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Soaring hits and dramatic misses at the HRC/CNN LGBTQ Town Hall

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Living history. That’s what it felt like inside The Novo theatre at the HRC/CNN LGBTQ Town Hall last Thursday night as nine Democratic presidential candidates showcased their commitment to LGBTQ issues and their plans to advance full equality and end the scourge of AIDS and conversion therapy. Gay presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and gay CNN moderator Anderson Cooper were well aware they were living history on stage, but, to borrow from The Shirelles, will they all still love LGBTQs tomorrow?

The CNN stage Tuesday night is crowded with 12 Democrats who aspire to topple Donald Trump and live in the White House. The moderators are asking about impeachment, the new Trump-caused war in Northern Syria, immigration, climate change and gun violence.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has returned to campaigning after a heart attack and former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have readied their flak jackets for all the incoming grenades tossed by candidates hoping to breakout of single digit poll numbers. Out Mayor Pete Buttigieg is hoping to capitalize on all the thumbs-up, while Sen. Kamala Harris, once considered the female Barack Obama shoe-in, is struggling – she seems to know everything but her message.

Ratings for the Democratic Party’s fourth official debate in Westerville, Ohio are expected to be high, given the near certainty of Trump’s impeachment by the House – but there is also a nauseating feeling that Trump could still turn ashes into confetti and win re-election in 2020. Who on that stage can defeat him?

CNN’s production of the LGBTQ town hall, in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, reached 1,430,000 viewers during Buttigieg’s third segment at the peak of the four-and a half-hour program. He was preceded by Biden, who brought in 1,336,000 viewers, and followed by Warren with 1,398,000 viewers. The audience started dipping after that with 1,174,000 viewers watching Harris.

“These are pretty good ratings for the town halls. They are not gangbusters like a debate, but they are better than some that CNN has had earlier in the cycle,” Ted Johnson, Washington correspondent for Deadline, tells the Los Angeles Blade. “The network also emphasizes that it has these not for the audiences but to show their commitment to covering the campaign.”

A ratings junkie, Trump offered a little counter programming on Fox TV with a 102-minute rambling, incoherent and racist campaign rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota – the heavily Somali district represented by Trump nemesis, Ilan Omar.  And while the Democrats appealed to LGBTQ voters and allies, Trump unleashed a bombastic sideshow that roused his supporters and left others questioning his mental stability, including acting out “a truly terrible imitation of [FBI employees] Peter Strzok and Lisa Page achieving orgasm,” as Esquire described it.

Saturday Night Live devoted their cold open spoof to the HRC/CNN Equality Town, with a cryptic Anderson Cooper should shrug acknowledging “we’ll never do this again.” But it was former HUD Sec. Julián Castro (Lin-Manuel Miranda) who best nailed the subliminal message of the event: “Well, first of all, gracias. As a Democrat, I want to apologize for not being gay, but I promise to do better in the future.”

What is not a joke is that 11,046,000 LGBTQ adults are still officially second class citizens – the result, the town hall helped underscore – of institutionalized and systematic homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Additionally, since 2016, HRC has identified more than 57 million “Equality Voters” nationwide who “prioritize LGBTQ-inclusive policies, including marriage equality, equitable family law and laws that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” says HRC.

In 2018, LGBTQ voters counted for 6% of the entire electorate and cast more than 7 million ballots — a turnout of roughly 70%, compared to a turnout of 50% among the general population.

In 2020, the lives and livelihoods of LGBTQ people are at stake. The town hall occurred two days after the Supreme Court heard three job discrimination cases on whether the firing and harassment of an employee based on that worker’s sexual orientation or gender identity qualifies as sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act? According to an Associated Press analysis,“a ruling that says the federal law doesn’t protect workers targeted because they’re gay or transgender could leave millions vulnerable in more than half of U.S. states.”

An analysis released Oct. 9 by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law based on a poll conducted with Reuters/Ipsos of candidate preferences found that nearly 9 million LGBT adults are registered to vote, with half registered as Democrats, 15% registered as Republicans and 22% Independents and the remaining respondents picking another party or demurring on identifying one.

And yet, as Marketwatch extrapolated from the Williams Institute report, around 21% of LGBTQ adults are not registered to vote. That means there are roughly two million more LGBTQ adults still to be registered to vote in the 2020 election.

Two million. And that’s not counting those who want to vote but are shut out or dissuaded or uninspired.

“Voter suppression has primarily targeted voters of color, who also happen to include LGBTQ Americans, who far too often face disproportionate barriers in accessing their right to vote,” HRC President Alphonso David told the Washington Post after HRC backed a voting-rights effort organized by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Some states, for instance, have voter-ID laws where the person is required to show documentation that matches their birth-assigned gender, which could impede a transgender person from voting. The National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund has a project to help with that – Transform the Vote that explains #VotingWhileTrans.

One hope was that the HRC/CNN town hall would engage voters, as well as get the candidates on the record about specific LGBTQ issues and introduce non-LGBTQ Americans to the human beings behind those issues. Buttigieg and Warren put out detailed, comprehensive LGBTQ plans and Harris pledge to create a White House advocate for LGBT affairs. Beto O’Rourke put out his LGBT plan last June.

Numerous intersectional issues were addressed such as trans military service, HIV/AIDS, suicide and mental health, youth homelessness, gun violence and education and school safety, as well as civil rights and full equality under the Constitution.

Some new details emerged about some of the candidates. For instance, when CenterLink’s Tanya Tassi asked Harris about the three Title IX employment discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, the California Senator noted that she had joined in a friend of the court brief to “stand in solidarity with all of the folks who are fighting for equality in those three cases.”

And when LA-based HIV-positive dancer and choreographer Thomas Davis asked Harris how she would combat high HIV rates in minority communities, she not only talked about high rates for Black gay men and access to PrEP but shared a personal story about sitting at the bedsides of men who died from AIDS, including Jim Rivaldo, her campaign manager when she ran for San Francisco DA – he was also Harvey Milk’s campaign manager.

“He would always talk about the need to recognize that within the community there are real hierarchies based on race and income and we need to recognize and deal with that,” Harris said. “And since those days to today, we know that in terms of HIV-AIDS rates among black men in particular, it is still much higher because the hierarchy still exists within the community around access to health care, housing, employment, and things of that nature.” She then committed to end HIV/AIDS “within a generation.”  (JavonTae Wilson, an HIV counselor and tester for In the Meantime Men, asked a similar question of Sen. Klobuchar).

Contrast that with billionaire Tom Steyer who was asked by Nia-Malika Henderson about living in San Francisco in the 1980s during the height of the AIDS crisis. He noted that no one knew how broad the epidemic would become but research and the response from the community was strong.

“So I look at this as a place where there was something very scary and out of control, that Americans — and don’t forget, President Reagan would never admit to the AIDS crisis or do anything about it,” Steyer said. “But the country responded itself.  Researchers responded.  People in the community responded. People in churches responded.  Actually, there was a great deal of caring that went out.  And as devastating as it was in San Francisco, it wasn’t nearly as bad as people were worried about, Nia, and that was really as a result of the work and caring that people put in.”

Henderson didn’t follow up to ask him to clarify what he meant by “it wasn’t nearly as bad as people were worried about.”

In another instance, Anderson Cooper asked Joe Biden what he would do if the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act does not protect LGBTQ workers. Biden said he’d pass the Equality Act “right off the bat.” He thinks such protections are constitutional because “I taught constitutional law for 21 years in law school as a constitutional professor, I believe it clearly is covered, clearly is covered.”

Some eyebrows went up. Biden – a constitutional law professor? Actually yes, Jamal Brown, Biden’s National Press Secretary, tells the Los Angeles Blade, except for 17, not 21 years, at Widener University. He points to an Aug. 27, 2008 article reporting that “Biden has been an adjunct law professor at the school for 17 years, co-teaching a class, ‘Special Studies in Constitutional Law.’” One of the proud students watching then-Democratic vice presidential contender Biden speak said: “”I thought it was amazing…,I thought it was very true. He’s a straight guy.”

There were some other confusing moments. In off the record conversations during and after the event, many thought Warren “won” the night, especially after her hysterical take on same sex marriage that caused such an uproar, it distracted from a Buttigieg press availability backstage.

When asked how she would respond to someone saying they believe marriage is between one man and one woman, Warren said: “Well, I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that. And I’m going to say, ‘just marry one woman.’ I’m cool with that.” She turned, took a comic beat, then added: “Assuming you can find one.”

It was one of the biggest hits of the evening, one that continues to be cited by news outlets reporting on Warren. But there were some dramatic missed opportunities to display cultural competence, too.

For instance, when CNN anchor Chris Cuomo asked Warren about her 2012 comment regarding a judge’s ruling that granted transition-related surgery to a transgender inmate. During her Senate campaign, she said: “I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

“Do you regret that?” Cuomo asked.

“Yep.  No, it was a bad answer.  And I think it was a bad answer.  And I believe that everyone is entitled to medical care and medical care that they need, and that includes people who are transgender, who — it is the time for them to have gender-affirming surgery.  I just think that’s important and the appropriate medical care,” Warren said.

Though not an explicit apology for her Senate campaign remark, many took it as the equivalent of Harris “taking full responsibility” for her office’s refusal to grant transition healthcare to a trans prisoner when she was DA. But it was the next response that threw people.

“So if you help people get to where they want to be, you also have to protect them as what they are,” Cuomo said. “Do you think that a crime against somebody who is transgender should be charged as a hate crime in statute?”

“You know, I think we could if we think that’s going to be the most effective way to make change.  So I’m certainly — I’m open to this,” she said. “But I’ll tell you what I really want.  I want a Justice Department that takes this seriously.  I want to create a Justice Department that says these crimes matter.

“And when they’re not federal crimes,” Warren continued, “when they are state crimes, in the same way that our Justice Department is empowered to step in if a state is failing to enforce laws and as a result it’s leaving women unprotected, it’s leaving people of color unprotected, the same should happen for LGBTQ people.  We need a Justice Department that is on the side of the people, all of the people.”

Did Warren just say she didn’t back a federal hate crime law that included transgender people—with Judy Shepard in the audience? The Los Angeles Blade reached out to her campaign for clarification.

“Gender identity is currently covered by federal hate crime laws and a Warren Administration will use this statute to prosecute,” spokesperson Saloni Sharma told the Los Angeles Blade. “Elizabeth was making the point that hate crimes prosecutions are not a sufficient answer – we need to go further to make addressing this issue a priority for the Department of Justice, attack the roots of the crisis, and prevent violence. She has also co-sponsored the NO HATE Act to strengthen hate crime reporting as one of the ways to do that.”

What viewers did not know was the backstage drama that happened before the event. Roughly a half hour before showtime, CNN pulled a scheduled question from LA-based trans personality Ashlee Marie Preston. Though Preston described the withdrawn invitation to Out Magazine as being “an act of erasure,” a reliable source with knowledge of the incident told the Los Angeles Blade that the question was pulled because Preston was supposed to ask it of Warren but had not disclosed to CNN that she was a paid campaign surrogate, which made her a “plant” questioner and therefore, an ethical conflict of interest to the news production.

CNN only learned about Preston’s financial association with the campaign after a video in which she appeared was posted by Team Warren on Twitter. CNN later learned of the racist and homophobic tweets Preston posted over the years, for which she has somewhat apologized.

Warren’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment about Preston’s tweets.

But Preston’s absence was part of a felt vacuum for trans representation, especially the need to elevate Black trans women of color who, with 19 or 20 murders in 2019, are experiencing an epidemic of violence and hatred, about which HRC is well aware.

There were a number of trans people who were able to briefly share their stories through the questions they asked.

 

The very first question of the night was for Sen. Cory Booker from Rachel Gonzalez, mother of a 9-year old trans daughter from Dallas and a member of the Human Rights Campaign Parents for Transgender Equality Council. Jacob Lemay, an elementary school student from Massachusetts who identified as “a 9-year-old transgender American, asked Warren a question about school safety.  And Gavin Grimm, now 20, told Booker how he sued his high school in 2015 to use the boy’s restroom – a case that went on a legal roller coaster for four years until he finally won on Aug. 9, 2019.

Also representing the trans community were U.S. Air Force combat vet Shannon Scott; Khloe Perez-Rios, a community organizer from Rancho Cucamonga who works at Bienestar; Mariana Marroquin, program manager for the LA-based Trans Wellness Center; and fabulous Black trans singer/songwriter Shea Diamond (who made sure Nia-Malika Henderson pronounced her name correctly); and Black trans activist Carter Brown who was fired from his job in Texas. Andrea Jenkins, the first trans member of the Minneapolis City Council, was Klobuchar’s guest and HRC National Press Sec. Sarah McBride, a candidate for Delaware State Senate, got a shout out from Biden.

But despite the diversity among the questioners and the respectful understanding that one of these Democrats could become the next President of the United States, there was a painful sense of the lack of urgency to the ongoing crisis of the murder and violence toward Black and Brown trans women.

T[email protected] Coalition founder Bamby Salcedo, along with Maria Roman-Taylorson, and and Michaé Pulido decided to do something about it, chanting and waving a trans flag with the message about trans murders, disrupting Buttigieg’s segment of the HRC/CNN Equality Town Hall.

“The reason we decided to do it when Pete Buttigieg was onstage is because he is a member of the LGBT community and we wanted for him to see first-hand the violence where at least 20 trans women have been killed,” Salcedo told the Los Angeles Blade.

“We needed to show him the importance of addressing the violence against trans women as a priority and to really make sure he understands what needs to happen in order for us to have better life within our broader LGBT community and the broader society,” she said. “We wanted the national mainstream audience to get the broader message.”

Salcedo also noted how roughly they were treated by security. “The way security handled us was inappropriate, even violent, simply because we were trans women,” Salcedo said. “Honestly, I think law enforcement has the mentality to be rough toward trans women, period. That has to change.”

Anderson Cooper was a little thrown but remained calm.

“People are dying,” the [email protected] Coalition protesters yelled.

“It’s OK.  It’s OK.  Be cool.  It’s OK.  It’s OK.  Hey, hey, hey, hey, guys, guys, guys,” Cooper said to the trans women.  “Yo, guys, chill out.  Guys, relax, relax.”

Cooper then tried to explain the disruption to the million-plus viewers.

“Let me just point out there is a long and proud tradition and history in the gay, lesbian, and transgender community of protest, and we applaud them for their protest,” he said to applause. “And they are absolutely right to be angry and upset at the lack of attention, particularly in the media, on the lives of transgendered….”

After the protesters were led away, Buttigieg got his question.

“And before turning to it, I do want to acknowledge what these demonstrators were speaking about, which is the epidemic of violence against black trans women in this country right now.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

“And I believe or would like to believe that everybody here is committed to ending that epidemic, and that does include lifting up its visibility and speaking to it.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

It’s also a reminder of something at stake in your question, which is just how much diversity there is within the LGBTQ+ community.  And I’m very mindful of the fact that my experience as a gay man, but as a white, cisgender gay man, means that there are dimensions, for example, of what it’s like to be a black trans woman that I do not personally understand.

 

But I also think the diversity within the LGBTQ+ community is part of what we have to offer right now.  Our community, our country is so torn apart, we’re so fragmented, and here we have the LGBTQ+ world that is everywhere.  We are in every state, every community.  Whether folks realize it or not, we’re in every family.  And that means we can also have the power to build bridges.

 

And when somebody’s weighing whether to come out or just coming to terms with who they are, it’s really important for them to know that they’re going to be accepted.  There is no right or wrong way to be gay, to be queer, to be trans.  And I hope that our own community, even as we struggle to define what our identity means, defines it in a way that lets everybody know that they belong among us.”

After Salcedo was taken away and the televised questioning resumed, it was up to Blossom C. Brown to raise the stakes again.

Lizette Trujillo, from Tucson, Arizona, was about to ask about her transgender son when she suddenly stopped. “I just want to take a moment before I ask my question to validate the pain of our transgender siblings that demonstrated earlier and that have spoken up today, especially black trans women, she said.

Then came Blossom C. Brown, who swiped Trujillo’s microphone. Here’s how the exchange unfolded:

“I don’t want to take this away from you but let me tell you something – Black trans women are being killed in this country.  And CNN, you have erased black trans women for the last time.  Let me tell you something.  Black trans women are dying.  Our lives matter.

 

I am an extraordinary Black trans woman, and I deserve to be here.  My Black trans sisters that are here.  I am tired.  I am so tired of just sitting there.  And it’s not just my Black trans women…

 

LEMON:  Ma’am.  Ma’am.

 

BROWN: It’s my Black trans brothers, too.  And I will say what I’m going to say.  I’m going to say what I’m going to say.

 

LEMON:  No, no, no, just come here.  No, I just want to ask you something.  Come here.  Tell me.  I want you to talk — what’s your name?

 

BROWN:  Blossom C. Brown.

 

LEMON:  Blossom, let me ask…

 

BROWN:  Google me.  Please Google me.

 

LEMON:  Blossom, thank you.  Let me tell you something.  No, don’t come on the stage.  And can I — may I have the mic?

 

BROWN:  OK.

 

LEMON:  May I have the mic?  Blossom, let me tell you something.  The reason that we’re here is to validate people like you.  That is why we’re giving — but that is why we’re here.

 

BROWN:  (OFF-MIKE) your actions do not say that.

 

LEMON:  OK, but…

 

BROWN:  Not one black trans woman has taken the mic tonight.  Not one black trans man has taken the mic tonight.

 

LEMON:  Yeah.  Yeah.  Hang on.  We can’t hear you.  Blossom, we can’t hear you.  Here.  Blossom, we can’t hear you.

 

BROWN:  Baby, your actions have to speak louder than words.  Because guess what?  Not one Black trans woman has taken the mic tonight.  Not one Black trans man has taken the mic tonight.  Show me.

 

LEMON:  Blossom, Blossom…

 

BROWN:  (OFF-MIKE)

 

LEMON:  OK, thank you, I appreciate it.  Blossom, you’re a Black trans woman.  You have the mic in your hand.  I’ve given — I’ve taken it and given it back to you.  We want to hear from you. We have had trans people of color.  We have all people here.  And you’re welcome — but we — but we are proud and happy that you’re here.  We’re proud and happy that you’re here.  Yes, but, remember, we’re under a time constraint.  All right.  Thank you, Blossom, and I appreciate it.

 

BROWN:  Yeah, that’s how anti-Blackness works, amongst people of color.  That’s what anti-Blackness looks like, the erasure of Black trans people.

 

LEMON:  All right.

 

BROWN:  I’m here.  We are here in this room.  Please give us that opportunity.

 

LEMON:  Blossom, thank you so much.  And we appreciate it.  Thank you very much.  Yes, no, I got it.  There we go.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

Congressman, please address that.  Do you want to address that?

 

O’ROURKE:  I’d be happy to.  Yeah.

 

LEMON:  Thank you, Blossom.

 

BROWN:  I just want to remind everyone that Stonewall was led by transgender women of color, and it’s 15 years later, and we’re still failing you as a community.  But there are mothers like me and other community members that are committed to change.  And so thank you for allowing that.

 

LEMON:  Thank you.

 

(APPLAUSE)

O’Rourke commended Don Lemon:  “And then I want to commend you, because after Blossom took the microphone from you, and then returned it after what she said, you acknowledged that she did not grab the mic to speak out against anybody, or to put down anybody.  She grabbed the mic to stand up for herself and other trans women of color and trans men of color that she talked about, as well.  That’s what democracy looks like in America.”


Brown later told the Los Angeles Blade that she is hoping to organize a forum specifically tackling the issues of significance to Black trans women. (Go to her Facebook page to watch for developments)

HRC President Alphonso David later tweeted an apology:

What has not been addressed is the lack of attention to lesbian, bisexual and non-binary people.

Lesbian pioneer Karla Jay, PhD, Professor Emerita of English and Women’s & Gender Studies at Pace University in New York, wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Blade in which she laments the missing lesbians.

“When the CNN/HRC (Human Rights Campaign) televised LGBT Town Hall ended at midnight on the East Coast, I felt more like I had survived an entire Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy (OK, this dates me) rather than an informative interchange between Democratic candidates and a lively audience.  When I unscientifically polled “Friends” on Facebook afterwards, not one of perhaps 700 lesbians admitted to having watched the event. My bluest of the blue lesbian friends visiting from Florida confessed that they had fallen asleep not far in,” she wrote.  “But it wasn’t Lesbian Nation’s fault for conking out at the remote when HRC’s questions totally ignored us.”

Yes, towards the ends, in one question “asking about medical coverage for her spouse, one woman referred to herself and her wife, and there was one bisexual and one nonbinary person,” she wrote. “For some reason, the general public and even many gay men seem to think that lesbians have no specific issues except to worry about which half of a couple will get custody of the cat after a divorce, who will win the lesbian softball tournament, and what should be brought to the vegan potluck. However, not being seen is not the same as being well off or content.”

Like straight women lesbians tend to live into old age and become victims of elder abuse, denial of services, forced to separate from a partner when seeking assisted living or at a homeless shelter. And what about reproductive health and creating a family by having “access to alternative insemination in every state, and justice for both biological and nonbiological parents in the event of a separation or divorce.

According to The Washington Post, “there are 5.5 million lesbians in the United States—most of them presumably of voting age. The robust lesbian communities in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania could turn those states blue,” Jay writes. “Reaching out to lesbians is an uncomplicated strategy that could pay big dividends.  But suggesting by omission that our lives don’t matter is a strategic error.”

Non-binary people got really short-changed. Oscar Buckland, an LA-based community college student who identifies as non-binary asked Amy Klobuchar: “In California, I am able to change my gender to X.  However, on the federal level, there is no such option.  Will you recognize third gender markers on a federal level?

“Yes.  Thank you.  I will,” she said. “And I think there’s also — you know, I think that there is a lot of work we need to do, all over the country, with driver’s licenses, as you know.  Not every state has some of the provisions that California have in place and just work on a state-by-state basis to make those changes.  So, thanks for asking the question.”

Bisexuals also received scant notice. Julian Castro said bisexuals would be included in his administration’s LGBTQ policies.

Actor/activist Sara Ramirez fumed on Twitter.

But the LGBTQ civil rights movement, which claims to seek social and economic justice, barely notices that there are more bisexuals than gay men, lesbians and trans people, according to the Williams Institute, and bisexuals are also at huge risk for poverty.

It is incumbent upon the LGBTQ community itself to raise and help solve these issues – including finding those 2 million LGBTQ unregistered voters and educating them about the historical significance of the 2020 elections.

See HRC highlights here. See CNN Live blog highlights here. Find CNN transcripts of all the town halls here.

All photos, except screen grabs, are by Daniel Sliwa for the Los Angeles Blade.

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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District of Columbia

Portrait of Matthew Shepard dedicated at National Cathedral

“It’s amazing how similar & what a great job [the artist] has done to make it look like and showing the essence of Matt,” said Dennis Shepard

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Judy and Dennis Shepard stand in front of a portrait of their son, Matthew. Matthew Shepard was honored at a ceremony on Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

WASHINGTON – Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered in a 1998 anti-gay hate crime while tied to a fence outside Laramie, Wyo., will be honored at a ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral dedicating a newly commissioned portrait of Shepard.

Officials at the cathedral said the portrait by artist Kelly Latimore and commissioned by LGBTQ members of the Cathedral staff, is the only artistic image of Matthew Shepard created in collaboration with Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who were present during the ceremony.

Matthew Shepard’s ashes were interred at the Washington National Cathedral in 2018, 20 years after his death. The Cathedral announced in a statement this week that the Dec. 1 dedication of the Shepard portrait would also take place on what would have been Shepard’s 46th birthday.

A Thanksgiving and Celebration of Matthew Shepard service was held on October 26, 2018 at the Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“The horrific murders at Club Q in Colorado Springs are a tragic reminder that our LGBTQ friends and family continue to be targeted for who they love, and Matthew Shepard’s legacy reminds us of the urgency to confront bigotry and embrace people of all backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations,” said The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, in a statement.

Events surrounding the portrait dedication began with a 7 a.m. online prayer service “to celebrate and recall Matthew Shepard’s life,” the statement released by the Cathedral says. The service was led by Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The Cathedral next hosted a preview of the portrait for the news media at 10:30 a.m., where Dennis and Judy Shepard talked about the portrait and their son’s life and the impact his death had on the nation’s understanding of hate crimes.

“It’s amazing how similar and what a great job that Kelly [Latimore] has done to make it look like Matt and showing the essence of Matt,” Dennis Shepard told the Washington Blade while viewing the portrait in the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where the portrait was on display.

Artist Latimore, who also spoke to reporters during the morning briefing at the chapel, said he was moved in his discussions with Judy and Dennis Shepard while getting ready to begin work on the painting by copies of dozens of letters they sent him that had been sent to the Shepards by people across the country after their son’s death.

Latimore included written excerpts from dozens of those letters as the background to his portrait of Matthew Shepard, which can be seen and read when standing close to the portrait.

Artist Kelly Latimore (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

“Matthew will not be forgotten,” an excerpt from one of the letters on the portrait says.
Dennis and Judy Shepard created the Matthew Shepard Foundation shortly after Matthew’s death, which has been credited with playing a lead role in advocating for the passage by Congress in 2009 of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The measure was the first federal hate crime statute that expanded the coverage of the federal hate crimes law to include a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class.

President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act on Oct. 22, 2009. (Washington Blade archive photo by Michael Key)

The Cathedral was to open its St. Joseph’s Chapel from 2-5 p.m. on Thursday to visitors where the Matthew Shepard portrait was on display. Dennis and Judy Shepard were scheduled to be present to greet visitors.

According to the statement released by the Cathedral, later in the evening at 7 p.m., the portrait was to be officially dedicated in a private service in the Cathedral’s crypt near the site where Shepard’s ashes were interred.

“A longtime supporter of the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church, the Cathedral considers LGBTQ equality one of the great civil rights issues of the 21st century,” the statement released by the Cathedral says.

One of the two men charged with Matthew Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to a murder charge in exchange for an agreement by prosecutors not to seek a death sentence. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The other man charged in the murder, Aaron McKinney, pleaded not guilty and went to trial, where he was convicted of murder by a jury. In a dramatic statement before the judge at the conclusion of the trial, Dennis Shepard announced and he and his wife had asked prosecutors and the judge to spare McKinney from being sentenced to death, something he said McKinney did not do while fatally striking his son in the head multiple times with the barrel of a gun after the two men tied him to a fence post in a remote field outside Laramie.

The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.

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Federal Government

One million plus same-sex households in U.S., California has most

Data also revealed that roughly 710,000 of the same-sex couple households were married and about 500,000 were unmarried

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US Census Bureau Headquarters, Suitland, Maryland (Photo Credit: Photo by Hubert Dobson, U.S. Census Bureau)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Census Bureau last week released a report that detailed that there were about 1.2 million same-sex couple households in the United States in 2021. Data also revealed that roughly 710,000 of the same-sex couple households were married and about 500,000 were unmarried.

Since 2005 the number of same-sex households in the U.S. has steadily increased, with about 540,000 reported in 2008 and then in 2019, the last year the Census reported data, there were about 980,000 same-sex households in the country.

The data, based on American Community Survey (ACS), which shows estimates from 2005 through 2021, was not released in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19 on ACS data collection.

Other highlights from the release:

  • The average age of householders in same-sex married couples (48.9 years) was lower than in opposite-sex married couples (52.8 years). But the average age of householders in same-sex unmarried couples (42.0 years) was higher than in opposite-sex unmarried couples (39.9 years).
  • The share of female-female and male-male couples with both partners employed did not differ significantly, though median household income in female same-sex couple households ($92,470) was lower than in male same-sex couple households ($116,800).
  • Both partners had at least a bachelor’s degree in a larger share of same-sex (29.6%) than opposite-sex (18.1%) unmarried couples.
  • A larger share of same-sex (31.6%) than opposite-sex (18.4%) married couples were interracial.
  • The District of Columbia (2.5%) had the highest percentage of same-sex couple households of any state or state equivalent. California has the most same-sex households at 163,964.
  • States with the highest number of same-sex households include Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Delaware, Oregon, California, Florida and New York, all of which include more than 1 percent of same-sex households in the total household population.

This is the second time the Census Bureau has released ACS estimates of same-sex couple households since revising the survey’s relationship to householder question to more accurately capture same-sex relationships.

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Federal Government

Homeland Security: More attacks against LGBTQ people possible

Some domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks have cited previous attacks and attackers as inspiration

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Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Homeland Security

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a terror threat bulletin today warning that domestic extremists have posted online praise for the fatal shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado earlier this month. and have called for copycat attacks.

In its bulletin, DHS officials noted that several recent attacks, plots, and threats of violence demonstrate the continued dynamic and complex nature of the threat environment in the United States:

“Some domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks have cited previous attacks and attackers as inspiration. Following the late November shooting at an LGBTQI+ bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado—which remains under investigation—we have observed actors on forums known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content praising the alleged attacker. Similarly, some domestic violent extremists in the United States praised an October 2022 shooting at a LGBTQI+ bar in Slovakia and encouraged additional violence. The attacker in Slovakia posted a manifesto online espousing white supremacist beliefs and his admiration for prior attackers, including some within the United States,” DHS warned.

DHS also asked that Americans report potential threats:

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