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Pence swears in gay appointee Ric Grenell as ambassador to Germany

Grenell took the Oath of Office on his family Bible, held by his partner

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Vice President Mike Pence (right) swears in as U.S. ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell (left) with his partner Matt Lashey looking on.

The swearing in on Thursday of U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, the highest-ranking openly gay official in the Trump administration, by Vice President Mike Pence, who has a long anti-LGBT record, was a sight to behold.

As is customary for the vice president, Pence officiated the ceremony and administered the Oath of Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Grenell took the Oath of Office on his family Bible, which was held by his partner of more than 15 years, Matt Lashey.

In his remarks, Pence referenced Lashey and echoed President Trump’s comment last week that Grenell is an “outstanding man” who will do well as U.S. envoy to the world’s fourth largest national economy.

“I share that confidence and conviction,” Pence said.

Looking to the tasks ahead, Pence said Grenell would help strengthen U.S.-German relations by balancing the trade relationship, strengthening military cooperation and encouraging NATO allies to pay their fair share on defense.

“With Ambassador Grenell leading our diplomatic mission to Germany, we’re going to confront shared challenges, seek our shared opportunities and build a shared future with our allies and friends in Germany,” Pence said.

Pence praised the highest-ranking openly gay official in the Trump administration from the shadow of his notoriously anti-LGBT record during his years as a public official.

Pence as a U.S. House member supported a U.S. constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, predicting marriage equality would lead to “societal collapse” and opposed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. As Indiana governor, Pence signed into law a “religious freedom” bill enabling individuals and businesses to refuse services to LGBT people before being forced to sign a “fix” limiting the scope of the measure.

Pence is also credited with supporting “ex-gay” conversion therapy based on a vaguely worded 2000 campaign statement regarding HIV/AIDS funds, but a spokesperson has denied the vice president has ever supported the widely discredited practice.

First nominated by Trump in September, Grenell waited nearly eight months for confirmation in the Senate. Grenell faced opposition over mean tweets about the appearance of women, including Hillary Clinton, Rachel Maddow and Callista Gingrich, and tweets downplaying the impact of Russia meddling in the 2016 election.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the White House broke the logjam. Grenell was confirmed on a party-line 56-42 vote one day before her visit.

Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, said Grenell’s tweets about women make him unworthy of the position of ambassador.

“Being gay doesn’t give you a pass,” Stern said. “Someone with a history of making sexist remarks has no place representing US foreign interests as ambassador to Germany, a country led by a woman no less. Some will argue we should celebrate this appointment because he’s openly gay, but if this is what progress looks like, we need to raise the bar higher.”

Grenell made light of the lengthy time it took for him to win confirmation at the start of his remarks, saying “nothing about this process has been short, so I’m going to keep this very short.”

“This administration is totally focused on the American people,” Grenell said. “I saw the president in action last Friday in debating and talking and negotiating with Chancellor Merkel.  And if every American could see President Trump negotiate, they would be wildly supportive of having him as their representative in the White House.”

A foreign policy expert, Grenell has served in various roles as a public communications adviser and a Fox News commentator. Under the George W. Bush administration, Grenell became the longest serving U.S. spokesperson at the United Nations, working under four U.S. ambassadors.

Grenell, who has described himself as a gay conservative Christian, has a same-sex partner of 15 years, Matt Lashey. Lashey himself is a conservative Christian who graduated from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

For a period of less than two weeks, Grenell served during the 2012 presidential campaign as a foreign policy spokesperson for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, but resigned amid pressure from social conservatives over his sexual orientation. Grenell never had the opportunity to speak publicly in the role.

At the close of Grenell’s remarks, Pence and Grenell shook hands. After concluding the event, Pence shook hands with attendees in the first row of the room.

Among those present in the room for the swearing-in ceremony was Ivanka Trump, who rose from her seat to embrace Lashey and hold an inaudible conversation with Grenell.

Axel Hochrein, who serves on the national board for the Gay & Lesbian Federation in Germany, commended Grenell on his appointment and said his organization “welcomes him as new Ambassador of  the United States in Germany.”

“The former ambassadors Philip D. Murphy and John B. Emerson have been great supports of the German LGBTI+ community, and shared of our conviction, that LGBTI+ rights are human rights,” Hochrein said. “So we hope and would appreciate, if Ambassador Grenell follows the footsteps of his predecessors who [worked] together with other ambassadors [in] the Berlin Pride, gave receptions for the LGBTI* Community and delivered speeches at our annual meetings.”

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this report.

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Politics

Trump found guilty on all counts, sentencing scheduled for July 11

Though his conviction calls for a four-year prison sentence, the former president will almost certainly appeal the verdict

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Former President Donald Trump Screenshot/YouTube NBC News

NEW YORK – Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, was found guilty on Thursday of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to conceal a hush-money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

After the 12 jurors returned with their verdict Judge Juan Merchan of the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan scheduled Trump’s sentencing for July 11.

Though his conviction calls for a four-year prison sentence, the former president will almost certainly appeal the verdict, which could forestall a final resolution in the case for several years. The remaining three criminal cases against Trump are likely to begin after Election Day, Nov. 5.

“In New York today, we saw that no one is above the law,” Biden-Harris 2024 Communications Director Michael Tyler said in a statement.

“Donald Trump has always mistakenly believed he would never face consequences for breaking the law for his own personal gain,” he said. “But today’s verdict does not change the fact that the American people face a simple reality. There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: At the ballot box. Convicted felon or not, Trump will be the Republican nominee for president.”

“The threat Trump poses to our democracy has never been greater,” Tyler said. “He is running an increasingly unhinged campaign of revenge and retribution, pledging to be a dictator ‘on day one’ and calling for our Constitution to be ‘terminated’ so he can regain and keep power.”

Tyler added, “A second Trump term means chaos, ripping away Americans’ freedoms and fomenting political violence — and the American people will reject it this November.”

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said in a statement, “The twice-impeached, forever disgraced former president of the United States has now been convicted of 34 felony counts by a jury of his peers.”

“Today’s conviction shows clearly that no one is above the law. And now, we must commit to showing up in November and ensuring that Trump doesn’t make his way from the courthouse back to the White House.”

“The verdict underlines that no one is above the law, and that election interference is a serious crime that harms every American, including and especially vulnerable people whose voices should be heard and whose votes should be counted,” GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement.

“The trial detailed how Donald Trump lied and schemed to get elected. In four horrific years in office he stripped LGBTQ Americans, all women, and others of our essential human rights, then lied about losing the 2020 election and encouraged a deadly riot at the Capitol to overturn it,” she said.

“Donald Trump is now a twice convicted, twice impeached, serial liar and sexual abuser who has always seen the presidency as a scam to enrich and protect himself,” Ellis said. “Today the jury emphatically said Trump is guilty as charged. Voters everywhere should follow the jury’s lead and continue to hold him accountable for his crimes, anti-American behavior and rhetoric.”

Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen, said: “This is an historic moment for democracy. A jury heard evidence that Donald Trump illegally interfered in the 2016 election and rendered a fair and appropriate verdict.”

“New York’s prosecutors served justice by bringing this case,” Gilbert said. “We applaud the jury for doing its job and standing up for the fundamental principle that no one is above the law, not even a former president.”

She added, “Justice was served today. On to the next trial!”

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Los Angeles County

New on the LA County Channel

You can watch on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

New on the County Channel

The LA County Fire Department hosted a Women’s Lifeguard Prep Academy in Venice where hopeful recruits got the full experience of being a lifeguard.

You can watch more stories like this on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here.

In Case You Missed It

This Weekend – Free Pet Adoptions!

The County of Los Angeles Department of Animal Care and Control is proud to announce its participation in the first ever California Adopt-a-Pet Day on Saturday, June 1!

More than 150 animal shelters and organizations throughout the State will be offering FREE adoptions as part of this groundbreaking event. The ASPCA has generously committed to covering adoption fees for participating shelters, ensuring that the adoption process is accessible to all. Potential adopters can visit their local animal care and control center on June 1 to meet pets in search of their forever home.

For more information about California Adopt-a-Pet Day and to find a participating shelter near you, please visit caadoptapetday.org.

At Your Service

Income Assistance for Expecting Mothers

The California Abundant Birth Project, a guaranteed-income program, provides monthly cash assistance to pregnant individuals with the highest risk of perinatal health inequities, to support healthier outcomes for babies and mothers.

Learn about the program’s eligibility requirements and apply at California Abundant Birth Project. For questions and more information, email [email protected].

Out and About

Small Business Summit

Join Team DEO and partners for the grand finale of the LA Region Small Business Summit Series in the Antelope Valley next week on May 30th! Get ready to immerse yourself with expert panels, a bustling expo, and FREE resources from 35+ partners and organizations – all tailored to fuel your entrepreneurial journeys. Stop by:

Thursday, May 30th – Antelope Valley College
3041 West Avenue K, Lancaster CA 93536

Ignite the spark of innovation and prosperity with Team DEO. If call the Antelope Valley and the Fifth Supervisorial District home, there’s still time to claim your spot. Register NOW by visiting here.

Photo Finish

Little Yorkie, Noah, enjoying the day at Dali’s Dog Park in Peter F. Schabarum Regional Park in Rowland Heights. (Photo Credit: Los Angeles County / Mayra Beltran Vasquez)

This park features two separate fenced enclosures for small and large animals to safely play off-leash, shaded benches, drinking fountains, and obstacles for high energy dogs.

Click here to access more photos of LA County in action.

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Los Angeles County

Rep. Kamlager-Dove & Project Angel Food mark a milestone

Project Angel Food celebrated a monumental achievement, delivering the 18 millionth meal to critically ill residents of LA County

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Democratic Congresswoman Kamlager-Dove with Project Angel Food celebrated a monumental achievement, delivering the 18 millionth meal to critically ill residents of Los Angeles County on Thursday. (Photo Credit Noe Garcia/Project Angel Food)

LOS ANGELES — Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA) joined Project Angel Food CEO Richard Ayoub to celebrate a monumental achievement, delivering the 18 millionth meal to critically ill residents of Los Angeles County on Thursday.

The significant milestone event unfolded at Project Angel Food’s headquarters off Vine Street in Hollywood with staff and volunteers joining in the celebrations, reflecting the collective effort and dedication that fuel this vital organization.

Rep. Kamlager-Dove was given a tour of the kitchen facilities and witnessed first-hand the meticulous care and compassion that goes into preparing each meal. The congresswoman then actively participated in the operations, labeling the final meals leading up to the 18 millionth and engaging with the dedicated team whose efforts ensures greatest impacts achievable.

Ayoub and Rep. Kamlager-Dove spoke and the congresswoman presented a certificate of recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives, lauding Project Angel Food for its unwavering service to the community.

“Project Angel Food truly embodies the spirit of angels, with each meal prepared and delivered, serving as a testament to the love and care bestowed upon our community members in need,” Kamlager-Dove said.

Echoing the significance of the occasion in his remarks, Ayoub noted, “Project Angel Food is rising to the challenge with these 18 million meals, and will continue to do so, as there are more people sick, hungry, and alone who need a medically tailored meal not only to make them feel better, but to feel loved.”

Rep. Kamlager-Dove delivered the milestone meal to a stroke survivor battling cardiovascular disease, emphasizing the organization’s role in addressing the health challenges faced by many in the region.

Kamlager-Dove also noted that Project Angel Food continues to stand as a pillar of hope and vital support, especially within California’s 37th Congressional District, which is home to 722 individuals needing meals delivered each year. A significant portion of the clients are among the most vulnerable populations with severe diabetes being a prevalent challenge.

Founded in 1989, Project Angel Food nourishes the spirit and health of vulnerable people facing critical and life-threatening illnesses by preparing and delivering medically tailored meals with love, care, and dignity. More than 2,500 clients are fed daily with more than 1.5 million meals delivered each year — 18 million in its 35-year history.

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U.S. Federal Courts

L.A. County Fire Dept. Lifeguard Capt. sues over Pride flags

Little’s refusal to raise the ‘Progress Pride Flag’ the suit claims led to threats of his dismissal & is a form of religious discrimination

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Towers 17 & 18 in Will Rogers Beach, more affectionately known as "Ginger Rogers" Beach, were unveiled last June to help celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and Pride Month. The towers have been painted with the colors of the Progress Pride Flag. (Photo Credit: Los Angeles County Fire Department, Lifeguard Division)

LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles County Fire Department-Lifeguard Division Captain has sued the LACFD-LGD and LA county over the county’s policy regarding display of the LGBTQ+ ‘Progress Pride Flag’ at his workplace. In the suit claiming that requiring him to raise the Pride Flag constitutes religious discrimination as he describes himself as a devout evangelical Christian.

The lawsuit, filed on May 24, 2024, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, LACFD-LGD Captain Jeffrey Little, a 22 year veteran, who is represented by the anti-LGBTQ+ law firm, Thomas More Society, is alleging that Little’s refusal to raise the ‘Progress Pride Flag’ which he claims has led to threats of his dismissal, is a form of religious discrimination.

According to the suit, the Fire Department is violating Little’s rights under the First Amendment, federal, and state law. “Little’s sincere and deeply held religious beliefs prohibit his participation in raising the Progress Pride Flag. For that, he has suffered religious discrimination, harassment, and retaliation at the hands of the Los Angeles County Fire Department,” his attorney’s claim.

In March 2023, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution requiring that all county-operated facilities fly the Progress Pride Flag during the month of June. According to Little’s attorneys, in June 2023, Little requested a religious accommodation that would exempt him from personally participating in the required raising of the Progress Pride Flag in accordance with the county board’s resolution. On June 19, 2023, the Los Angeles County Fire Department initially granted Little’s request and promised him that he would neither have to raise the Progress Pride Flag himself, nor personally ensure that the flag is raised at his station. Little’s religious accommodation was rescinded two days later on June 21, 2023.

According to Little’s attorneys, almost immediately after the accommodation was revoked, Los Angeles County Fire Department personnel engaged in illegal retaliation and harassment against Little. His supervising officers—particularly Little’s division and section chiefs—ordered him to raise the Progress Pride Flag. In issuing a direct order to Little on June 22, 2023, Division Chief Fernando Boiteux told him, “You are an LA County employee, that’s the only thing that matters,” and, “Your religious beliefs do not matter.”

In the suit it states that Little was subsequently removed from his Fire Department role on the background investigation unit.

The suit also alleges the LACFD-LGD then revealed to unauthorized persons that Little had requested a religious accommodation. Following that disclosure, Little received a death threat that also targeted his daughters.

In a statement, Paul Jonna, Thomas More Society Special Counsel and Partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP, said:

Captain Jeffrey Little is an upstanding American, a devout Christian father, and a public servant who has honorably served the Los Angeles County Fire Department for over 22 years. He courageously stood on principle and asked for a simple religious accommodation—which he is rightfully and legally due—only to be first denied, then threatened, harassed, discriminated and retaliated against for his widely shared Christian religious beliefs. In our great country, Americans can’t even be forced to salute the American flag as a condition of government employment. Yet, in this case, the L.A. County Fire Department seeks to force Captain Little to personally raise the Progress Pride Flag in violation of his sincere and deeply held religious beliefs—or face termination. The L.A. County Fire Department’s actions are not only deeply un-American, but also flagrantly illegal. We’ve filed this federal lawsuit to vindicate Captain Little’s religious liberty rights and to firmly establish that this sort of blatant religious discrimination has no place in our public life.”

A spokesperson for the L.A. County Fire Department, which oversees lifeguards, said the department cannot comment on personnel issues or any ongoing litigation.

“Flying the Progress Pride flag is an important act of inclusion and belonging. It affirms that in Los Angeles County, our LGBTQ+ community is welcomed and supported,” Supervisor and Chair of the County Board of Supervisors Lindsey P. Horvath said in an emailed statement to the Blade.

“To our LGBTQ+ community, including those who are part of our Fire Department, you are never alone. We will fly the Progress Pride flag proudly all June,” Horvath added.

Read the lawsuit filing here: (Link)

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Southern California

Triple A: Finally, some SoCal cities drop below $5 a gallon

The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $5.09, which is six cents lower than a week ago

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Triple A Auto Club/Los Angeles Blade

LOS ANGELES – Six straight weeks of price drops at Southern California gas stations have pushed average prices below $5 a gallon in a few cities, according to the Auto Club’s Weekend Gas Watch. The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $5.09, which is six cents lower than a week ago. The average national price is $3.56, which is four cents lower than a week ago.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $5.05 per gallon, which is six cents less than last week and 12 cents higher than last year. In San Diego, the average price is $5.07, which is six cents lower than last week and 17 cents higher than this time last year.

On the Central Coast, the average price is $5.10, which is six cents lower than last week and 21 cents higher than last year. In Riverside, the average per-gallon price is $4.96, which is six cents lower than last week and 13 cents higher than a year ago. In Bakersfield, the $5.12 average price is five cents less than last week and 29 cents higher than a year ago today.

“Oil Price Information Service reports that wholesale Los Angeles gasoline prices are continuing to drop because of increased availability of imported gasoline and reportedly lower levels of demand compared to last year,” said Auto Club Spokesperson Doug Shupe. “Those factors should help pump price drops to continue for now.”

The Weekend Gas Watch monitors the average price of gasoline. As of 9 a.m. on May 30, averages are:

socal blue gas chart May 30

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The White House

US sanctions Uganda parliament speaker

Anita Among slams ‘politically motivated’ decision

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Uganda Parliament Speaker Anita Among (Screen capture via UBC Television Uganda YouTube)

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Thursday announced sanctions Ugandan Parliament Speaker Anita Among and other officials for “significant corruption or gross violations of human rights.”

State Department spokesperson Matt Miller in a press release notes Among “is designated due to involvement in significant corruption tied to her leadership of Uganda’s Parliament.” The press release further indicates the U.S. has sanctioned former Karamoja Affairs Minister Mary Goretti Kitutu, former Karamoja State Affairs Minister Agnes Nandutu, and former State Finance Minister Amos Lugolobi “due to their involvement in significant corruption related to conduct that misused public resources and diverted materials from Uganda’s neediest communities.”  

“All four officials abused their public positions for their personal benefit at the expense of Ugandans,” said Miller.

The press release also notes the U.S. has sanctioned Peter Elwelu, the former deputy chief of the Ugandan Peoples’ Defense Forces, because of “his involvement in gross violations of human rights” that include extrajudicial killings.

“As a result of these actions, the designated Ugandan officials are generally ineligible for entry into the United States,” said Miller.

Miller said the State Department is “also taking steps to impose visa restrictions on multiple other Ugandan officials for undermining the democratic process and repressing members of marginalized or vulnerable populations in Uganda.” 

“These individuals are responsible for, or complicit in, the repression of Ugandan members of political opposition groups, civil society organizers, and vulnerable communities in Uganda,” he said.

Wednesday marked a year since Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. has previously sanctioned Ugandan officials and removed the country from a duty-free trade program. A group of Ugandan LGBTQ+ activists have appealed April’s Constitutional Court ruling that refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.”

The State Department press release does not specifically mention the Anti-Homosexuality Act, and the Washington Blade has reached out for additional comment. The press release does, however, say the U.S. “stands with Ugandans advocating for democratic principles, a government that delivers for all its citizens, and accountability for actions committed by those who abuse their position through corruption and gross violations of human rights.” 

“Impunity allows corrupt officials to stay in power, slows the pace of development, facilitates crime, and causes unequal distribution of resources, which can affect underrepresented and underserved populations disproportionally,” reads the press release. “Today’s actions reaffirm the U.S. commitment to support transparency in Uganda’s democratic processes, counter corruption globally, and address the broader culture of impunity that prevents all Ugandans from enjoying their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The British government in April sanctioned Among, Kitutu, and Nandutu.

Ugandan media reports note Among has described the sanctions as “politically motivated” because she supports the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

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Maryland

A year after Safe Harbor in Maryland, TurnAround & sex trafficking

Perhaps the most striking thing about TurnAround is how large of an operation it is — how large of an operation it needs to be

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The staff at TurnAround Inc. in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo courtesy of TurnAround Inc.)

By CJ Higgins | BALTIMORE, Md. -In 2023, the law in Maryland dictated the following: If a child was discovered to be sex trafficked during a sting operation, they were to be arrested, handcuffed, and then incarcerated as a “child prostitute.” One survivor testified to Maryland lawmakers that after being trafficked throughout College Park from ages 12 to 15, it was their ‘rescue’ by law enforcement that was the most traumatizing part of their experience.

In 40 states and in federal law, the sex trafficking of minors was already understood to be a crime committed against children, and not a crime committed by children. When Gov. Wes Moore signed the Safe Harbor law on May 16th of last year, prohibiting the criminal prosecution of sex-trafficked minors, he brought Maryland out of a legal dark age.

How do things look in Maryland a year later? The Washington Blade got in touch with TurnAround Inc., headquartered in Baltimore, to find out. TurnAround is Maryland’s first provider of comprehensive services to survivors of sexual trafficking, Baltimore’s rape crisis center, and a support center for victims of intimate partner violence and sexual violence.

Perhaps the most striking thing about TurnAround is how large of an operation it is — how large of an operation it needs to be. The organization fielded more than 10,000 calls on their hotline in 2022, conducted almost 4,000 counseling sessions, and placed 337 clients in safe shelter: nearly one for every day of the year. But the staff at TurnAround is relieved to see these numbers so high. During the pandemic, there was a steep decrease in reports of sex trafficking. 

“[COVID] had a very chilling effect on the number of trafficking survivors that were getting access to services,” said Amanda Rodriguez, executive director of TurnAround. Many of the avenues through which cases were referred to TurnAround simply shut down. The hospitals were inundated with COVID cases, and so weren’t referring anyone; the schools were closed down, and so weren’t referring anyone; and State Attorney Marilyn Mosby stopped prosecuting low-level crimes, which had the unintended consequence of limiting the opportunities law enforcement had to identify youth at risk of trafficking.

In 2020, TurnAround moved into a new office in downtown Baltimore, and it is cavernous — half the floor of a skyscraper. When you walk in, you could mistake the headquarters for a dentist’s office for how calmly the front desk attendant answers the phone. A few lines here and there give away the seriousness of their work: “Is it OK for us to leave a voicemail?” Not every caller’s phone is a safe place.

The office is flanked by a hallway of therapists on one side of the building, who focus on the inner lives of their clients, and a hallway of advocates on the other side, who focus on their outer lives: support in court, government benefits, direct outreach on the streets of Baltimore. At the center are a host of services one would think spread across the whole of the city: a computer center, a clothing donation center, storage for the goods and products needed to survive while in shelter, a kitchen for group meals, and a place to wash and dry your clothes. But the most sobering part of the office is the play center full of toys, for the children that TurnAround serves. “We have clients as young as three years old,” said Jean Henningsen, senior director of strategic initiatives. Some of these children come in as the dependents of adult survivors, but they are sometimes the victims of sexual violence themselves.

“When we were creating Safe Harbor, we looked to see how many kids had been arrested and charged by law enforcement in every county in the state,” Amanda said. “Baltimore City had the highest number at the time. This has changed since then, and is actually getting much better.” The majority of these trafficked kids were trans girls living in the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore — a situation that would surprise many Baltimore residents. Charles Village has a reputation for being one of the safest neighborhoods in the city. It is the neighborhood of Johns Hopkins University, which has, in an effort to assuage the concerned parents of its undergraduates, stationed security officers on many of the surrounding street corners. Despite criticism, the university recently partnered with the Baltimore Police Department to create its own police force, and has started recruiting and training officers as of this spring.

“It’s historically been a safer neighborhood for the LGBTQ community in general,” Amanda said. “I don’t know what spurred more nefarious individuals coming in and exploiting people, other than opportunity. Traffickers are just such master manipulators. They will figure out for anybody what their vulnerability is.” But these nefarious individuals are not part of some transnational crime organization. They are sometimes trans women themselves, trafficking these girls to serve their own needs in the home. Often rejected by their families and in search of community,  trans girls find this community among other trans women, and then get manipulated into sexual service.

The procedure for dealing with suspected child sex trafficking in Maryland begins with what are called “Regional Navigators,” a role established by the Child Sex Trafficking Screening and Services Act of 2019. Law enforcement agents and local departments of Social Services will notify the county’s Regional Navigator of a suspected trafficking case, and then this Regional Navigator will put together a Multi-Disciplinary Team, or MDT. The MDT consists of all agents and departments that are involved in or have some stake in the case, including Child Protective Services, Juvenile Services, law enforcement, therapists, and schools. These stakeholders will compare notes on what the youth has told them, since they will often have provided different agents and departments with competing descriptions of what’s going on. 

While the MDT procedure is highly effective for inter-departmental coordination on a given case, Stephanie Gonzalez, the Acting Regional Navigator for Howard County, explained that the system has some way to go when it comes to LGBTQ youth. “When we get referrals in general, a lot of times, it’s not mentioned how they identify,” she said. As a consequence, their data on how many LGBTQ youth are being trafficked isn’t always accurate, and these youth sometimes aren’t being handled in ways consonant with their sexual or gender identity. And even when these youth are appropriately identified, they aren’t always able to access the appropriate resources.

“We had a transgender female come to us from another state, and she had been trafficked,” Stephanie said. “We had her in a hotel while we looked for other housing options. We could not find trans-friendly housing options.” The women’s shelters they approached didn’t have the requisite training or resources. They would ask insensitive and irrelevant questions about any surgeries the girl had undergone as part of her transition, or require that she be isolated from other women for their safety. “Why are they trying to make it seem like I’m going to hurt someone,” she would ask.

But that situation is changing. TurnAround has partnered with the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County to open up a safe house with the resources needed to support any child survivor of sex trafficking. “It’s built!” Jean said. “TurnAround will be staffing it and running it 24/7. Right now there are no children in the facility. We’re still waiting on the final licensing paperwork from the state.”

The project is expensive, with an estimated running cost of $1.5 million each year. TurnAround has partnered with Femi Ayanbadejo, a former Super Bowl winner with the Baltimore Ravens, to help coordinate fundraising. Ayanbadejo advocates for TurnAround with a deep enthusiasm—hearing him talk on the work they do, it could easily be a field-side interview in the final quarter of a game. “If we can reach five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty thousand people that we wouldn’t have with [the Blade’s] reach, maybe there’s one or two foundations that would give five, ten, a hundred, a thousand, maybe a million dollars. Who knows?”

To learn more about TurnAround’s work, visit their website at turnaroundinc.org. If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual violence, TurnAround has offices in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Howard County. All three offices can be reached via 410-377-8111.

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CJ Higgins by Sam Jeong

CJ Higgins is a postdoctoral fellow with the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

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Arizona

Trying to avoid LGBTQ+ issues, schools denying basic sex-ed

Superintendents pointed to anti-LGBTQ+ culture wars and fear of repercussions as reasons why kids are not being taught sex-ed

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Los Angeles Blade/NJ Gov. file photo

By Shelby Rae Wills/LOOKOUT | PHOENIX, Ariz. – A LOOKOUT investigation shows that tens of thousands of youth attending the state’s public schools are not receiving nationally recommended sexual education studies, specifically in regards to gender, sexuality, and consent. Educators have used the heated politics around LGBTQ+ issues as an excuse for denying students the curriculum.

Out of 18 public school districts across Arizona in rural, suburban, and urban areas that LOOKOUT analyzed, eight districts—representing at least 37,000 school-aged children in suburban and rural parts of the state—responded and said they do not offer any kind of sex education, currently.

Those districts are: Duncan, Heber-Overgaard, Gila Bend, Ganado, Parker, Nogales, Kingman and Scottsdale.

The number of students not receiving proper sex education illustrates the effect of how schools are grappling with the politics of the time, and failing to give youth lessons about their bodies and prevent disease.

But even in urban areas where sex education is offered, such as parts of Maricopa and Pima counties, instead of offering the courses themselves, schools have turned to third-party groups to provide the education. But advocates and experts interviewed said that discussions have been limited because of both state regulations and school districts’ fears of finding themselves the focus of far-right critics who have provoked harassment of employees at school board meetings or on school grounds.

As a result, queer students—which some estimates list Arizona’s LGBTQ+ youth population at 44,000, including as many as 20,000 trans and nonbinary people under 24 years old in the state—are most at risk.

“Arizona sex education needs to change because sexual health disparities are pretty grave in our state,” said Courtney Waters, an assistant research professor at the University of Arizona. “Sexual health outcomes are bad across the state for youth, but we see it specifically among LGBTQ+ youth.”

What we found

There are 261 school districts in Arizona, ranging from the most populous, Mesa Public Schools, to the Young Public School District that serves roughly 50 students a year.

Districts that choose to teach sexual education have to go through a bureaucratic process that involves district meetings, public forums, parental guidance, and administrative oversight. LOOKOUT reported this year that those processes are marred with confusion and allows districts to forgo teaching sex education if they believe the “community interest” doesn’t align.

The result is tens of thousands of students who aren’t educated on preventative sexual health tools while HIV, syphilis, and unintended pregnancy rates locally continue to rise above the national average. LGBTQ+ students, specifically, are also more at risk of unintended pregnancySTI transmission, and domestic abuse.

Of the schools LOOKOUT found that teach sex education, not all of them offer inclusive or comprehensive sexual health studies. Instead, they only focus on puberty and body changes, along with STI education without a focus on prevention or treatment.

Educational and youth organizations that focus on LGBTQ+ students have pointed to the state’s repeal of its “No Promo Homo” law, which catapulted a local conservative movement to restrict how students could learn about sexual health.

Arizona’s law—which was similar to Florida’s current law that advocates refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill—was repealed with bipartisan support in 2019. But far-right lawmakers and lobbying groups successfully pushed for stricter scrutiny of what could be taught in schools in regards to sexual material, including in biology and health classes.

Nate Rhoton, CEO of the LGBTQ+ youth advocacy nonprofit One∙n∙Ten, said that since the law’s repeal school districts haven’t been equipped to handle what he called “the storm or frenzy” from “‘concerned parents’ about teaching affirming and inclusive sexual health education.”

As a result, he said, school districts have “walked away” from providing classes.

In an example, Parker Unified School District, which is located just south of Lake Havasu City, decided not to offer sex education in the past because they didn’t have a certified health teacher to lead the class.

“Instead of trusting that information to a substitute teacher just off the street, we did not do it,” according to Superintendent Brad Sale.

By simply ignoring our community through education, you’re doing a lot more harm to all students. – Nate Rhoton, CEO of One∙n∙Ten

But more recently, conservative arguments around gender, sex, and LGBTQ+ youth have chilled any movement on offering a curriculum, Sale said: “That was several years ago, and because of the political climate with that, we as a district have decided not to offer it.”

Southern Arizona sex educator Hannah Woelke explained that this is a common refrain: “Everyone knows it’s a problem. Parents know, teachers know,” Woelke said. “But nobody has the stomach to really do anything about it because it’s such a fight.”

An Arizona problem

Maricopa County has a higher incidence rate of sexually transmitted infections compared to the nation by more than 30%, according to the Arizona Department of Healthcare Service’s online data portal.

And younger people in the region are most at risk. Data from the portal showed STI cases are most common for Arizona women aged 15-24 (including trans women) and men aged 20-29 (including trans men).

The same pattern appears in rural areas such as Navajo County, where LOOKOUT identified at least one school district without a sex education curriculum. Residents there had a 37.6% higher STI rate than the state average. Most new STI cases among residents were those aged 15-24, according to the state health department.

People living there also experience a 65% higher rate of unintended pregnancies among youth than the national average, according to research from Making Action Possible by the University of Arizona.

Arizona also has the sixth highest rates of contracting syphilis in the country according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2022 breakdown.

Public health experts interviewed said that many of the problems the state faces with youth and sexually transmitted disease as well as unintended pregnancies could be solved in part by proper education in schools. But since the state pushes those decisions to local school districts, they said, the end result is a patchwork of classes and curriculum that is determined by the social politics of an area.

In a state report, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States said that Arizona’s “local control over sex education presents unique challenges that have resulted in a glaring disparity regarding the quality of sex education that students receive.”

SIECUS said that Arizona’s policy of ceding sex education from the state also “allows for the implementation of policies and curriculum that stigmatize marginalized youth, such as students of color and LGBTQ youth.”

Rural school districts such as in Duncan and Parker and larger districts in Scottsdale and Nogales have gone since at least 2015 without letting students and families opt in to sex education.

Superintendents listed reasons such as lack of interest from the community in offering sex ed, but went on to list secondary reasons such as navigating the changing laws and the desire to avoid additional stress to teachers’ workload amid a teaching shortage and pressure to shut down discussions on gender and sexuality.

And in the process of avoiding LGBTQ+ topics, the result is all students being left behind, Rhoton with One∙n∙Ten said: “By simply ignoring our community through education, you’re doing a lot more harm to all students.”

Who’s helping?

In metropolitan areas, there are organizations that try to fill gaps in the state’s health education.

In the Phoenix area, One∙n∙Ten offers monthly sexual health classes for LGBTQ+ youth and their families called “SexFYI.” The program divides people up between older teens and young adults between 18 and 24 years old to discuss consent, gender identity, internet safety, and building healthy relationships.

SexFYI is run in partnership with Affirm—formerly Arizona Family Health Partnership—and the Maricopa County Health Department. It’s only offered outside of schools.

In Pima and Maricopa counties, the Southwest Institute for Research on Women collaborates with Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation and El Rio Health to offer a program called “Spectrum+.” The program’s website claims it offers “culturally-driven comprehensive sexuality education,” including topics on HIV, hepatitis C, substance use, and LGBTQ+ care.

Those programs are also offered outside of schools.

SIROW Assistant Research Professor Courtney Waters explained that these programs often exist outside of a school setting because, “there’s a lot of rules at the public schools about having sex education. The legislation is rather unclear and there’s just a lot of fear around what they can and can’t do.”

“Education is such a key piece of reducing those disparities and our state has had really conservative rules around sex ed for decades and it doesn’t really seem to be serving anyone,” Waters said. “We see much better outcomes in other states that have more inclusive and comprehensive sex ed.”

SIROW receives $500,000 annually for five years from a federal grant by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They work alongside groups such as the Family Pride Initiative, which also received a $425,000 federal grant from the same agency to offer counseling to queer youth, education on LGBTQ+ health, and train caregivers outside of schools.

Within schools, though, Arizona Youth Partnership has provided sex and relationship education in the state for three decades. Last year over 3,000 students participated in two of their programs aimed at healthy relationships or sexual violence.

But just because those programs exist inside school districts does not necessarily mean that youth are given the best tools for understanding their bodies, especially LGBTQ+ students.

Development and Communications Director at Arizona Youth Project Jetzabel Ramos said that getting schools to partner with them has been made more difficult after the pandemic and with the rise of the parental rights movement.

And Division Director Sara Sherman said state regulations bar them from discussing same-sex relationships in the classroom or answering questions about same-sex relationships if they arise: “We can tell them to go to a trusted adult, but not all students have a trusted adult in their life.”

These restrictions, sources said, have raised concerns that in the absence of evidence-based, medically accurate, inclusive sex education children have turned to the internet for information.

Sherman said she has seen this play out in the classroom, “When we read these questions that we’re getting from students, it’s shocking the misinformation that they’re getting from the digital space.”

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Shelby Rae Wills/LOOKOUT

Shelby Rae Wills moved to Phoenix in 2022 to pursue their Master’s degree in Investigative Journalism. They taught English in California and in Eastern Europe through the Peace Corps.

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This article was originally published by LOOKOUT, a nonprofit queer-focused news organization covering Arizona’s LGBTQ+ communities. Sign up for their free newsletter. Republished from the Arizona Mirror with permission.

The Arizona Mirror is amplifying the voices of Arizonans whose stories are unheard; shining a light on the relationships between people, power and policy; and holding public officials to account.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Politics

Anti-trans Democrat loses Texas primary to queer woman

Incumbent Democrat Shawn Thierry, who cast a vote to ban gender affirming care in Texas, lost to Lauren Ashley Simmons, a queer woman

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Shawn Thierry, from a public feed, Texas House of Representatives & Lauren Ashley Simmons, LGBTQ+ victory fund

By Erin Reed | HOUSTON, Texas – Houston Democratic Texas House of Representatives incumbent Shawn Thierry was trounced in a primary runoff election on Tuesday.

Thierry was one of only a handful of Democrats across the country who broke ranks with her party and voted for a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, delivering a lengthy and misinformation-filled speech in doing so.

After her anti-trans vote, queer union organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons stepped forward to unseat her, earning dozens of influential endorsements from party leaders and organizations. On Tuesday night, Simmons left no doubt about her victory: she resoundingly won 65%-35%.

On May 12, Representative Thierry voted to pass a gender-affirming care ban for transgender youth, an exceedingly rare vote for a Democrat. In doing so, she spoke on the House floor, calling transgender girls “biological males” and arguing that conversion therapy was the true solution to gender dysphoria.

She also voted against every amendment intended to mitigate the harm the bill would cause transgender youth in the state. This led to a vote to censure Thierry by the Meyerland Area Democrats, who reported feeling betrayed by her earlier assurances that she was an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.

Thierry’s district, the 146th District of the Texas House of Representatives, is not a swing district. It includes predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Houston that tend to vote heavily Democratic. Previously, Thierry had beaten a Libertarian candidate 87%-13%, with no Republican running in the race. Thus, whoever wins the Democratic primary in the district is likely to represent the district in the Texas House of Representatives.

Enter Lauren Ashley Simmons, a queer union organizer who ran in opposition to Thierry’s anti-LGBTQ+ votes and activism. In her announcement that she would be challenging Representative Thierry in the primary, Simmons stated, “Our current representative has lost her way and now votes with Greg Abbott and Republicans to take away our rights, destroy our public schools, and hurt our kids.”

Simmons quickly garnered major endorsements, an uncommon feat for a primary challenger to an incumbent politician. Equality Texas, Victory Fund, and LPAC, all significant LGBTQ+ organizations, endorsed her.

She also secured major union endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Additional support came from Planned Parenthood, Harris County Young Democrats, and Run for Something. High-profile congressional endorsements included Congresswomen Jasmine Crockett and Lizzie Fletcher, as well as former Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

In the lead-up to the election, which was quickly becoming a referendum on whether anti-transgender politics could gain a foothold in the Democratic Party, Thierry did not tone down her anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. She participated in “faith walks” with major local churches supportive of her stance and relied heavily on Republican donations.

When asked about her anti-trans votes, she called gender-affirming care “Black genocide.” Thierry’s statements were decried by major community members, including Diamond Stylz Collier, who leads the Texas nonprofit Black Trans Women Inc. Collier called the comments disgusting, stating, “We have an increase of trans people dying of violence around the country and a real-life genocide happening in other parts of the globe.”

As votes poured in on Tuesday evening, it became clear that Simmons would be the victor. She secured a decisive majority, with the district voting 65-35 in her favor over Thierry. Reflecting on her victory, Simmons stated, “Thanks to your amazing support, we all won BIG last night! We are so grateful, and so proud of the strong message this decisive victory sends to those who seek political gain by using bigotry, hatred, and fear: STOP. Thank you!”

Increasingly, anti-trans influencers are attempting to make inroads into left-leaning politics, a strategy that has seen mixed results internationally. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the Labour Party has been notoriously poor on transgender rights.

In the United States, however, these efforts have met with far less success. Just yesterday in California, an attempt to place a gender-affirming care ban on the ballot was defeated. Similarly, in most states, Democrats have remained steadfast against anti-transgender legislation. Now, even in a conservative state like Texas, it is evident that there is little appetite within the party for sacrificing transgender rights, and doing so could jeopardize one’s political career.

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

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Latin America

Latin America elections challenges, opportunities for LGBTQ people

Activists throughout the region agree the elections offer a crucial opportunity to advance the inclusion and protection of LGBTQ+ rights

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Richelle Briceño was a candidate for the Venezuelan National Assembly in the country's last elections. (Photo courtesy of Richelle Briceño)

By Esteban Rioseco | CARACAS, Venezuela – Activists throughout the region agree the elections offer a crucial opportunity to advance the inclusion and protection of the rights of their community amid far-right advances.

Venezuela’s presidential election will take place on July 28, while Brazil’s municipal elections will happen on Oct. 6. Regional and municipal elections will take place in Chile on Oct. 27. Uruguay’s congressional elections are slated to occur on the same day.

María José Cumplido, executive director of Fundación Iguales in Chile, emphasized the importance of having LGBTQ representation in politics. 

“It is fundamental because LGBTQ+ people tend to support laws or public policies aimed at protecting the community,” Cumplido told the Washington Blade. “In that sense, it is important that the voices of these people are heard because, obviously, they know the reality more closely and many times they have lived it.” 

Cumplido noted “LGBTQ+ representation has grown notoriously in recent years, so much so that today there is an LGBTQ+ caucus in Congress.” 

“That is good news,” said Cumplido.

Ignacia Oyarzún, president of Organizado Trans Diversidades (Organizing Trans Diversities or OTD), also from Chile, highlighted the observation and registration work the Trans Voting Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean has done. Oyarzún also noted the promotion of transgender candidates as a way to combat misinformation a promote respect for the community’s political rights.

“We monitor the situation of the political rights of our communities in the region and establish guidelines through which we encourage respect for the right to elect representatives and to be elected,” said Oyarzún. “We also maintain initiatives that have to do with the dissemination of trans candidacies and news that go against the disinformation established through false news that have begun to circulate through the various social and political media.”

Collette Spinetti, president of the Colectivo Trans del Uruguay, pointed out the challenges faced by LGBTQ people in politics, especially trans people.

“The biggest challenge is to achieve trustworthiness especially towards gender-dissident people in their ability to be able to hold public office,” said Spinetti.

Professor Collete Spinetti has dedicated many years of her life to improving living conditions for LGBTQ people in Uruguay (Photo courtesy of Collete Spinetti)

“In Uruguay politics is still quite macho, especially in the so-called traditional and right-wing parties where there is no political representation of members of the LGBTIQ+ community,” Spinetti further explained. “On the left, although there is, thanks to internal work, female representation, there is still a lack of work.”

“In this sense the scarce LGBTIQ+ representation is present through gay men,” added Spinetti. “There is still no representation of publicly lesbian people and only one representation in the interior of the country of a trans woman.” 

In Brazil, Keila Simpson, president of Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals or ANTRA), highlighted the diversity of LGBTQ representation in the country’s politics. Simpson nevertheless recognized the importance of mandates that go beyond identity and address a wide range of issues that benefit the entire community.

“The challenges for LGBTQIA people when it comes to applying for positions in Brazil are many,” she said. “The first one is the way Brazilian society sees this stigmatized and completely stereotyped population. If we think about the trans population, this violence is even greater, since in addition to being smaller in number, the discrimination is even greater because this population is commonly associated with eroticism and hypersexualization of their bodies, and these are the main problems these people face. they are associated when they run for prominent positions or leaders, even in the partisan political arena.” 

Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (ANTRA) President Keila Simpson at her office in Salvador, Brazil, on March 16, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

In Venezuela, Richelle Briceño, a trans woman and former congressional candidate, on the other hand, lamented the lack of presidential candidacies that explicitly defend LGBTQ rights. She noted the country still faces fundamental challenges that prevent a serious debate on these issues.

“There are candidates who have expressed themselves against non-discrimination, but that’s as far as it goes,” Briceño recounted. “There are no specific candidates that I can tell you who even handle what the definition of the word queer is and how it is understood, let’s say, within LGBTQ+ activism.”

Briceño said María Corina Machado, an opposition leader who President Nicolás Maduro’s government has barred from running for office, has “come out in favor of issues such as equal civil marriage and the issue of recognition of trans identities.” Briceño noted to the Blade that Edmundo González Urrutia, who is running as her surrogate, did not meet with LGBTQ activists until last week.

“These activists exposed their points of view, however, the current candidate leading the polls has not made a public statement regarding his position or what his position will be on the issues of LGBT rights in Venezuela,” said Briceño.

Briceño further stressed that Venezuela “is still in a cave.” 

“Here the country is in the basics, the country is in not losing electricity, in having water and in seeing how people eat daily,” she said. “The political and economic crisis that we have lived through for two decades, and with more depth in the last decade, has not allowed for a serious debate on the issues of the 21st century, including the rights of sexual diversity populations or the LGBT population and women”.

José Rodríguez, a Venezuelan psychologist who, like many of his compatriots had to leave his country, said that “as a young Venezuelan exiled in Chile for eight years, today I feel the tranquility of living in a society where a governmental interest in the welfare of my community is appreciated, expressed by a legal framework that although it could be better; compared to the overwhelming setbacks that have occurred in recent weeks in neighboring countries and the constant lethargy of Venezuela in terms of advancing the LGBTQIA+ agenda, is deeply painful and worrying.”

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Photo Credit: Movilh

Esteban Rioseco is a Chilean digital communicator, LGBT rights activist and politician. He was spokesperson and executive president of the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement (Movilh). He is currently a Latin American correspondent for the Washington Blade.

On Oct. 22, 2015, together with Vicente Medel, he celebrated the first gay civil union in Chile in the province of Concepción.

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