more to protect all Americans—especially LGBTQ Americans—from discrimination.  

This groundbreaking rule is a major victory, but we still have much to do. We need to enshrine and expand its protections by passing the Equality Act because for too many Americans, their rights and protections depend on the zip code they live in.   

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Arkansas

Another wound that will never heal; another tragic teen’s death

“Let Ethan’s legacy serve as a beacon of hope and a call to action for a more inclusive and accepting future”

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Ethan (Family photo)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The pain was palpable as it radiated from the grief stricken single mother who lost her only child- her beloved son, to suicide this past Sunday as she spoke in the phone call Thursday evening with the Blade.

Ethan was only 15 in fact he had just celebrated his birthday this past month.

Ethan was a bright and compassionate teenager, quick to help his elderly neighbors with lawncare, carrying in the groceries, or just sitting out on their porches listening to them tell stories or chat. “He was such a good boy, so loving, so caring,” his mother said.

Growing up in a small rural community in Arkansas, Ethan loved to hunt, fish, and spend time with Dad and he was a dutiful son to his mother, but that all changed a year ago when Ethan told his parents his truth- he was gay.

His mother was good with it she says, “His Dad left us, just walked away from him. No contact, silence.” His father’s rejection and abandonment left Ethan feeling guilt and despair, struggling to cope with the fallout of his father’s departure and the financial burdens placed on his now single mother.

She explained: “He began to withdraw and late at night he started to hurt himself even to the point to go to the E.R.” Adding to Ethan’s stress “the local farm boys would say hateful things, they’d call him faggot, they’d stay away telling him he was gonna give them AIDS or die from it.,” she said. The rejection and bullying got so bad at the school that staff stepped in and put an end to it. “The school was so supportive, they even gave in-school suspensions, but then those boys, others, went on line and it got worse,” she told the Blade.

Like most teens Ethan kept much of his pain to himself as his despair over loss of the relationship with his father, worry over his single Mom and money as she works in food service and money is scare became too much. “He was fine on Saturday- I mean it was a good day I didn’t see any problems,” she related to the Blade. On Sunday, he was gone- forever.

Now his mother is left with memories and questions that will never be answered. For now, his mother, Connie, asks for privacy during this difficult time as she grapples with the devastating loss of her only child.

After being contacted, Indianapolis-based Rainbow Youth Project USA has stepped in to support Ethan’s grieving mother, providing grief counseling services and assisting with final arrangements.

“In the face of adversity, it is crucial for communities to come together to support LGBTQ+ individuals and their families. Hate and intolerance have no place in a society that values love and acceptance for all. By honoring Ethan’s memory and advocating for inclusivity, we must strive to create a world where every individual is celebrated for who they are,” said Lance Preston CEO and Founder of Rainbow Youth to the Blade.

“As Connie navigates this overwhelming grief and loss, let us stand united in compassion and solidarity, offering our support and understanding. Let Ethan’s legacy serve as a beacon of hope and a call to action for a more inclusive and accepting future,” Preston added.

Editor’s Note: In consideration of preserving her privacy the Blade has not published Connie’s surname nor her residence’s location in Arkansas.

If you are in a life-threatening situation, please dial 911.

If you are in crisis, please dial 988 or contact Rainbow Youth Project directly at +1 (317) 643-4888

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Pennsylvania

Moms for Liberty member, others block Maulik Pancholy’s speech

“It clearly sends a message to our staff, our students, and our residents that identify as LGBTQ+ that they’re not welcome”

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Maulik Pancholy (Screenshot/YouTube MSNBC)

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Penn. — On Monday the Cumberland Valley District school board, a large, rural and suburban public school district located in Central Pennsylvania, voted to cancel an appearance and event on anti-bullying by openly gay actor and author Maulik Pancholy.

Pancholy, best known for his work on NBC Television’s 30 Rock and who authored “The Best at It,” a semi-autobiographical debut novel that explores the queer main character’s journey to self-acceptance and self-love in the 7th grade in a small Indiana town, was set to attend an anti-bullying school assembly scheduled for May 22 at Mountain View Middle School in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

Anti-LGBTQ+ activists including newly elected board member Kelly Potteiger, who is a member of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s listed extremist group Moms for Liberty along with board member Bud Shaffner and board chair Greg Rausch in an off agenda discussion brought up the event and strongly objected to Pancholy’s presence.

WPMT Fox 43 reported that Rausch asked Shaffner: “My only question is, do we even have any idea what he’s going to be talking about? I know he’s a homosexual activist and what have you and has written books and things like that but do we even know what he’s going to be talking about?”

Potteiger weighed in: “It’s not discriminating against his lifestyle, that’s his choice, but it’s him speaking about it and it did say that’s not the topic, but that’s what his books are about and he will probably talk about his pathway because he talks about anti-bullying and empathy and inclusion so part of that is his journey as an individual,” said Potteiger. “And as a self-proclaimed activist, that’s where it gets concerning I think.”

“If you research this individual, he labels himself as an activist, he is proud of his lifestyle and I don’t think that should be imposed upon our students at any age,” added Shaffner.

The board ended up in a unanimous 8-0 vote to rescind permission for Pancholy to visit the school.

The result of the vote led one former student, Tony Conte, to publish an open letter to Shaffner on Facebook, recalling his experience as a closeted gay teen and his struggles with suicidal ideation because of it, Entertainment Weekly reported.

On Thursday, Pancholy released a public statement on his Instagram regarding the controversial vote.

“On Monday evening, I learned via social media that the school board of the Cumberland Valley School District in Pennsylvania voted 8-0 to cancel my scheduled author visit with the students of Mountain View Middle School due to concerns about my ‘activism’ and what they called my ‘lifestyle.’ My heart goes out to the entire Mountain View Middle School community, and particularly to the students.” 

His statement continues, addressing his books and growing up without a representation of South Asian-American or LGBTQ+ characters in media. 

“When I visit schools, my ‘activism’ is to let all young people know that they’re seen. To let them know that they matter. When I talk about the characters in my books feeling ‘different,’ I’m always surprised by how many young people raise their hands- regardless of their identities and backgrounds- wanting to share about the ways in which they, to, feel different,” Pancholy continued. 

In a phone interview with Entertainment Weekly, Shaffner denied the claim that Pancholy’s sexual orientation was the reason for the vote.“That’s absolutely unfounded,” he said. “That wasn’t even part of the discussion. We simply voted to uphold the [school] policy of no political speeches, no political activism.”

He added, “We just cannot allow political speeches within our school. And he identified himself as a political activist.”

“I thought it was outrageous and very concerning,” Trisha Comstock, a parent who is behind a petition now circulating online, asking the board to reverse its decision told Fox 43. “It clearly sends a message to our staff, our students, and our residents that identify as LGBTQ+, that part of the community, that they’re not welcome, they’re not seen, they’re not respected.”

The full April 15 school board meeting can be watched here.

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Politics

Support for Biden among LGBTQ adults persists despite misgivings

70% of all LGBTQ respondents and 81% of those who identify as trans said the Democratic Party should be doing more for queer and trans folks

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Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

SAN FRANCISCO — A new survey by Data for Progress found LGBTQ adults overwhelmingly favor President Joe Biden and Democrats over his 2024 rival former President Donald Trump and Republicans, but responses to other questions may signal potential headwinds for Biden’s reelection campaign.

The organization shared the findings of its poll, which included 873 respondents from across the country including an oversample of transgender adults, exclusively with the Washington Blade on Thursday.

Despite the clear margin of support for the president, with only 22 percent of respondents reporting that they have a very favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of Trump, answers were more mixed when it came to assessments of Biden’s performance over the past four years and his party’s record of protecting queer and trans Americans.

Forty-five percent of respondents said the Biden-Harris administration has performed better than they expected, while 47 percent said the administration’s record has been worse than they anticipated. A greater margin of trans adults in the survey — 52 vs. 37 percent — said their expectations were not met.

Seventy precent of all LGBTQ respondents and 81 percent of those who identify as trans said the Democratic Party should be doing more for queer and trans folks, while just 24 percent of all survey participants and 17 percent of trans participants agreed the party is already doing enough.

With respect to the issues respondents care about the most when deciding between the candidates on their ballots, LGBTQ issues were second only to the economy, eclipsing other considerations like abortion and threats to democracy.

These answers may reflect heightened fear and anxiety among LGBTQ adults as a consequence of the dramatic uptick over the past few years in rhetorical, legislative, and violent bias-motivated attacks against the community, especially targeting queer and trans folks.

The survey found that while LGBTQ adults are highly motivated to vote in November, there are signs of ennui. For example, enthusiasm was substantially lower among those aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 39 compared with adults 40 and older. And a plurality of younger LGBTQ respondents said they believe that neither of the country’s two major political parties care about them.

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European Union

LGBTQ+ activists demand EU sanction Uganda over Anti-Homosexuality Act

Yoweri Museveni signed law on May 29, 2023

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Hillary Innocent Taylor Seguya, an LGBTQ+ rights activist, speaks at a protest in front of the European Union Delegation to the United States’s offices in D.C. on April 18, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — More than a dozen activists who protested in front of the European Union Delegation to the United States in D.C. on Thursday demanded the EU to sanction Uganda over the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Hillary Innocent Taylor Seguya, a Ugandan LGBTQ+ activist, and Global Black Gay Men Connect Executive Director Micheal Ighodaro are among those who spoke at the protest. Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell also participated in the event that her organization organized along with GBGMC and Convening for Equality Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ+ rights group.

(Washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last May signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The country’s Constitutional Court on April 3 refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” A group of Ugandan LGBTQ+ activists have appealed the ruling.

A press release that Health GAP issued ahead of Thursday’s protest notes EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen on March 6 announced more than €200 million ($212.87 million) for Uganda in support of “small business owners, young female entrepreneurs, agribusinesses as well as vital digital infrastructure projects in full Team Europe format with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and several member states.”

“These concrete initiatives will make a difference to aspiring entrepreneurs, Ugandan businesses and create jobs in multiple sectors,” said Urpilainen in a press release that announced the funds. “This is a perfect example of how Global Gateway can make a tangible difference for citizens and businesses and unlock the full potential of a partner country by working together.”

Convening for Equality Uganda on Tuesday in a letter they sent to Urpilainen asked the EU to review all funding to Uganda and “pause or reprogram any funds that go via government entities.” The protesters on Thursday also demanded European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen “to hold Ugandan President Museveni’s government accountable for this attack on human rights.”

Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, in a statement he released after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act said the law “is contrary to international human rights law and to Uganda’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, including commitments on dignity and nondiscrimination, and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.”

“The Ugandan government has an obligation to protect all of its citizens and uphold their basic rights,” said Borrell. “Failure to do so will undermine relationships with international partners.”

“The European Union will continue to engage with the Ugandan authorities and civil society to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, are treated equally, with dignity and respect,” he added.

Urpilainen last September in a letter to the European Parliament said the EU would not suspend aid to Uganda over the law.

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Politics

Court docs raise concerns over right-wing TikTok investor influence

Federal lawmakers have moved forward with a proposal that would force ByteDance to divest TikTok or ban the platform’s use in the U.S.

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Jeff Yass (Screen capture: Susquehanna International Group/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – The role played by Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass in the creation of TikTok might be far greater than was previously understood, according to new reporting that raises questions about the extent of the right-wing megadonor’s influence over matters at the intersection of social media, federal regulations, and electoral politics.

In 2012, Yass’s firm, Susquehanna International Group, spent $5 million for 15 percent of the short-form video hosting platform’s Chinese-owned parent, ByteDance. In the years since, as TikTok grew from a nascent startup to a tech giant with 1.5 billion active monthly users and an estimated $225 billion valuation, Yass and his firm pocketed tens of billions of dollars.

Beyond the size of Susquehanna’s ownership stake, little was known about its relationship with ByteDance until documents from a lawsuit filed against the firm by its former contractors were accidentally unsealed last month, leading to new reporting by the New York Times on Thursday that shows Susquehanna was hardly a passive investor.

In 2009 the firm used a proprietary, sophisticated search algorithm to build a home-buying site called 99Fang, tapping software engineer and entrepreneur Zhang Yiming to serve as its CEO. The company folded. And then, per the Times’s review of the court records, in 2012 Susquehanna picked Yiming to be the founder of its new startup ByteDance and repurposed the technology from 99Fang for use in the new venture.

Importantly, the documents do not provide insight into Yass’s personal involvement in the formation of ByteDance. And Susquehanna denies that the company’s search algorithm technologies were carried over from the real estate venture — which, if true, would presumably undermine the basis for the lawsuit brought by the firm’s former contractors who are seeking compensation for the tech used by ByteDance.

Questions about Yass’s influence come at a pivotal political moment


In recent weeks, federal lawmakers have moved forward with a proposal that would force ByteDance to divest TikTok or ban the platform’s use in the U.S. altogether, citing the potential threats to U.S. national security interests stemming from the company’s Chinese ownership.

The bill was passed on March 13 with wide bipartisan margins in the House but faced an uncertain future in the Senate. However, on Wednesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) announced plans to fold the proposal into a measure that includes foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, likely bolstering its chances of passage by both chambers.

Last month, shortly after meeting with Yass at his home in Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump changed his longtime stance and came out against Congress’s effort to break up or ban TikTok. The timing led to speculation about whether the billionaire businessman was behind Trump’s change of heart, perhaps by contributing to the cash-strapped Republican presidential nominee’s electoral campaign or through other means.

Meanwhile, Yass has emerged as the largest donor of the 2024 election cycle. A coalition of public interest and government watchdog groups have called attention to the vast network of right-wing political causes and candidates supported by the billionaire, often via contributions funneled through dark money PACs that are designed to conceal or obscure the identities of their donors.

The Action Center on Race and the Economy, Make the Road, POWER Metro: Faith in Action, Free the Ballot, and Little Sis launched a website called All Eyes on Yass that features research into the various causes he supports, along with insight into the networks connecting the entities funded by his contributions.

Broadly, in Pennsylvania they fall into five categories: Advocacy against reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights via the Pennsylvania Family Institute, lobbying on behalf of oil and gas industry interests by the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, anti-union groups supported by Commonwealth Partners, a privately owned registered investment advisory firm/independent broker-dealer, the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, which seeks to privatize public schools and defeat proposed increases to the minimum wage, and the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, which advocates for lowering taxes on corporations and the rich.

Additionally, All Eyes on Yass reports that the billionaire has given massive contributions to Club for Growth along with direct spending to support the electoral campaigns of right-wing Republicans including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Josh Hawley (MO); U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (Colo.), and former U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.).

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Michigan

Michigan State University investigating alleged hate crime

MSU’s interim vice president and chief safety officer notes that the incident occurred during the school’s LBGTQ Pride Month

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Photo Credit: Michigan State University Police and Public Safety Department/Facebook

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State University Police and Public Safety officials confirmed that a group of seven suspects assaulted two victims on Monday, April 15, 2024, at the MSU Main Library, potentially selecting the victims because of the perpetrators sexual orientation bias.

According to MSU police, a warning was issued to all MSU students, faculty and staff on Monday, and the suspects were identified on Tuesday. None of the suspects are affiliated with MSU. The investigation into this incident is ongoing.

Once the investigation is completed, it will be submitted to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office with a request for charges against the suspects.

MSU Vice President and Spokesperson Emily Guerrant said two MSU students were followed into the library by seven non-MSU students who appeared to be of high school age, the Lansing State Journal reports. The suspects continued to follow the two MSU students to the third-floor study area. A video posted to an anonymous messaging board shows a physical altercation ensued.

Fox 47 News in Lansing reported that a student at MSU and a member of a group dedicated to advocating for transgender and non-binary students told the station: “I was shocked and appalled to see that happened on this campus,” said Lyra who asked that only her first name was used.

MSU’s Gender and Sexuality Campus Center is offering online and in-person support for students following the incident.

“It is important to recognize that crimes are never the fault of a victim,” the school wrote in a statement. “Anyone who believes they have been discriminated against or harassed is encouraged to report the incident(s) to the MSU Office of Institutional Equity.”

Doug Monette, MSU’s interim vice president and chief safety officer, and Vennie Gore, the senior vice president for the school’s student life and engagement department, addressed students and faculty in a separate statement on Tuesday, according to NBC News. The statement notes that the incident occurred during the school’s LBGTQ Pride Month and that it was also based on the students’ “racial identities” in addition to their sexualities.

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