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Dr. Angela Bowen, black lesbian feminist scholar and artist, dead at 82

Angela Bowen, 82, a former board member of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, died on July 12 in Long Beach

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Angela Bowen

Angela Bowen, a former board member of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, died on July 12 in Long Beach. She was 82. Her wife, Jennifer Lynn Abod, told the New York Times that Bowen had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for a number of years.

Dr. Bowen made a significant impact on the lives of disenfranchised black youth, first when she ran the Bowen/Peters School of Dance in New Haven, Connecticut from 1963 to 1982 with her then husband Ken Peters. Later after she came out as lesbian in the 1980’s and divorced Peters, she became active as a speaker, writer, and advocate with groups such as the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays. She co-chaired the group and served as the editor and contributor to the group’s magazine.

After earning master’s and doctoral degrees at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., Bowen joined the faculty of California State University, Long Beach, teaching in the English and the women’s, gender and sexuality studies departments, influencing yet another generation of students.

“I’m a black, lesbian, feminist, writer, activist,” Bowen once said. “I see all of those as equal functions. I feel as though I’ve got a mission to be out front.”

“I wanted a life of my own,” she said. “I wanted to live among women who were political and who were lesbians and who were all different kinds of things, who were feminists and who had politics and some kind of sense of the world.”

Prior to her move to Long Beach, Bowen began to speak out on racism, sexism and homophobia. She wrote for various publications and spoke at and helped organize rallies and marches.

It was in Cambridge that she also met her longtime partner, Dr. Jennifer Lynn Abod. After more than 30 years together, she and Abod married in 2013.

Bowen’s activism was not limited to staged events. In 1987, she, Abod and two other women wrote a scathing article in Gay Community News about a cruise package that they and dozens of other women had been sold with the pitch that it would be “Sapphic sailing,” only to find when they boarded that the ship was full of heterosexual couples and families with children.

“A heterosexual world we had sought to leave behind was locked up with us on a ship cruising to Bermuda,” they complained, going on to recount instances of homophobia, including from the crew.

In 1989, Bowen was among several leaders who walked out of a fundraising performance for a Boston health clinic that served gay and lesbian clients after two white comedians told racist jokes.

In the 1990s, Bowen, who had earned a bachelor’s degree at the College of Public and Community Service of the University of Massachusetts, again embarked on a new direction, enrolling at Clark to work on advanced degrees. She earned a master’s there in 1994 and a doctorate in women’s studies in 1997. Her dissertation was on the feminist poet Audre Lorde.

In addition to Abod, Bowen is survived by two sisters, Alphena Bowen Clark and Catherine Bowen Tyler; her children with Mr. Peters, Ntombi A. Peters and Jomo K. Peters; a stepdaughter, Elaine Peters; a foster daughter, Sharon Smith; and a granddaughter.

Reporting by The New York Times, staff at the Los Angeles Blade, and wire service reports.

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State Department

State Department releases annual human rights report

Conversion therapy, treatment of intersex people documented

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The State Department (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

WASHINGTON — The State Department’s annual human rights report that was released on Monday details the prevalence of so-called conversion therapy and the treatment of intersex people around the world.

The report notes LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups in Kenya have “reported an increase in so-called conversion therapy and ‘corrective rape’ practices, including forced marriages, exorcisms, physical violence, psychological violence, or detainment.” The report cites the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights that said “infants and children born with physical sex characteristics that did not align with either a typical male or female body were subjected to harmful medical practices for years in attempt to ‘normalize’ them.” 

A landmark law that extended legal protections to intersex Kenyans took effect last July.

The report notes “many reports of conversion attempts conducted or recommended by evangelical and Catholic churches” in Brazil, even though the country has banned conversion therapy. It also cites the case of Magomed Askhabov, a man from the Russian republic of Dagestan who “demanded a criminal case be opened” against a rehabilitation center in the city of Khasavyurt in which he and other residents “were physically abused and subjected to forced prayer as part of their ‘treatment’ for homosexuality.”

“There were reports police conducted involuntary physical exams of transgender or intersex persons,” notes the report. “The Association of Russian-speaking Intersex reported that medical specialists often pressured intersex persons (or their parents if they were underage) into having so-called normalization surgery without providing accurate information about the procedure or what being intersex meant.”

The report notes Afghan culture “insists on compulsory heterosexuality, which forced LGBTQI+ individuals to acquiesce to life-altering decisions made by family members or society.” The report also refers to LGBTQ+ and intersex activists in the Philippines who criticized former President Rodrigo Duterte after he “mockingly” endorsed conversion therapy and joked he had “cured” himself of homosexuality.

The report indicates “social, cultural and religious intolerance” in Kiribati “led to recurrent attempts to ‘convert’ LGBTQI+ individuals informally through family, religious, medical, educational, or other community pressures.”

Hungarian law “prohibits Transgender or intersex individuals from changing their assigned sex/gender at birth on legal and identification documents and there is therefore no mechanism for legal gender recognition.” The report also cites statistics from the Háttér Society, a Hungarian LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, that indicate one out of 10 LGBTQ+ and intersex Hungarians have “gone through some form of ‘conversion therapy.'”

The report notes then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government in April 2022 announced plans to ban conversion therapy based on sexual orientation in England and Wales. Activists sharply criticized the exclusion of Transgender people from the proposal, and the British government later cancelled an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights conference after advocacy groups announced a boycott.

‘Human rights are universal’

Congress requires the State Department to release a human rights report each year. 

President Joe Biden last June signed a sweeping LGBTQ+ and intersex rights executive order. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the beginning of this year’s report notes the mandate directed the State Department to “specifically include enhanced reporting on so-called conversion ‘therapy’ practices, which are forced or involuntary efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, as well as additional reporting on the performance of unnecessary surgeries on intersex persons.” 

“Human rights are universal,” Blinken told reporters on Monday as he discussed the report. “They aren’t defined by any one country, philosophy, or region. They apply to everyone, everywhere.”

The Biden-Harris administration in 2021 released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad.

The State Department released the report hours before U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield hosted a meeting at the United Nations that focused on the integration of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work.

Lawmakers in Uganda on Tuesday approved a bill that would further criminalize LGBTQ+ and intersex people in the country. Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of other countries around the world.

Activists in Ukraine with whom the Washington Blade has spoken since Russia launched its war against the country in February 2022 have said LGBTQ+ and intersex people who lived in Russia-controlled areas feared Russian soldiers would target them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The report’s release also coincides with Republican efforts to curtail LGBTQ+ rights in states across the U.S.

Volunteers with the Parasol Patrol, a group that protects children and young people from protesters at drag queen story hours and other LGBTQ+-specific events in the U.S., at a recent protest. (Photo by Jon Farina)

The report notes LGBTQ+ and intersex rights advances around the world in 2022.

Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis and Singapore decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations last year. 

The report notes Chile’s marriage equality law took effect on March 10, 2022, but lists violence against LGBTQ+ and intersex people as one of the “significant human rights issues” in the country. Switzerland, Slovenia and Cuba also extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2022.

Jaime Nazar, left, Javier Silva with their two children shortly after they married in Santiago, Chile, on March 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The report cites the case of Brenda Díaz, a Trans Cuban woman with HIV who is serving a 14-year prison sentence because she participated in an anti-government protest in July 2021. The report also notes several LGBTQ+ and intersex journalists — including Nelson Álvarez Mairata and Jancel Moreno — left the country because of government harassment and threats. 

The Cuban government also blocked the websites of Tremenda Nota, the Blade’s media partner on the island, and other independent news outlets. 

The full report can be found here:

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Missouri

Missouri Attorney General restricts trans youth healthcare

“Gender transitions are experimental, they are covered by existing law governing unfair, deceptive, & unconscionable business practices”

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Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey (Screenshot/YouTube)

JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey announced Monday that he has ordered implementation of a set of emergency rules that severely places restrictions on how healthcare providers in the state render gender-affirming care to minors.

In a statement released by his office Bailey wrote: “[my] office is issuing an emergency regulation clarifying that, because gender transition interventions are experimental, they are covered by existing Missouri law governing unfair, deceptive, and unconscionable business practices, including in administering healthcare services. The regulation is necessary due to the skyrocketing number of gender transition interventions, despite rising concerns in the medical community that these procedures are experimental and lack clinical evidence of safety or success.

“As Attorney General, I will protect children and enforce the laws as written, which includes upholding state law on experimental gender transition interventions. Even Europe recognizes that mutilating children for the sake of a woke, leftist agenda has irreversible consequences, and countries like Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom have all sharply curtailed these procedures. I am dedicated to using every legal tool at my disposal to stand in the gap and protect children from being subject to inhumane science experiments.”

PROMO Missouri, an LGBTQ public policy and advocacy group, said in a statement that the attorney general “does not have the right to politicize healthcare nor use transgender bodies as political pawns.”

PROMO also noted that gender-affirming care is not experimental, as the Attorney General suggested, but is a life-saving form of healthcare for trans youth.

St. Louis CBS News affiliate KMOV 4 reported that Dr. Colleen McNicholas, Chief Medical Officer with Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said in a statement:

“Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s transphobia is an embarrassment to the Show-Me State. The politically driven claims made in the announcement are medically false and harmful. Scientific evidence shows — and the medical community agrees — that gender-affirming care is safe, effective, and life-saving.

“Bailey’s lack of medical expertise shows. His personal moral panic is inappropriately and unlawfully setting harmful policies that will hurt young transgender Missourians and their families. We denounce this government interference in the practice of medicine, and we demand politicians leave health care between providers and their patients. Shame on any politician who uses trans youth for political theatrics.”

Attorney General Bailey’s emergency regulation (see list below) will last 30 legislative days or 180 days, whichever is longer.

Because gender transition interventions are experimental, the regulation clarifies that state law already prohibits performing experimental procedures in the absence of specific guardrails. For gender transition interventions, those guardrails must include at least:

  • Specific informed-consent disclosures informing patients that, among other things,
    • The use of puberty blocker drugs or cross-sex hormones to treat gender identity disorder or gender dysphoria is experimental and is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
    • The FDA has issued a warning that puberty blockers can lead to brain swelling and blindness
    • Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare (“NBHW”) recently declared that, at least for minors, “the risks of puberty suppressing treatment with GnRH-analogues and gender-affirming hormonal treatment currently outweigh the possible benefits”
    • One scientific study notes that an individual whose friend identifies as transgender is “more than 70 times” as likely to similarly identify as transgender, suggesting that many individuals “incorrectly believe themselves to be transgender and in need of transition” because of social factors
    • The Endocrine Society found that “the large majority (about 85%) of prepubertal children with a childhood diagnosis did not remain GD/gender incongruent in adolescence”
  • Prohibiting gender transition interventions when the provider fails to,
    • ensure that the patient has received a full psychological or psychiatric assessment, consisting of not fewer than 15 separate, hourly sessions over the course of not fewer than 18 months to determine, among other things, whether the person has any mental health comorbidities
    • ensure that any existing mental health comorbidities of the patient have been treated and resolved
    • adopt and follow a procedure to track all adverse effects that arise from any course of covered gender transition intervention for all patients beginning the first day of intervention and continuing for a period of not fewer than 15 years
    • obtain and keep on file informed written consent
    • ensure that the patient has received a comprehensive screening to determine whether the patient has autism
    • ensure (at least annually) that the patient is not experiencing social contagion with respect to the patient’s gender identity
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San Bernardino County

CalTrans worker beaten, tased by Montclair police has died

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is handling the investigation into his arrest and resulting death

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Montclair Hospital Medical Center (Screenshot/YouTube KABC 7)

MONTCLAIR, Calif. – 42-year-old Antonio Ibanez was on life support after Montclair police allegedly used batons striking him multiple times and then tased him on March 5. Ibanez, who was listed in critical condition after the beating, has died at Montclair Hospital Medical Center according to an attorney hired by Ibanez’s family.

According to a Montclair Police Department spokesperson, officers had responded to a 911 call at a mobile home park on the 4100 block of Mission Boulevard. Arriving officers were confronted by Ibanez who was allegedly threatening “the female victim caller who lived at the same location armed with an object.”

KTLA 5 reported that Ibanez’s family said that the CalTrans worker has struggled with drug addiction. He was renting a room and it was the homeowner who called the police with the intention of getting him some help after he didn’t open the door, they say.

“She called for assistance. There was no one in danger or domestic disturbance, simply a call for assistance,” said Christian Contreras, the attorney representing Ibanez’s family. “That begs the question as to, ‘Are police equipped to help people?’ They’re not; they’re equipped to brutalize people and use force.” 

“You know he’s fighting for his life,” Rosendo Rojo Jr., Tony Ibanez’s brother told KTLA. “Eight officers using a baton, a taser – it wasn’t a disturbance. It wasn’t a violent call.”

“She called for assistance. There was no one in danger or domestic disturbance, simply a call for assistance,” said Christian Contreras, the attorney representing Ibanez’s family. “That begs the question as to, ‘Are police equipped to help people?’ They’re not; they’re equipped to brutalize people and use force.” 

Ibanez family members and Christian Contreras, their attorney, held a news conference on March 13, 2023, to call for justice and the release of police body camera footage.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is handling the investigation into Ibanez’s arrest and resulting death.

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Africa

Uganda lawmakers approve new anti-homosexuality bill

Measure would ‘criminalize’ LGBTQ, intersex people

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Ugandan flag (Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandan lawmakers on Tuesday approved a bill that would further criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations and LGBTQ+ and intersex people in the country.

The Associated Press reported nearly all Ugandan MPs voted for the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would punish the “promotion, recruitment and funding” of LGBTQ-specific activities in the country with up to 10 years in prison. 

Human Rights Watch notes “any person who ‘holds out as a lesbian, gay, transgender, a queer, or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female'” would face up to 10 years in prison.

President Yoweri Museveni has said he supports the bill.

“We shall continue to fight this injustice,” tweeted Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesara, a Ugandan LGBTQ+ and intersex activist, after the bill’s passage. “This lesbian woman is Ugandan, even (though) this piece of paper will stop me from enjoying my country. (The) struggle (has) just begun.”

Uganda is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Museveni in 2014 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposed a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The law was known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because it previously contained a death penalty provision.

The U.S. subsequently cut aid to Uganda and imposed a travel ban against officials who carried out human rights abuses. Uganda’s Constitutional Court later struck down the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality.

“One of the most extreme features of this new bill is that it criminalizes people simply for being who they are as well as further infringing on the rights to privacy, and freedoms of expression and association that are already compromised in Uganda,” said Oryem Nyeko of Human Rights Watch in a press release that condemned the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Act. “Ugandan politicians should focus on passing laws that protect vulnerable minorities and affirm fundamental rights and stop targeting LGBT people for political capital.”

The Washington Blade will update this article with any additional updates and reactions as they become available.

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Politics

SPLC condemns passage of Georgia anti-trans healthcare bill

Southern Poverty Law Center urged Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to veto S.B. 140, calling on him to not “give into pressure from his party”

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Georgia Capitol Dome (Screenshot/YouTube)

ATLANTA – The Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund published a statement Tuesday condemning the Republican controlled Georgia legislature’s passage of S.B. 140, a bill that will criminalize gender-affirming health care for minors.

The statement, issued by Beth Littrell, senior supervising attorney of the lobbying and advocacy arm of the civil rights organization, urges Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to veto S.B. 140, calling on him to not “give into pressure from his party” when “the health and wellbeing of young people are at risk” through the denial of “safe, effective medical treatment to transgender youth  based only on prejudice and political pandering.”

Kemp should “leave personal healthcare decisions in the capable hands of parents, children, and their doctors,” Littrell’s statement continues. “We hope the Governor will elevate himself and the State of Georgia above this cynical partisan attack on transgender youth, medical autonomy, and parental rights.”

S.B. 140 specifically prohibits “sex reassignment surgeries, or any other surgical procedures, that are performed for the purpose of altering primary or secondary sexual characteristics” when they are “performed on a minor for the treatment of gender dysphoria.”

“Limited exceptions” are made for the treatment of conditions other than gender dysphoria, if deemed medically necessary by the physician or healthcare practitioner, and for the treatment of patients with “a medically verifiable disorder of sex development.”

The mainstream medical societies with relevant clinical expertise have repeatedly spoken out against legislation that limits access to or criminalizes, as in the case of Georgia’s bill, guideline directed interventions for the treatment of trans and gender nonconforming youth.

On March 16, far-right GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who represents Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, called for the state legislature to make the bill more restrictive.

Specifically, in a tweet she urged the lawmakers to amended S.B. 140 such that treatment of gender dysphoria minor patients with puberty blockers would be criminalized alongside the other interventions covered in the bill and also to remove the covered exceptions.

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Texas

West Texas A&M University president cancels student drag show

Students and First Amendment lawyers say Wendler’s portrayal of drag shows is off base and the cancellation violates free-speech rights

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West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler (Screenshot/YouTube WTAM Channel)

By Kate McGee | CANYON, Tx. – West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler is drawing ire for canceling a student drag show, arguing that such performances degrade women and are “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny.”

Students and First Amendment lawyers reject those assertions, calling his comments a mischaracterization of the art form. They also argue that the cancellation violates student’s constitutional rights and a state law that broadly protects free speech on college campuses, potentially setting the university up for a lawsuit.

“Not only is this a gross and abhorrent comparison of two completely different topics, but it is also an extremely distorted and incorrect definition of drag as a culture and form of performance art,” students wrote in an online petition condemning Wendler’s letter and urging him to reinstate the show.

Students plan to protest every day this week on the campus in the small West Texas city of Canyon, according to a social media post by the Open and Affirming Congregations of the Texas Panhandle.

“Drag is not dangerous or discriminatory, it is a celebration and expression of individuals,” student Signe Elder said in a statement. “Amidst the current climate of growing anti-trans and anti-drag rhetoric, we believe that it is important now more than ever to stand together and be heard.”

Elder is part of a group of students who have organized under the name Buffs for Drag to protest Wendler’s actions.

Drag shows frequently feature men dressing as women in exaggerated styles and have been a mainstay in the LGBTQ community for decades. Drag performers say their work is an expression of queer joy — and a form of constitutionally protected speech about societal gender norms.

But Wendler said drag shows “stereotype women in cartoon-like extremes for the amusement of others and discriminate against womanhood” in a Monday letter that was first obtained by Amarillo news site MyHighPlains.com. Wendler said the drag show was organized to raise money for The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that works to reduce suicides in the LGBTQ community. Wendler noted that it is a “noble cause” but argued the shows would be considered an act of workplace prejudice because they make fun of women.

“Forward-thinking women and men have worked together for nearly two centuries to eliminate sexism,” Wendler wrote. “Women have fought valiantly, seeking equality in the voting booth, marketplace and court of public opinion. No one should claim a right to contribute to women’s suffering via a slapstick sideshow that erodes the worth of women.”

His comments and decision to cancel the campus drag show come amid surging uproar over the lively entertainment as far-right extremist groups have recruited conservatives to protest the events, claiming that drag performances are sexualizing kids.

Republican Texas lawmakers have also homed in on the performances with a handful of bills that would regulate or restrict drag shows, including some legislation that would classify any venue that hosts a drag show as a sexually oriented business, regardless of the show’s content. On Thursday, a Senate committee will debate a scaled-back bill that would impose a $10,000 fine on business owners who host drag shows in front of children — if those performances are sexually oriented. The bill defines a sexually oriented performance as one in which someone is naked or in drag and “appeals to the prurient interest in sex.”

Rachel Hill, government affairs director for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Texas, said drag doesn’t mock women. Instead, she said, it’s an art form that allows performers to explore their gender expression and take back power from what she said can be stifling gender norms.

“Drag has always been a way for people who don’t easily fit into the gender binary to embrace different facets of themselves,” Hill said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “Womanhood comes in all shapes and sizes and is what we make of it. That’s what makes drag so powerful.”

West Texas A&M student groups were organizing the drag show, called “A Fool’s Drag Race,” for months. The LGBTQ student group Spectrum advertised the show on its Instagram page, encouraging people to sign up to perform.

Wendler argued in his letter that the West Texas A&M drag show goes against the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s purpose, saying it’s inappropriate even if drag shows are not illegal.

A lawyer for the national campus free speech group Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression rejected that argument as “nonsense.”

“The only prejudice in play here is his,” said lawyer Alex Morey, arguing that Wendler has violated state and federal law by canceling the show.

In a statement to The Texas Tribune, Morey said that performances on campus such as drag shows are protected by the First Amendment.

“By unilaterally canceling the event because he personally disapproves of the views it might express, WTAMU’s president appears to have violated both his constitutional obligations and state law,” Morey said. “It’s really surprising how open he is about knowingly violating the law, especially because government officials who violate clearly established First Amendment law will not retain qualified immunity and can be held personally liable for monetary damages.”

The students who started the petition also accused Wendler of violating university policy, which states the school can’t deny student groups any benefits “on the basis of a political, religious, philosophical, ideological, or academic viewpoint expressed by the organization or any expressive activities of the organization.”

In 2019, Texas lawmakers passed a law that required universities to allow any person to engage in free-speech activities on campuses. The law passed with broad bipartisan support.

A West Texas A&M spokesperson said Tuesday morning that Wendler did not have any further comments. The Texas A&M University System, which oversees West Texas A&M, also declined to comment.

Last year, Texas A&M University in College Station drew criticism from students when the office of student affairs announced it would no longer sponsor Draggieland, the annual drag show competition that started in 2020. Students held the performance last year after raising money through private donations. This year’s event is scheduled for April 6.

Alex Nguyen contributed to this story.

Disclosure: Equality Texas, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University System and West Texas A&M University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Kate McGee’s staff photo

Kate McGee covers higher education for The Texas Tribune. She joined the Tribune in October 2020 after nearly a decade as a reporter at public radio stations across the country, including in Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Austin; Reno, Nevada; and New York. Kate was born in New York City and raised primarily in New Jersey. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Fordham University. Her work has appeared on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered,” “Here and Now,” and “The Takeaway.”

The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

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Africa

LGBTQ+, intersex Ghanaians in limbo as lawmakers consider harsh ‘family values’ bill

Soldiers earlier this month raided gay party in Accra

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Ghanaian flag (Public domain photo by Jorono from Pixabay)

ACCRA, Ghana — Ghana’s LGBTQ+ and intersex community is currently in limbo over whether the government will impose more harsh penalties upon those who identify as LGBTQ+ or intersex.

Parliamentarians in 2021 introduced the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill that would fully criminalize LGBTQ+ and intersex people, along with advocacy groups and anyone who comes out in support of them.

The measure would criminalize cross-dressing, public affection between two people of the same sex, marriage among same-sex couples or the intent to marry someone who is the same sex. The bill would also prohibit corrective therapy or surgery for intersex people.

Any person or group seen as promoting identities or prohibited acts in the bill or campaigning in support of LGBTQ+ and intersex people would face up to 10 years in prison. Any person who does not report consensual same-sex sexual acts could also face charges.

A parliamentary committee is currently reviewing the measure, but LGBTQ+ and intersex Ghanaians continue to be victimized and assaulted under existing law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Ghanaian soldiers earlier this month stormed a gay party in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, and assaulted two people who were attending it.

“Military men stormed and disrupted a birthday party of alleged gay men in James Town, Accra. According to reports, some of the partygoers were injured and bled, following the military attack on the alleged LGBTQ+ persons at the party,” said Rightify Ghana, an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, in a statement. “We urge the authorities to investigate these incidents and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. The use of excessive force against civilians is never justifiable and only serves to create further division and mistrust.

“We stand in solidarity with the victims of these attacks and call on all Ghanaians to come together in support of peace and tolerance,” added Rightify Ghana. “Discrimination and violence have no place in our society, and we must all work together to create a safe and inclusive environment for all.” 

Kwame Afrifa, CEO of Reflex Ghana, another LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, said the Accra raid was not the first time such an event has happened. Afrifa said making the country’s armed forces more sensitive to LGBTQ+ and intersex rights would help curtal such incidents. 

“There have been a few cases I have heard of this year and in previous years such as the closing of the LGBT+ Rights Ghana safe space, the destroying of billboards belonging to LGBT+ Rights Ghana, the arrest of human rights activists which also happened somewhere last year amongst others I haven’t come across,” said Afrifa. “Nevertheless, sensitizing LGBT+ issues would help in abating the victimization as most people are ignorant of the laws of the land and try to abuse the rights of queer persons.”

Rightify Ghana said categorizing the existence of LGBTQ+ and intersex people and labeling consensual intimacy between people of the same sex as deviant is a legacy of colonialism.

“The Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, 2021 will continue to be a pattern of dehumanizing and silencing LGBTQ+ people, isolating them from support networks. It will also minimize, and even cover up, human rights violations,” said Rightify Ghana. “We therefore, recommend that the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs recommend that the Parliament of Ghana reject the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill in its entirety.”  

Ghana is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The country is one of the 10 non-permanent U.N. Security Council members. A representative from Ghana on Monday during a meeting that U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield hosted said the Security Council is not an appropriate venue to discuss LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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United Nations

UN Security Council urged to focus on LGBTQ+, intersex rights

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield chaired Monday meeting

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The United Nations (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Monday chaired a meeting at the United Nations that focused on the integration of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work.

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. co-sponsored the meeting along with Albania, Brazil, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the U.K. and the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

Thomas-Greenfield announced four “specific steps the U.S. will take to better integrate LGBTQI+ concerns into the U.N. Security Council’s daily work.”

• A regular review of the situation of LGBTQ+ and intersex people in conflict zones on the Security Council’s agenda that “includes regularly soliciting information from LGBTQI+ human rights defenders.

• Encouraging the U.N. Secretariat and other U.N. officials to “integrate LGBTQI+ concerns and perspectives in their regular reports” to the Security Council.

• A commitment “to raising abuses and violations of the human rights of LGBTQI+ people in our national statements in the Security Council.”

• A promise to propose, “when appropriate, language in Security Council products responding to the situation of LGBTQI+ individuals.”

“We are proud of these commitments,” said Thomas-Greenfield during Monday’s meeting. “They are just the beginning.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks outside the U.N. Security Council on March 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues, provided a briefing on LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world. 

“My mandate is based on one single fact: Diversity and sexual orientation and gender identity is a universal feature of humanity,” he said. “For too long, it has been made invisible in national level contributions to peace and security, including policies and programs and in the political and programmatic action of the United Nations.” 

María Susana Peralta of Colombia Diversa — an LGBTQ+ and intersex advocacy group in Colombia that participated in talks between the country’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that led to an LGBTQ+-inclusive peace agreement then-President Juan Manuel Santos and then-FARC Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño signed in 2016 — and Afghan LGBT Organization Director Artemis Akbary also took part in the meeting.

Peralta said Colombia’s peace agreement “has created a standard by which other countries can use,” but noted the country’s Special Justice for Peace has yet to prosecute anyone who committed human rights abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity during the war.

Akbary noted the persecution of LGBTQ+ and intersex people in Afghanistan has increased since the Taliban regained control of the country in 2021. Akbary also said LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans cannot flee to Iran and other neighboring countries because of criminalization laws.

“The whole world is watching as the rights of LGBTQ people are systematically violated in Afghanistan,” said Akbary. “LGBTQ people on the ground in Afghanistan need and deserve protection.”

Representatives of U.N. delegations from France, Brazil, Albania, Japan, Ecuador, Switzerland, the U.K., Malta, Colombia, South Africa, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and the European Union spoke in favor of the integration of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights into the Security Council’s work.

“A person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or sex characteristics often increases the risk of of becoming the target in conflict and crisis situations,” said Luis Guilherme Parga Cintra of Brazil.

British Ambassador to the U.N. General Assembly Richard Crocker made a similar point.

“We know the conflicts have disproportionate impact on marginalized communities: Women and girls, persons with disabilities, members of ethnic and religious minority groups,” he said. “It is only right the Security Council is discussing this issue today.”

Ambassador Karlito Nunes, who is Timor-Leste’s permanent U.N. representative, read a statement in support of the Security Council discussions about LGBTQ+ and intersex issues. Representatives from China, Russia and Ghana who spoke said the Security Council is not the appropriate place to discuss them.

“Sexual orientation is an individual choice of every individual,” said the Russian representative.

The meeting took place less than 13 months after Russia launched its war against Ukraine. 

A Russian airstrike on March 1, 2022, killed Elvira Schemur, a 21-year-old law school student who volunteered for Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride, while she was volunteering inside the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv’s regional administration building. Activists with whom the Washington Blade has spoken said LGBTQ+ and intersex people who lived in Russia-controlled areas of the country did not go outside and tried to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity because they were afraid of Russian soldiers.

A Pride commemoration in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sept. 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Sphere Women’s Association)

The Security Council’s first-ever LGBTQ+-specific meeting, which focused on the Islamic State’s persecution of LGBTQ+ Syrians and Iraqis, took place in 2015. Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who is now director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and then-International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Executive Director Jessica Stern, who is now the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights, are among those who participated.

Stern, along with U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), attended the meeting alongside OutRight International Executive Director Maria Sjödin, among others.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad, center, speaks outside the U.N. Security Council on March 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Security Council in June 2016 formally condemned the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. The U.N. Human Rights Council a few months later appointed Vitit Muntarbhorn as the first independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues. (Madrigal-Borloz succeeded Muntarbhorn in 2018.)

Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Knight Craft and then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell in 2019 during a U.N. General Assembly meeting hosted an event that focused on efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations around the world. 

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s overall foreign policy. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price later told the Washington Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the White House’s five priorities as it relates to the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights overseas.

The U.S., the U.K., France, China and Russia are the Security Council’s five permanent members. Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates are the 10 non-permanent members.

Ghana and the United Arab Emirates are two of the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. 

“Today’s meeting was an important first step toward further concrete actions the Security Council, and all parts of the U.N., can take to integrate LGBTQI+ human rights, experiences, and perspectives into their day-to-day work,” Thomas-Greenfield told the Blade in a statement after Monday’s meeting. “We’re proud of the four commitments we made today, and we will keep working to make sure this topic remains on the Council’s agenda.”

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California

Newsom proposes modernizing state’s behavioral health system

Newsom proposed a 2024 ballot initiative to improve how California treats mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness

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Gov. Newsom speaking on a proposed 2024 ballot initiative in San Diego, March 18, 2023 (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SAN DIEGO – Governor Gavin Newsom, in partnership with state Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), has proposed the next step to modernize how California treats mental illness, substance use disorders, and homelessness. 

Governor Newsom proposed a 2024 ballot initiative to improve how California treats mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness: A bond to build state-of-the-art mental health treatment residential settings in the community to house Californians with mental illness and substance use disorders and to create housing for homeless veterans, and modernize the Mental Health Services Act to require at least $1 billion every year for behavioral health housing and care,

An initiative would go on the 2024 ballot that would:

  1. Authorize a general obligation bond to:
    1. Build thousands of new community behavioral health beds in state-of-the-art residential settings to house Californians with mental illness and substance use disorders, which could serve over 10,000 people every year in residential-style settings that have on-site services – not in institutions of the past, but locations where people can truly heal. 
    2. Provide more funding specifically for housing for homeless veterans. 
  2. Amend the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), leading to at least $1 billion every year in local assistance for housing and residential services for people experiencing mental illness and substance use disorders, and allowing MHSA funds to serve people with substance use disorders.
  3. Include new accountability and oversight measures for counties to improve performance. 

The MHSA was originally passed 20 years ago; it is now time to refresh it so it can better meet the challenges we face. Key changes that the Governor is proposing include: Creating a permanent source of housing funding of $1 billion a year in local assistance funds to serve people with acute behavioral health issues, focusing on Full Service Partnerships for the most seriously ill; and allowing MHSA to be used for people with substance use disorders alone.

 “This is the next step in our transformation of how California addresses mental illness, substance use disorders, and homelessness – creating thousands of new beds, building more housing, expanding services, and more. People who are struggling with these issues, especially those who are on the streets or in other vulnerable conditions, will have more resources to get the help they need.”  

According to the Governor’s office, the Administration plans to work in close partnership with legislative leaders in this space including Senator Eggman and Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), as well as with the California State Association of Counties, other critical local government stakeholders, community-based service organizations, advocates, and people with lived experience as bill language is developed. 

Previous initiatives include:

  • $2.2 billion for the Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program.
  • $1.5 billion for Behavioral Health Bridge Housing.
  • $1.4 billion to expand and diversify the behavioral health workforce.
  • $4.7 billion Master Plan for Kids’ Mental Health, of which the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative is the central component.
  • $1.4 billion to build out a Medi-Cal benefit for mobile crisis response, as well as $38 million to expand 9-8-8 and CalHOPE crisis call center.
  • Over $600 million to support community-based alternatives to state hospitalization for those who commit felonies who are incompetent to stand trial.
  • Over $1 billion to address the opioid epidemic.
  • $7 billion to reform CalAIM – enhanced care management for people with serious mental illness, a no wrong door approach to care, and more. 
  • $1.6 billion proposed to implement the California Behavioral Health Community-Based Continuum Demonstration to strengthen services and supports for those who are at risk of homelessness, incarceration and foster care placements.
  • $50 million for the California Veterans Health Initiative (CVHI) for veteran suicide prevention and mental health.
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New York

NY Attorney General hosts drag story hour- Proud Boys chased off

Approximately 200 attendees enjoyed the read-a-thon, led by the Drag Kings, Queens and Royalty of Drag Story Hour NYC at the center

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Screenshot/YouTube FNTV

MANHATTAN – Far-right extremists clashed with LGBTQ+ activists and supporters outside outside the LGBTQ Community Center on W. 13th St. in Greenwich Village Sunday, as inside New York State Attorney General Letitia James hosted a Drag Queen Story Hour event.

Approximately 200 attendees enjoyed the read-a-thon, led by the Drag Kings, Queens and Royalty of Drag Story Hour NYC at the center, a resource hub for New York City’s LGBTQ+ community.

As families arrived with excited smiles, a group of protesters assembled across the street — many of them brandishing Trump signs and wearing garb supporting White Supremacist groups like the Proud Boys, AM New York reported.

Protestors were separated by barricades on either side of West 13th along with a heavy New York Police Department presence with dozens of uniform and plainclothes officers to maintain calm.

Independent freelance videographer and photojournalist Oliya Scootercaster captured the protests as one member of the Proud Boys was led away with blood and scrapes on his face by another Proud Boy after an apparent altercation.

Another far-right protestor, who had covered his face and head with a golden Guy Fawkes mask and USA flag headscarf, was seen being arrested by NYPD officers after he confronted protesters and members of the press, knocking things out of their hands.

Proud Boys Bloody Fight at Protest of Attorney Generals Drag Story Hour in Manhattan via FNTV Freedomnews.tv videographer Oliya Scootercaster:

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