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LGBTI groups condemn terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques

Gunman killed at least 49 people in city of Christchurch

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LGBTI advocacy groups have condemned the terrorist attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, 2019, that have left at 49 people dead. (Photo by Tākuta via Flickr)

LGBTI advocacy groups around the world have condemned Friday’s terrorist attack at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that have left at least 49 people dead.

Express, an LGBTI newspaper in Auckland, reported organizers of the Wellington International Pride Parade that was scheduled to take place in Wellington, the country’s capital, on Saturday have postponed event.

“We, like all New Zealanders, are hurting today,” said parade organizers in a Facebook post, according to Express. “We have considered long and hard about asking Wellingtonians to walk alongside us in solidarity with our friends and whanau in Christchurch; we don’t want terrorists to win, we don’t want terrorists to dictate how we live our lives.”

The 2019 ILGA World Conference is scheduled to begin in Wellington on Saturday. The organization in a tweet said it is “shocked and saddened by the news of what happened in Christchurch.”

“All our solidarity goes to the Muslim community in New Zealand and beyond,” said ILGA.

Media reports indicate a 28-year-old gunman who was born in Australia killed 41 people at a mosque near downtown Christchurch when he opened fire at around 1:40 p.m. local time. Authorities say the gunman — who reportedly live-streamed the attack on Facebook — killed seven people at a second Christchurch mosque before police arrested him.

Reports indicate 48 people were also injured in what has been described as New Zealand’s worst mass shooting.

The gunman has been charged with murder and is expected to be arraigned in a Christchurch court on Saturday. Media reports indicate police have detained two people in connection with the massacre.

“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday during a press conference.

Ardern said those who planned and carried out the attack have “extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and in fact have no place in the world.” She added they chose New Zealand “for the very fact that we are none of those things.”

“We represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it,” said Ardern. “Those values I can assure you will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.”

President Trump and U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa Scott Brown are among those who have also condemned the attack.

“We’re heartbroken over the events in Christchurch today,” said Brown in a tweet. “We stand with our Kiwi friends and neighbors and our prayers are with you.”

Friday’s terrorist attack took place against the backdrop of continued anti-Muslim rhetoric from Trump and his supporters, including Fox News host Jeanine Pirro who sparked outrage last week with her suggestion that U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is un-American because the Somali-born congresswoman wears a hijab. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are among the other world leaders who have sparked criticism in recent weeks with comments that their critics contend target immigrants and other marginalized groups.

“We are heartbroken and outraged by this terrorist attack on Muslims in places of worship, and we mourn for the victims and their families,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin on Friday.

“Hate violence against Muslims is a global epidemic, fueled by the toxic combination of Islamaphobia and xenophobia that has led to tragedies here in the United States and in nations around the world,” he added. “While in these moments, only the attackers are directly responsible, there is broader climate of hate that encourages and inspires deadly extremism such as this. We call on politicians who traffic in dangerous anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate speech, including Donald Trump, to immediately stop the fear-mongering and divisive politics that can have deadly consequences. Now is a time to be united against hate — not engage in the ‘both sides’ rhetoric that only serves to legitimize extremists.”

Friday’s massacre took place less than three years after a gunman killed 49 people inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The onePULSE Foundation, which Pulse owner Barbara Poma launched after the 2016 massacre, on its Facebook page wrote “the fear and pain experienced in New Zealand is something we in Orlando know all too well.”

“These hateful acts of terror strike us in the places where we feel most safe and accepted, and the shock of that hate is felt around the world,” said the foundation in its Facebook post. “We want the community of Christchurch to know that Orlando is holding them up today. We will stand with you during this darkest time. There are no comforting words for those who lost their loved ones, but we hope the strength we send helps you. We stand with you in your grief.”

Florida

DeSantis education purge begins after school board takeovers

Ziegler, a co-founder of right-wing group Moms for Liberty, was one of two dozen school board candidates receiving endorsement from DeSantis

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Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis (Screenshot/YouTube Tampa 10 News)

By Julia Conley | SARASOTA – Despite outcry from parents, teachers, and students, newly elected right-wing school board members in Sarasota County, Florida on Tuesday became the latest allies of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to oust a school superintendent over the district’s adherence to public health guidance during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dozens of community members gathered at a school board meeting in Sarasota County on Tuesday evening to support Brennan Asplen, the superintendent of schools since 2020, whose contract was the subject of the meeting.

The board met the same day new members, including Chair Bridget Ziegler, were sworn in. Ziegler, a co-founder of right-wing group Moms for Liberty, was one of two dozen school board candidates who received an endorsement from DeSantis during the midterm elections. The majority of those candidates, who received $1,000 contributions from the governor, won their elections.

At the meeting, members condemned Asplen “for not pushing back on the mask mandate” that was in place for three weeks in 2021 after the school board voted 3-2 in favor of the mandate, making Sarasota County the first in the state to defy DeSantis’ law blocking Covid-19 mitigation measures.

On Tuesday the board ultimately voted 4-1 in favor of negotiating a separation agreement with Asplen, after another board member, Thomas Edwards, warned the move would be a “carbon copy” of a similar ouster in Berkeley County, South Carolina earlier this month.

In that case, new school board members who had been endorsed by Moms for Liberty voted to fire the district’s superintendent and ban classroom discussions of racism in history and the present day.

Asplen is not the only school leader who has been pushed out of a superintendent position in Florida by DeSantis allies citing objections to public health protocols.

Five members of the Broward County school board this month fired Superintendent Vickie Cartwright over a grand jury report on the 2018 Parkland shooting. Like Asplen, Cartwright presided over the district during the pandemic and “faced frustration from some parents” over Covid-19 mitigation measures, which were implemented in violation of DeSantis’ order.

All of the members who voted to fire Cartwright were DeSantis appointees following the removal of previous members after a school safety investigation stemming from the 2018 Parkland school shooting.

WUSF Public Media reported earlier this year that the county is undergoing “a transformational shift” with the governor’s allies poised to take “a rare opportunity to advance conservative policy priorities in one of the state’s most Democratic-leaning counties.”

The superintendent of schools in Brevard County was also pushed out last week, hours after DeSantis-aligned school board members were sworn in.

Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, noted that parents from across the political spectrum have spoken out against the dismissals of school leaders in the Florida counties in recent weeks—”but to little avail.”

“The new playbook of total ideological control is in full swing,” said Friedman.

Bill Kimler, a former candidate for state House in South Carolina, noted that a right-wing takeover of school boards like the one in Berkeley County “is happening elsewhere in the country.”

“Every election cycle, we need to view school board positions with the same level of enthusiasm as we do the president of the USA,” said Kimler. “Our kids’ education cannot be left in the hand of extremists.”

***********************************

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

The preceding article was previously published by Common Dreams and is republished with permission.

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North Carolina

Anti-LGBTQ+ far right activist questioned in NC power outage

State & federal investigators are looking into protesters of a local drag queen show but so far they have not been able to make a connection

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State and federal investigators are looking into protesters of a Saturday drag queen show, that Naomi Dix, (pictured) a drag artist- based out of Durham was hosting, although so far they have not been able to make that connection (Photo Credit: Dix/Facebook)

SOUTHERN PINES, Nc. – Law enforcement agencies are investigating a wide-spread power outage after intentional vandalism via gunfire was inflicted on the electrical infrastructure network in Moore County located 40 miles Northwest of Fayetteville Saturday night.

Moore County Sheriff’s deputies questioned a local woman after she posted on social media that she was aware of why the power was out blaming the outages on a drag show that was being held, which had already caused stirred up considerable controversy in Southern Pines.

Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields told media outlets that Duke Energy and other utility companies found evidence of intentional vandalism that had occurred at multiple sites. Fields added that the outages, which began just after 7 p.m. forced 45,000 people to endure freezing temperatures overnight.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper tweeted that he was aware of the outage and the ongoing investigation:

Former U.S. Army Captain Emily Grace Rainey, a far right anti-LGBTQ+ conservative activist had publicly attacked a local theatre that was hosting a drag show posted to her social media accounts:

“The power is out in Moore County and I know why.” She also posted a picture of the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines, which was putting on the sold-out drag show, with the caption “God will not be mocked.”

Rainey had previously posted her stance on the drag show. Last month the theatre was also targeted by the anti-LGBTQ+ Twitter account Libs of TikTok.

Rainey, 30, also posted on Facebook that she was visited by Moore County Sheriff’s investigators: “I welcomed them to my home. Sorry they wasted their time.”

Rainey has an established history of far-right activism including anti-COVID pandemic restrictions and vaccinations activity, had resigned her Army officer’s commission after receiving a career-ending letter of reprimand from command staff at nearby Fort Bragg for her far-right activism, including leading service members to Washington D.C. and attending the Capitol insurrection rally.

According to a CBS News report days after the Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021, Rainey, was reported to be assigned to the 4th Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg, according to Maj. Daniel Lessard, a spokesman for 1st Special Forces Command.

Known as PSYOPS, the group uses information and misinformation to shape the emotions, decision-making and actions of American adversaries.

She had led 100 members of Moore County Citizens for Freedom, which describes itself online as a nonpartisan network promoting conservative family values, from North Carolina to Washington to “stand against election fraud” and support Trump.  She claimed that that at no time did she or any members of her group illegally enter the Capitol grounds or building.

Previous to the Capitol insurrection according to CBS News correspondent David Martin, Rainey made headlines back in May of 2020 after she posted a video online of her pulling down caution tape at a playground that was closed under North Carolina’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Police investigators had charged her with injury to personal property over the incident. Detectives told WRAL- NBC News Channel 5 in Raleigh at the time that they let her off with warnings twice before after she tore down the tape closing off the playground before finally arresting her.

In the current power grid vandalism attacks, Rainey has not been named a suspect nor a person of interest and was only questioned about her social media posts by law enforcement.

Sheriff Fields, at a Sunday afternoon press conference called the perpetrators “cowards,” announced a Sunday curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. The curfew is part of a countywide state of emergency proclamation, effective 4 p.m. Sunday. “No group has stepped up to acknowledge or accept that they’re the ones who’ve done it, so I call them cowards,” the Raleigh News & Observer reported the Sheriff told reporters.

Fields said Sunday that state and federal investigators are looking into protesters of a Saturday drag queen show at Sunrise Theater in downtown Southern Pines, but that so far they have not been able to make that connection.

Without naming Rainey, the Sheriff indicated in the press conference that the information she posted online was “false.” He told reporters he ordered his deputies “to go and interview this young lady and have a word of prayer with her, but it turned out to be nothing.”

He also confirmed that the damage was caused by small arms. State and local law enforcement were called in to provide security at substations overnight

Fields added that all available local law enforcement officers are working on the case, assisted by NC State Bureau of Investigation and FBI agents.

The local Southern Pines newspaper, the Pilot, reported:

Six hours after blocking off downtown Southern Pines for the town’s annual holiday parade, police returned to the blocks surrounding the Sunrise Theater to prepare for a drag performance show that has generated significant protest and controversy in town and on social media

The Downtown Divas drag show, which was scheduled for 7 p.m. but did not begin until 7:40 p.m., was scheduled as a fundraiser for Sandhills Pride, the local nonprofit supporting the LGBTQ community. The show originally allowed for children and teenagers to attend, but following angry protests online, the Sunrise and Sandhills Pride announced that only individuals aged 18 and older would be admitted.

[…] While drag show protesters gathered early, they were eventually outnumbered significantly by counter protesters, a number of whom waved rainbow flags, homemade signs and called out specific individuals who had stoked outrage toward the drag performance on Facebook over the past couple of weeks. Counter protesters chanted out expressions such as “I love you” and “love is love” and “love not hate.”

The Raleigh News & Observer’s journalist Martha Quillin reported that the drag show started at 7 p.m. and was under way when the power went out. Headliner Naomi Dix of Durham kept the show going until almost 9 p.m. “I asked that everyone turn on their phone flashlights to illuminate the room,” Dix said. “I then lead the crowd in singing Beyoncé’s ‘Halo.’”

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Los Angeles County

Robert Luna sworn in as the 34th Sheriff of LA County

Although Luna is being sworn in on Saturday, he officially replaces outgoing Sheriff Villanueva at noon on Monday

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Incoming LA County Sheriff Robert Luna and outgoing Sheriff Alex Villanueva (Photo Credit: Twitter/Alex Villanueva)

LOS ANGELES – In a simple ceremony Saturday, former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna was sworn in as the 34th Sheriff of Los Angeles County since the Sheriff’s Department was formed in April, 1850. Luna, 56, replaces outgoing Sheriff Alex Villanueva, whom he defeated in the November election.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff serves a four-year term. There are no term limits for the position. Luna served as chief of the Long Beach Police Department for seven years, having first been appointed to the position in 2014.

Villanueva leaves office in the wake of a single term marred by upheaval, fighting with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the discord he sowed amidst allegations of corruption.

The Los Angeles Times reported six days ago that Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has launched a criminal investigation into allegations that Sheriff Alex Villanueva may have broken state law when he solicited campaign donations from deputies.

Luna has publicly stated that he will focus his efforts on modernizing the department and addressing multiple issues, which have plagued the largest sheriff’s department in the nation which is currently staffed by over 10,000 sworn deputies, vowing to bring new leadership and accountability.

Although Luna is being sworn in on Saturday at the Hall of Administration in downtown LA, he officially replaces outgoing Sheriff Villanueva at noon on Monday.

Luna and Villanueva met earlier this week, and Villanueva tweeted a photo of the “peaceful transfer of power,” adding, “I truly wish him the best in leading the greatest law enforcement agency on the planet.”

The outgoing sheriff also tweeted: “Its been an honor to serve as your Sheriff. I am incredibly proud of what we accomplished over the last four years.”

KTLA reported the new sheriff’s leadership team has come into focus in the past few days, with 28-year veteran April Tardy announced as the new interim undersheriff — the first woman to hold the position — and Deputy Jason Skeen, another 28-year veteran, serving as interim chief of staff.

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Russia

Russian Duma sends new anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law to Putin

With Putin’s signature, Russian LGBTQ+ people “will cease to be publicly known” effectively driving them underground

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (Screenshot from Russian State Media)

MOSCOW – The Upper Chamber of the Russian State Duma (Parliament) voted Wednesday approving legislation banning LGBTQ+ propaganda as well as materials that promote discussion of gender reassignment and mention of LGBTQ+ to minors, which is categorized as promotion of paedophilia. Violation of the ban will result in fines of up to 10 million rubles.

The legislation now heads to Russian President Vladimir Putin who is expected to sign it within the next few days. Russian State Media outlet RIA News (РИА Новости) reported the new ban on LGBTQ+ propaganda, gender reassignment and paedophilia will apply to films, books, commercials, media publications and computer games.

The legislation broadens the scope of the existing “Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values,” statute signed into law by Putin on June 30, 2013.

That statute amended the country’s child protection law and the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses, to prohibit the distribution of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors.

The definition includes materials that “raises interest in” such relationships, cause minors to “form non-traditional sexual predispositions”, or “[present] distorted ideas about the equal social value of traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships.”

Businesses and organizations can also be forced to temporarily cease operations if convicted under the law, and foreigners may be arrested and detained for up to 15 days then deported, or fined up to 5,000 rubles and deported.

The new law will  extend “responsibility for propaganda of LGBTQ+ people among adults,” in addition to the earlier law regarding minors.

The language of the bill also introduces a ban on issuing a rental certificate to a film if it contains materials that promote non-traditional sexual relations and preferences is established. The document also provides for the introduction of a mechanism that restricts children’s access to listening to or viewing LGBTQ+ information on paid services. 

The newly expanded law provides for the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, to be vested with the right to determine the procedure for conducting monitoring on the Internet to identify information, access to which should be restricted in accordance with the federal law on information.

A requirement is also set on paid services to enter codes or perform other actions to confirm the age of the user. At the same time, access to LGBTQ+ information is prohibited for citizens under 18 years of age.

In addition, it provides for a ban on the sale of goods, including imported goods, containing information, the dissemination of which provides for administrative or criminal liability. 

Also, the law “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” is supplemented by an article on the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations, pedophilia and information that can make children want to change their sex.

The latter language pointedly inserted as transgender people have been a frequent target of attacks by the Russian president in speeches recently blaming the West for a global decay in moral values that run counter to what Putin describes as “Russia’s strong morals.”

Human Rights Watch noted that given the already deeply hostile climate for LGBTQ+ people in Russia, there will be uptick in often-gruesome vigilante violence against LGBTQ+ people in Russia—frequently carried out in the name of protecting Russian values and Russia’s children.

Legal scholars say the vagueness of the bill’s language gives room for government enforcers to interpret the language as broadly as they desire, leaving members of the Russian LGBTQ+ community and their allies in a state of even greater fear and stress filled uncertainty.

The English language Moscow Times newspaper and webzine, which publishes outside of the Russian Federation to avoid censorship, ran an article Friday reporting on St. Petersburg LGBTQ activist Pyotr Voskresensky, who in an act of defiance opened up a small “LGBTQ museum” in his apartment prior to Putin’s signing the measure into law.

“The museum is a political act,” said Voskresensky. “As this era is coming to an end, I felt I wanted to say one last word.”

Voskresensky — who has spent years acquiring Russian-made statues, jewelry, vases, books and other art objects that tell stories about the country’s LGBTQ+ subculture — decided this was his last opportunity to share his collection with ordinary people he told the Times.

For safety reasons, the museum’s location has not been made public: hopeful visitors must contact Voskresensky via Facebook to receive the address.  

On a recent tour, the first thing visible to visitors at the entrance was a portrait of composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, one of the most famous gay men in pre-revolutionary Russia. 

At the end of the exhibition, there were a few contemporary art pieces, including a satirical model depicting Russian parliamentary deputy Vitaly Milonov, a prominent supporter of the anti-gay legislation, wearing a bridal veil. 

Anti-LGBTQ+ lawmaker and parliamentarian Vitaly Milonov
(Courtesy of Pyotr Voskresensky via The Moscow Times)

In a phone call with the Blade on Saturday, a young Russian LGBTQ+ activist, who asked to not be identified for fear of Russian government reprisals, and who has communicated with the Blade previously from their Helsinki, Finland safe space, reiterated:

“These [Russian obscenity] politicians want to so-called “non-traditional” LGBTQ+ lifestyles erased out of public life. They and their so called colluders in church are ignorant of truth that LGBTQ+ people will exist no matter what. It is scientific fact not their religious fairytales and fictions.”

The activist also noted that with Putin’s signature, Russian LGBTQ+ people “will cease to be publicly known” effectively driving them underground. “Those bastards have tried to make us erased- they stupidly think we no longer [will] exist” The activist angrily vowed; “we are not disappeared- never. We are human and we are natural and they will not defeat our humanity.”

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State Department

U.S. envoy for LGBTQ+, intersex rights cancels Indonesia trip

Prominent Islamic group criticized Jessica Stern’s planned visit

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Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad. (Photo courtesy of OutRight International)

WASHINGTON — The special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad’s trip to Indonesia has been cancelled after the country’s most prominent Islamic group criticized.

Jessica Stern had been scheduled to arrive in Indonesia on Dec. 7.

The Washington Post reported Anwar Abbas, the vice chair of the Indonesian Ulema Council, in a statement on Friday said the group “cannot accept guests whose purpose of coming here is to damage and mess up the noble values of our nation’s religion and culture.”

U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim in a statement announced Stern would no longer travel to the country.

“One of the reasons the United States and Indonesia have such a strong relationship is that we both uphold values such as democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance. Those values should apply to every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” said Kim. “In every country, dialogue about human rights is crucial. Dialogue, after all, is fundamental to democracy. Advanced democracies oppose hatred, intolerance and violence against any group of people, and encourage dialogue that reflects the broad diversity of their societies.”

“While we look forward to continuing our dialogue with religious leaders, government officials and members of the public on the important topic of ensuring respect for the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, after discussions with our counterparts in the Indonesian government, we have decided to cancel Special Envoy Stern’s visit to Indonesia,” added Kim. “Knowing that around the world LGBTQI+ persons experience disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for one another, rather than pretending that the issues do not exist. Countries like Indonesia and the United States can learn from one another about how to counter hatred and ensure more prosperous, inclusive societies for all.”

A State Department spokesperson on Friday told the Washington Blade that “after discussions with counterparts in the Indonesian government and with Indonesian human rights advocates, Special Envoy Jessica Stern and Ambassador Sung Kim decided to cancel the special envoy’s visit to Indonesia planned for Dec. 7-9.” 

“We will continue to work with our Indonesian partners to promote democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance,” said the spokesperson.

“While we are disappointed that Special Envoy Stern will not travel to Indonesia at this time, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” added the spokesperson. “Indonesia is a valued partner of the United States, and we seek to work together with Indonesia to counter hatred and intolerance and build more prosperous, inclusive societies.”

President Joe Biden in February 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.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are decriminalized in most of Indonesia, but officials in Aceh province in 2021 caned two men under Shariah law after their neighbors caught them having sex. The Indonesian government in recent years has faced criticism over its LGBTQ and intersex rights record.

Authorities in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, in 2017 arrested 51 people who were attending a “gay party” at a sauna. The closure of an Islamic school for Transgender people in the city of Yogyakarta in 2016 also sparked outrage.

Indonesian lawmakers are currently debating a bill that would criminalize sex outside of marriage.

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San Francisco

Padilla, local leaders celebrate passage of Respect for Marriage Act

“There’s no better place than San Francisco to celebrate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act & affirm lives of millions of LGBTQ people”

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Senator Padilla officiated a vows renewal ceremony of Cyn Wang and Tessa Chavez, a local lesbian couple, at San Francisco City Hall Dec. 2, 2022 (Photo Credit: Office of Sen. Alex Padilla)

SAN FRANCISCO —  U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) on Friday hosted a press conference with San Francisco Mayor London Breed, State Senator Scott Wiener, Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang, and local leaders following the Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.

Senator Padilla also officiated a vows renewal ceremony of Cyn Wang and Tessa Chavez, a local lesbian couple, at San Francisco City Hall to mark the historic occasion.

The Respect for Marriage Act requires the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed and guarantee that valid marriages between two individuals are given full faith and credit, regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin. The legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 61-36.

“There is no better place than San Francisco to celebrate the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act and unequivocally affirm the lives of millions of LGBTQ people and interracial couples across our country,” said Senator Padilla. “We celebrate the progress that we have made today, but recognize the work still left undone to fully protect the rights of LGBTQ Americans. I’ll continue working to build on our efforts until we ensure that every American is treated equally under the law, free from discrimination.”

“I was proud to introduce the Respect for Marriage Act over the summer, and I’m even more pleased that the bill passed the Senate this week with strong bipartisan support,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein. “The Respect for Marriage Act will guarantee legal protections for millions of marriages in the United States. Simply put, Americans should be free to marry the person they love, regardless of sexual orientation or race, without fear of discrimination or fear that their marriages will be invalidated. This was a historic vote and one that every proponent of equality can be proud of.”

“The Respect for Marriage Act is an important step forward in the continued fight for LGBTQ and racial equality in America,” said State Senator Scott Wiener. “Today, we celebrate this victory for our civil rights, and tomorrow we recommit to fight even harder against the right-wing Supreme Court’s efforts to legalize discrimination in this country.”

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) on Friday hosted a press conference with San Francisco Mayor London Breed, State Senator Scott Wiener, Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang, and local leaders following the Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.
(Photo Credit: Office of Sen. Alex Padilla)

“San Francisco’s history is inseparable from the history of the LGBTQ community and the movement for marriage equality locally, at the state level, and nationally,” said Mayor Breed. “As we celebrate the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, we honor those who have endured discrimination and hate, and the many who lost their lives in the quest for equality. We recommit ourselves to protect the fundamental rights of all people regardless of who they are or whom they love. Thank you to Congressional leaders, especially Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, and Speaker Pelosi for their leadership to pass this historical legislation.”

“Equality California applauds this historic vote and the critical leadership of Senators Baldwin, Feinstein and Padilla, in getting this bill across the finish line,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. “While this is an important step in affirming the dignity of the LGBTQ+ community, it will not end all discrimination against LGBTQ+ people or erase the hateful rhetoric of anti-LGBTQ+ politicians and extremists. Equality California will continue to fight for full, lived equality for all LGBTQ+ people until the work is done.”

“The Respect for Marriage Act removes an ugly, discriminatory stain on our federal law books – the 1996 so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” – and replaces DOMA with a rule requiring government at all levels to treat all married couples equally nationwide,” said Jenny Pizer, Chief Legal Officer, Lambda Legal. “We hope we never need it.  But if the U.S. Supreme Court were, outrageously, to erase the constitutional protection for the freedom to marry, this law will substantially reduce the harms. Yet, even if the Respect for Marriage Act were to become necessary, it would not be sufficient. We still urgently need the Equality Act to become law, to protect LGBTQ people from the widespread discrimination that persists in the commercial marketplace and in public services with harsh, unacceptable consequences.”

“It is a historic moment for the advancement and preservation of basic civil rights for all Americans, but by no means is our work done,” said Kris Perry, Prop 8 Plaintiff & Nonprofit Director. “Our family and thousands of families like ours can breathe easier tonight knowing our fundamental rights are protected.”

“After the Supreme Court overturned a woman’s right to choice, we feared same-sex marriages were next,” said Cyn Wang and Tessa Chavez. “The Respect for Marriage Act gives our family clarity and a sense of relief that our marriage, and those of all married couples regardless of sexual orientation or race, will be protected in this country.”

The Respect for Marriage Act now goes to the House of Representatives for passage and then to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Senator Padilla is committed to pursuing equality for the LGBTQ community, including in employment, housing, and credit lending.

Earlier this year, Padilla introduced the LGBTQ Business Equal Credit Enforcement and Investment Act, legislation that would protect the 1.4 million LGBTQ-owned businesses in the nation from lending discrimination to ensure equal access to economic opportunities. Padilla also joined Senate Democrats in introducing a resolution recognizing June as LGBTQ Pride Month to highlight the work of the LGBTQ community in fighting to achieve full equality, including for marriage.

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Southern California

Triple A: Gas price averages drop below $5 & may move lower

The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $4.90, which is 21 cents lower than last week

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Screenshot/YouTube ABC 10 News Sacramento

LOS ANGELES – Most areas of Southern California now have average gas prices of less than $5 a gallon after additional hefty price declines in the last week, according to the Auto Club’s Weekend Gas Watch.

The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $4.90, which is 21 cents lower than last week. The average national price is $3.47, which is 12 cents lower than a week ago.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $4.97 per gallon, which is 21 cents lower than last week, 63 cents lower than last month, and 26 cents higher than last year. In San Diego, the average price is $4.94, which is 21 cents lower than last week, 63 cents lower than last month, and 28 cents higher than last year.

On the Central Coast, the average price is $4.95, which is 20 cents lower than last week, 62 cents lower than last month, and 31 cents higher than last year. In Riverside, the average per-gallon price is $4.84, which is 20 cents lower than last week, 60 cents lower than last month, and 21 cents higher than a year ago. In Bakersfield, the $5.28 average price is 11 cents lower than last week, 50 cents lower than last month, and 63 cents higher than a year ago today.

“Despite a record number of Southern California travelers hitting the road for Thanksgiving, average pump prices have dropped below $5 a gallon for the first time since early March,” said Auto Club spokesperson Doug Shupe. “Oil Price Information Service reports a substantial drop in demand statewide and high unleaded gas inventories. This week Los Angeles wholesale gasoline prices reached their lowest level of 2022, and if that trend holds, we should see additional pump price reductions. The least expensive gas station prices today are about $4.10 a gallon, so it’s possible we will see stations charging less than $4 a gallon soon.”

The Auto Club reminds drivers of the following tips to save money on gas:

  • If you use premium unleaded fuel, make sure it is required for your vehicle, not just recommended. The Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center found that vehicles with recommended premium fuel performed safely with regular unleaded gasoline.
  • Make sure your tires are properly maintained and inflated to the correct level.
  • Maintain your car according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Regular service will ensure optimum fuel economy.
  • Avoid “jackrabbit” starts and hard accelerations. These actions greatly increase fuel consumption.
  • Slow down and drive the speed limit. Fuel economy peaks around 50 mph on most cars, then drops off as speed increases. Reducing freeway speeds by 5 to 10 mph can increase fuel economy by as much as 14%.
  • Use cruise control on the highway to help maintain a constant speed and save fuel. However, never use cruise control on slippery roads because you could lose control of the vehicle.
  • Minimize your use of air conditioning.
  • Avoid extended idling to warm up the engine, even in colder temperatures. It’s unnecessary and wastes fuel.
  • Remove unnecessary and heavy items from your car.
  • Minimize your use of roof racks and remove special carriers when not in use.
  • Download the AAA App to find the cheapest gas prices near you. 

The Weekend Gas Watch monitors the average price of gasoline. As of 9 a.m. on Dec. 1, averages are:

120122 chart
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State Department

Blinken: PEPFAR shows ‘what American diplomacy can do’

Secretary of state spoke at World AIDS Day event in D.C. on Friday

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2022. (Screen capture via U.S. Department of State YouTube)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday noted the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has saved more than 25 million lives since its launch in 2003.

Blinken, who spoke at the Business Council for International Understanding’s World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C., said the more than $100 billion the U.S. has earmarked for PEPFAR over the last two decades has funded 70,000 new community health clinics, 3,000 new laboratories and the hiring of 340,000 health care workers.

“Entire public health systems formed, with over a dozen countries which have either reached their HIV-treatment goals or managed control of the virus altogether,” said Blinken.

Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR. California Democrat Barbara Lee, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief White House medical advisor who is retiring at the end of this month, are among those who played a key role in PEPFAR’s creation.

“PEPFAR has benefitted from bipartisan support, as we’ve heard, across four presidencies, across ten Congresses,” said Blinken. “It’s resulted in an investment of more than $100 billion to the global HIV/AIDS response. This is the largest commitment by one country ever to address a single disease.”

Lee and Fauci were among those who attended the event alongside U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkengasong; Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine; Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus Response Director, and HIV and Hepatitis Policy Institute Executive Director Carl Schmid.

Blinken in his speech noted “the systems put in place by PEPFAR have become an integral part of the health security architecture of countries around the world.”

Blinken also said PEPFAR has bolstered responses to COVID-19, Ebola and the avian flu.

“We are continuing to build on PEPFAR’s many successes to create a stronger global health security architecture to prevent, to detect, to respond to future health emergencies. Doctor Fauci, you once said that PEPFAR ‘shows what the goodwill of a nation can do,’ and you were right,” said Blinken. “PEPFAR also shows us what American diplomacy can do: Bring together governments, bring together the public and private sectors, communities to tackle challenges that none of us can actually effectively deal with alone and that creates and has created a healthier, safer and ultimately more secure world.” 

Five-year PEPFAR strategy to target LGBTQ+ people

Blinken acknowledged there is still “very serious work still required for us to end the global HIV health epidemic by 2030,” noting HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ and intersex people and other marginalized groups.

“Too many countries still have fragile and insufficiently resourced public health systems, which makes it difficult to offer services beyond HIV/AIDS treatments, and that undercuts our capacity to respond to emerging threats,” he said.

Blinken noted the U.S. on Thursday announced a new PEPFAR strategy that will help “fill those gaps” over the next five years. It includes the following:

• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ+ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups

• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.

• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”

“This latest PEPFAR strategy will keep making advancements like that possible so that millions more people can live healthy lives and live lives to their full potential,” said Blinken. 

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Religious Extremism/Anti-LGBTQ+ Activism

Transphobic Fox host: Trans people are “Deeply Anti-Human”

Fox news host Laura Ingraham launched into a transphobic rant claiming the political left are cheering on what she termed anti-humanism

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Screenshot/YouTube Fox News

By Media Matters Staff | NEW YORK – On her show last night, Fox news host Laura Ingraham launched into a transphobic rant claiming among other things that those on the political left are cheering on what she termed anti-humanism.

Then she pivoted to the transgender community:

“Crusaders for climate change, abortion, euthanasia, gender fluidity, they all lead — eventually, their thinking — to the devaluing of human life.

“At its core, being anti-human means being anti- truth because it involves the questioning or denying of objective facts, including those at the very heart of our existence. 

“The cult of gender deviancy collapses into meaningless slogans and blather. None of it makes any sense, but it’s deeply anti-human.” 

Watch the Media Matters for America video clip:

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Minnesota

Minneapolis felon charged in Gay Bar brandishing incident

According to U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger, Conell Walter Harris, 29 has been charged with felony illegal possession of a firearm

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Booking Photo: Conell Walter Harris/Hennepin County Jail

MINNEAPOLIS – A Minneapolis resident is facing federal charges for illegal possession of a firearm during a criminal brandishing, uttering threats and homophobic slurs at a popular LGBTQ+ bar in the downtown area of the city.

According to U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger, Conell Walter Harris, 29 has been charged with felony illegal possession of a firearm.

In court documents filed in Hennepin County, on November 28, 2022, Minneapolis Police officers responded to a call that a person at 19 Bar, located near downtown Minneapolis, had pulled out a gun after being asked to leave.

When officers arrived, several people pointed at a man, who was later identified as Conell Walter Harris, 29.  Harris resisted arrest and tried to reach into the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. Officers recovered a stolen .45 caliber Glock model 30 pistol from Harris’ pocket. Officers spoke to bar employees and customers and learned that Harris had become upset after an employee asked to see his identification, which Harris refused to show.

The employee then asked Harris to leave the bar. Harris became combative and pulled out a pistol. An employee attempted to deescalate the situation but Harris became more aggressive and made multiple threatening statements. Harris then left for a short time but returned to the bar before law enforcement arrived.

Screenshot/YouTube KARE 11

Minneapolis NBC affiliate KARE 11 reported:

The complaint and affidavit outline the events that allegedly took place at Minneapolis’ 19 Bar the night of Nov. 28, claiming officers first responded to the bar around 11 p.m. on reports of a person with a gun.

When officers arrived, prosecutors say, bar patrons identified Harris. The complaint says Harris “resisted arrest and kept reaching into his hoodie pocket,” leading police to recover a .45-caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun.

Court documents allege that based on eyewitness accounts, police were informed that Harris was “acting strangely” when he entered the bar and became upset when an employee asked to see his ID. A 19 Bar bartender then asked Harris to leave, according to the complaint, and Harris refused, telling the bartender, “I ain’t going nowhere,” while pulling out the firearm.

Prosecutors say Harris then began yelling profanities and slurs at the bartender before leaving for a short time and then returning.

When Harris later reentered the bar, court documents allege he began playing pool until officers arrived.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Harris is charged in a criminal complaint with felon in possession of a firearm. He made his initial appearance today in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung. Harris was ordered to remain in custody pending a formal detention hearing scheduled for December 5, 2022. 

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the Minneapolis Police Department.

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