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Breaking: Rep. Katie Hill calls for Trump’s impeachment (Updated)

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Rep. Katie Hill, an out bisexual from Southern California’s 25th District, announced her decision to vote for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

“I believe in our country, in the Constitution, and in the checks and balances we have in place to protect our democracy. Those rules have ensured that our government is and will always be of the people, by the people, and for the people,” Hill said in a statement on Set. 24. “At this point, I believe a threshold has been crossed by this President and those checks and balances are in jeopardy.”

Hill is now one of 167 out of 235 House Democrats supporting impeachment. She joins other freshman congressmembers from SoCal—Gil Cisneros, Katie Porter, Harley Rouda and Mike Levin—who turned their red seats blue and face intense re-election pressure from Republicans anxious to take those seats back.

UPDATE: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces formal impeachment inquiry. As of 3:59pm, 188 members of the House have announced they support impeachment out of 218 members needed to impeach.

Rep. Adam Schiff agrees:

Out Rep. Mark Takano released this statement on the impeachment of President Trump. Rep. Takano had previously announced his support for Congress to formally launch impeachment proceedings against the president in August.

“In August, I called on Congress to move forward with formal impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. That call has become even more urgent following reports that the President attempted to pressure Ukraine’s leader into investigating an American political opponent by withholding U.S. military aid. The President and his Administration are acting further in contravention of the law by preventing the Director of National Intelligence from issuing a mandatory report to Congress on the whistleblower complaint made against the president – preventing Congress once again from fulfilling its Constitutional oversight role and investigating possible wrongdoing. Congress must see the whistleblower’s complaint first-hand.

“The president’s actions represent an egregious abuse of power and they serve as a textbook definition of corruption with the intent to undermine our democratic process. Soliciting interference in our elections by a foreign power is unlawful and un-American. As I have said before, under our system of checks and balances, Congress has a duty to use the powers granted by our Founders to seek remedy and restore the people’s faith in our government. No person is above the law, and that includes the person who holds the highest office in the land. The path forward for Congress is clear; President Trump must be impeached.”

UPDATE: Out Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair Mark J. González released the following statement:

“Today’s decision by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to begin an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump did not come lightly. We know that our grassroots Democratic Party activists have been calling for President Trump’s impeachment for some time. We are thankful that Speaker Pelosi is taking President Trump’s latest attempt at collusion with a foreign country as the serious matter that it is.

 

We hold all of our Elected Leaders to a high standard that includes not betraying one’s country for their own gain. Our Constitution has withstood many challenges, but none more so threatening than from President Trump at this time. This is a time of action that is above partisanship and more about putting our Country first.”

The movement towards impeachment has been swift since Rep. Adam Schiff, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, disclosed that an intelligence whistleblower issued a complaint deemed by the inspector general to be an “urgent concern,” which, under federal law, is supposed to be turned over to Congress by the acting director of national intelligence. The White House has refused to allow the report to be turned over under “executive privilege.”

News reports quickly started to reveal that the report involved Trump calling the leader of the Ukraine the day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress and asking him eight times to essentially dig up dirt on Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who worked for a gas company in that country, in order to hurt his presumed challenger in the 2020 elections. Trump has admitted making the call and subsequently that he held up about $4 million in funds allocated to US ally Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

While the Mueller report focused on candidate Trump and his campaign’s involvement with Russian agents to win the 2016 election, this involves the sitting President of the United States asking a foreign government for help in winning the 2020 election and possibly using allocated federal national security funding as leverage.

That was too much for Schiff who said on Sunday, “we may have crossed the Rubicon”.

Hill is one of the freshmen Democrats Pelosi has been trying to protect to keep the House in the 2020 elections. And in an interview with the Los Angeles Blade last April, Hill backed Pelosi’s experience.

“Honestly, I think that what we have to just say across the board is that impeachment is a political process. If we don’t have the votes in the Senate, there’s no point,” she said. “So what we have to do instead is bring to light all the information for the American people and make sure that they have that information going into the election and can make their own decision.”

But Trump’s latest actions have left many sworn members of Congress no other choice. Pelosi is expected to issue a statement sometime today about whether the House will go forward with an impeachment inquiry, and if so, how.

Meanwhile, Trump has called for release of the declassified transcript of his call with the Ukrainian leader, though there are already rumblings about whether there might have been other calls and whether this transcript can be trusted.

That trust should be determined after the House Intelligence Committee hears from the whistleblower.

UDATE 9/25, 7:50AM: White House releases summary of phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian leader, in which the president asks the Ukrainian for a favor right after talking about a military purchase. Some think this is a quid pro quo that constitutes an impeachable offense. There are now 211 House members supporting impeachment out of the 218 needed.  

This is a developing and profoundly historical story. 

 

 

 

 

State Department

State Department spokesperson sharply criticizes new Russia propaganda law

Statute ‘pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Fund's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in Washington on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, has criticized an anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed this week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday sharply criticized the anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the day before.

Price, who is openly gay, noted to reporters during a press briefing the law “further criminalizes the sharing of information about LGBTQI+ persons.”

“The law is another serious blow to freedom of expression in Russia, and a continuation of the Kremlin’s broader, long-running crackdown against marginalized persons, dissenting voices, civil society and independent media that it has intensified, as it has failed to achieve its objectives in its unconscionable war against Ukraine,” said Price. 

“The law pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society, fueling and amplifying the prejudice, discrimination, violence and stigma they face. The legislation is a clear attempt by the Kremlin to distract from its own failures by scapegoating vulnerable communities and creating phantom enemies,” he added. “We stand in solidarity with LGBTQI+ persons in Russia and around the world who seek to exercise the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights.”

The law that Putin signed on Monday expands the existing “Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values” statute that took effect in Russia in 2013. 

The new law will ban so-called LGBTQ+ propaganda and materials that discuss gender reassignment surgery and LGBTQ+ and intersex issues to minors, which it categorizes as the promotion of pedophilia. Russian media reports indicate the new law will apply to films, books, commercials, media outlets and computer games.

Anyone who violates the law could face a fine of up to 10 million rubles ($165,152.80.) Authorities could also force businesses and organizations to temporarily close, and foreigners who violate the law could face arrest, incarceration for up to 15 days, a fine of up to 5,000 rubles and deportation.

Putin signed the law against the backdrop of Russia’s continued war against Ukraine.

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Colorado

Club Q suspect: 300+ charges to include murder & hate crimes

The 22-year-old suspect will face 305 charges including first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and bias-motivated crime

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Memorial to the victims of the Club Q outside of the nightclub (Screenshot/YouTube Inside Edition)

COLORADO SPRINGS – El Paso County Colorado District Attorney Michael Allen announced in the first in-person hearing Tuesday, the 22-year-old suspect in the mass shooting at the LGBTQ+ nightclub Club Q, which killed five and wounded dozens other will face 305 charges including first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and bias-motivated crime.

The Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper reported that Anderson Aldrich appeared in a Colorado Springs courtroom wearing a green jumpsuit and handcuffs. Aldrich’s facial bruising had significantly healed since a video hearing two weeks ago. 

The total list of charges according to the Gazette is as follows: 

• 10 counts of first-degree murder.

• 86 counts of attempted first-degree murder.

• 86 counts of first-degree assault.

• Four counts of second-degree assault.

• 48 counts of bias motivated crime. 

• 71 counts of violent crime causing death and using a weapon.

Allen said the prosecution may request to amend the charges in the future.

“We are not going to tolerate actions against community members based on their sexual identity,” Allen said at a news conference after the hearing. “Members of that community have been harassed and intimated and abused for too long. And that’s not going to occur in the 4th Judicial District.”

During the hearing Judge Michael McHenry, following the filing of formal charges, granted a request from District Attorney Allen for the suspect’s arrest affidavit to be unsealed. The court papers should be available to the public by the end of the day Wednesday, the Judge noted according to the Gazette.

Allen said that while he couldn’t talk about what is in the affidavit, he told reporters that it might contain “much less information than you might expect.”

Suspect in Club Q shooting appears in court:

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Virginia

Virginia shopping center hit with homophobic, racist graffiti

Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Michele Bowman said another, similar display of hate graffiti was found on Saturday at the nearby Dulles Landing

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Graffiti at a Loudoun County shopping center is being investigated as a hate crime. (Photo Credit: Timbers Landscaping Care LLC/Facebook)

SOUTH RIDING, Va. – The Loudoun County, Va., Sheriff’s Office is seeking help from the public for its investigation into an incident on Friday, Dec. 2, in which an unidentified suspect or suspects spray-painted anti-LGBTQ, racist, and anti-Semitic graffiti at a shopping center.

A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s office told the Washington Blade the graffiti, which is considered an act of vandalism and is being investigated as a possible hate crime, was found painted on the side of a building that once housed a Food Lion supermarket at the South Riding Town Center, which is located near Dulles airport about four miles west of Chantilly.

The Sheriff’s Office did not disclose the exact wording of the graffiti. But news media reports, including a report by WTOP News, said the graffiti included Nazi swastikas, racial slurs, and the phrase “stop white genocide.”

Among the graffiti messages was the symbol “1488,” which indicates “the perpetrator’s endorsement of white supremacy and its beliefs,” according to a statement from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington as reported by the local publication Inside NOVA.

Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Michele Bowman said another, similar display of hate graffiti was found on Saturday behind the Bed Bath & Beyond building at the nearby Dulles Landing shopping center. Bowman said the Sheriff’s Office is also investigating that incident.

“There is no place in society for this behavior,” a statement released by the Sheriff’s Office on Facebook says.

“The LCSO takes this very seriously and is working with our station detectives, School Resource Officers, and our FBI Task Force member, and is reviewing social media and other potential leads to determine who is responsible for this vile act,” the statement says.

“We are asking the public for their assistance as well,” it says. “If anyone has information that may be helpful, please call Detective Fornwalt at 703-777-1021,” the statement says.

Loudoun4All, which describes itself as an advocacy organization that supports equality, announced on Facebook that it organized a rally on Sunday, Dec. 4, at the site of the graffiti at South Riding Town Center to speak out against hate.

The announcement says the group also arranged for volunteers to help remove the graffiti after learning that the Sheriff’s Office does not have authority to remove such graffiti on private property.

“About 50 local residents joined the rally, which took place along the side of Tall Cedars Parkway where the graffiti had been painted,” the group said in its Facebook posting. “Rally goers held signs with inclusive and supportive messages and waved at cars driving by,” the posting says.

It says that local resident Quante Timbers, the owner of Timbers Landscaping Care, LLC, volunteered his services by bringing a power washer to the site to remove most of the graffiti.

“Where his hoses wouldn’t reach, local kids converted the spray-painted message of hate into chalked messages of love,” the Loudoun4All statement says.

Loudoun Sheriff’s spokesperson Bowman said there were no updates to report on the investigation as of Monday, Dec. 5.

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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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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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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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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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Congress

Hakeem Jeffries makes history as new leader of House Democrats

Reps. Katherine Clark & Rep. Pete Aguilar become the new House Democratic Whip & House Democratic Caucus Chair

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New Democratic leadership team, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-Ny.) and Pete Aguilar (Calif.) (Photo Credit: Office of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries)

WASHINGTON – With his election on Wednesday to take over as House Democratic minority leader next year, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Ny.) became the first ever Black lawmaker from either party who will serve in that role in either of the two chambers of Congress.

House Democrats also chose, for the second and third-highest ranking positions, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Caif.). All ran unopposed and rather than by formal ballots were elected by voice vote for unanimous consent.

The moves signaled broad consensus among House Democrats in their decision to send the new slate of lawmakers, young and diverse with some progressive bona fides, to serve in the party’s senior leadership positions.

The three lawmakers are all members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and longtime allies of the community. Jeffries, as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in the House this summer.

The Caucus declined to comment on the House Democratic leadership elections.

When Aguilar succeeds Jeffries in that role next year, it will be the highest-ranking position in House leadership ever held by a Latino member. Clark, meanwhile, will become the second woman to serve as Democratic House Whip after Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the current House Speaker.

Pelosi announced on Nov. 18 her plans to step down from House Democratic leadership after the next Congress is seated. She made history in 2001 as the first woman elected to the second highest-ranking position in the chamber, and then again in 2007 when she took the top slot, becoming the first woman Speaker of the House.

Following her announcement, Pelosi was celebrated for her many legislative accomplishments at the top of her party’s caucus, where she served for two decades under four presidents. A Washington Post column called Pelosi the “best speaker in US. history.”

Considering that Pelosi also presided over some of the biggest legislative milestones in the modern LGBTQ rights movement, such as the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Jeffries has a high bar to clear when he’s handed the torch in January.

Jeffries is distinguished for his vocal support of the LGBTQ community

In addition to his leadership on the Respect for Marriage Act, Jeffries has been a major advocate in Congress for other pro-LGBTQ pieces of legislation like the Equality Act and, in 2014, the Hate Crime Reporting Act.

Jeffries has been a vocal champion of measures to make the U.S. Capitol more welcoming for transgender and gender nonconforming people – such as by calling for single-occupancy gender-neutral restrooms on the Hill and rules that would adopt gender-neutral language in the House.

He has also spoken out forcefully against anti-LGBTQ hate from some members of the House Republican caucus, such as the dangerous rhetoric from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly tried to link queer people to child sexual abuse.

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Congress

Rep. Raul Ruiz calls for ending IRS rule for same-sex couples 

The letter comes after the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the federal government to recognize same-sex marriage

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Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) meeting constituents (Photo Credit: Office of Congressman Ruiz)

WASHINGTON – In a letter sent to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Thursday, Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) led over 50 members of Congress in calling for the IRS to reverse current regulations that prevent some same-sex couples from receiving survivor benefits. 

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act allows qualified retirement plans to establish a one-year marriage duration requirement for survivor’s benefits, and in 2014 the IRS issued guidance clarifying that these rules apply equally to same-sex couples — meaning if a same-sex couple was not married for the required length of time prior to one spouse’s death, the surviving spouse would not qualify for pension survivor benefits.  

However, in many cases, couples were not legally allowed to be married for long enough to meet that requirement, since unconstitutional laws barring same-sex couples from marriage remained in effect until 2015. For same-sex survivors for whom marriage equality came too late, the one-year marriage duration requirement poses a total bar to access their loved one’s benefits.

“It is imperative that the IRS clarify that a qualified retirement plan will be disqualified if it fails to provide these same-sex survivors barred from marrying with an equal path to survivor’s benefits despite their having been unable to meet the one-year marriage duration requirement before the employee’s death,” Dr. Ruiz and the members wrote. While plans would retain discretion regarding whether to have a marriage duration requirement at all, where they do so, such requirements should not be allowed to further penalize those same-sex survivors who already felt the sting of discrimination while their loved ones were still alive.”  

The letter comes after the U.S. Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed. The legislation also safeguards against the denial of any benefit, right, or status of an otherwise eligible person or entity – including tax-exempt status, tax treatment, grants, contracts, agreements, guarantees, educational funding, loans, scholarships, licenses, certifications, accreditations, claims, or defenses – provided that the benefit, right, or status does not arise from a marriage. 

Dr. Ruiz’s letter was inspired by a Palm Springs constituent who has faced roadblocks from receiving his survivor benefits for years due to the IRS policy. 

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