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Stonewall at 50 a time for contemplation, activation

History and Legacy as commodity?

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Marchers in 2018 NYC Pride. (Photo courtesy Heritage of Pride)

Whether it’s the age you reach, a marriage milestone, or the robust lifespan of a small business, the half-century point can be cause for much celebration — but next year’s 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots calls into question the way in which the LGBTQ community should, and will, observe that galvanizing event’s legacy.

In New York City’s Greenwich Village, the Stonewall Inn serves as a gathering place for occasions both joyful and somber: the passage of Marriage Equality, the Pulse nightclub massacre. Politicians and activists frequently rally outside its door, while the watering hole itself offers a weekly roster of DJs, drag shows, and go-go boys. Some patrons are keenly aware, others barely knowledgeable, of the fact that the drinks they sip and the freedom of assembly they enjoy are rights advanced by those who turned Christopher Street into a conflict zone, from June 28 to July 1, 1969 — when an oppressed community fought back against the NYPD.

Photo by Kay Tobin, courtesy The NY Public Library Collections.

Stonewall — in its contemporary context — is a contrast between respect for advances made, and the reality of gains yet to be achieved.

“I’d like to say it means a lot to me, but it doesn’t,” said Robin Tyler. The veteran activist (and pioneering lesbian, feminist comedian) was at the second night of the Stonewall Riots, and put out the call for 1979’s first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

“The struggle is far from over,” she said. “We have to take a hard look at what’s happened to us. We do not have equal rights in this country. When Diane [Olson] and I sued for marriage [in 2004], nobody wanted to file a lawsuit. They said, “It’s not time yet.’ So frankly, I want to say all kinds of wonderful things about people coming out, and gender expression… but if we take away the cultural aspect, the rights we have come from grassroots movements.”

Street-level organizing is on the mind of the Reclaim Pride Coalition (RPC), currently in the permit application process for a June 30 march, set to take place concurrently, on a different route, with Heritage of Pride’s annual parade, which the RPC feels has strayed too far from its activist roots.

“Our idea is for it [the RPC event] to be a march for LGBTQ+ rights, but also global human rights,” said Jay W. Walker, an organizer for Gays Against Guns (GAG), Rise and Resist, and the RPC. With Trump in the White House and “autocrats all over the world, the situation demands that our community take a stand against the global oppression that’s happening to LGBTQ+ people.” Especially since, he noted, “We’re [NYC] hosting WorldPride.”

Ross Levi, Empire State Development’s VP/Executive Director of Tourism, noted they’ve been “making that invitation to the [international] LGBT community for a couple of years now,” at Pride events from Berlin to London, to “let folks know WorldPride is happening for the first time in New York [and America, for that matter]. Niagara Falls has just announced a ‘Pride at the Falls,’ happening July 5 at Niagara Falls State Park, and we’re in discussions with a number of other destinations.”

Noting the significance of “visitors of who are from countries that enact horrific oppression against LGBTQ+ people,” Walker said the RPC march intends to “make sure we’re honoring the struggle, globally, and the importance of intersectionality” as a way to “uplift all marginalized communities: people of color, indigenous people, people who are under the vast panoply of prejudices around the world, and at home. It’s important we use this moment to make it very clear, that this kind of oppression is still rife.”

James Fallarino, media director at Heritage of Pride (HOP), said, “We always get some marching contingents from other countries, but we’re preparing to have many more this year. Stonewall is looked at, at many places around the world, as an ignition point of the global movement. So we have to take steps to prepare for even more people to be in the march. For 2019, he said, “We are expecting about 600 groups to participate in the New York City Pride March.”

And the mood, he said, will match the intensity of these increased numbers. “I think the 50th anniversary of Stonewall was always going to be impacted by the political climate it existed in. And where it ended up, was with Donald Trump in the White House — and everything that comes along with that.”

Responding to criticism about a robust corporate presence (“largest single supporter” T-Mobile is once again “guaranteed placement towards the front of the march”), Fallarino cited the need to raise $12 million necessary to fund HOP’s 20+ events, over a three-week period in June. “Some folks are really uncomfortable with corporate sponsorship,” he said, “and I get that. But the reality is, for events like this, this is how you support them. It’s the only way you can build together the amount of resources that you need to produce this size of an event.” That said, he pointed out that of 470 groups registered to participate this year, 317 (67 percent) were non-profits, and 142 (30 percent) were businesses.

As for paying tribute to Stonewall, Fallarino noted HOP is planning a rally on Friday, June 28, to “commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.” Set to take place in front of the Stonewall Inn, “It’s about bringing together community leaders, speakers, Stonewall veterans, and more, for this important anniversary.” HOP will also be expanding the 2018 debut of its Human Rights Conference (a compulsory event for World Pride hosts) from one day, to two.

Speaking on behalf of the RPC, Ann Northrop (co-host of TV’s weekly LGBT news hour, “Gay USA”) wondered why HOP, in the year of Stonewall 50, insists on having a corporate presence. In 2017, she noted, Los Angeles Pride “turned its entire parade into a resistance march, and put aside all the corporate float stuff for a year.”

L to R: Jay W. Walker and Mark Leydorf with Gays Against Guns, marching with the Resistance Contingent, at 2018’s Heritage of Pride march.  (Photo by Gili Getz)

But just because they’re locking horns now doesn’t mean they’ll be entirely at odds, come June. Walker said that GAG has “mixed feelings. Right now, there are definitely members who will participate in the Reclaim Pride march, but there might be a significant number who also, or instead, will participate in Heritage of Pride… a lot of that will depend on what information comes from Heritage of Pride.”

L to R: Reclaim Pride Coalition’s Dec. 5 Town Hall co-facilitators Colin Ashley and Ann Northrop, with American Sign Language interpreter, Elizabeth. (Photo by Scott Siffler)

At a Dec. 5 RPC Town Hall, information came fast and furious — often with flourishes of wit, finger-snapping, and productive brainstorming, all signifying something formidable is afoot. Northrop oversaw the straw poll, in which six proposals were approved: March from the Village, up Sixth Ave., to Central Park; have a gathering in Central Park; no floats allowed (despite a lone voice who made the case for their presence, as a source of creative expression and artistic merit); have as few barricades as possible, so people can join the march at any point; demand a significantly reduced police presence; and make the march accessible — for the disabled, the economically challenged, and the homeless. It might be cold comfort, then, to know HOP will be making corrective measures.

Fallarino confirmed that some of 2018’s most contested elements are to be scrapped, or revamped. There will be no wristbands or size limitations for participating groups, for example — and this year’s lopsided face time for corporate sponsors vs. others, during the over nine-hour event’s comparatively scant period of TV coverage, “is definitely a thing we need to work on.”

As for the looming milestone, Northrop said, “I think the Stonewall Riots, in 1969, were fundamentally important. Andy Humm [her “Gay USA” co-host, and an RPC member] is fond of describing them as a particular turning point, where they provoked immediate organizing in the community, politically, in ways that hadn’t happened before… It’s an important moment to acknowledge, and use as a point of reference for considering where we’ve been, and where we are, and where we’re going.”

“It is an honor to be the lawyer for the rebels,” said Norman Siegel, at Reclaim Pride Coalition’s Dec. 5 Town Hall. (Photo by Scott Stiffler)

And we, she added, “have a long way to go… We’ve accomplished a lot, through many twists and turns. But I think we are at a place where we are, at best, halfway… We can look around on any given day and see instances of violence and stigma and hatred — here in our own town, or country. There is no Nirvana. There is no place where full liberation has been established.”

Northrop thinks it’s “a mistake to hold a Stonewall 50 Pride Parade that does not acknowledge that, and commit to the work ahead of us. What we [RPC) are trying to create is something that has meaning, and purpose, and values, that gives people a chance to celebrate — but make prominent, the fight we’re still in.”

“What we have become since Stonewall,” Tyler said, “is a commodity… I’ve had a great life, but I’m still sitting here, saying, ‘Why aren’t people angry? Why are we fighting each other?’ ” It’s time, she insists, “to rejuvenate our anger. We should not be satisfied, at all, at what is happening. How can we be? We’re not equal citizens in this country.”

For more information on the events and activities of groups mentioned in this article, visit nycpride.org, reclaimpridenyc.org, gaysagainstguns.net, riseandresist.org, and gayusatv.org. Access the I Love New York WorldPride Travel Guide at iloveny.com/travel-tools/guides.

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Virginia

Virginia lawmakers give final approval to marriage equality bills

Voters in 2006 approved an amendment to Virginia’s constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman

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Virginia House of Delegates in session. (Photo Credit: Commonwealth of Virginia government)

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia lawmakers this week approved two bills that would affirm marriage equality in the state.

The Virginia House of Delegates approved state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)’s Senate Bill 101 by a 58-42 vote margin. The Virginia Senate passed state Del. Rozia Henson (D-Prince William County)’s House Bill 174 by a 22-17 vote margin.

Both bills now go to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. 

“Virginians across the political spectrum have taken heart to see these bills receive bipartisan support in the General Assembly,” said Ebbin, a gay Democrat, in a press release. “I hope Gov. Youngkin will sign this critical legislation to create state-level protections for all Virginians regardless of who they love.” 

Voters in 2006 approved an amendment to Virginia’s constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in the state since 2015.

The General Assembly in 2021 approved a resolution that seeks to repeal the marriage amendment. It must pass in two successive legislatures before it can go to the ballot.

“Senator Ebbin and I introduced this legislation to codify marriage equality in Virginia’s Code so that all marriages are protected under Virginia law beginning July 1, 2024,” said Henson, who is also gay. “Codifying marriage equality will assuage concerns from the LGBTQ+ community in Virginia following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022) reversal on abortion rights by the Supreme Court and Justice Thomas’ comments in his concurrence.”

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Tennessee

New Tenn. law allows refusal to conduct same-sex marriages

Republicans control both chambers of the state house & have been advancing what Tennessee Equality Project called a “slate of hate” bills

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Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Lee signing legislation. (File photo credit: Office of the Governor)

By Rob Salerno | NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Lee signed a law Wednesday that allows people to refuse to solemnize a marriage if they disagree with it, a measure critics say was designed to allow officials to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages.

Bill HB 0878 adds a single section to the Tennessee Code, stating “A person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage if the person has an objection to solemnizing the marriage based on the person’s conscience or religious beliefs.” The bill was given an emergency clause, making it come into effect upon the governor’s signature.

Under existing Tennessee law, couples get a marriage license from a county clerk before having their marriage solemnized by a notary public, government official, or religious figure. Religious figures already have protections under the first amendment allowing them to deny solemnizing marriages contrary to their faith.

Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project says his organization is ready to fight the law in court.

“Half of this bill is unnecessary because clergy are already protected. The other half is discriminatory because it allows public officials to turn away couples who have obtained a valid marriage license. Public officials should serve the entire public. We would be glad to work with organizations seeking to bring a legal challenge to the law,” he says.

Tennessee Equality Project is encouraging anyone who has a public official refuse to solemnize their wedding to contact them.

The law has the potential to affect more than the LGBT community. Under the law, officials could refuse to marry interfaith or interracial couples. While couples may have the opportunity to find alternate officials to solemnize their marriages in larger cities, couples in smaller or rural communities may be forced to travel far simply to find someone willing to solemnize their legal marriage.

The bill passed the Tennesseee state house 74-22 last March and passed the state senate 27-5 on Feb 12.  Only one house Democrat supported the bill; no Republicans voted against it.

Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature and have been advancing what Tennessee Equality Project has called a “slate of hate” bills this session. 

Also on Wednesday, a bill that would ban any flag but the flag of the United States or the state of Tennessee from being displayed in any school narrowly advanced out of the senate education committee. The bill is one of many copycat bills being introduced by Republican legislators attempting to ban the Pride flag in schools.

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A companion bill in the House has had an amendment added which would allow the display of certain other flags, including the flags of other countries, Native American tribes, and military flags. The Tennessean reported that during debate, the house education committee attorney said it was unclear if the Confederate flag or the Nazi flag would be banned from schools under the amended bill.

Another bill is scheduled for consideration in the senate judiciary committee that would bar the department of children’s services from requiring that foster parents support a policy on sexual orientation or gender identity that conflicts with their beliefs. The bill would essentially require the department to place queer and trans foster kids with non-affirming parents.

The legislature is also considering bills to bar trans people from using a gender-appropriate bathroom, removing the concept of “gender identity” from state law, forcibly outs trans students to their parents, and creates a separate marriage procedure for same-sex couples.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Iowa

Iowa senate passes “blank check to discriminate” opponents say

Critics charge businesses could use the law to circumvent civil rights laws by citing religious beliefs as justification to deny services

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Iowa state capitol building in Des Moines. (Photo credit: State of Iowa)

DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Senate passed legislation Tuesday that opponents say will be used as as a “blank check to discriminate” against LGBTQ+ Iowans and marginalized communities.

The legislation bars governments across Iowa from “substantially burdens” meaning that any action that directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails, or denies the exercise of religion by any person or compels any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion and includes but is not limited to withholding of benefits; assessment of criminal, civil, or administrative penalties; or exclusion from governmental programs or access to governmental facilities.

The Des Moines Register noted that the legislation would say that state and local governments shall not “substantially burden” someone’s exercise of religion unless it is in furtherance of a compelling government interest and the least restrictive means of pursuing that interest.

A person, corporation, church, foundation or other entity whose exercise of religion has been burdened would have the power to go to court to seek damages or other means of redressing the harm against them.

The Republican majority-held Senate voted 31-16 along party lines with all Democrats in opposition to pass Senate File 2095, which its sponsor, state Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, told the Register: “I believe that it is time for Iowa to add a religious freedom restoration act to our code.”

The Register also reported that Republicans have consistently introduced similar religious freedom bills since taking control of the House, Senate and governor’s office in 2016, but Tuesday’s vote was the first time such a proposal has passed the Senate.

Opponents and critics charge that people or businesses could use the law to circumvent civil rights laws by citing religious beliefs as justification to deny services, housing, employment or other public accommodations to LGBTQ Iowans or other minority groups, the Register reported.

State Senator Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, the son of two married moms reflected:

“This legislation is not about restoring religious freedom at all. This legislation is about allowing some people to cite their religious beliefs to violate the basic civil rights protections that all Iowans benefit from. This bill is a direct assault on the basic idea of equal protection under the law,” said Wahls.

Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, told the Register it seems like the bill’s opponents see it as “some kind of a plot by conservative Christians to discriminate against people.” But he said the legislation would benefit people of all faiths, not just conservative Christians.

“This is not religion specific,” he said. “This is going to benefit everybody.”

The Republican Party controls the offices of governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and both chambers of the state legislature. The Register noted that An identical version of the bill advanced through a committee in the Iowa House. It must still pass the full chamber before it could go to Gov. Kim Reynolds for her signature.

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Oklahoma

White House responds to nonbinary teenager’s death

The victim’s mother told the Independent that Benedict had suffered bullying over their gender since the start of the 2023 school year

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Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8 after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

WASHINGTON – White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and national advocacy groups issued statements on Wednesday about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict after they were allegedly assaulted in a high school restroom.

Benedict died on Feb. 8. According to ABC News, officials investigating the incident said they will be interviewing students and staff “over the next few weeks” and plan to share findings with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.

The victim’s mother told the Independent that Benedict had suffered bullying over their gender since the start of the 2023 school year, shortly after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill to prohibit students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school,” Jean-Pierre said in a post on X. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, their friends, and their entire school community in the wake of this horrific tragedy.”

Calling Benedict’s death a “gut-wrenching tragedy that exposes the chilling reality of anti-trans hatred,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said. “We are reaching out to the DOJ, we are encouraging the community to speak out.”

Along with Robinson’s remarks, HRC’s Press Team included a link to the organization’s blog post about Benedict and a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the HRC Transgender Justice Initiative:

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“Extremist anti-LGBTQ+ hate accounts, like online troll Chaya Raichik, the woman behind ‘Libs of TikTok’, who was recently appointed to Oklahoma’s library advisory board, are perpetuating a vile and hateful narrative that is permitting these types of public attacks,” she wrote.

State schools superintendent Ryan Walters, who last year called transgender youth using public restrooms “an assault on truth” and a danger to other kids, was responsible for naming Raichik to the library media panel.

“The assault on Nex is an inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric and discriminatory legislation targeting Oklahoma trans youth,” Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma wrote in a joint statement.

“We are deeply troubled by reports the school failed to respond appropriately to the altercation that preceded Nex’s death and demand a thorough, open investigation into the matter,” the groups wrote.

Their statement also notes the organizations’ lawsuit challenging Oklahoma Senate Bill 615, the bathroom bill signed by Stitt last year.

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Congress

Transphobic U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene targets Adm. Levine

Greene’s post Saturday was not the first time she expressed rank anti-LGBTQ bigotry- on the House floor she misgendered the health official

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – In a post on X Saturday, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) lobbed transphobic insults at Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the highest ranking transgender government official.

The congresswoman was responding to a video posted by Levine on X, which highlighted the disproportionate harms wrought by climate change on “the physical and mental health of Black communities” along with HHS’s work addressing these issues.

“Here is a man pretending to be a woman claiming the climate is hurting black Americans more than others” Greene wrote in her post. “This is the Democrat Party. Mental illness on full display.”

The congresswoman has repeatedly targeted Levine, largely over her support for gender-affirming care — medically necessary, evidence-based interventions that are governed by clinical practice guidelines and endorsed by every mainstream scientific and medical society in the world.

Greene’s post on Saturday was not the first time she crossed the line into rank anti-LGBTQ bigotry, however.

Speaking from the House floor in November, Greene misgendered and dead-named the health official while introducing an amendment to “reduce — no, castrate” her government salary to $1.

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New York

Beverly Tillery leaving New York City Anti-Violence Project

“I am so proud of the work we have done over the last eight years, which have been some of the most difficult our community has experienced”

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Beverly Tillery of the Anti-Violence Project. (Photo by Chris Tuttle)

NEW YORK CITY – After eight years of serving as executive director, Beverly Tillery announced on Tuesday that she will be leaving the New York-based Anti-Violence Project, America’s largest support and advocacy organization for LGBTQ survivors of violence.

“I am so proud of the work we have done over the last eight years, years which have been some of the most difficult our community has experienced in decades,” she said in a statement. Despite the steady increase in threats since the start of her tenure, Tillery said, “we helped our communities respond to the increases in hate violence attacks and came together with other targeted communities to protect each other.”

AVP Board Chair Stephanie K. Blackwood credited Tillery with helping to grow the group into “an organization that is poised for a national role,” recognized for its “model support services to survivors and their families, innovative policy and advocacy work and impactful community organizing.”

Recent advocacy work has included educating policymakers and leaders about the escalating threats and attacks against LGBTQ spaces, following the group’s issuance of its comprehensive survey and corresponding report titled, “Under Attack: 2022 LGBTQ+ Safe Spaces National Needs Assessment.”

Tillery spoke with the Washington Blade in October about AVP’s meetings with the White House, top officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health, and congressional offices.

The group plans to begin the search for a new executive director next month. Tillery’s last day will be July 31.

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U.S. State Department

Former State Department spokesperson named UN ambassador’s deputy

Ned Price is gay

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Former State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield has announced former State Department spokesperson Ned Price will manage her D.C. office.

Thomas-Greenfield in a statement to Politico on Feb. 16 said Price’s “judgment and expertise will be a tremendous asset to me and the entire USUN team.” Price, who is gay, in a post to his personal X account acknowledged his appointment.

“I am grateful to (U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield), (Secretary of State Antony Blinken) and my colleagues across the administration for the opportunity to help promote America’s interests and values in the U.N. and broader multilateral system together with our allies and partners,” wrote Price.

Price on Jan. 20, 2021, became the first openly gay State Department spokesperson. He stepped down in March 2023 in order to become a senior advisor to Blinken.

Price was previously a senior communications official for the National Security Council and worked at the Central Intelligence Agency.

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Oklahoma

Oklahoma non-binary high schooler dies after physical altercation

The school district has been previously targeted by the far-right anti-LGBTQ+ extremist Libs of TikTok’s creator Chaya Raichik

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16-year-old non-binary Nex (Dagny) Benedict died from injuries suffered in a physical altercation at Owasso High School on February 7th, 2024. (Family Photo)

OWASSO, Okla. – Located in Tulsa County on U.S. Highway 169 six miles north of Tulsa’s city limits, this city of 39,328 persons is grappling with conflict and accusations after Nex (Dagny) Benedict, a 16-year-old Owasso High School non-binary sophomore, died after a physical fight in a restroom at the school.

However, according to school officials there was no notification or staff awareness of the fight until the young student had been taken to hospital and later died. The Owasso Police Department is now investigating the circumstances surrounding the student’s death.

According to the local newspaper, the Owasso Reporter:

On Wednesday, Feb. 7, around 3:30 p.m., police were called to Bailey Medical Center by the parent of a 16-year-old Owasso High School student who allegedly had a physical altercation at the campus earlier that day, according to the police report.

It states that no initial report of the fight was made to police prior to their admission to Bailey, although information was taken by a school resource officer at the hospital.

On Thursday evening, police were made aware that the student was rushed back to the hospital where they were pronounced dead from a medical episode, the report states.

Editor’s note. The following report is from KJRH-TV News 2 which does use pronouns other than those used by non-binary persons. Those have been placed in brackets for clarity.

KJRH-TV News 2 in neighboring Tulsa reported that a person knowledgeable of the events leading to the teen’s death, who claimed to be the mother of the victim’s best friend, told the station regarding the teen’s death:

“I think complications from brain trauma, head trauma, is what caused it,” she said.

The woman wouldn’t say the victim’s name but said [she] was a sophomore. She said the victim was outgoing and loyal once they got comfortable and was not afraid to be outspoken. The woman said three older girls were beating on the victim and her daughter in the girl’s bathroom.

“I know at one point, one of the girls was pretty much repeatedly beating [their] head across the floor,” she said. That’s when [they said] a teacher walked in and broke it up.

“[They] couldn’t walk to the nurses’ station on [their] own, and staff didn’t call the ambulance, which amazes me,” she said.

The woman told 2 News the victim’s grandmother, who [they] primarily lived with, brought [them] to the hospital after the fight. She said the victim was released that evening but was brought back the next day and died.

KJRH-TV News 2 reached out multiple times along with other media outlets to Owasso Public Schools. A School district spokesperson responded saying there would be no comment “because this is an active police investigation.”

The Owasso Police Department also declined to comment except for noting investigators still don’t know if the fight was related to the teen’s death or if a separate medical issue was the cause. OPD said they’re waiting on the corner-medical examiner’s report before releasing more information.

Owasso Public Schools released this statement about the student’s death:

“The Owasso Police Department has notified district leaders of the death of an Owasso High School student. The student’s name and cause of death have not yet been made public. As this is an active police investigation, we will have no additional comment at this time. Further inquiries should be directed to the Owasso Police Department.”

“The district will have additional counselors at the school to provide support to students and staff beginning on Friday.”

On Feb. 15, after a service was held at Mowery Funeral Service Chapel, Benedict was buried at Ridgelawn Cemetery in Collinsville.

LGBTQ+ advocates and others are angered by the death, the misgendering in local media and the fact that the school district, which has been previously targeted by the far-right anti-LGBTQ+ extremist Libs of TikTok’s creator Chaya Raichik, seems unable to grapple with anti-LGBTQ+ bullying.

Raichik was named to sit on an Oklahoma committee reviewing school library content by far-right leaning State Superintendent of schools Ryan Walters.

In 2022, Raichik targeted a now former Owasso 8th grade teacher for speaking out in support of LGBTQ+ students who lacked acceptance from their parents. That teacher, Tyler Wrynn, was labeled a ‘groomer’ and a predator in social media posts.

According to LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, Raichik’s endless targeting only seems to encourage more violence against LGBTQ+ youth.

Lance Preston, the CEO of the Indianapolis-based Rainbow Youth Project, which has been working to assist queer youth in the state, posted a video expressing his frustration and anger over this death and the other anti-LGBTQ+ violence.

 

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District of Columbia

After queer safe space pled for help, community rallied to rescue

“AYA gives us a place to feel community, it is so rare to find a queer space where I can have fun and feel safe”

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As You Are bar in March 2022 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Less than a week after the D.C. LGBTQ café and bar As You Are located in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill issued a GoFundMe appeal on Feb. 5 seeking emergency financial support to prevent it from closing, the popular business reached its goal of $150,000 to get out of debt.

And as of Sunday night, the fundraising appeal had pulled in $171,471 from more than 3,000 individual donations, according to As You Are’s GoFundMe site.

In comments posted on the GoFundMe site, many of the donors said they were motivated to contribute to As You Are because they view it as a special, safe space that offers a welcoming, accepting place for them and their LGBTQ friends or family members.

In their GoFundMe message, As You Are co-owners Jo McDaniel and Rachel “Coach” Pike describe how they view their business as offering community center type programming beyond just a bar and café.

“AYA is a café, bar and dance floor that hosts diverse programming nearly every night of the week, including social sport leagues, Queer youth socials, weekly karaoke, book clubs, open mics, Queer author events, dance parties and much more,” the two said in their message.

“We have faced some particularly tall and costly hurdles that have set us back significantly since the beginning,” the two said in their GoFundMe message. “As we are tapping every resource we can imagine with creativity and open minds we need urgent assistance,” they said. 

“Rach and Jo are truly loved, and AYA is so important to so many people and everyone knew that,” said gay D.C. civic activist Mike Silverstein, who is one of the GoFundMe donors. “The response was absolutely amazing,” Silverstein said. “From every part of our community. People put everything aside, worked together and focused on saving a space that means so much.”

As You Are opened for business in March 2022. McDaniel and Pike have said the financial problems were caused, in part, by a delay in their planned opening due to complications associated with getting their required occupancy permit from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The two said negotiations with the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which demanded certain soundproofing structures be installed for the interior walls of their building, also added to the delay and increased costs.

Like other bars and restaurants across the city, McDaniel and Pike said their rent became a financial burden during a slow period for business last summer. They told the Washington Blade their landlord declined a request to renegotiate the lease to make an allowance based on sales. The two told the Washington Post that their rent is $27,000 per month, which they had to begin paying before they were able to open for business, and they spent $40,000 on soundproofing the walls, all of which contributed to a debt of about $150,000.

McDaniel and Pike, who spoke to the Blade at the time they launched their GoFundMe appeal, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the success of their fundraising and their future plans for As You Are. They told the Post now that they are no longer in debt, they plan to take up several offers of financial advice and they’re looking into possibly buying a property rather than renting. They said they also plan to apply for D.C. government business grants now that they have caught up on back tax payments.

Among those who posted comments on the As You Are GoFundMe site after making a contribution was Megan Mowery, who wrote, “AYA gives us a place to feel community, it is so rare to find a queer space where I can have fun and feel safe.” Mowrey added, “The programming AYA puts on absolutely has something for everyone. I love you AYA!!!”

Helena Chaves, another donor, stated in a GoFundMe post, “As You Are has been a monumental addition to the LGBTQIA+ community in Washington, D.C. They hold so many events and fundraisers, provide beautiful accommodations for us disabled folk, and have protocols in place to diminish harassment in the space.” 

Among the larger donors shown on the As You Are GoFundMe site is the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride festival and parade, which donated $2,500. 

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Exorcism of “any remaining evil spirits” after trans funeral urged

Gentili is the first out trans person & outspoken sex worker to have their funeral services at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Patrick’s

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Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan celebrating a Mass inside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Mid-town Manhattan. (Photo Credit: Archdiocese of New York)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Outraged reaction is building from some Catholics over the funeral services for Cecilia Gentili, a history-making trans activist, which were held at New York City’s historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Thursday.

It is believed that Gentili is the first out transgender person and outspoken sex worker to have their funeral services at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Patrick’s, which has historically not been a friendly institution to the LGBTQ+ community.

The Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported the pastor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City said the church has offered a Mass of Reparation after a controversial irreverent funeral service was held. Over 1400 mourners came to memorialize and honor Gentili at St. Patrick’s in the Midtown Manhattan neighborhood of New York City. It is the seat of the Archbishop of New York as well as a parish church.

CNA went on to misgender Gentili reporting that [Gentili] was a major fundraiser for transgender causes and was a man who identified as a woman.

CNA also noted that the queer organizers reportedly did not disclose to St. Patrick’s that Gentili, who died Feb. 6 at age 52, was a [biological man] who identified as a woman.

“I kept it under wraps,” Ceyeye Doroshow, the Gentili’s funeral services organizer, told The New York Times, CNA pointed out.

Throughout the liturgy, the presider, Father Edward Dougherty, referred to Gentili with feminine pronouns and described the trans-identifying man as “our sister,” CNA reported adding; Additionally, during the prayers of the faithful, the reader prayed for so-called gender-affirming health care, while attendees frequently and approvingly referred to Gentili as the “mother of whores.”

This past Saturday, Rev. Enrique Salvo, the Pastor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, issued a statement:

“Thanks to so many who have let us know they share our outrage over the scandalous behavior at a funeral here at St. Patrick’s Cathedral earlier this week. The Cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic, and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way. That such a scandal occurred at “America’s Parish Church” makes it worse; that it took place as Lent was beginning, the annual forty–day struggle with the forces of sin and darkness, is a potent reminder of how much we need the prayer, reparation, repentance, grace, and mercy to which this holy season invites us. 

“At the Cardinal’s directive, we have offered an appropriate Mass of Reparation.”

New York journalist Joe Jervis reported the far-right Catholic site LifeSiteNews has launched a petition calling on Cardinal Timothy Dolan to hold an exorcism of “any remaining evil spirits” still hanging around St. Patrick’s since the funeral.

Online, the CatholicVote community of religious extremists posted to X (formerly Twitter):

Vehemently extremist anti-LGBTQ+ Catholic League head Bill Donohue raged:

“Gentili is a man who falsely claimed to be a woman. He was an illegal alien, a drug addict, prostitute, trans activist and atheist.

At the service, many of those in attendance dressed as hookers, danced in the aisles, sang “Ave Cecilia” when “Ave Maria” was sung, and shouted, “St. Cecilia, Mother Of All Whores.”

The presiding priest, Fr. Edward Dougherty, falsely declared Gentili to be a woman, referring to him as “our sister.” Fr. James Martin, an LGBT advocate, was delighted with the event, saying the trans activists are “as much a part of the church as anyone else.”

“Many are wondering how this profane service could have happened. It happened because it was held under false pretenses,” Donohue angrily posted.

Her funeral service was both somber and celebratory of Gentili’s lasting impact on the LGBTQ+ community in New York City and across the country, with mourners chanting “Cecilia” in her honor.

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Gentili was a legendary organizer, author, advocate, performer, and community icon. As the founder of Transgender Equity consulting and a beloved mother to countless queer, trans, and immigrant individuals in New York City, her legacy endures on both systemic and personal levels.

The vibrant ceremony included a performance from actor Billy Porter and speeches from chosen family, including trans activists Ceyenne Doroshow, Liaam Winslet, and Gentili’s partner, Peter Scotto. Notably, celebrities in attendance included, Sara Ramirez, Indya Moore, Peppermint, Raquel Willis, Ryan McGinley, and more.

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