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‘Black queer people are victimized every day’

Jussie Smollett attack highlights growing problem of hate crimes

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The alleged racist and homophobic attack on actor Jussie Smollett is being received differently in different communities.

Stacey Long Simmons, director of advocacy at the National LGBTQ Task Force, vividly recalls the time, as a young college student, she was walking outside of campus and a group of white men slowed down and shouted, “N-word bitch go home.”

Simmons hails from Queens, N.Y., where she admits racist incidents did occur but being verbally attacked like that was a “shock to my system.” While the men harassed her for being a black woman she has no doubt that they could have easily swapped out the adjectives to harass her for being a black, bisexual woman.

“If I had been walking down the street holding my girlfriend’s hand at the time I’m sure it would have been you ‘black dyke B-word’” Simmons said. “I don’t think we ever really know why we get attacked. The point is for us to recognize that in the eyes of many we’re problematic no matter what point they enter into whether it’s the race lens, the sexual orientation or gender identity lens.”

It’s a reality that the black LGBTQ community faces every day but it came to the forefront when it was reported that “Empire” star Jussie Smollett suffered an allegedly homophobic and racist attack. At around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 in Chicago, Smollett was walking from a Subway restaurant when he alleges that two men dressed in black called him “Empire faggot n—er” to get his attention. The actor alleges that the attackers put his neck in a noose, poured “an unknown chemical substance” on him and ran away. Smollett also reported to police that the assailants yelled “MAGA country” during the attack. A few days prior to Smollet’s alleged physical attack, an anonymous letter was sent to Cinespace Studios where “Empire” is filmed. The letter read, “You will die Black fag” and contained a white powder, later identified by a HAZMAT unit as aspirin. Chicago police are currently investigating the incident as a hate crime.

David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, told the Blade that the LGBTQ black community is “surprised but not shocked” by the attack.

“One of the prevailing sentiments I continue to hear from black queer people generally is how frustrating it is that people seem to be surprised at this occurrence,” Johns says. “Black queer people are victimized every single day. I was just thinking about what we’ve experienced just this year reflecting upon Kevin Hart and the jokes about killing his gay son. I mourned the loss of the life of a young, black boy [Giovanni Melton] in Las Vegas because his father killed him suspecting that he was gay last year. Ed Buck, a white donor in Hollywood, is still walking around free as two gay black men have died at his household in the last year. Many of the media outlets that are covering Jussie’s story now didn’t even acknowledge that earlier this year there was a black trans woman [Keanna Mattel] that was murdered by a pastor in Detroit.”

These aren’t new stories for the black LGBTQ community but Smollett’s story was met with skepticism from some on social media who questioned why Smollett was outside getting food at such a late hour. Smollett also initially refused to hand over his phone to police to corroborate his and his manager’s story that they were on the phone with each other during the time of the attack. He has since handed over redacted phone records to police.

Simmons says she noticed people doubting his story as soon as it made the rounds on media outlets.

“It was just an immediate discounting. People saying ‘Who would be outside in Chicago at that time of night in the cold?’ It’s like people are out in the cold all the time. If you’re hungry you’re going to get something to eat. It’s almost as if people’s minds wouldn’t allow them to accept the fact that these types of violent attacks happen. I think there is a level of ignorance or refusal to accept the fact that these things happen on a day-to-day basis,” Simmons said.

It’s a reaction that Janaya “Future” Khan, Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder and campaign director of media, democracy & economic justice for Color of Change, is all too familiar with. Khan, who is black, queer and gender non-conforming, says that the race aspect of Smollett’s identity gave him reason to be questioned in the minds of some people.

“Black people historically are not believed when we say something has happened to us, especially when we say something has happened to us because we’re black. When you have to go to the same policing institutions that have historically not believed you, that criminalizes people that look like you disproportionally, that brutalizes people that look like you based on race, it’s a very impossible moment,” Khan told the Blade.

Although the LGBTQ community has had its own complicated and sometimes violent history with police, being black is an added layer of discrimination.

“I think people in society have been conditioned to not believe people who look like Jussie, who look like me,” Khan said. “It’s pretty disgusting. People also historically have not believed anyone in the LGBT community when they say these things have happened to them. But there’s a way that they’re able to assimilate into society around whiteness that you just cannot as a black person. The discrediting of Jussie, the need for a particular kind of irrefutable proof, is something that black people and people of color are very familiar with.”

Khan has their own personal story about being torn between two integral identities.

In July 2016, Black Lives Matter was invited to march in the Pride parade in Toronto. Khan and the rest of the group marched proudly in the parade using chants such as “Michael Brown say his name” and taking a moment of silence to sit in memory of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. In what proved to be a controversial move, the group declared to the crowd that they wanted police floats to be removed from the Pride marches and parade. Some in the crowd began to boo and social media became a firestorm of death threats toward Khan.

“I can tell you as someone who lives as a black person and also identifies as non-binary and queer some of the worst kinds of malice I’ve experienced as a black person have come from the LGBTQ community and it feels like a betrayal,” Khan says. “Now if you’re a black person police continue to brutalize our community and historically that’s also been true of the gay and lesbian community. Stonewall was a riot and it happened because police were brutalizing the LGBTQ population. Somewhere along the line because more seats at the table increased there’s a huge tension point because police at Pride made people of color and black people within the LGBTQ community incredibly uncomfortable. A lot of the contradictions and a lot of the biases and racism really came to a head.”

Black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde famously argued that, “There is no hierarchy of oppression.”

“Within the lesbian community I am Black, and within the Black community I am a lesbian. Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because I and thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community. Any attack against lesbians and gays is a Black issue, because thousands of lesbians and gay men are Black,” Lorde wrote in 1983.

Simmons agrees that trying to separate identities isn’t helpful to make progress.

“It’s almost as if the majority of the country refuses to acknowledge the racism that black people experience and black people who aren’t as LGBTQ-affirming as we would like them to be want you to not discuss what you experience as a LGBTQ person because they feel like you’re trying to privilege your LGBTQ identity over your black identity. That’s asking people to carve themselves up in many ways that isn’t fruitful or productive,” Simmons says.

Protection for both black people and LGBTQ people has become an increasing concern over the last couple of years as hate crimes are on the rise.

There was a sharp spike in hate crimes that coincided with the 2018 midterm elections, according to new figures released last week. From October to December 2018, hate crimes in LA rose more than 31 percent, compared to the same period a year before, with African American, LGBTQ, Jewish and Latino communities the most frequent targets. California as a whole saw an 11 percent increase, with 56 percent of crimes being racially motivated and 22 percent directed toward the LGBTQ community, with the sharpest increase in hate crimes against minority trans women. California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reports that hate crimes have also increased in big cities like New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

As more hate crimes are reported, both Khan and Simmons say they wish black transgender women were given more media attention as their lives become increasingly at risk. Khan notes that as transgender women of color have become more visible on television with shows like “Pose” and activists such as Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, the reality of trans women of color who do not have access to fame or money is often bleak.

What’s the reason for this increase in hate crimes? Khan said it’s related to the Trump administration.

“I think bigots and racists are emboldened. They have found a home and community for themselves that no longer requires hiding on the internet. White supremacists are organizing,” Khan said. “They’ve always existed in America they just are no longer in the underbelly of America anymore. We really need to be confronting that reality that these groups of people will exist far beyond the Trump administration’s rule and they exist far beyond the policies that we can fight. There is something far deeper and darker and more insidious in this country.”

Hope isn’t lost. Khan encourages people to vocalize their beliefs and to “come out of the closet as intersectional feminists, abolitionists, freedom fighters and revolutionaries.”

For Simmons, it’s all about allies showing an interest in learning about the issues the black LGBTQ community faces.

People just have to be willing to take the time.

“If you can learn how to cook a new recipe you can learn how to understand society as it is now and figure out how to be an ally to the different issues that communities of color are grappling with right now,” Simmons says.

(Karen Ocamb contributed to this report)

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U.S. Federal Courts

On 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade- is it the last? Biden & others weigh in

The whole country is waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on one of the most serious challenges to abortion rights since the Roe v. Wade

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Abortion opponents gathered Friday for the annual March for Life March and Rally (Screenshot via WUSA CBS9)

WASHINGTON – As thousands gathered on the National Mall in D.C. Friday for the annual anti-abortion ‘March for Life March and Rally 2022,’ there were signs among the speakers and the participants gathered of a renewed sense of optimism that with a pending Supreme Court case, this year maybe the last annual gathering as the court looks poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“We are hoping and praying that this year, 2022, will bring a historic change for life,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said at the event, The Associated Press reported.

A large portion of the crowd during the March for Life rally on Friday was made up of young people, with some holding signs saying they were the “pro-life generation.”

The whole country is waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on one of the most serious challenges to abortion protections that the institution heard since the Roe v. Wade decision 49 years ago, which gave women the constitutional right to abortion.

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this past December, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case involving a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. 

Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, passed in 2018 but has been blocked by two lower federal courts, allows abortion after 15 weeks “only in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality” and has no exception for rape or incest. If doctors perform abortions outside the parameters of the law, they will have their medical licenses suspended or revoked and may be subject to additional penalties and fines.

The lack of access is felt most heavily by marginalized people, says Kari White, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin and researcher with the Mississippi Reproductive Health Access Project. She was the lead author of a study published last month in the journal Contraception that found that Mississippians were more likely to wait longer for an abortion if they were low-income or Black, NPR reported.

In an analysis published by SCOTUS blogAmy Howe noted;

If the justices overturn Roe and Casey, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 26 states (including Mississippi) will implement complete bans on abortion. Although the stakes in the case are thus obviously high, Mississippi takes pains to assure the justices that overruling Roe and Casey would not have ripple effects beyond abortion rights. It distinguishes abortion from other constitutionalized privacy interests, such as interracial marriage and same-sex marriage, saying that those interests – unlike abortion – do not involve the “purposeful termination of a potential life.”

In a statement to the Los Angeles Blade after the oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last December had concluded, Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) warned;

“[Today’s] arguments should be a wakeup call for LGBTQ people. We must face the reality of a Supreme Court packed by one of the most reactionary presidents of our time, and we must get serious about passing a federal law that protects basic rights and liberties for our community. If you care about LGBTQ equality, it is essential as never before to do everything within your power to elect fair-minded local, state, and federal officials and to engage in real dialogue with those who do not yet fully understand or support LGBTQ people. We do not have the luxury of disengagement or passivity. If you are not actively involved in supporting a federal civil rights law for LGBTQ people, you are part of the problem.”

Minter further cautioned;

“While restrictions on abortion primarily harm women, they also compound the challenges that trans men and nonbinary people already face in accessing gynecological and reproductive health care. Being a trans man or a nonbinary individual who needs an abortion is often a nightmare even in jurisdictions that support reproductive freedom. In places like Texas, which are making abortions inaccessible to anyone, it is terrifying,”

“My heart goes out to the trans and nonbinary people who are living in fear, praying they never need this care, and that if they do, they can find a way out of the state. And for those who know they can’t afford to travel or pay for out-of-state care, there is no hope,” he added.

Graphic via NBC News

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris released a joint statement Saturday commemorating the 49th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade;

The constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years ago today is under assault as never before. It is a right we believe should be codified into law, and we pledge to defend it with every tool we possess. We are deeply committed to protecting access to health care, including reproductive health care—and to ensuring that this country is not pushed backwards on women’s equality.

In recent years, we have seen efforts to restrict access to reproductive health care increase at an alarming rate. In Texas, Mississippi, and many other states around the country, access to reproductive health care is under attack. These state restrictions constrain the freedom of all women. And they are particularly devastating for those who have fewer options and fewer resources, such as those in underserved communities, including communities of color and many in rural areas.

The Biden-Harris Administration strongly supports efforts to codify Roe, and we will continue to work with Congress on the Women’s Health Protection Act. All people deserve access to reproductive health care regardless of their gender, income, race, zip code, health insurance status, immigration status, disability, or sexual orientation. And the continued defense of this constitutional right is essential to our health, safety, and progress as a nation.

We must ensure that our daughters and granddaughters have the same fundamental rights that their mothers and grandmothers fought for and won on this day, 49 years ago—including leaders like the late Sarah Weddington, whose successful arguments before the Supreme Court led to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

At this pivotal moment, we recommit to strengthening access to critical reproductive health care, defending the constitutional right established by Roe, and protecting the freedom of all people to build their own future.

A recent poll conducted by CNN found that a large majority of Americans — almost 70 percent — said that they oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. Thirty percent of respondents said that they supported the move. 

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Pennsylvania

New GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

CHAMBERSBURG – The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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Virginia

Virginia Republican lawmaker introduces anti-Trans youth sports bill

Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females’

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Virginia State Capitol building (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

RICHMOND – A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.’”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.

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