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Trans woman killed by US border agent identified as Nikki Janelle Enriquez

Transgender Law Center: “We refuse to become numb to this rapid accumulation of injustices.”

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Nikki Janelle Enriquez (Photo from Facebook)

The Webb County Texas Sheriff’s Office identified the third victim of U.S. Border Patrol Supervisory Agent and accused serial killer Juan David Ortiz as Nikki Janelle Enriquez. The 28-year old transgender woman was found dead in a ditch alongside Interstate 35 near mile marker 15, said Webb County Sheriff’s spokesperson Eduardo Chapa.

A fourth victim’s identification remains confidential, pending familial notification.
Ortiz, a 10- year border patrol veteran agent, was arrested Saturday, Sept. 15, in the deaths of four women and the aggravated assault of a fifth victim who narrowly escaped harm and alerted a police officer.

A spokesperson for Webb County Texas District Attorney Isidro R. “Chilo” Alaniz, told the Los Angeles Blade Monday that Ortiz, 35, confessed to killing the four women between September 3 and September 15.

In the criminal affidavit filed by investigators from the Webb County Sheriff’s Office, the break in the case came Friday after a woman narrowly escaped Ortiz.

That woman, identified as Erika Pena, was sitting in a truck with a man named “David” and the two started talking about one of the prostitutes who had gone missing a week earlier. The man then pulled out a pistol and pointed it at her. When she tried to flee, he grabbed her shirt to prevent her from leaving the vehicle. Pena pulled off her shirt and ran to a nearby gas station where she encountered a Texas state trooper. She was able to provide a detailed description of Ortiz, according to affidavit.

Webb County Sheriff’s spokesperson Eduardo Chapa told the LA Blade, as well as other media outlets, that the bodies of four victims were found over the past two weeks. He added that homicide investigators were not ruling out the possibility of more victims.

The affidavit originally described the victims as three women and one man—but Chapa noted that the victim identified as male was, in fact, a transgender woman.

In a news conference posted to NBC Laredo affiliate KGNS’s Facebook page, Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar told reporters: “We have very strong evidence that he is the person who has been killing.”

According to the criminal complaint filed by Cuellar’s office, authorities found Ortiz at a gas station in Laredo, about 160 miles southwest of San Antonio. He fled the scene on foot and ran to a Ramada Inn where he was found hiding in the bed of a pickup truck, Alaniz said.

Ortiz was read his Miranda Rights and then he verbally confessed to killing four people over the last two weeks, the affidavit states. Two of the four killings took place in the hours after the woman was able to escape but before police tracked him down.

DA Alaniz told the Associated Press Saturday that investigators “consider this to be a serial killer” whose victims were believed to be prostitutes. Alaniz described how the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) supervisor continued going to work as usual throughout that time. “As law enforcement was looking for the killer,” he said, “[Ortiz ] would be reporting to work every day like normal.”

The killing spree became known to authorities with the discovery Sept. 4 of the body of 29-year-old Melissa Ramirez. According to the police affidavit, Ortiz said he killed Ramirez a day earlier. Like the other victims, Ramirez was shot in the head and left in a road in rural northwest Webb County. She was a mother of two.

A second victim, 42-year-old Claudine Anne Luera, was found shot and left in the road Thursday morning, badly injured but still alive, according to the affidavit. The mother of five died at a hospital later that day.

Authorities told the LA Blade Monday that Ortiz told investigators that after the victim escaped from his truck and ran off, he picked up his last two victims, one of whom, Sheriff’s spokesperson Chapa confirmed, was the transgender woman, now identified as Nikki Janelle Enriquez.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Border Patrol told the LA Blade that the agency was cooperating with Sheriff’s investigators and the District Attorney’s Office.

“While it is CBP policy to not comment on the details of an ongoing investigation, criminal action by our employees is not, and will not be tolerated. Out of respect to the victims’ family (sic), we ask that deference and due process be given to the investigation so that all the facts are brought to light and they can receive the closure they deserve,” the spokesperson said.

The Transgender Law Center issued a statement following Enriquez’s identification:

“We are horrified by the news that a Border Patrol agent has targeted and killed several sex workers, including Nikki Janelle Enriquez, a transgender woman. While our society treats trans women, sex workers, and people of color as disposable, Transgender Law Center works every day to end the violence that is all too routine for people living at these intersections and to create a world in which everyone is afforded dignity and respect.

“At this moment it is critical that we interrogate the different factors that led to this horrible loss of lives. Complicit in this tragedy are state and federal governments that are aggressively attacking sex workers’ well-being under the pretense of combating human trafficking. Congress’s recent passage of SESTA/FOSTA has driven some into more dangerous street-based work, while simultaneously making it more difficult for sex workers to continue their work while building and accessing community safety tools.

“Meanwhile, it is crystal clear that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) foster and cultivate brutal, callous, racist attitudes in their staff. From Trump’s “taking the handcuffs off … the border patrol and ICE” to family separation to the many deaths of immigrants in detention, these agencies have only become more brazen and deadly under the current administration.

This tragedy is positioned in the broader context of 2018, a year of unprecedented violence against trans women of color, intense and emboldened racism, and ramped-up stigmatization of sex workers. We refuse to become numb to this rapid accumulation of injustices. We feel every attack, every aggression, and every loss. We fight for the lives and dignity of every trans person, every sex worker, and every person of color, and we refuse to stop until we achieve liberation for all.”

Karen Ocamb contributed to this story

Utah

Ban on most gender-affirming health care for trans minors in Utah

Law bans gender-confirming surgeries & bars doctors from prescribing hormone therapy for minors diagnosed with “gender dysphoria”

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Utah Governor Spencer Cox (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SALT LAKE CITY – Labeling a bill “a nuanced and thoughtful approach to a terribly divisive issue” Utah’s Republican Governor Spencer Cox signed a bill into law Saturday and taking affect in May that will ban most gender-affirming health care for transgender youth.

Releasing a statement after signing Senate Bill 16 (SB16) into law Cox said:

“Legislation that impacts our most vulnerable youth requires careful consideration and deliberation. While not a perfect bill, we are grateful for Sen. Kennedy’s more nuanced and thoughtful approach to this terribly divisive issue. More and more experts, states and countries around the world are pausing these permanent and life-altering treatments for new patients until more and better research can help determine the long-term consequences.”

“We will continue to push the Legislature for additional resources to organizations that work to help this important Utah community. While we understand our words will be of little comfort to those who disagree with us, we sincerely hope that we can treat our transgender families with more love and respect as we work to better understand the science and consequences behind these procedures,” the Governor added.

SB16 bans gender-confirming surgeries and places a prohibition on puberty blockers for minors barring doctors from prescribing hormone therapy for minors who have been diagnosed with “gender dysphoria.”

The ACLU of Utah had requested in a letter to the governor that he veto the bill, noting that the bill would have damaging and catastrophic effects on medical care and violate constitutional rights.

“This bill effectively bans access to life-saving medical care for transgender youth in Utah. It undermines the health and well-being of adolescents, limits the options of doctors, patients, and parents, and violates the constitutional rights of these families,” said Brittney Nystrom, Executive Director of the ACLU of Utah.

In its letter the ACLU of Utah also cited multiple court cases where similar laws passed in Arkansas and Alabama are currently enjoined by federal courts for violating equal protection and due process rights.

“This is a devastating and dangerous violation of the rights and privacy of transgender Utahns, their families, and their medical providers,” said Chase Strangio, Deputy Director for Transgender Justice at the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “Claims of protecting our most vulnerable with these laws ring hollow when lawmakers have trans children’s greatest protectors – their parents, providers, and the youth themselves – pleading in front of them not to cut them off from their care. I want transgender youth in Utah to know this fight is not over, and we won’t stop defending your autonomy and freedom until each and every one of you can access the care you need.”

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Crime & Justice

Tyre Nichols’ arrest & fatal beating video released by Memphis PD

“We want peace. We do not want any type of uproar. We do not want any type of disturbance. Please, please, protest, but protest safely.”

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Surveillance footage of arrest and beating of Tyre Nichols (Screenshot/YouTube NBC News)

MEMPHIS –  Three videos consisting of both body cam footage and street surveillance footage, were made public by the city of Memphis Police Department Friday evening showing the violent arrest and beating of Memphis resident 29-year-old Tyre Nichols.

Nichols died 3 days after he was beaten by police in a traffic stop in the Hickory Hill neighborhood around 8:22 p.m. Jan. 7, in an altercation Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis  described saying, “In my 36 years in law enforcement, I don’t think I have witnessed the disregard for a human being displayed in this video.” 

29-year-old Tyre Nichols (Family Photo)

Shelby County Tennessee District Attorney Steve Mulroy announced Thursday that five now-former Memphis Police officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith — were fired for misconduct, and indicted by a grand jury Thursday and taken into custody.

Each is charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct and official oppression. By Friday morning, they had posted bond.

Left: Justin Smith, top center: Emmitt Martin III, top right: Desmond Mills Jr., center left: Demetrius Haley, right bottom: Tadarrius Bean
(Photos provided by Memphis Police Department)

As news of the beating and death spread beyond Tennessee, officials expressed concern that release of the footage would touch off violent protest in reaction.

The attorneys and family of Tyre Nichols asked for justice for their son, and peace in their city, at a press conference in Memphis on Friday Memphis CBS News affiliate WREG News 3 reported.

Speakers included family members, attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci and Van Turner, president of the Memphis branch NAACP.

Rodney Wells, Tyre Nichols’ stepfather, said that he initially wanted first-degree murder charges against the officers, but the family is satisfied with second-degree murder.

He pleaded for peace in Memphis Friday night.

“We want peace. We do not want any type of uproar. We do not want any type of disturbance,” Wells said. “Please, please, protest, but protest safely.”

Protests are underway in Memphis after police released more than an hour of footage in the case with some major highways temporarily shut down.

Other protests were organized in New York City, as well as Sacramento, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Seattle, with police at the ready for potential violence.

The White House held a joint emergency call Friday with the mayors of at least 16 cities before the video’s release “to brief them on federal preparations in support of state and local leaders.”

“Participating mayors shared their perspectives on how important it is to recognize the pain felt by communities across this country, be prepared in advance with a game plan to provide adequate community support, and to reinforce the importance of peace and calm during these difficult moments,” the White House said in a statement about the call, which included cities from New York City, to Atlanta, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Seattle and Portland.

The Los Angeles Police Department issued a statement condemning the actions of the Memphis officers and calling for demonstrations to remain peaceful.

“The accounts of the circumstances of this heinous crime and the criminal actions of those involved are reprehensible,” the LAPD said.

“The Department will do all within its power to ensure the lawful expression of the public’s anger and frustration is protected and prepared to facilitate those wishing to exercise their First Amendment rights.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told local media that it is preparing for the possibility of disturbances after the footage is made public. and is coordinating with other state, local and federal agencies.

“Our patrol stations and specialized units remain in a state of readiness to respond to any disturbances that might occur,” the LASD said.

“The Sheriff’s Department supports the first amendment and the people’s right to protest.”

Speaking with reporters as he prepared to depart for Camp David at the White House Friday evening, President Biden said that he had spoken with Nichols’ mother earlier in the day prior to the video footage release for about 10 or 15 minutes.

“I spoke with Tyre’s mother and expressed my condolences and told her that I was going to be making the case to the Congress to pass the George Floyd Act. We should get this under control. I can only do so much on the executive order at the federal level,” Biden said. “I was really pleased that she called for peaceful protest, no violence,” he added.

When asked about the potential for violence Biden said:

“I’m obviously very concerned about it. But I think she has made a very strong plea. She’s obviously in enormous pain. I told her I had some idea of what that loss is like and although it is impossible to believe now, a time will come when his memory brings a smile before a tear.” 

The White House released a statement from the President that said in part:

Like so many, I was outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols’ death. It is yet another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma, the pain, and the exhaustion that Black and Brown Americans experience every single day. 
 
My heart goes out to Tyre Nichols’ family and to Americans in Memphis and across the country who are grieving this tremendously painful loss. The footage that was released this evening will leave people justifiably outraged. Those who seek justice should not to resort to violence or destruction. Violence is never acceptable; it is illegal and destructive. I join Mr. Nichols’ family in calling for peaceful protest.

California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statement in response to the Memphis Police Department’s body camera footage being released, showing the deadly actions that took the life of Tyre Nichols, a Sacramento native, and led to the charging of five since fired Memphis Law Enforcement Officers.

Jennifer and I send our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Tyre Nichols. Tyre Nichols should be alive today. The video released shows abhorrent behavior and these officers must be held accountable for their deadly actions and clear abuse of power,” said Governor Newsom. “Today, we are a country in mourning, and must continue our work nationwide to push reforms to prevent excessive use of force and save lives.

“Tonight, we saw ferocious violence from an out-of-control herd,” said Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass.

Late in the evening Friday the Office of the Vice President Kamala Harris released a statement from the Vice President on Nichols:

Tyre Nichols should have made it home to his family. Yet, once again, America mourns the life of a son and father brutally cut short at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. The footage and images released tonight will forever be seared in our memories, and they open wounds that will never fully heal.
 
The persistent issue of police misconduct and use of excessive force in America must end now. 
 
I join President Biden in his call for accountability and transparency. We must build trust—not fear—within our communities
.”

VIDEO COURTESY OF KTLA:

TYRE NICHOLS VIDEO VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED, GRAPHIC CONTENT AND LANGUAGE WARNING.

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Crime & Justice

FBI: ‘Explosion’ of teen boys extorted by explicit photos, videos

“Homeland Security Investigations has not observed any sextortion investigations that refer specifically to gay teenagers”

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Seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (Photo Credit: FBI Media Affairs)

PITTSBURGH – Law enforcement officials led by the FBI and the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations division are reporting an alarming increase in incidents of mostly teenage boys being tricked into sending explicit photos and videos of themselves to online scammers who then attempt to extort money from the young victims.

Spokespersons for the FBI, the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which is an arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, where sextortion cases increased dramatically, have told the Washington Blade they so far are unaware of gay teenage boys being targeted for what authorities are calling financial sextortion.

“We have not seen that,” said Catherine Pollicicchio, a spokesperson for the FBI Field Office in Pittsburgh, when asked by the Blade if gay teens were being targeted. “But that doesn’t mean it is not happening. We may not know about it,” she said.

“Homeland Security Investigations has not observed any sextortion investigations that refer specifically to gay teenagers,” said Jason Koontz, a spokesperson for HSI Philadelphia offices.

A spokesperson for the FBI’s headquarters in Washington couldn’t immediately be reached to confirm whether FBI officials are aware of gay teenagers or gay young adults being targeted for sextortion in other parts of the country.

The D.C.-based LGBTQ youth advocacy group SMYAL is also unaware of any gay male teenagers in the D.C. area being targeted for sextortion, according SMYAL spokesperson Hancie Stokes.

But the popular app Grindr reports on its website that adult gay men using Grindr and other gay hookup apps have been targeted for sextortion in ways similar to how the straight teenage boys have been targeted.

The scammers are persuading the gay adult men to send who they believe is someone interested in a possible sexual hookup or a relationship nude or sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves. The scammer then uses the explicit images to blackmail the victim into sending large sums of money to prevent the scammer from releasing the photos or videos to the victim’s family, friends, or employer.  

In a Scam Awareness Guide posted on its website, Grindr says that unlike potential straight targets for sextortion, some of the scammers have threatened to out gay men, including bisexual men married to women, by sending their sexually explicit photos or videos to a spouse or other family members.

In yet another means of carrying out sextortion scams, according to Grindr, some of the scammers have set up a fake profile as an underage person. After tricking the victim into sending explicit images the scammer threatens to report the victim to police for soliciting sex with a minor unless a ransom is paid.

The FBI’s national office in Washington issued a “public safety alert” about the increasing number of sextortion cases targeting teenage males in a Dec. 19 press release.

“Over the past year, law enforcement has received over 7,000 reports related to the online financial sextortion of minors, resulting in at least 3,000 victims, primarily boys, and more than a dozen suicides,” the FBI press statement says.

“The FBI has seen a horrific increase in reports of financial sextortion schemes targeting minor boys—and the fact is that the many victims who are afraid to come forward are not even included in those numbers,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in the FBI statement. “The FBI is here for victims, but we also need parents and caregivers to work with us to prevent this crime before it happens and help children come forward if it does,” Wray said.

“Victims may feel like there is no way out – it is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone,” Wray said.

The FBI statement says sextortion schemes occur most often through sites where young people interact with each other such as social media, gaming sites, or video chat applications.

“On these platforms, online predators often use fake female accounts and target minor males between 14 and 17 years old, but the FBI has interviewed victims as young as 10 years old,” according to the statement. “Through deception, predators convince the young person to produce an explicit video or photo,” it says.

“Once predators acquire the images, they threaten to release the compromising material unless the victim sends money or gift cards,” the FBI statement continues. “In many cases, however, predators release the images even if payments are made. The shame, fear, and confusion that victims feel when they are caught in this cycle often prevents them from asking for help or reporting the abuse,” the FBI statement says.

“A large percentage of these sextortion schemes originate outside of the United States and primarily in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast,” according to the FBI statement.

Jane Clementi, co-founder and CEO of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which advocates for programs to prevent bullying, including cyberbullying, targeting LGBTQ youth, said she and the Clementi Foundation, which is a nationwide group, were unaware of any specific gay youth or young adults being targeted for sextortion.

“The fact that this is on the rise is very disconcerting and means it needs to have more media coverage to inform youth and their parents about the harms and how to deal with the situation,” she told the Blade in an email. “My hope would be that we can prevent this situation from happening in the first place.” 

Jane Clementi, her husband, and other family members founded the Clementi Foundation in 2010 a short time after their son Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman student at New Jersey’s Rutgers University, took his own life after being victimized by cyber bullying.

Tyler’s suicide drew international attention when news surfaced that his college roommate secretly pointed his laptop computer camera at Tyler’s bed when he learned that Tyler had a date with another young man and the two planned to engage in intimacy in the dorm room. The roommate informed others that he would be broadcasting a live video of Tyler’s intimate interaction with his date over the internet and would be rebroadcasting it later, a development Tyler became humiliated and devastated over after he learned what had happened.

Jane Clementi said that type of cyberbullying and other forms of what she called revenge porn or nonconsensual porn, in which someone uses private images shared with them in confidence while in a relationship and then shares the photos or videos publicly after the relationship ends has been an issue of concern for many years.

Although it is not the same as financial sextortion, it often has the same harmful impact on victims, those familiar with the two types of scams have said.

“The best place to start is by raising awareness of the issue and by having healthy conversations starting at the youngest of ages, as soon as youth have a device that is connected to the internet,” Clementi said. “And next, parents and youth need to talk through a plan for the inevitable situation they might encounter online, like harassment, intimidation or worse sextortion.”

Grindr says on its website that it has protocols in place to detect and remove fake accounts set up by scammers. “While we detect and block a huge amount of these accounts that you will never see as a user, some still get through,” Grindr says on its website.  

Advice from the Grindr Scam Awareness Guide on how to avoid becoming a victim of sextortion and how best to respond if one is targeted for sextortion can be accessed at grindr.com.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal Court upholds Washington state ban on conversion therapy

NCLR successfully moved to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of Equal Rights Washington– the state’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization

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The William Kenzo Nakamura United States Courthouse for the 9th Circuit, Seattle, WA. (Photo by Joe Mabel)

SEATTLE — The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Monday rejected a therapist’s request for the court to reconsider its previous decision upholding the State of Washington’s law protecting minors from conversion therapy by licensed health professionals.

Conversion therapy is a dangerous and discredited practice that attempts to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Washington prohibited licensed mental health professionals from subjecting minors to conversion therapy in 2018, as more than 20 other states have also done.

Last September, the ninth circuit wrote:  “In relying on the body of evidence before it as well as the medical recommendations of expert organizations, the Washington Legislature rationally acted by amending its regulatory scheme for licensed health care providers to add ‘performing conversion therapy on a patient under age eighteen’ to the list of unprofessional conduct for the health professions.”

“The Ninth Circuit has affirmed that states can require licensed mental health providers to comply with ethical and professional standards prohibiting the use of unnecessary, ineffective, and harmful treatments on their minor patients,” said Shannon Minter NCLR Legal Director. “These are common sense protections that unfortunately are necessary to prevent unethical therapists from defrauding parents and causing severe harm to LGBTQ youth. Every major medical and mental health organization in the country supports these laws, which are supported by decades of research and clear standards of care.”

“We applaud the Ninth Circuit for permitting states to protect survivors like myself from the unethical practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy,” which has wreaked havoc on thousands of LGBTQ youth and their families,” said Mathew Shurka, a “conversion therapy” survivor and co-founder of Born Perfect. 

In 2018, Washington passed a law prohibiting state-licensed therapists from engaging in conversion therapy with a patient under 18 years old. Every leading medical and mental health organization in the country has warned that these practices do not work and put young people at risk of serious harm, including depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Twenty-five states and over 100 localities have laws or administrative policies protecting youth from these practices or preventing the expenditure of state funds on conversion therapy.

In 2021, an anti-LGBTQ legal group filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new law on behalf of Brian Tingley, a “therapist” and advocate of “conversion therapy”.

Tingley, who is represented by the Scottsdale, Arizona-based anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom, (ADF), identifies himself as a “Christian licensed marriage and family therapist”  and alleges in the court filings that the provided definition of “conversion therapy” is “vague, content-biased, and biased against one perspective or point of view.”

 The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) successfully moved to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of Equal Rights Washington (ERW) – the state’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization and a primary supporter of the law during the legislative process. ERW and the State of Washington urged the court to uphold the law in light of the overwhelming consensus of medical and mental health professionals that conversion therapy poses a serious risk to the health and well-being of Washington’s youth. In August 2021, the federal district court for the Western District of Washington upheld the law and rejected Tingley’s challenge.

In September 2022, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, ruling that state laws protecting minors from conversion therapy by licensed health professionals are constitutional. Tingley then asked the full Ninth Circuit to order the September decision to be reconsidered by a larger panel of Ninth Circuit judges. Today, the court rejected that request. 

The court’s order means that the September 2022 panel decision upholding the Washington law will be the Ninth Circuit’s final decision in the case.

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State Department

Rainbow Railroad participates in new US refugee resettlement program

State Department announced Welcome Corps on Thursday

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A flyer from the U.N. Refugee Agency in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, on Jan. 29, 2019, advises migrants who are fleeing violence, persecution, war or discrimination have a right to apply for refugee status. Rainbow Railroad is participating in a new State Department program that will allow American citizens to help refugees resettle in the U.S. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — A group that works with LGBTQ+ and intersex refugees and asylum seekers will participate in a State Department program that will allow American citizens to help refugees resettle in the U.S.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday announced Welcome Corps, which a senior State Department official noted will allow Americans to “form private sponsor groups to support refugees and help them integrate into American society as thriving members of their local communities.” Another senior State Department official told reporters the program in its first year hopes to “mobilize at least” 10,000 Americans “to step forward as private sponsors and offer a welcoming hand to at least” 5,000 refugees.

Rainbow Railroad is among the organizations with which the State Department has partnered to help implement the program. The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration is also participating in Welcome Corps.

“We are excited to see the impact of this program, which will empower communities of care — LGBTQI+ Americans supporting LGBTQI+ refugees. This program will help at-risk LGBTQI+ people get to safety across the United States,” said Rainbow Railroad in a press release. “As an organization with extensive experience and expertise in private sponsorship, including in Canada, Rainbow Railroad was proud to be a consultative partner in the development of this new U.S. program, advocating for a model that will support LGBTQI+ persons at risk.”

“We are excited to be recognized as a private sponsorship organization by the U.S. consortium which is going to be operating this private sponsorship program,” added the organization. “This is an important moment for global LGBTQI+ rights and the advancement of refugee support in the United States, and we look forward to the opportunity to get more at-risk LGBTQI+ people to safety through this new program.”  

Rainbow Railroad in 2022 helped resettle LGBTQ+ and intersex refugees from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Russia and more than 30 other countries. President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

The White House earlier this month announced the creation of a humanitarian parole program for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans that officials said combines “safe, orderly and lawful pathways to the United States, including authorization to work.”

Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans through a U.S. Customs and Border Protection app “can seek advance authorization to travel to the United States and be considered, on a case-by-case basis, for a temporary grant of parole for up to two years, including employment authorization, provided that they: Pass righrous biometric and biographic national security and public safety screening and vetting; have a supporter in the United States who commits to providing financial and other support and complete vaccinations and other public health requirements.” The Biden administration also announced it will expand the use of “expedited removal” of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans who enter the U.S. from Mexico without legal authorization. 

Immigration Equality and the Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration are among the myriad organizations that sharply criticized the White House over its expanded use of “expedited removal.” 

The Biden administration has sought to end Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic, but Texas and more than a dozen other states filed a lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled the Trump-era must remain in place. Oral arguments are expected to take place in the case next month. 

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Congress

George Santos: Same-sex parents undermine the family unit

“They’re teaching kids don’t need a mommy and a daddy, you can can have two mommies and two daddies. That’s an attack on the family unit”

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U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) (Official U.S. House Portrait)

WASHINGTON – Two years ago, embattled gay Republican Rep. George Santos (Ny.) told the host of a conservative YouTube show that same-sex couples and parents are harmful to children and undermine the family unit.

Children who are raised by single parents or gay and lesbian couples tend to grow up “troubled,” Santos said during the hour-long interview on “Indivisible with John Stubbins.” Clips from the conversation were excerpted and shared Thursday on Twitter by Patriot Takes.

“The family unit has been under attack for decades in different ways,” Santos told Stubbins. “The flavor of the decade is same-sex couples. They’re teaching in schools that kids don’t need a mommy and a daddy, you can can have two mommies and two daddies. That’s an attack on the family unit.”

“I think that’s a little much for kids,” the congressman added.

According to the show’s YouTube page, “Indivisible” “endorses” My Pillow founder and far-right conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell and has a modest 3,690 subscribers. The video featuring Santos’s interview earned six likes and no comments.

Also on Thursday, Reuters reported claims by former acquaintances that Santos was a drag performer in his native Brazil 15 years ago. Despite the online circulation of photos appearing to show the congressman dressed in drag, Santos tweeted that the reports were untrue.

The matter earned significant media attention given Santos’s far-right positions on LGBTQ issues, consistent with comments from his interview on “Indivisible,” as well as his allyship with the most extreme anti-LGBTQ members of the House GOP Caucus.

Conservative Republicans, including these lawmakers, have increasingly attacked drag events and performances, accusing hosts and participants of harming children or facilitating the sexual abuse or exploitation of minors.

Meanwhile, Santos has been buffeted by a host of other scandals, beginning with reporting last month that revealed the congressman fabricated practically everything about his life and identity.

He also faces investigations by multiple law enforcement agencies over allegations of financial malfeasance and violations of campaign finance laws.

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Maryland

Wes Moore, first Black Governor of Maryland sworn in Wednesday

“We’re always going to fight to ensure Maryland’s a state open & welcome to all, regardless of who you are, regardless of who you love”

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Maryland Governor Wes Moore (Photo via Twitter)

ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s new governor Wes Moore was sworn into office on Wednesday.

Moore, who defeated then-state Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick County) last November, is Maryland’s first Black governor. Lieutenant Gov. Aruna Miller is the first woman of South Asian descent elected lieutenant governor in the country.

Moore and Miller will succeed Republicans Larry Hogan and Boyd Rutherford respectively. Oprah Winfrey is among those who attended Wednesday’s inauguration that took place at the State Capitol in Annapolis.

“In the state of Maryland, anything is possible,” said Moore in his inaugural speech. “Today is a celebration of our collective future.”

Moore during a pre-election interview with the Washington Blade expressed his support for LGBTQ rights.

“I care deeply about the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “And we’re always going to fight to ensure that Maryland is a state that is open and welcome to all, regardless of who you are, regardless of who you love.”

Moore told the Blade that he will enforce the Inclusive Schools Act that, among other things, bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Maryland’s public schools. Moore in his inaugural speech specifically mentioned the need to protect the state’s LGBTQ students.

Moore last October told the Blade he will urge lawmakers to support the Trans Health Equity Act, which would expand coverage of gender-affirming health care for transgender Marylanders under the state’s Medicaid program.

Moore has appointed Anthony Woods, an openly gay U.S. Army veteran who was discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in 2008, as head of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs. 

“The thing that people will see is that this is not just a new thing to me,” Moore told the Blade. “We have a track record on working on these issues, whether it is the work I did on the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ whether it is the work I did when I was running one of the largest poverty-fighting organizations in the country, and supporting organizations that were supporting LGBTQ plus homeless youth.”

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Illinois

Homophobe with hammer attacks LGBTQ owned bar in Chicago

“Hate has no home here, & we’re not afraid. We love our neighborhood. We work with local police, locally elected officials. We feel safe”

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R Public House/Twitter

CHICAGO – A man wielding a hammer and shouting homophobic slurs at customers smashed a glass entrance door to the LGBTQ owned R Public House, located 1508 W Jarvis Ave in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, Monday night.

The R [pronounced ‘our’] Public House is a community-driven bar and grill that welcomes everyone and as an anchor business in the neighborhood has established a reputation for providing goodwill for the diverse and queer friendly population of Rogers Park.

WLS-TV ABC News 7 reported the incident started during happy hour, about 5:40 p.m. Monday afternoon, when an unknown masked man approached a man and a woman as they were getting out of their car near the bar & grill.

A Chicago police spokesperson said that the masked suspect then began yelling homophobic slurs and threatening them before walking away and shortly returning to follow them into the bar. Corey Rolon, an employee of R Public House, told WLS ABC 7: “He walked in, started calling them some like anti-gay slurs, and they were like, ‘just leave, man – just get out of here,’ and then he took out a hammer and started bashing everything.”

Renee Labrana and Sandra Carter, the lesbian couple who have owned R Public House for a decade spoke to multiple media outlets about the incident.

“It’s very frustrating and disconcerting because we live in this neighborhood because it’s so diverse, and we love that about the neighborhood,” Labrana said. “So you tend to forget that there’s people that hate you out there just for who you love. And it makes me really angry that we even have to think about it.”

Carter said the incident was jarring for patrons, some of whom were left running out the back door with the manager as the man started shattering the window.

“They weren’t sure if it was gunshots,” she said. “And knowing the horrific hate crimes that have happened in different bars, it was scary.”

“It hits you in the pit of your stomach. It really does. And these things shouldn’t matter. Love is love. I don’t know how many other ways we can say that,” Labrana said.

The pair said the community is already rallying around them, and that love is stronger than hate.

“Hate has no home here, and we’re not afraid. We love our neighborhood. We work with local police, locally elected government officials. We feel safe,” Carter said.

No arrests have been made in the case. Local NBC News owned WMAQ-TV  NBC 5 noted:

The Chicago Police Department reported 177 hate crimes last year, by far the most in at least 11 years, according to city records. The Rogers Park police district has recorded the second-most hate crimes over that period, and anti-LBGTQ incidents have been the most common citywide.

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Wisconsin

Wisconsin Republicans block conversion therapy ban

Republican legislators say they object on procedural grounds

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Wisconsin Capitol (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

MADISON – An effort to outlaw conversion therapy in Wisconsin was blocked for the second time on Thursday by a group of four Republican members of a state legislative committee.

In 2020, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers banned the dangerous and scientifically discredited practice via occupational licensing requirements for therapists, social workers and counselors.

The Republican controlled legislature responded by temporarily blocking the ban, doing so again on Thursday with all six GOP members voting against their Democratic colleagues.

Twenty states along with the District of Columbia have banned conversion therapy for minors, as it is inconsistent with clinical practice guidelines governing evidence based care, ineffective at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and tends to cause long term psychological harm.

The practice is often considered fraudulent and has been described as torture.

“It’s disappointing that the very first move the GOP is going to make this legislative session is to green-light abusive practices against children,” State Sen. Kelda Roys said.

Republican Wisconsin legislators contend their objection is rooted in the fact that the examining board in the Department of Safety and Public Standards does not have the authority to enforce the conversion therapy ban.

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Congress

Speaker McCarthy stands by George Santos

McCarthy said Santos has a “long way to go to earn trust” and acknowledged the scepter of an investigation by the House Committee on Ethics

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GOP Rep. George Santos (Ny.) (Official U.S. House of Representatives portrait)

WASHINGTON – Asked whether he would urge GOP Rep. George Santos (Ny.) to resign, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters the congressman is “part of the Republican conference,” having been duly elected to represent New York’s Third Congressional District.

At the same time, McCarthy said Santos has a “long way to go to earn trust” and acknowledged the scepter of an investigation by the House Committee on Ethics pursuant to a complaint filed by Democratic New York Reps. Ritchie Torres and Daniel Goldman.

Reporting over the past several weeks has revealed the congressman lied about practically every element of his biography and identity, while multiple law enforcement agencies have initiated investigations into his and his campaign’s finances.

On Wednesday, more than a dozen elected Republican officials from his district and surrounding areas demanded Santos’s immediate resignation.

Nevertheless, the freshman congressman has been defiant. During his first few days in office, Santos tried to dodge Capitol Hill reporters, but more recently he has vocally and publicly dismissed calls for him to step down.

McCarthy’s comments were echoed by other Republican House leaders, like Majority Leader Steve Scalise (La.), who said: “Obviously, you know, we’re finding out more, but we also recognize that he was elected by his constituents.”

House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (Ny.) said “It will play itself out,” noting that, “There have been members of Congress on the Democrat side who have faced investigations before.”

Other Republican members of the House, however – New York Reps. Nick LaLota, Nick Langworthy, Brandon Williams, Anthony D’Esposito, Marc Molinaro, and Mike Lawler, as well as South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace and Ohio Rep. Max Miller – have demanded Santos’s resignation.

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