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Harvey Weinstein gets arrested and Morgan Freeman apologizes

Latest revelations show the power of the #MeToo movement

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Harvey Weinstein and Morgan Freeman. (Photos Wikipedia)

A week of major developments in the ongoing Hollywood sexual harassment scandals culminated on Friday morning in New York City, where former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was arrested and arraigned after turning himself in to Manhattan authorities. He has been charged with first- and third-degree rape and with committing a criminal sexual act in the first degree.

Weinstein walked uncuffed into a New York police precinct through a crowd of media, who called out questions such as, “Is this an admission of guilt?” and “Why did it take you so long?”

Weinstein made no comment, but his attorney, Benjamin Brafman, later told reporters outside the courthouse that the disgraced film executive plans to plead “not guilty” to the criminal charges.

Weinstein left the precinct in handcuffs but free on bail, thanks to an agreement between Brafman and the District Attorney’s office stipulating that the ex-mogul’s bond be set at $10 million, he required to wear a GPS monitoring system and could only travel between and New York and Connecticut.

The arrest comes after months of investigation by New York prosecutors into multiple allegations of sexual assault dating back to 2004. The charges filed Friday stem from incidents involving two separate women that allegedly took place in 2004 and 2013, according to a statement from the district attorney’s office.

A source told CNN that the criminal sex act charge stems from a case involving Lucia Evans, a once-aspiring actress who claims that Weinstein forced him to perform oral sex on him in his Tribeca office.

Evans spoke out about the alleged incident in New Yorker magazine in fall of 2017.

The alleged victim in the rape case remains anonymous, and further details of that investigation are unknown.

A grand jury continues to hear testimony in the state’s case and more charges are expected.
Weinstein’s arraignment comes after dozens of women came forward following 2017 reports in the New York Times and New Yorker. Those women – and Bill Cosby’s accusers — gave courage to numerous others to come forward alleging sexual harassment and abuse, including men alleging harassment by other men, including actor Kevin Spacey.

Many of the accusations against Weinstein have come from high-profile actresses with whom he worked, including Rose McGowan, one of the first to come forward.

“I, and so many of Harvey Weinstein’s survivors, had given up hope that our rapist would be held accountable by law. McGowan said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter. “Twenty years ago, I swore that I would right this wrong. Today we are one step closer to justice.”

Weinstein is also under investigation for alleged sex crimes in Los Angeles and London, and the Wall Street Journal has reported that Federal prosecutors in New York have also begun a sex crimes investigation involving the former studio head, who has been accused of rape, assault and other sexual misconduct.

Weinstein has said through a representative that he sought treatment after the accusations, and that he “unequivocally denies” any allegations of non-consensual sex.

Developments in the Weinstein case come on the heels of allegations by eight women of sexual misconduct by actor Morgan Freeman that took place on movie sets, during film promotions and at Revelations Entertainment, the actor’s production company.

These accusations include stories that the 80-year-old Freeman looked at them in a sexual way and made comments with “sexual undertones” about their bodies or clothing.

One of the allegations comes from a woman who said the actor had “repeatedly tried to lift her skirt,” and stopped only because a costar had said for him to “knock it off.” Another accuser claims she was the victim of “repeated unwanted touching” while working with Freeman on a recent film.

The eight women’s stories are supported by eight witnesses who have also come forward; however, due to fears of repercussions in their work, only one of these accusers – CNN reporter Chloe Melas – was willing to go public with their identity.

Melas says her encounter with Freeman took place during a press junket last year for the film “Going in Style.” She claims that he continued to hold her hand after shaking it, looked at her in an obviously sexual way and made various sexually provocative comments. She was pregnant at the time, and the actor repeatedly said that he “wished he was there” when it had happened, she said. Melas later reported the encounter to her supervisor at CNN.

In a statement released Thursday, Freeman apologized for his behavior, saying, “Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent.”

In the wake of these revelations, SAG-AFTRA said on Thursday that it is reviewing the possibility of “corrective actions” in relation Freeman’s lifetime achievement award, which was presented to the Oscar-winning actor at the SAG Awards ceremony in January.

The actor’s union statement reads: “These are compelling and devastating allegations which are absolutely contrary to all the steps that we are taking to [ensure] a safe work environment for the professionals in this industry. Any accused person has the right to due process, but it is our starting point to believe the courageous voices who come forward to report incidents of harassment.”

In February, the union adopted a new code of conduct, which prohibits “unwelcome verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and which creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment.” They have also created guidelines for locations in which industry meetings should take place, meant to avoid “high-risk locations” such as hotel rooms. Many of the allegations that have emerged from the #MeToo movement stem from incidents that took place in these environments.

The actions of SAG-AFTRA, along with today’s arrest of Weinstein, can be seen as a victory for the #MeToo movement, which has spurred a heightened awareness of sexual misconduct not only behind the scenes in Hollywood, but within other workplaces as well. The movement has given voice to hundreds of women and men who have been victims of harassment and worse at the hands of employers and others who have abused their positions of power to engage in inappropriate sexual behavior. The resulting scrutiny has led to the downfall of dozens of powerful figures within the entertainment industry, from executives like Weinstein to news personalities like Matt Lauer and actors like Kevin Spacey and Jeffrey Tambor.

Last year’s wave of sexual misconduct stories brought viral attention to the decade-old #MeToo movement – which began (without the hashtag) in 2006, when social activist Tarana Burke used the phrase in support of a grassroots campaign to promote “empowerment through empathy” among women of color who have experienced sexual abuse. This awareness reached its height during the early 2018 awards season – when many ceremonies, including the SAG presentation, actively sought to project solidarity with the movement.

This week’s events show that it remains relevant. The movement continues to empower women and men to come forward with their stories of unwanted sexual treatment from people who hold power over them in their work places; its prominence in the public eye has resulted in growing pressure on industry and law enforcement to take actions against those who perpetrate such behavior, and to eliminate the culture of silence that allows it to exist.

Friday’s arrest is evidence that it’s working, and the revelations about Freeman show that the #MeToo story is not going away.

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National

Threats of violence and death shuts down Nebraska drag queen story hour

After discussions and consultations with Lincoln Police, the museum and the LGBTQ+ group citing safety concerns cancelled the event.

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Screenshot of the Lincoln Children’s Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska. ABC News affiliate coverage

LINCOLN – A private LGBTQ+ event scheduled for after hours this past Saturday at the Lincoln Children’s Museum in Nebraska’s capital city was cancelled after the museum and the event’s organizers received a torrent of abusive violent threats, including ones that were simply death threats.

Longtime local drag performer Waylon Werner-Bassen, who is the president of the board of directors of LGBTQ advocacy group OUTNebraska had organized the event alongside Drag Queen Story Hour Nebraska.

Bassen told the Lincoln Star-Journal in an interview last week on Tuesday that the scheduled RSVP only two-hour event, which was accessible through Eventbrite, had garnered a conformed attendee list of approximately 50 people.

Mandy Haase-Thomas, director of operations and engagement for the Lincoln Children’s Museum in an email the Star-Journal confirmed the event was invitation-only private, not sponsored by the museum and to be held after museum’s open-to-the-public hours.

According to Bassen, immediately after the event was announced the threats commenced, some of which included death threats. After discussions and consultations with officials from the Lincoln Police Department, the Lincoln Children’s Museum and Bassen’s group citing safety concerns cancelled the event.

Officer Luke Bonkiewicz, a spokesperson for the LPD said that the matter was under investigation and as such would not comment other than to acknowledge that the threats were found to be credible.

In an Instagram post the museum expressed its dismay over the event’s cancellation.

Community reaction was swift and uniformly in support of OutNebraska and the drag queen story hour event with the city’s Mayor weighing in along with a supervisor with the Lincoln Police Department.

The ACLU of Nebraska along with other supporters which included state lawmakers Senator Adam Morfeld and Senator Tony Vargas also weighed in.

OutNebraska and the museum have both stated that they will reschedule the event. In a Facebook post Out Nebraska noted: “We look forward to working with Lincoln Children’s Museum to reschedule this as an entirely private event. It’s so sad when hate threatens families with children. All parents want their children to be safe. Because we could not be certain that it would be safe we will cancel this weekend and reschedule for another time — this time without a public portion of the invitation. We will be in touch with the families who have already registered with more information about when we are rescheduling.”

In related news the LPD not only recently celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month, but the designated person nominated at the end of June by the Mayor to be the department’s new Chief, is SFPD Commander Teresa Ewins, the San Francisco California Police Department’s highest-ranking LGBTQ member.

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World

Harsh anti-LGBTQ bill introduced in Ghana

Measure would criminalize LGBTQ identity, allyship

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Ghana flag (Public domain photo by Jorono from Pixabay)

ACCRA, Ghana — A bill that would criminalize LGBTQ identity and allyship in Ghana was officially introduced in the country’s Parliament on Monday.

The “Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill” went to the Constitution and Legal Affairs Committee after its first reading.

Eight conservative lawmakers who are from the opposition and ruling parties sponsored the bill. Thomson Reuters Foundation News reports Samuel Nartey George, a member of the National Democratic Congress party, is the lead sponsor. 

The bill, if passed, would outlaw LGBTQ identity and subject anyone who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community or as an ally with up to 10 years in prison. 

A draft of the bill that was leaked online last week listed some of the punishable offenses that include “gross indecency,” which is defined as “the public show of amorous relations between or among persons of the same sex.” This act, labeled a misdemeanor, can result in “a term of imprisonment no less than six months and not more than one year.”

Activists in Ghana and across the world have sought to raise awareness of the bill on social media with the hashtags #KillTheBill and #GhanaIsEnoughForUsAll. A Change.org petition that urges Ghanaian lawmakers to oppose the measure has been created.

Critics say the measure would violate human rights and would make LGBTQ people more vulnerable to persecution and violence. The Coalition of Muslim Groups in Ghana and other religious organizations have welcomed the bill, with Thomson Reuters reporting they say it is needed to “prevent the dilution of cultural values and beliefs in Ghanaian society.”

Naa Seidu Fuseini Pelpuo, the overlord of the Waala Traditional Area, and other traditional leaders have condemned the LGBTQ+ community as “unnatural and [perverted].” Pelpuo has also banned activities between LGBTQ individuals in the Waala Traditional Area and warned of “firm and swift” punishment if found engaging in “such acts,” according to the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.

The bill’s introduction comes after the May arrest of 21 activists and paralegals who attended a conference on how to advocate for LGBTQ rights.

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World

Hundreds participate in first-ever Cayman Islands Pride parade

Territory’s governor, premier among marchers

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Upwards of 600 people attended the first-ever Pride parade in the Cayman Islands on July 31, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation)

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands — Upwards of 600 people participated in the first-ever Pride parade in the Cayman Islands that took place on Saturday.

Caymanian Gov. Martyn Roper, Premier Wayne Panton and opposition MP Barbara Conolly are among those who participated in the parade that the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation, a local advocacy group, organized.

Caymanian authorities required that all participants were vaccinated against COVID-19. Noel Cayasso-Smith, founder and president of the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation, on Monday told the Los Angeles Blade on Monday during a WhatsApp interview that his group did not allow alcohol in the parade and “discouraged” public displays of affections “in order to maintain a respectful event.”

“This is the first time in history the Cayman Islands has ever been able to put on a Pride,” said Cayasso-Smith. “I’m excited because we had no protesters. We had no negativity throughout the entire parade.”

Cayasso-Smith said he and members of the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation decided to organize the parade, in part, because the pandemic has drastically reduced travel to and from the Cayman Islands. Cayasso-Smith noted hotels, condominium associations, restaurants, bars and local businesses all supported the event.

“Pride month came in and you know for every year I got really tired of seeing our Cayman people leaving to go to Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, Canada to enjoy themselves for Pride,” he said, while noting the travel restrictions that remain in place because of the pandemic. “We thought it would be great to have our Pride here since we’re in our own little bubble.”

The Cayman Islands is a British territory that is located in the western Caribbean Sea between Jamaica and Cuba.

The Caymanian government in 1998 refused to allow a gay cruise ship with 900 passengers to dock. Religious officials in the British territories pressured authorities to prohibit an Atlantic Events vessel from visiting the territory.

Cayasso-Smith, who was born in the Cayman Islands, told the Blade that “growing up here has been very difficult for me as a gay person.” Cayasso-Smith lived in the U.K. for 13 years until he returned to the Cayman Islands to help his family rebuild their home after Hurricane Ivan devastated the British territory in 2004.

“I decided to stay because I thought, you know, I should be able to live in my country as a free gay man where there’s no laws restricting me from being who I am,” said Cayasso-Smith. “I feel that as a gay man contributing to the island I should have the right to live free.”

Caymanian Grand Court Chief Justice Anthony Smellie in 2019 struck down the territory’s same-sex marriage ban. The Caymanian Court of Appeal a few months later overturned the ruling.

The territory’s Civil Partnership Law took effect last September.

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