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Amtrak gay mystery deepens as more deaths, injuries revealed

“They tried to blame it on suicide, just like with Aaron,” says one mom

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Gay university student Aaron Salazar appears not to be the first to receive mysterious injuries while traveling on an Amtrak train. Passengers around the U.S. have gone missing or have been found injured or dead under incongruous circumstances while riding Amtrak.

Salazar, 22, a passage on Amtrak’s California  Zephyr Express, was found severely injured and in critical condition May 15 on the railroad tracks in Truckee CA. He’s unconscious and in stable condition in a hospital in Reno, Nevada. Since his story was first reportedSalazar’s cousin Sonja Trujillo helped uncover a number of similar cases in which passengers received unexplained injuries, some causing death, on or near Amtrak trains, or passengers inexplicably exiting trains.

One of those cases, possibly a murder, occurred somewhere just outside of Elko, Nevada in July, 2012 from a train traveling  from Emeryville, Calif. to Colorado. A 26-year old junior, Robin Putnam, who was attending the California College of Arts in Oakland, was headed to Colorado to see his parents but never arrived.

“Robin had taken the Amtrak line many times, but we had not realized how unsafe it was,” said Cindy Putnam, Robin’s mother, in a phone interview May 25. “He didn’t get off the train and we were approached by a conductor of the train and a woman. The conductor asked if we were looking for Robin Putnam.”

The conductor said Putnam had gotten off the train in Salt Lake City at about 3 a.m., which was unlike him, the mother said. Putnam’s laptop and journal were found on the train but his duffle bag and backpack were never located.

“It made no sense,” Putnam said.

Salt Lake City police claimed the student had never arrived there. Putnam’s remains were found in Elko County, Nevada nearly three years later.

“The reason it took so long for his remains to be found was because they were in a wash,” Putnam said. “He was underwater for three years, his body only being exposed because of a drought.”

The conductor said he paged Robin somewhere east of Winnemucca and before the Utah border, saying that he had found Robin’s laptop in the lounge car. However, he could not locate the young man on the train.

“[Amtrak officials] believe he was robbed and thrown from the train. A gentleman who rode the train with Robin described him as bright, classy, and spiritual to the police. He was coming home to work for his dad,” Putnam said.

“His wallet ended up at the end of the line in Chicago,” she explained. “He always had his wallet in his back pocket, but he was broke.”

Putnam said the remains found in Elko raised more questions than answers.

“Elko County Sheriff assured us an autopsy wasn’t possible,” Putnam said. “In his pockets were his debit card, a BART ticket, lip balm, and a dollar in change, all of which he stepped on the train with.”

Aaron Salazar was traveling on Amtrak when he was critically injured. (Photo courtesy Salazar family via Facebook)

Similar to Salazar’s case, Putnam said that Amtrak was uncooperative and unresponsive to the family’s pleas for information.

“We asked to see the videotape because there is a camera at the train station (in Salt Lake City), and they never allowed us to see it,” she said of Amtrak. “An FBI agent did see the tape and told us he did not get off in Salt Lake City.”

The family resorted to other means to get information.

“It took us filing Freedom of Information Act requests to get any information out of Amtrak,” she said.

Amtrak classified Robin Putnam in a report as a “missing passenger / victim,” she added. “We were lied to by Amtrak and this was a cover up from the very beginning. We never got his backpack and duffle bag.”

Putnam said Amtrak never provided the family with the passenger list, despite repeated requests.

When told about Salazar, Putnam said, “They tried to blame it on suicide, just like with Aaron. We originally thought it might be a hate crime. Robin’s not gay but he was of slight build, he wasn’t a big guy. He was well manicured and soft-spoken. He was a very classy guy. He looked like he was from a wealthy family.”

The cause of death officially remains a mystery. The family is still seeking answers after six years.

Another unsolved death on an Amtrak train in Sept. 2016 frustrated Denver, Colorado’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. James Caruso.

Marina Placencia, 28, was found dead inside a California Zephyr Amtrak train car with “a large number of contusions, bruises, 10 broken ribs and bleeding in her stomach,” Caruso told Fox 31 Denver.

Placencia was a domestic violence victim, allegedly receiving beatings 48 hours before her death, Fox 31 reported.

According to witnesses and the limited public records available, Placencia bought an Amtrak ticket and traveled alive from Milwaukee through Chicago, then to Denver.

Tickets show Placencia had her four children were with her on the passenger train.

As police were still investigating, Caruso continued to question the case, even after the “undetermined” ruling of her death.

“There’s all kinds of red flags in the history here,” Caruso said. “We knew that going in. We’d like nothing more than to come up with another manner of death in this case.”

Because none of the bruises, contusions or broken bones were likely fatal, Caruso decided to leave the cause of death as “unknown.”

“The Denver Medical Examiner documented dozens of injuries to Placensia, including ten broken ribs and bleeding between the skull and brain,” Fox 31 reported. “However, after much deliberation, decided none of the injuries on their own, would have killed her.”

Two years after her death, the family is still seeking answers. Family members described trying to get answers from Amtrak as maddening.

In 2012, a retired firefighter, Charlie Dowd, 69 of San Mateo, California was traveling on an Amtrak California Zephyr when he went missing between Denver and Chicago.  His death was also mysterious, but his family believes he may have accidentally fallen from the train  in Nebraska.

Andrew Haukereid, 79, was found dead near train tracks  in Arkansas in 2015. Haukereid was traveling from San Antonio, Texas to Chicago. His family sued Amtrak for answers into his death, but lost the case. The Eighth Circuit Court of appeals indicated Haukererid’s death was likely an accident.

Barbara Arteta’s body was also found near rail tracks, this time in Georgia. Arteta, 63, was reported missing in 2012. Her body was found in Jesup, Georgia. She was traveling on Amtrak with her husband and disappeared while her husband was sleeping. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that her death was ruled as an accident but questions remain as to how she got out of the train.

Pilar Logan, 57, from Ventura, California, was found dead in Massachusetts in 2015.  Logan was traveling on Amtrak from Albany, New York to Boston. Her death was ruled an accident after her body was found by the train tracks.

An unidentified woman was found seriously injured mysteriously alongside the tracks in rural Iron County, Missouri in 2014. St. Louis’ Fox 2 Now reported:  “Investigators said that Amtrak personnel did find a step stool in front of an open window on the train and that they believe she may have climbed up the ladder and jumped.  But people in Annapolis are skeptical. How does an elderly woman, who already had a bad hip, climb up and out a window on a train that is moving at nearly 50 mph? That`s one of many questions that still must be answered.”

These deaths, as in Aaron Salazar’s case, have raised numerous questions that Amtrak does not appear willing or able to answer.

California congressional representatives have been alerted to this developing story.

Picture of Robin Putnam courtesy of the Putnam family.

Reporting by Bob Conrad, Editor & Publisher of ThisIsReno, and the staff of the Los Angeles Blade.

 

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Congress

House ethics complaint filed over GOP staffer’s anti-trans email

“You’re disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t email me or anyone from my office ever again!” 

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Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), in 2012. (Screenshot/YouTube San Diego City Beat)

WASHINGTON — A federal government employee has filed a complaint to the U.S. House Ethics Committee over an email they received from Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), which contained combative and anti-trans language. 

The Washington Blade has seen the correspondence between the parties, in which the confrontation was apparently kicked off when the congresswoman’s top aide received an email that included the sender’s preferred pronouns in the signature box, triggering his reply.

Donnellan wrote, “As a father, it is disgusting that anyone would ever tell my son or daughter that something is wrong with them and they should take sterilizing hormones or have surgery to cut off their genitals.”  

“The fact that you support that ideology by putting pronouns in your signature is awful,” he said, adding, “You’re disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t email me or anyone from my office ever again.” 

A senior government official told the Blade in a written statement that the email was not out of character for Donnellan:

 “I’ve heard from two colleagues several months apart about two separate transphobic emails, using identical language, from Matthew. Unfortunately these emails—though inconsistent with the typical collegiality one would expect from a Chief of Staff on the Hill—is likely a reflection of both increased partisanship on the Hill and a rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from the right.

“Not only is this virtual, hate-filled temper tantrum unbecoming of a Chief of Staff, inappropriate, and unprofessional, it also hurts his boss’s constituents. DC is built on congressional staff, members of Congress, and executive officials being able to put aside their differences to find unlikely areas of commonality where they can work together. 

“Even some of the most progressive members, like [U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Jerry Nadler (N.Y.)] have partnered with some of the most conservative members, like [U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio)], respectively, when they can find common ground. 

“Matthew’s refusal to work with an agency department or office just because a staffer has pronouns in their signature isn’t just hateful—it means he’s cutting off opportunities to deliver results for his boss’s constituents, especially in a divided Washington.”

Donnellan told the Blade by email that his response to the government employee is “a reply I send to anyone who uses pronouns or pushes gender ideology in any way.” 

“No one is ‘born in the wrong body’ and it’s horrific to tell anyone that they need genital mutilation surgery or sterilizing drugs,” he said. “People who push gender ideology, actively or passively, are awful and should be confronted every single time.”

“If the blunt reality of the terrible things that they are pushing is offensive to them then they should strongly reconsider what it this they believe and the harm that they are doing rather than simply trying to conform to liberal luxury beliefs,” Donnellan said. 

Addressing the complaint filed against him, Donnellan said, “I haven’t heard anything from Ethics and doubt that I will, they generally don’t waste their time with sheltered progressives being forced into the real world for the first time.”

A House Ethics Committee spokesperson declined to comment when asked if they could confirm receipt of the complaint.

Asked whether Miller might object to the way that she and her Congressional office are represented with these confrontational email exchanges, Donnellan said his boss’s “motto is ‘cut the bull’, and gender ideology is some of the biggest bull there is.”   

On Friday, the congresswoman’s son Chris Miller placed third in the Republican primary contest for West Virginia’s gubernatorial race, where the state’s Attorney General Patrick Morrissey secured his party’s nomination in a decisive victory with 33 percent of the vote. 

Leading up to the election, trans issues had emerged as a dominant focal point as the GOP candidates squared off against each other, with Miller’s campaign attacking Morrissey with allegations that he had profited from “the trans agenda” and backed a drug company that “helps turn boys into girls” when working as a healthcare lobbyist in Washington.  

In one ad that was paid for by a super PAC chaired by his father, Miller said the pronouns used by Morrissey are “money-grubbing liberal,” an interesting charge to level at the conservative Republican attorney general of West Virginia (even notwithstanding the fact that those three words are not pronouns but, rather, nouns and verbs.)

Declaring preferred pronouns in workplace email signatures has become commonplace in both the public and private sector, whether for purposes of sending an affirming message to transgender and gender expansive employees and officers or to mitigate the chances that either they or their cisgender counterparts might be unintentionally misgendered. 

The Biden-Harris administration has pushed for agencies to adopt the practice along with other measures and policies to advance the rights and wellbeing of trans and gender expansive employees across the federal government. 

In a 2021 announcement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s issuance of updated guidance on the agency’s email signature block, Michael Watts, director of civil rights for the U.S. Forrest Service, noted that “There are plenty of gender-neutral names out there, or names from other cultures that might not give you enough information to know their gender.” 

While the inclusion of pronouns was not made mandatory at USDA, he urged employees to “strongly consider taking this small but important step toward supporting inclusiveness in the workplace.” 

“The use of pronouns in our email signatures and getting into the habit of including pronouns in our introductions doesn’t really cost us anything,” Watts added, arguing that the move constitutes “a meaningful exchange to others and makes it easier for people to be respectful in how they address each other.”

“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. 

Official guidance published by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which is responsible for administering policies across the U.S. federal civil service, stipulates that agencies should “take steps to provide the option for employees to include the pronouns they use in employee systems and profiles, including email signature blocks, employee directories and employee profiles.”

Some have gone further, such as by adding pronouns to email signatures for all employees, as the U.S. Department of State did in 2023, while others like USDA have established, as official policy, that “employees are encouraged to include their pronouns in the first line of their email signature block (e.g. he/him/his). Signature blocks are a simple and effective way for individuals to communicate their identified pronouns to colleagues, stakeholders, and customers.”

“For example,” the USDA writes, “adding pronouns to signature blocks also has the benefit of indicating to the recipient that you will respect their gender identity and choice of pronouns.”

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Congress

Bill to support LGBTQ+ seniors in rural areas reintroduced

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation & should be able to access services and care”

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U.S. Capitol Building (Photo Credit: Washington Blade/Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) reintroduced legislation to increase access to needed services and resources for LGBTQ+ seniors who live in rural areas this week.

The Elder Pride Act would bolster the capacity and ability of Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) located in rural communities to better serve and support LGBTQ+ seniors who often require affirming care, services, and supports that are often underfunded and scarce in many parts of the country.

Recent surveys show that between 2.9 million and 3.8 million LGBTQ+ people live in rural American communities.

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation, including rural areas. We all deserve to be able to age in our communities with the services and supports we need to remain independent,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in the press release announcing the reintroduction of the legislation. “We commend Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) on reintroducing the Elder Pride Act. And we honor the contributions of our many LGBTQ+ trailblazers whose tireless advocacy allowed us to reintroduce this critical bill. We look forward to working alongside Reps. Bonamici, Pocan, and Davids, and our LGBTQ+ pioneers nationwide to pass this legislation.”

“LGBTQI+ seniors should be able to access services and care that meets their unique needs, regardless of where they live,” said Rep. Bonamici, Chair of the Equality Caucus’ LGBTQ+ Aging Issues Task Force.”Those who live in rural areas frequently face increased barriers, which Congress can break down. The Elder Pride Act will increase resources for programs and services that will improve the lives of LGBTQI+ elders.”

“The Elder Pride Act will improve the overall health and social and economic well-being of LGBTQI+ older adults and seniors living with HIV in rural areas by better equipping senior service providers with resources to address the unique needs of these communities. I’m pleased to introduce this important legislation with my colleagues and co-leaders on the Equality Caucus, Reps. Pocan and Davids,” Bonamici added.

“Rural LGBTQI+ seniors have been lacking access to necessary services and care for too long,” said Pocan, Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. “The Elder Pride Act creates opportunities for LGBTQ+ seniors in rural communities, benefiting everyone in the region. I look forward to advancing this important legislation.”

“Many of our LGBTQ+ elders fought tirelessly for equality in a world that refused to accept their identity,” said Rep. Davids. “While they overcame tremendous odds to give future generations the rights they deserve, our elders, particularly those in rural communities, continue to face discrimination when accessing long-term care and healthcare. I am proud to support the Elder Pride Act because who you are and who you love should never increase your risk for isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as you age.”

The Elder Pride Act complements the Older American Act, which was updated under Bonamici’s leadership, by establishing a rural grant program designed to fund care and services for LGBTQI+ seniors. The grant would also support programs that:

• provide services such as cultural competency training for service providers;

• develop modes of connection between LGBTQI+ older adults and local service providers and community organizations;

• expand the use of nondiscrimination policies and community spaces for older adults who are members of the LGBTQI+ community or another protected class; and,

• disseminate resources on sexual health and aging for senior service providers.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be found here, and the full text can be found here.

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Federal Government

CDC issues warning on new “deadlier strain” of Mpox

As LGBTQ+ Pride month and events happen globally, there is more need for greater caution and people to take steps at prevention

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JYNNEOS Mpox vaccine. (Photo Credit: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-CDC)

ATLANTA, Ga. – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued a health advisory regarding a deadlier strain of the Mpox virus outbreak which is currently impacting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

According to the CDC, since January of 2023, DRC has reported more than 19,000 suspect mpox cases and more than 900 deaths. The CDC stated that the overall risk to the United States posed by the clade I mpox outbreak is low.

The risk to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) who have more than one sexual partner and people who have sex with MSM, regardless of gender, is assessed as low to moderate the agency stated.

While no cases of that subtype have been identified outside sub-Saharan Africa so far, the World Health Organization said earlier this week that the escalating epidemic in Congo nevertheless poses a global threat, just as infections in Nigeria set off the 2022 outbreak according to a WHO spokesperson.

The spokesperson also noted that as LGBTQ+ Pride month and events happen globally, there is more need for greater caution and people to take steps at prevention including being vaccinated.

The CDC advises that while there are no changes to the overall risk assessment, people in the United States who have already had Mpox or are fully vaccinated should be protected against the type of Mpox spreading in DRC. Casual contact, such as might occur during travel, is not likely to cause the disease to spread. The best protection against Mpox is two doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine.

The CDC also noted the risk might change as more information becomes available, or if cases appear outside DRC or other African countries where clade I exists naturally.

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U.S. State Department

State Department travel advisory warns of potential anti-LGBTQ+ violence

FBI issued similar warning this week

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State Department (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Friday issued a worldwide travel advisory that warns of potential violence against LGBTQ+ people and LGBTQ+-specific events.

“Due to the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” reads the advisory. “The Department of State is aware of the increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events and advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution.”  

The advisory further urges U.S. citizens to:

  • Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists, including Pride celebrations and venues frequented by LGBTQI+ persons.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information and alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency overseas.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Homeland Security Investigations earlier this week issued a similar advisory.

The advisory notes June 12 will mark eight years since the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

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Riverside County

Riverside County school district settles suit with anti-trans teacher

She had requested a religious accommodation, saying the district’s policies went against her beliefs “regarding human sexuality and lying”

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Jurupa Valley High School, Riverside County California. (Photo Credit: Jurupa Valley High School/Facebook)

JURUPA VALLEY, Calif. – The Jurupa Unified School District agreed to settle a federal lawsuit brought by a former teacher terminated over her refusal to follow District policies regarding transgender or gender-nonconforming students, citing her Christian beliefs.

The school district, located in Riverside County, in an agreement reached Tuesday will pay Jessica Tapia, who taught physical education at Jurupa Valley High School, $285,000, as well as $75,000 for her attorneys’ fees. JUSD however did not admit any wrongdoing and both parties agreed to not disparage each other or file future lawsuits. Additionally Tapia agreed to the stipulation to not seek future employment with the district.

The Los Angeles Times reported that as revealed in court documents, Tapia had refused — hypothetically, in statements to district personnel — to use students’ preferred pronouns, to allow them to use the locker room matching their gender identity, or to “withhold information” from parents about their child’s gender identity.

Julianne Fleischer, one of Tapia’s attorneys, called the settlement an “incredible victory,” the Times also reported.

“Her religious beliefs were not accommodated when they could have been,” said Fleischer, legal counsel for Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a Murrieta-based nonprofit religious liberties group. “We think it sends a strong message that there’s a price to pay when you ask a teacher to lie and withhold information.”

Jacquie Paul, a Jurupa Unified spokesperson, told multiple media outlets that the settlement was a “compromise of a disputed claim.”

“The decision to settle this case was made … in the best interest of the students, such that the district can continue to dedicate all of its resources and efforts to educate and support its student population regardless of their protected class,” Paul said in a statement.

Tapia was hired by the district in 2014, first as a substitute and later full time, and taught both middle school and high school physical education. She was fired in January 2023, after she requested a religious accommodation, saying the district’s policies went against her beliefs “regarding human sexuality and lying,” according to the lawsuit.

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Los Angeles County

Culver City considers ordinance for gender neutral public restrooms

It has 11 design elements for security, privacy, light, ventilation, & signage- key concerns for users of public restroom facilities

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Culver City is a five-square-mile, urban community of 40,779 residents surrounded mostly by the City of Los Angeles but also shares a border with unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. (Photo Credit: Culver City)

CULVER CITY – On Monday, the City Council unanimously approved the introduction of an ordinance requiring Gender Neutral Public Restrooms for new construction projects.

Newly constructed buildings will soon be required to include gender neutral public restrooms in Culver City. Existing buildings will not be required to retrofit current layouts but may voluntarily do so. The ordinance needs two readings at City Council meetings prior to going into effect.

The proposed ordinance requires single-user and multi-user public toilet facilities to use signage indicating that the facilities are accessible to all users, and not restricted to persons of a specific sex or gender identity. There are 11 design elements for security, privacy, light, ventilation, and signage, which are key concerns for all users of public restroom facilities. Staff also noted the new ordinance would likely cutdown on square footage needed for restrooms in new buildings.

The City Council began Monday’s meeting with declaring five proclamations which included:

Proclaiming May 2024 as Jewish American Heritage Month. In the proclamation, it stated Culver City shares an obligation to condemn and combat antisemitism wherever it exists, to include Jewish Americans in all facets of civic life, and to stand with the Jewish American community against hatred or bigotry in our city and country. The City Council calls upon all residents to celebrate the rich and diverse heritage of the Jewish American community, including those who live, work, and play in Culver City, playing a vital role in contributing to all aspects of life in Culver and honors the generations of residents and immigrants who have enriched our nations’ narrative.

During the month of May, Culver City celebrates Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month and pays tribute to the contributions of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders who have enriched our history and been an integral part of our community. The theme for AANHPI Heritage Month in 2024 is “Advancing Leaders Through Innovation” which celebrates lasting contributions of persons of AANHPI descent, from technological advancements to social/political changes, while navigating significant cultural and systemic barriers. Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders lend their rich heritage to enhance our community, playing a vital role and contributing to all aspects of life in Culver City. The City Council celebrates the diaspora and honors the generations of residents and immigrants who have enriched our nations’ narrative.

May is also Historic Preservation Month. This year Preservation Month focuses on “People Saving Places” which recognizes everyone doing great work of saving places – in ways big and small – and inspiring others to do the same. The Culver City Historical Society, established in 1980, continues its mission of collecting, preserving and exhibiting the history of Culver City and its environs through new partnerships to expand and diversity audiences and incorporate future generations into their work. The City Council encourages all residents and visitors to discover or re-discover, honor, and share the unique history of Culver City.

The City Council also proclaimed May 2024 as National Cities, Towns, and Villages Month in celebration of America’s local governments and the National League of Cities’ historic centennial anniversary. Over the years, it has has successfully championed federal legislative solutions that support municipalities and has worked closely with Congress and the Executive Branch to educate policymakers on the realities of local implementation. The City of Culver City is a proud member of the National League of Cities, and has benefited from the organization’s research, technical expertise, federal advocacy and opportunities to learn from other local governments.

In its final proclamation of the evening, City Council recognized National Bike Month. Culver City has participated in this important effort by implementing the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, hosting events like CicLAvia, sponsoring the Culver City Walk & Rollers program, and installing and maintaining a growing network of bike lanes and paths. You can view the map on the Culver CityBus website. Culver City, community organizations, and partners throughout Los Angeles County have worked together to promote greater public awareness of bicycling throughout the month of May. The City Council encourages all community members and students to reap the benefits of bicycling as a form of transportation and exercise.

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The White House

White House acknowledges IDAHOBiT, reiterates support for global LGBTQ+ rights

WHO on May 17, 1990, declassified homosexuality as a mental illness

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The White House is lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony on Dec. 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration on Friday used the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia to reiterate its support of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights around the world.

“On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, my administration stands in support and solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people around the world as they seek to live full lives, free from violence and discrimination,” said President Joe Biden in a statement. “This is a matter of human rights, plain and simple.” 

“The United States applauds those individuals and groups worldwide working to defend the rights of LGBTQI+ people wherever they are under threat,” he added. “We are grateful for the contributions that LGBTQI+ people make every day across our nation.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Biden.

“On this day, we reflect upon the violence and discrimination lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons worldwide suffer and re-commit ourselves to opposing these acts,” said Blinken in his own statement. “This year, like every year, we state unequivocally: LGBTQI+ persons deserve recognition of their universal human rights and human dignity.” 

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder on May 17, 1990.

Blinken in his statement notes LGBTQ+ and intersex people around the world “continue to face insidious forms of stigma and discrimination.”

Dominica last month became the latest country to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

“Even as more countries make meaningful advancements towards full equality; LGBTQI+ persons continue to be sentenced to death for daring to live their sexual orientation or gender identity, subjected to coercive conversion ‘therapies’ and ‘normalization’ surgeries, discriminated against while receiving health services, restricted from exercising fundamental freedoms, and denied the dignity of same-sex partnership and fulfillment of family,” said Blinken. 

“As we reflect upon the injustices that LGBTQI+ persons and their allies endure, we must not forget that today is fundamentally a day of action,” he added. “On this day and every day, the United States stands with LGBTQI+ persons around the world. We will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI+ persons not just because we have a moral imperative to do so, but because it helps to strengthen democracy, bolster national security, and promote global health and economic development.”

The Tonga Leitis Association is among the myriad LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups around the world that acknowledged IDAHOBiT.

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Mississippi

ACLU files complaint over Title IX violations in Mississippi school

Allegations include forcing these students to abide by a “biological sex” dress code, enduring repeated and severe harassment and bullying

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Harrison County School District Mississippi School Board Meeting May 6, 2024. (Photo Credit: Harrison County School District MS/Facebook)

By Erin Reed | GULFPORT, Miss. – The ACLU has filed a Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights over the consistent, deliberate, and cruel mistreatment of transgender and gender-nonconforming students in the Harrison County, Mississippi School District.

Allegations include forcing these students to abide by a “biological sex” dress code, enduring repeated and severe harassment and bullying, and removing transgender and gender-nonconforming students from school-related functions in violation of Title IX. Previously, the school made national news for forcing a transgender girl, as well as a cisgender gender-nonconforming girl, to miss graduation for wearing a dress and pants, respectively.

The complaint was primarily brought by A.H., a transgender 16-year-old girl who attends Harrison Central High School. After being told by her band teacher that she could wear a black dress to a regional band concert evaluation, she received compliments from her fellow bandmates.

However, when HCHS Principal Kelly Fuller saw her in the hallway, she balked, saying, “You know you can’t wear that right? Boys can’t wear skirts or dresses,” and then added, “you can’t represent our school dressed like that.” She then forced her mother to bring “boys clothes” or threatened to send her to in-school reassignment.

Civil rights complaint detailing A.H. being threatened after wearing a dress.

The incident that appears to have triggered the complaint was not the only time A.H. has suffered harassment and abuse over her gender identity in the school district. Previously, when she entered the girls’ restroom in eighth grade, she was screamed at by a teacher to the point of tears. She was then forced to use the teacher’s restroom. In ninth grade, a hall monitor confronted her on her way to the bathroom, demeaned her, and asked, “What are you?”

She also alleges severe bullying and harassment from other students with no resolution from the school. She even received a suspension after being targeted by bullying in the classroom. One student allegedly repeatedly called her a “fa***t” and a “tr***y” in the presence of a teacher while class was in session. No action was taken until A.H. stood up for herself and told the student to stop harassing her loudly in the classroom. As a result, A.H. was written up and suspended for two days.

Transgender student suspended after telling a student to stop harassing her.

A.H.’s story is not unique in the district: the district has recently made national news after excluding a transgender girl, as well as a cisgender gender-nonconforming girl, from their own graduation due to their attire. The transgender girl, identified as L.B., was denied entry to her own graduation for wearing a dress and adhering to the girls’ dress code. Another cisgender student, identified as Jai, wore black pants to her graduation in accordance with her usual gender expression and was barred from attending. She was even told that she could remove her pants under her graduation gown, but if her pants were on under her gown, she would not be allowed to walk.

The following summer, the school released a “biological sex” dress code that mandates students “follow the dress attire consistent with their biological sex.” Boys are required to “wear shorts or pants, and shirts and footwear” and are banned from wearing items commonly associated with girls, such as skirts, dresses, and blouses. Girls must “wear dresses or skirts or shorts or pants, and shirts or blouses and footwear.” The policy appears to violate Title IX, as 34 CFR 106.31(b)(4) states that students cannot be subjected to different rules of behavior, sanctions, or treatment based on their sex. Numerous courts have ruled that sex-based dress codes violate Title IX, including the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals, which stated, “Based on the plain language and structure of the statute, we conclude that Title IX unambiguously encompasses sex-based dress codes.”

The ACLU is seeking five remedies for A.H. and students in the Harrison County School District.

  • They seek an order for the district to adopt gender-neutral dress code policies.
  • They demand that the school stop targeting, surveilling, and disciplining students based on sex.
  • The school should adopt policies and procedures for promptly and equitably responding to reports of discrimination.
  • The school should be made to provide mandatory training for District employees about non-discrimination and compliance with federal anti-discrimination lawss
  • The school should issue a written apology to A.H. for discriminatory conduct.

The complaint will be a significant test of how the Biden administration handles a major Title IX complaint concerning gender identity and expression, following recent updates to Title IX guidance.

Additionally, the complaint emerges in the wake of the death of transgender teenager Nex Benedict in Oklahoma, where similar longstanding allegations of harassment and abuse led to an ongoing formal investigation into the school district.

More than 20 GOP-led states are suing the Biden administration over new Title IX rules, arguing that they have a right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students despite Title IX protections. It remains uncertain whether these lawsuits will impact prohibited dress codes, which have been successfully challenged under Title IX even before the new rules.

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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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California Politics

Influential lesbian political couple killed in San Diego car crash

Moore and Wood were married in a ceremony at Oakland’s Lake Merritt a month prior to same-sex marriage being legalized in California

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Oakland political leader Peggy Moore, left, and her wife, Hope Wood, were killed Friday night in a vehicle collision in Southern California. (Photo: Moore/Facebook)

By Cynthia Laird, News Editor | SAN DIEGO COUNTY – Oakland political leader Peggy Moore and her wife, Hope Wood, died late Friday night, May 10, following a head-on collision on State Route 76 in unincorporated San Diego County. The news brought a flood of tributes on social media, as friends and colleagues remembered the couple.

According to multiple media reports, Moore and Wood were passengers in a Jeep Gladiator that was traveling westbound on the highway at 11:17 p.m. when a Chrysler 300 that was driving east swerved into the westbound lanes, striking the Jeep.

In addition to Moore and Wood, the driver of the Jeep was killed as was the driver of the Chrysler, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. A third car, a Toyota Camry, which was behind the Jeep, was involved in a minor side-swipe, according to the reports. It is not known why the Chrysler veered into oncoming traffic.

Moore, 60, had long been involved in Oakland politics. She managed the successful 2014 mayoral campaign for Libby Schaaf and served as a senior adviser to her. In 2016, she unsuccessfully ran for the at-large seat on the Oakland City Council, facing lesbian incumbent Rebecca Kaplan. Moore also worked as an organizer for Barack Obama’s winning 2008 presidential campaign.

In a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter Monday, Schaaf said that she was devastated by the loss of Moore and Wood. During her 2014 mayoral campaign, Schaaf said that she and Moore “spent all day, every day together for a year.”

“She molded me into the mayor I became — in the most beautiful ways our democracy needs more of,” Schaaf said. “She was centered in love.”

Schaaf said that she hosted a gathering at her home Saturday evening with her former campaign and City Hall staffers. “I was so shocked. I wanted to create a space to celebrate her and Hope,” she said. “It’s a devastating loss for me personally and for democracy.”

Schaaf added that Moore was the only member of her campaign team to come to work for her in City Hall as a senior adviser. Moore stayed until she launched her own City Council campaign, and then Schaaf said that she came back to City Hall for the last few months of Schaaf’s tenure. (Schaaf had been reelected in 2018 and left office in January 2023. She is currently running for state treasurer in 2026.)

Schaaf said that recently, Moore and Wood had been mostly living in Orange County to be closer to Wood’s family. Moore maintained an apartment in Oakland, Schaaf said. Moore had also been spending time with her family in Oklahoma City, which is where she celebrated her 60th birthday.

“I was on a Zoom call with her days ago,” Schaaf said.

Kaplan stated that Moore was a “dedicated community leader.”

“May her memory be a blessing,” she wrote in a text message. “Her death is a shock and a great loss.”

Congressmember Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) knew both women.

“I’m heartbroken to hear of the tragic loss of Peggy Moore and Hope Wood,” Lee wrote on X. “Peggy was a friend, an activist, and one of the best organizers I knew. Her passion and fight for justice and equality is what brought her and Hope together.

“Together they organized, changed hearts and minds, and helped to create a world where who you love doesn’t limit your freedoms,” she added. “Both Peggy and Hope made an impact on our community, on our city, on our state, and on our nation that will be felt for generations to come.”

“It is always tragic to lose a loved one, but the loss of Peggy Moore and Hope Wood is not just a personal loss to me, but a huge loss for our community. The dynamic duo have always fought to ensure there was representation and equity in every arena they worked within. We mourn the loss and appreciate their legacy, because their work will live on in the lives that they touched,” Shay Franco-Clausen, Political Director Equality California, said in a statement.

Started consulting firm

In 2019, Moore and Wood, 48, started Hope Action Change Consulting. On the site, they wrote that they fell in love while working on the 2008 Obama campaign.

“As women of color, we are experts at the dance of values in the workplace,” they wrote on the site. “We have lived outside the main streets of society in the intersections of our gender and our race, and we have learned to navigate a path through many streets where we have not been welcome. Despite the difficulties of this journey, we are full of optimism for where our path leads.”

Moore and Wood were married in a ceremony at Oakland’s Lake Merritt on July 29, 2013. It was a month prior that same-sex marriage returned to being legalized in California after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an appeals court decision that Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban passed by voters in 2008, was unconstitutional.

On Facebook, friends remembered the couple.

“We want you to know how much we loved you both,” Brendalynn Goodall, a member of the Alameda County Democratic County Central Committee, and her wife, Nancy Hinds, wrote. “The news of your passing has left us feeling shocked, numb, and incredibly sad. It’s hard to believe you are no longer here. You were more than just friends — you were family.

“We shared so many unforgettable memories and experiences together — from life’s ups and downs to discussions about politics, community, family, relationships, careers, and even our beloved pets,” added Goodall. “We were always there for each other, through thick and thin.”

Longtime DJ Page Hodel was also stunned by the news. “I am still doubled over … literally speechless over hearing the news of the tragic passing of our beloved Peggy Moore and her wife Hope Wood,” she wrote on Facebook.

Moore is also remembered for co-founding Sistahs Steppin’ in Pride, which took place in Oakland beginning in the early 2000s. Kaplan mentioned it as one of Moore’s accomplishments. For a decade, it brought the East Bay’s diverse queer women’s community together in celebration during the last weekend of August. Up to 2,000 queer women attended the event at its peak, Moore told the B.A.R. in 2011, the last year of the march.

The event had started as the East Bay’s version of the dyke march held in San Francisco and took place in conjunction with the old East Bay Pride. When that event stopped in 2003, Sistahs Steppin’ in Pride stepped up, so to speak, to make sure there was a queer presence in the East Bay.

The new Oakland Pride started in 2010. Last year, a combined Oakland Pride and Pridefest parade and festival were held in early September.

Wood was a former teaching fellow for Harvard Kennedy School’s Leadership Organizing, Action: Leading Change course and a UCLA teacher education program alumna, according to the couple’s consulting website. She had devoted more than two decades of her life to organizing across California and the United States.

Moore and Wood’s friend Lisbet Tellefsen organized an impromptu memorial Sunday, May 12, at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater where Moore and Wood were married. Schaaf said that she attended.

“There were lots of [people wearing] Sistahs Steppin’ in Pride and Moore for City Council T-shirts,” Schaaf said.

“She was an amazing leader for the LGBTQ+ community,” Schaaf added. “She brought her full self to everything she did.”

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The preceding article was previously published by the Bay Area Reporter and is republished with permission.

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California Politics

U.S. Rep. Young Kim’s support from far-right extremist Jack Hibbs

Hibbs, a Christian nationalist pastor, podcaster, & commentator has appeared on right-wing outlets like Newsmax, Fox News, & Charlie Kirk

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Rep. Young Kim (R-CA) has spent years cultivating support from far-right extremist and pastor Jack Hibbs. (Photo montage: Media Matters)

By Eric Hananoki CHINO HILLS, Calif. – Rep. Young Kim (R-CA) has spent years cultivating support from far-right extremist and pastor Jack Hibbs, who has repeatedly told followers to vote for her and hosted Kim at his California church to call for “her sweet and glorious victory.”

Those interactions also include Kim telling him that he’s done an “awesome job shepherding, guiding our congregation” and praising Hibbs on the day he delivered a sermon attacking LGBTQ pride. 

Hibbs is a Christian nationalist pastor, podcaster, and commentator who has appeared on right-wing outlets like Newsmax, Fox News, and Charlie Kirk’s program. He also has a lengthy record of toxic commentary, which became a source of controversy earlier this year when House Speaker Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) invited him to serve as the House of Representatives’ guest chaplain.

Hibbs has criticized in vitro fertilization (IVF) as a process where people “throw away 500 children” to get one child. He said that Jewish people need to abandon their religion. He’s told his congregation that “violent” LGBTQ people will go door-to-door and threaten “to sodomize people who disagree with them.” And he’s advised his followers that their Muslim neighbors are going to turn on them “very soon” and side with terrorists.

Hibbs has a long history of bigoted and far-right rhetoric

IVF: Hibbs is staunchly anti-abortion and has also criticized in vitro fertilization. During a 2013 sermon, he said

HIBBS: The Bible says that God opens and closes the womb according to his will. There are people who can’t get pregnant, and they get pregnant through artificial insemination. I would never judge that. And I don’t have an up vote or a down vote on it. I leave that in the hands of God. OK?  […]

For me personally, my conviction is it does concern me about the disposing of a fertilized egg. For this, my reasons are purely theological. I understand the scientific part of it. That’s a done deal. It was life before it was fertilized. So the issue becomes to get one child, do we throw away 500 children? See our culture says, who cares? It’s just nothing. I understand that, but you can’t tell that to a scientist. A scientist will tell you that little nothing you just threw in the trash can is just as technically advanced and powerful and meaningful as if it lived to be 99 years old on the scientific level.

You see, it becomes an ethical, moral issue, doesn’t it? So you have to be [INAUDIBLE] in your own heart and your own mind, and just leave it at that. It’s a tough thing to answer. Be personally convinced, and let the Lord lead you in that.

Jewish people: Hibbs stated that people must look past “the sins of the Jew and give them the hope of Jesus” and claimed that “true Jews” are those who don’t “get bogged down in Judaism, which … cannot save you.”

LGBTQ people: After the Supreme Court approved marriage equality, Hibbs told his congregation in a 2015 sermon: “God is telling us, ‘Jack, church, don’t put your hope in man, you’ll be disappointed. Hope in me because it’s going to be like it was in the days of Lot. Violent homosexuality, knocking on doors, threatening to sodomize people who disagree with them.’” 

In September 2019, Hibbs said of people “who practice homosexuality”: “The Bible says it is destructive against nature. It destroys your body and it ruins your psyche, and it ravages your soul. I have all the Scriptures here to back that up.”

He has also stated that “transgenderism is actually a sexually perverted cult” and claimed transgender people are evidence of the “last days.” He supports dangerous and discredited conversion therapy as he issued guidance telling people how they can supposedly change their sexual orientation.

Muslims: Hibbs has warned his congregation about the alleged danger of Muslims by invoking the ISIS caliphatetelling them during a 2015 sermon: “If your friends are devout Muslims, they have a horrific day of reckoning coming very soon for them. They are going to have to choose between the caliphate and being a nice neighbor to you. Think of that. They have no choice one way or the other. I’d like to side with Patrick Henry. Give me liberty or give me death.” 

In a 2007 sermon about “The Rise of Islam,” he falsely said: “Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist has been a Muslim.” Speaking on Charlie Kirk’s radio show last year, Hibbs said of Islam: “It is violent, it is deadly, it’s a death cult.” 

Hibbs’ church also released a companion guide that unabashedly portrays Muslims as a threat to the country, including stating: “Muslims are mandated to expand where ever they are. They must convert you and or your children. And they must kill those who do not convert.” 

An excerpt from an anti-Muslim guide from Jack Hibbs’ church.

Kim has had a years-long history with Hibbs

Kim, a former member of California’s State Assembly who currently represents the state’s 40th Congressional District, has spent years relying on the support of Hibbs. 

On February 23, 2020, she appeared with Hibbs at his church, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, during her second campaign for California’s 39th Congressional District. A broadcast posted to the church’s Facebook page identified Kim as a “congressional candidate” (Hibbs is currently under criticism for using his church for electioneering). 

Hibbs began: “On the local ballot for us here, we’re going to bring out three candidates who we support, we pray for, and we want to honor for their commitment. The first is no stranger to us. She’s not only been here before, but she’ll attend service from time to time. She’s running for the 39th District, which we need her to win this time. I think she won last time, personally. That was up against Gil Cisneros. I’m talking about Young Kim.” 

While on stage, Kim thanked Hibbs for talking about the election, stating: “Pastor Jack, you’re doing an awesome job shepherding, guiding our congregation to really understand why it is so important to find out who the candidates are with biblical values so we don’t have the legislation, the sex education that is passing while we were sleeping.” 

She then told the congregation that “we need to elect elected leaders who share our Christian biblical values.” 

After Kim spoke, Hibbs said: “We love her. We thank you for her, and God, we pray that come election night that there would be no angel or demon able to tamper with the results. That Lord, you would bring her sweet and glorious victory.” 

Kim has repeatedly praised Hibbs online. After that February 2020 endorsement, she shared photos of her appearance with Hibbs and wrote: “Had a blessed Sunday visiting Calvary Chapel Chino Hills and Agape Church OC in Yorba Linda. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share my testimony. I am so grateful and encouraged by your prayers!” 

She also wrote in August 2018: “Great to meet with Pastor Jack Hibbs … Thank you for your prayers, your encouragement, and all you do for our community!” 

And on June 5, 2022, she praised Hibbs for delivering a sermon, stating: “Great to hear Pastor Jack’s sermon and see friends this morning at Calvary Chapel Chino Hills. Thanks for the warm reception!” 

While Kim did not specify the content of the sermon, or what she heard, that June 5 sermon had criticism of Pride Month, with Hibbs stating

HIBBS: Some people are saying that it’s Pride Month. And so I had a thought about that. Look, it’s a free country. Our Constitution protects everyone’s views and stuff like that. You know? It’s a free country. That’s their, that’s — they said it’s their month.

And then I thought, you know what? We ought to start — by the way, I’m joking. But could you imagine? Let’s start a Christian pride month. Now, what what no. Don’t clap. Don’t clap. That’s not good.

Where do you go to church? You should not clap at that. Christian and pride should never come together. Right? That’s important. Of all the sins listed in the Scriptures, the sin of pride is the original, the Bible says.

In addition to endorsing Kim at his church, Hibbs has frequently praised her online:

  • He wrote in August 2018: “VOTE PRO-LIFE. I had a great sit down with YOUNG KIM. We discussed issues our biblical worldview and prayed together.” 
  • He wrote in February 2020 that he “just voted for Young Kim” and posted a picture of a Kim campaign sign. He stated a few days later: “If you attend Calvary Chapel Chino Hills then you most likely live (as I do) in the 39th. District and If you do then I am asking you to support and vote for Young Kim. SHE HAS 100% OF MY SUPPORT – – VOTE YOUNG KIM in the 39th.” 
  • He wrote in April 2020 regarding a coronavirus op-ed she penned for right-wing outlet The Epoch Times: “A BIG THANK YOU from our very own Young Kim. And if you her Op-Ed, remember to vote for her this coming November (if we have elections).” 
  • He wrote in January 2021 regarding Kim’s support for anti-abortion legislation: “We are so proud of our very own congresswoman Young Kim. God bless you Young keep up the fight we’ve got your back.” 

Additionally, Hibbs invited his followers to a 2018 “Meet and Greet with Young Kim, Candidate for the 39th Congressional District,” adding, “I want to encourage you to pray and vote Young Kim on Tuesday.” He also donated to Kim’s campaign in 2020. 

In a post in February, Hibbs again endorsed Kim for Congress.

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The preceding article & research study was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished with permission.

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