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David Begnaud: Puerto Ricans ‘shamed’ governor to resign

Ricardo Rosselló to leave office over homophobic, misogynistic messages

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David Begnaud, an openly gay CBS News reporter who has received widespread praise for his coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, returned to the U.S. commonwealth this month to cover the scandal that toppled Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration. Begnaud is among those who were criticized in a tranche of homophobic and misogynistic messages that Rosselló and members of his administration sent to each other in a private chat. (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

A CBS News reporter whose Puerto Rico coverage has garnered widespread praise on Tuesday said people in the U.S. commonwealth “shamed” their soon-to-be-former governor to resign.

“It is exceptionally rare to see an organic movement of hundreds of thousands of people oust a sitting governor without a single shot being fired,” David Begnaud told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview from New York. “It’s unprecedented globally and they essentially shamed this man into leaving.”

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on July 24 announced his resignation less than two weeks after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 pages of messages he and several members of his administration sent to each other in a chat on the messaging app Telegram.

The messages, among other things, contained homophobic and misogynistic comments against Ricky Martin and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. Rosselló and members of his administration also mocked victims of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, and described former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was born in San Juan, a “whore” when she criticized Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Pérez’s support of statehood for the U.S. commonwealth.

Rosselló had been chair of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, center, on May 14, 2019, attends a ceremony that marked the official opening of Puerto Rico’s first center for LGBT elders. Cruz is among those who outgoing Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and members of his administrations criticized in nearly 900 pages of private chats that were made public earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Wilfred Labiosa)

 

Puerto Rico governor’s mansion ‘has been run like a frat house’

Begnaud, who publicly came out as gay in 2018, recalled his interview with Jorge Rodríguez, a prominent Puerto Rican businessman who called for Rosselló resign. Begnaud told the Blade that Rodríguez “pointed his finger in my face and said, ‘David, let me tell you why we rose up like we did.'”

“It’s because those chat messages took away our dignity, they took away our dignity in terms of how the governor and his staff made fun of people, criticized people, laughed at people, from the dead, to the gay, to women,” said Rodríguez, according to Begnaud. “They literally had no one that they didn’t go after.”

“The governor’s mansion (known as La Fortaleza) … has been run like a frat house and it has collapsed because of these chat messages,” Begnaud told the Blade.

Begnaud has become a beloved figure in Puerto Rico because of his coverage of Maria’s aftermath and the federal and Puerto Rican government’s slow response to the hurricane that left upwards of 3,000 people dead. Begnaud is also among those who were criticized in the chat.

“I thought about it for about two minutes,” said Begnaud when the Blade asked him about the criticism. “I think my initial reaction was, really?'”

Begnaud added the criticism was “part of the job.”

“When you are exposing either corrupt behavior or wrongdoing in some way, you are going to draw the ire of people in positions of power,” he said.

Begnaud asked Rosselló several questions during a July 16 press conference at La Fortaleza. Begnaud told the Blade a question about Rosselló’s criticism of him in the chat “wasn’t even one of the questions I thought to ask him.”

“Of course he would want to attack me,” said Begnaud, referring to Rosselló and the chat. “Of course he would want to attack other people. The guy was politically drowning, so he was lashing out.”

“But it’s more than that, and let’s not minimize what it was,” added Rosselló. “This was a coordinated effort led by the governor of Puerto Rico to direct his associates to carry out a campaign to attack both critics, journalists and anyone who as not friendly to his administration and that is according to the chat messages which have been released, which the governor has called shameful and apologized for.”

https://youtu.be/SGMTvsJjXXw

The Center for Investigative Journalism published the tranche of messages four days after federal authorities indicted former Puerto Rico Education Secretary Julia Keleher and five others on corruption charges. Rosselló subsequently returned to Puerto Rico from France where he was on vacation with his family.

The arrests were the impetus behind the protests that quickly gained traction on the island.

Protesters gathered outside La Fortaleza every night in the wake of the Center for Investigative Journalism’s publication of the messages. Martin is among the hundreds of thousands of people who took part in a protest against Rosselló on July 22 that shut down one of San Juan’s main expressways.

CBS News reporter David Begnaud with a young boy during protests against soon-to-be-former Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

Begnaud said Rosselló “saw the writing on the wall night after night with people protesting.”

“This was a movement led by all kinds of Puerto Ricans,” said Begnaud. “Most of the time what I saw on the front lines were some of the youngest faces on the island, but there’s really not one leader that you can go to say what are you demands, what do you want. You’d have to hold a town hall and give everybody a chance to speak because that’s how ubiquitous the movement was in terms of influence.”

“The influence was not in the hands of one person,” he added. “They were tired of years and years and years of corruption sort of coming from the top. It doesn’t matter which party was in power. There were politicians who’ve gone to federal prison as far back as people can remember from different parties, but this was the first time protesters told me that they all got together in force like they did to push for change and were successful at it.”

A number of prominent LGBT Puerto Ricans were among those who were highly visible in the anti-Rosselló protests.

Martin waved a large Pride flag in the air while on top of a semi-trailer truck during the July 22 protest in San Juan.

LGBTT Community Center of Puerto Rico Executive Director Cecilia la Luz, who is a member of the governor’s Advisory Council on LGBTT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender) Issues, in a tweet after Rosselló resigned praised him for “all of the good things that he did for” Puerto Rico.

Rosselló on March 27 signed an executive order that bans so-called conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico. Rosselló’s administration on Feb. 8 issued guidelines designed to make the U.S. commonwealth’s public employees more sensitive to the needs of transgender people and same-sex couples and their children.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], and many other activists who include Wilfred Labiosa, executive director of Waves Ahead and SAGE Puerto Rico, in April sharply criticized Rosselló over the introduction of a religious freedom bill they contended would have allowed anti-LGBT discrimination on the island. Rosselló on June 13 asked the Puerto Rico House of Representatives to withdraw the measure and a second bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy in Puerto Rico with an exemption for religious institutions, clergy and their religious institutions.

Serrano in a tweet pointed out Begnaud wore his CBS Pride t-shirt during his first reports on the anti-Rosselló protests from outside La Fortaleza on July 15.

Begnaud told the Blade he had flown to Puerto Rico from New Orleans where he had been covering Hurricane Barry. He said he had the t-shirt in his bag, “and so I just wore it.”

“It wasn’t to make a statement,” said Begnaud. “That was the clean shirt in my bag and I put it on. I got on the plane and headed to Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, center, talks about bills that would have banned so-called conversion therapy and protect religious freedom in the U.S. commonwealth during a press conference at La Fortaleza in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on April 23, 2019. Many LGBT activists and their supporters sharply criticized them, and Rosselló in June asked the Puerto Rico House of Representatives to withdraw them. (Photo courtesy of Adlyn Torres/La Fortaleza)

Rosselló’s resignation is scheduled to take effect on Friday at 5 p.m. local time.

Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez is next in the line of succession to succeed Rosselló because former Secretary of State Luis G. Rivera Marín, one of those who participated in the chat, resigned. Vázquez, who herself is facing increased criticism over her close ties to Rosselló, on Sunday in a tweet said she does not want to succeed him.

“I hope the governor identifies and nominates a candidate for the position of secretary of state before Aug. 2, and I have told him to do so,” tweeted Vázquez.

The Associated Press on Tuesday reported Rosselló plans to nominate Pedro Pierluisi, who was Puerto Rico’s non-voting resident commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2009-2017, to succeed Vázquez so she won’t become governor. Begnaud in a tweet said the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on Friday is scheduled to debate Pierluisi’s nomination, but he cited reports that indicate Pierluisi does not have enough votes.

“Everyone’s waiting to see who’s going to become the next governor,” Begnaud told the Blade.

Cruz, who is a vocal LGBT rights supporter, in April announced she is running for governor in 2020.

Puerto Rico protesters ‘want to clean house’

Begnaud told the Blade that Rosselló’s resignation is the “first time the people of Puerto Rico felt heard by their own government.” He added Puerto Ricans are also ready to target other politicians on the island.

“The protesters want to clean house and you know what, I take them at their word,” said Begnaud. “These are the same people who pushed into the streets and said we will get rid of him, and they did. So I wouldn’t doubt what they’re saying.”

Wilfred Labiosa, executive director of Waves Ahead and SAGE Puerto Rico, walks through a neighborhood in Vieques, Puerto Rico, on Jan. 31, 2018. Hurricane Maria killed upwards of 3,000 people in the U.S. commonwealth on Sept. 20, 2017. Soon-to-be-former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and members of his administration mocked Maria victims in private chats that were made public. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
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North Carolina

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Robinson rants at lawmaker over LGBTQ mention

The Senator was referencing Robinson’s anti-LGBTQ+, homophobic and transphobic public statements over the past several months

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Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson ( Screenshot via NBC-affiliate WCNC-TV, Charlotte, North Carolina)

RALEIGH – In a heated tirade in the hallways of the North Carolina capitol building captured on a mobile phone Monday, Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the state’s highest elected Black official launched into an attack on Democratic State Senator Julie Mayfield.

The tirade was witnessed by a dozen people including lawmakers, staff, and visitors. State Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Davidson), who witnessed the confrontation and caught part of the tirade on her mobile told the Charlotte News-Observer; ““It was a rant. He berated her, and he yelled as loudly as he could.” 

The lieutenant governor, who presides over the state Senate, approached Senator Mayfield in the hallway outside the Senate chamber after lawmakers adjourned and “wagged” his finger in her face, Marcus said.

Mayfield had addressed the Senate earlier Monday, after a vote where she highlighted the increasing deadly violence against Black people and ongoing discrimination against LGBTQ people.

In her remarks to her colleagues she said; “It is convenient fiction that we can say something in a particular forum and not expect to be held accountable for those words in another,” Mayfield said. “We are elected officials. And if we can’t respect our constituents rather than viciously attack some of them, then maybe we’re in the wrong job.”

The Senator was referencing Robinson’s anti-LGBTQ+, homophobic and transphobic public statements over the past several months.

Speaking to parishioners at the Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem on Sunday, November 14, Robinson attacked the LGBTQ+ community, captured on the church’s YouTube livestream.

Robinson said in his sermon that he questioned the “purpose” of being gay; said heterosexual couples are “superior” to gay couples; and that he didn’t want to explain to his grandchildren why two men are kissing if they see that on television the Charlotte Observer reported.

The state’s Republican Lt. Governor then went on to compare being gay to “what the cows leave behind” as well as maggots and flies, who he said all serve a purpose in God’s creation. “If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said.

In a speaking engagement in June at Asbury Baptist Church in Seagrove, Robinson called LGBTQ people “filth.”  “There’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth,” Robinson says. “Yes, I called it filth. And if you don’t like it that I called it filth, come see me and I’ll explain it to you.”

In a statement released in October by Deputy White House Press Secretary Andrew Bates, the Biden Administration condemned the remarks made last June by Robinson. “These words are repugnant and offensive,” said Bates, who is a native of North Carolina. “The role of a leader is to bring people together and stand up for the dignity and rights of everyone; not to spread hate and undermine their own office.”

“Sen. Mayfield’s remarks speak what’s in the hearts of most North Carolinians, and the fact that it set the lieutenant governor off that much is shocking to me,” Sen. Marcus told the News-Observer. “He said ‘You know where I am and where to find me,’” Marcus said, paraphrasing. “’If you have something to say to me you should come and say it to my face.’”

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Georgia

Liliana Bakhtiari wins runoff for Atlanta City Council

First LGBTQ Muslim elected in the state of Georgia and will be only Non-Binary Councilmember in a major U.S. city

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Liliana Bakhtiari  (Photo Credit: Liliana Bakhtiari for Atlanta City Council campaign)

ATLANTA – Liliana Bakhtiari won her runoff election on Tuesday to represent District 5 on the Atlanta City Council, becoming the first out LGBTQ Muslim elected in the state of Georgia and one of less than five currently serving in the entire country.

Bakhtiari will also be the only non-binary person currently serving on the city council of a major U.S. city. During the general election on November 2, Bakhtiari competed in a field of five candidates and received 49.5 percent of the vote, just short of the 50 percent needed to win outright and avoid a runoff. The LGBTQ Victory Fund endorsed Bakhtiari in the race for the seat.

Bakhtiari first ran for the District 5 council seat in 2017 – losing to the incumbent by just 2.6 percent of the vote.

Bakhtiari’s election comes as anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ political rhetoric rises in recent weeks, including state legislative attacks on trans candidates and anti-Muslim remarks targeting Minnesota Democratic U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar.

“Liliana’s victory is a milestone moment for Georgia, but also for non-binary people and LGBTQ Muslims across the country who want to make positive change through public service,” Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund said in a statement.

“When in office, Liliana will humanize our issues and be a voice for the underserved communities that are too often ignored by elected leaders. Atlanta is already a beacon of hope for LGBTQ people throughout the South, but with more representation that reflects the entire LGBTQ community, it can become a model for the entire nation,” Parker added,

Also in a runoff for an At-Large Post 3 Atlanta City Council seat is LGBTQ candidate Keisha Sean Waites, a LGBTQ Victory Fund endorsed candidate and former member of the Georgia House of Representatives, whose race has not yet been called as of Tuesday.

On November 2, another LGBTQ Victory Fund endorsed candidate, former Atlanta City Councilmember Alex Wan, who successfully represented District 6 from 2010-2018, was victorious in his bid to again represent the District. Wan garnered 79 percent of the vote (7,120 votes) and won election to the District 6 seat.

There are currently just 11 non-binary elected officials serving in the entire country. View all LGBTQ elected officials currently serving at outforamerica.org.

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North Dakota

A young Trans life erased because of hate

“We will always be grateful for the chance to have her as she was and not who we had thought her to be. Now we call her daughter and sister”

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Photo by Max Huskins

BEACH, Nd. – Life for one family in this small community at the edge of North Dakota adjacent to the border with Montana, near the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, has been forever altered after their 19 year-old Trans daughter committed suicide.

In an obituary published by the funeral home, her family expressed their grief and their rage;

Haley ended her life on November 12, 2021, her pain being too great. She had grown weary of the knowledge of her reality, knowing this country and this world would never stop trying to force her to submit to its ignorance, and her family rages for her. We would’ve burned the whole world down if we’d thought it would keep her safe, and our fury and outrage is eclipsed only by our grief. We struggle against the currents that try to carry us away from love, for those currents only take us further from her. And she is far enough, already.”

This past year has seen record violence against Trans Americans and legislative efforts to marginalize the Trans community as state lawmakers introduced a record number of anti-transgender bills in state legislatures, seeking to restrict transgender people’s access to health care, bathrooms, and sports and recreation.

It has been a year where 47 Trans people, particularly of colour, lost their lives violently and where because of the anti-Trans legislative efforts numerous Trans youth have considered suicide according to the Trevor Project, as their call-in center has been overwhelmed with a sharp uptick in calls for assistance and counseling.

We are at a tragic and deeply upsetting moment: With the death of Marquiisha Lawrence, 2021 has become the deadliest year ever for transgender and gender non-conforming people. Each of these 45 names represents a whole person and a rich life torn from us by senseless violence, driven by bigotry and transphobia and stoked by people who hate and fear transgender people and the richness of their experience,” Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said.

Dehumanizing rhetoric has real-life consequences for the transgender community, particularly transgender women of color but especially Black transgender women. As we have seen an unprecedented number of bills introduced in state legislatures attacking transgender youth and trans adults, the moment we are in is clear. They have attacked transgender people’s right to health care, right to exist in public, and right to live openly, with the ultimate goal of dehumanizing and erasing their lives and experiences,” she added.

Back in that small North Dakota community, a family grieves.

Obituary for Haley Gabriella Feldmann

Haley Gabriella Feldmann was born on November 18, 2002. She was called boy and so we gave her a boy name—now a dead name. We gave her boy clothes, boy toys, boy things. We didn’t know she was our daughter and so we called her son and brother.

Haley spent the first several years of her life content, within and without. She knew nothing of judgment or ridicule. She knew nothing but the love of her family, which she gave back in abundance.

During her adolescent years she retreated into herself and we lost her. She became silent . . . distant. She built formidable walls that became impossible to breach, and she stubbornly refused to grant us passage. She had begun to grow afraid of the world as she began to understand herself and who she was, and the reality of her situation became apparent.

The more she learned of how the world would judge her for not being who it thought she should be, the more she withdrew. She was an atheist, unable to believe in any religion or deity that taught condemnation of her for not submitting to its beliefs of who she should be.

She was a child of God, made perfectly in his image, her body only a vessel for the beautiful soul He created and with which He graced us. She laughed and she loved, and though her humor was dark, her nature was light. Her kindness, her empathy, her hope for others, and her desire to help anyone in need was a blinding light she shone on everyone but herself.
Haley gave us the gift of her truth, trusted us to see beyond her body to her soul, to believe her, and to love her.

We will always be grateful for the chance to have her as she was and not who we had thought her to be. Now we call her daughter and sister and we closed ranks around her to protect her and to keep her safe from the willful ignorance that surrounds her.

Our daughter Haley spent most days wreaking havoc on the universe, her time spent being “Imperial Empress of the Galaxies, Conqueror of Solar Systems, Creator of Planets and Nations, Destroyer of Stars”, and loving and adoring Lucy, her best friend and the Best Dog Ever, who loved and adored her in equal measure.

She created her own language with a full alphabet and rules, spending years revising and perfecting it, and, in typical Haley fashion, did not leave a key. She created her own maps, detailed in geography, and her own countries, rich in their histories. She dropped out of school and then graduated before her peers, which made her immensely proud. She taught herself history, geography, politics, and never hesitated to school anyone on the finer points of each. And she was usually correct.

Haley lived most comfortably in a Discord community of just under six hundred people from all over the world, each of whom loved and adored her. We are just beginning to learn of her profound impact within the community and we are grateful they had her and she was loved by them. Her soul was radiant there, unhindered by its physical representation here which had become a prison, freeing her to breathe and be.

Haley ended her life on November 12, 2021, her pain being too great. She had grown weary of the knowledge of her reality, knowing this country and this world would never stop trying to force her to submit to its ignorance, and her family rages for her. We would’ve burned the whole world down if we’d thought it would keep her safe, and our fury and outrage is eclipsed only by our grief. We struggle against the currents that try to carry us away from love, for those currents only take us further from her. And she is far enough, already.

Haley is survived by her devastated parents; her siblings; her grandparents; several aunts, uncles, and cousins; and Lucy, all of whom are inconsolable in the loss of her brilliance, consumed with a grief that has buried us in moments of silence, rage, and sorrow—a void that will never be filled, and a loss that will never be eased. The world is less without her and we will never be the same.

There will be no formal services for Haley. She considered money spent on the dead to be frivolous and of better use elsewhere. Any donations to her family should be sent to The Jim Collins Foundation in hope that a life might be saved.

In lieu of thoughts and prayers, her family asks that you be kind to the living and generous with what you have, be it your love, hope, or wealth. Do better unto others as you would have done to you, and reach back to those in need, lift them up, raise them higher, and love love love thy neighbor.

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