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Perez Hilton to Kristin Chenoweth: Bow out of Mormon gig (Video)

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LGBT rights activist Fred Karger tried to warn Broadway superstar and LGBT icon Kristin Chenoweth about the turbine of trouble awaiting her if performs with the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir for its Christmas extravaganza this week. Karger has been exposing the harmful anti-LGBT bias of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since their secret machinations funding the anti-gay marriage initiative Prop 8 in 2008.

“We tried going through back-channels to let Kristin know that this was a big mistake,” Karger wrote in an op-ed for the Salt Lake Tribune. He delivered a letter to her manager, Michael Rottenberg with 3 Arts Entertainment in New York but never heard back.”

Karger, head of Rights Equal Rights and MormonTips.com—where he’s gathering evidence to prove that the church doesn’t merit its tax-exempt status—believes the singer is being used by the church as one of many “smokescreens to appear accepting of LGBTQ people, while at the same time increasing its cruelty toward LGBTQ Mormons by its words and policies that cause immeasurable harm.”

In his letter to Chenoweth, Karger wrote that her participation in the concert “is an affront to the LGBTQ community and especially to all the LGBTQ young Mormon church members who face bigotry, bullying and hate coming from their Mormon church leaders on a daily basis.”

Chenoweth says the show will go on. “Lots of times in my industry, I work with people that don’t believe like me,” Chenoweth wrote in an email to the Salt Lake Tribune. “I do think music is a healer and brings people together who might not normally see eye to eye. For sure I am an LGBTQ lover and activist. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir knew this when they asked me to sing.”

Chenoweth seems unmoved by the controversy.

“I have faced adversity before for my different beliefs,” she told the Tribune. “I know the LGBTQ community knows I love them and stand with them. And it will be shown at this special weekend of concerts. We must move forward in love. If we can’t, we cannot expect change.”

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, apparently agrees, hoping she’ll build bridges. “Well, it’s clear that gays and Latter-day Saints both love Broadway divas,” Williams told The Tribune. “Kristin is a true ally and friend to our community. … She is the perfect example of how one can be both a person of faith and radiate unconditional love to LGBTQ Utahns.”

Perez Hilton, however, a huge Chenoweth fan, posted a video in which he says he’s disappointed and hurt and asks people to sign Karger’s Change.org petition to the singer. He says:

“I  love Kristin Chenoweth. I am a longtime fan of hers. She’s such a talent. AND I’m very disappointed to hear that she’s performing with the Mormon Church’s Tabernacle Choir. The Mormon Church has caused me pain – truly, has discriminated against gay people in America. They are anti-LGBTQ. In fact, this is true – you can Google this – the Mormon Church donated so much money to pass Proposition 8 in California back in 2008 to make it illegal to have same sex marriage here. Thankfully we defeated that and defeated them.

And I am encouraging you – to sign a Change.org petition or to take to social media with hashtage #BowOutKristin – to encourage my friend Kristin Chenoweth not to sign with the Mormon Church’s Tabernacle Choir. Hopefully, this video gets to her as well because I genuinely love her and I hope she can see how many people are not happy that she’s aligning herself with people who don’t support me and others that she does support. So have a great day and do your part.”

Karger’s annoyance is not just about her singing three free concerts Dec. 13-15  at the 23,000-seat Mormon Church Conference Center. It’s that Chenoweth will be performing on the same stage where Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the First Presidency, re-iterated the Church’s anti-LGBT policy, despite its promotion of suicide prevention and public preening that it no longer avows the discrimination that often leads to LGBT suicide in the state with the highest rates in the country for 11-17 year olds.

“Our knowledge of God’s revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose many of the current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage or to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women. We know that the relationships, identities and functions of men and women are essential to accomplish God’s great plan,” Oaks said at the General Conference last October.

Many were shocked and hurt. Mama Dragons, a support group created in 2012 for mothers of LGBT children, posted a statement on Facebook: “In light of the harmful rhetoric heard by our LGBTQ Mormon friends this past weekend from the pulpit at LDS General Conference, we as Mama Dragons would like to reiterate our unequivocal support of our LGBTQ children and the entire queer community. We remain committed to our mission of providing support and education to mothers and to condemning discrimination in any form. We love you. We celebrate you exactly as you are.”

But the Church has decided to double down. “Known from its beginnings as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Choir changed its name in October 2018 to more closely align with its sponsoring organization, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Choir is now called ‘The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square,’” according to the Mormon Newsroom.

For Karger, that makes Chenoweth’s appearance more troubling is that in accepting an honor from The Trevor Project, she spoke so movingly about her best friend Jeff who took his own life after being bullied.

“Her mere presence with the Tabernacle Choir gives her a giant stamp of approval to the church’s homophobic policies of bigotry, hate and shaming. Surely, the LGBTQ community can expect better from its allies,” Karger says. “Let her know about the thousands upon thousands of LGBTQ Mormon youth who are at risk and continue to suffer from the constant bullying and policies from Mormon Church leaders. Kristin Chenoweth needs to choose sides in this fight right now.”

Click here for Karger’s Change.org petition.

(Photo of Fred Karger with Kristin Chenoweth at GLAAD Awards April 11, 2011 courtesy Fred Karger)

Congress

FBI probes Santos GoFundMe scheme & separate SEC complaint

Republican Rep. George Santos faces yet another law enforcement probe, this time over allegations he ran a GoFundMe scam in 2016

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Republican Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) being trailed by reporters Tuesday, January 31, 2023 (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Republican Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) faces yet another law enforcement probe, this time over allegations that the congressman ran a GoFundMe scam in 2016 by crowdsourcing for a U.S. Navy Veteran and his cancer-stricken service dog before absconding with the money.

POLITICO reported on Wednesday that the veteran, Richard Osthoff, furbished text messages to FBI agents who were working on behalf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, which is reportedly conducting a parallel investigation into Santos’s campaign finances.

The news comes a day after Santos resigned from his two committee assignments following a meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Monday.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) announced on Twitter Wednesday that he filed a complaint against Santos with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) “for violating federal securities law.”

Torres wrote that his GOP colleague “illegally operated as a broker without a license, raising funds from unsuspecting investors for Harbor City Capitol, a 17 million dollar Ponzi Scheme.”

Last month, Torres and fellow New York Democratic Rep. Dan Goldman filed a U.S. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) complaint against Santos over his alleged violations of campaign finance laws. And over the weekend, the U.S. Department of Justice reportedly asked the FEC to yield to federal prosecutors – likely a sign that the campaign finance issues are the subject of a criminal probe.

Santos reportedly faces investigations by the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James. He has been embroiled in controversy since his arrival to Washington following revelations that nearly every part of his biography and identity were complete fabrications.

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The White House

Doug Emhoff visits memorial to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin

Second gentleman marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz

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The Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism in Berlin on July 23, 2022. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff visited the memorial on Jan. 31, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BERLIN — Second gentleman Doug Emhoff on Tuesday visited a monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin.

A readout from Emhoff’s office notes he visited the Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism with Philipp Braun of the Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany, a German LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group. Christopher Schreiber and Alexander Scheld of the Berlin-Brandenburg Lesbian and Gay Federation were also with Emhoff.

“The Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under Nazi Socialism is intended to honor the homosexual victims of National Socialism and at the same time ‘set a constant sign against intolerance, hostility and exclusion towards gays and lesbians,'” notes the readout.

Emhoff on Tuesday visited other memorials that honor the Sinti and Roma and people with disabilities who the Nazis killed. The second gentleman also visited Berlin’s Holocaust memorial before he met with five people who survived it.

The second gentleman earlier in the day participated in a roundtable with Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders and met with Ukrainian refugees at Berlin’s New Synagogue. Emhoff on Monday participated in a meeting at the city’s Topography of Terror Museum that focused on antisemitism.

International Holocaust Memorial Day, which commemorates the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in 1945, took place on Jan. 27. 

Emhoff traveled to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial and Museum and participated in ceremonies that commemorated the camp’s liberation. He later attended a Shabbat dinner with members of the Jewish community in Krakow, visited Oscar Schindler’s factory and met with Ukrainian refugees at a U.N. Refugee Agency community center before he traveled to Germany.

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Crime & Justice

Suspect in 29 year old murder of Trans woman arrested

“Forensic evidence” was found at the scene of the crime that eventually led to the arrest of James William Grimsley

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Terrie Ladwig, 28, was found murdered in her Concord, Calif. apartment on Dec. 2, 1994. (Photo Credit: Concord Police Department)

CONCORD, Calif. – The suspect in the murder of Terrie Ladwig, a 28-year-old trans woman beaten and strangled in her Concord apartment on Dec. 2, 1994, has been arrested in Utah by a Salt Lake City Police and United States Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force a spokesperson for the Concord Police Department announced Monday.

Lieutenant Sean Donnelly told reporters that “forensic evidence” was found at the scene of the crime that eventually led to the arrest of James William Grimsley, 55. “I can tell you it was a violent scene, looked like there was a violent struggle between Terrie and the suspect,” said Donnelly.

Asked if police were classifying the case as a hate crime, Donnelly responded: “You know we’re not certain of the motive but that is certainly a possibility.” 

In an article published by the Contra Costa Times on December 2, 2004, a decade after the murder, the Times reported:

Concord police Detective Mike Warnock said he thinks the Ladwig case is solvable. The department has pulled it out of the cold case file within the past year. “Individuals who were originally interviewed are being reinterviewed,” Warnock said.

Ladwig’s husband, Steven Ladwig, was quickly cleared as a suspect in 1994. He had been on a submarine at sea and then at his Navy base in Bangor, Wash., when his wife was killed.

The Ladwigs were married in July 1994, Steven Ladwig told the Times after the killing. He considered his wife, who was born Larry Earl Thompson Jr., female. She was preparing to have gender-reassignment surgery, he said.

After their marriage, Ladwig went back to sea. He had returned to base when, on Nov. 28, Terrie Ladwig called to say someone was trying to break down the apartment door.

No one called police, Warnock said, but Steven Ladwig rushed home. According to a coroner’s report, he found his wife beaten and strangled on their bed. There was no sign of forced entry and she had a small amount of alcohol and methamphetamine in her blood. Neither Steven Ladwig nor his wife’s family could be located for this story. Warnock said police have not heard from them for years.

Warnock said one theory is that someone reacted violently after finding out that Terrie Ladwig was a biological man.

ABC7 Bay area reported that police say the suspect in Ladwig’s murder, Grimsley, is a truck driver. They won’t say how they linked him to the killing but do say, “There is forensic evidence in the case.” They had been working closely with the FBI and Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office over the last six to eight months to make the arrest.

Grimsley is being held in the Salt Lake County Jail on $1 million bail pending an extradition hearing to return him to California. Grimley’s first court appearance in Salt Lake City was scheduled for Wednesday.

Salt Lake City NBC affiliate KSL TV 5 reported it was not immediately known how long Grimsley, who would have been 25 at the time of the killing, has been living in Utah. Court records show Grimsley as having a West Valley City address in 2018, and he may have been living in Kearns in 2008. His criminal history in Utah includes one minor traffic violation.

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Congress

George Santos to step down from committee assignments

The Justice Dept asked the Federal Election Commission to yield to the federal prosecutors probing Santos’s campaign finance activity

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New York Congressman George Santos (Screen shot via YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Republican Rep. George Santos (Ny.) told House GOP colleagues on Tuesday that he will step down from his two committee assignments pending the resolution of investigations and possible law enforcement activity over his alleged financial crimes and violations of campaign finance laws.

Santos, who was appointed to the U.S. House Committees on Small Business and Science, Space, and Technology, neither of which are considered high profile, announced his recusal during a closed-door session following his meeting on Monday with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Today’s news marks the first sign that the many scandals with which Santos has been enveloped since his arrival to Washington may have fractured his relationships with and support from House Republican leadership.

Over the weekend, the Justice Department asked the Federal Election Commission to yield to the federal prosecutors probing Santos’s campaign finance activity, a likely signal that a criminal investigation is underway.

Santos is also the subject of a complaint filed to the House Ethics Committee as well as parallel investigations conducted by the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James.

The congressman has faced calls to resign, including from members of his own party, since it was revealed last month that he had fabricated virtually every part of his identity and biography.

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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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