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Construction begins on US Navy ship named for Harvey Milk

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LGBTQ rights advocate and icon Harvey Milk (Photo courtesy of SF Public Library)

The USNS Harvey Milk is a ship whose time has finally come.

Construction on the ship, a fleet oiler named for the slain LGBTQ icon, began Friday at General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego. It will be the second ship in the new John Lewis class of fleet oilers, which are ships used to replenish fuel oil and dry goods to Navy ships at sea. The future John Lewis, named for the late civil rights leader and congressman, is also being built at the San Diego shipyard.

According to the San Diego Union Tribune, the Harvey Milk was so-named after a deliberate push by LGBTQ equality advocates following the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010. A leader in this campaign was Nicole Murray Ramirez, the chairman and executive director of the San Diego International Imperial Court Council, an LGBT organization with chapters nationwide, who said, “When ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was lifted, I researched, and one guy picks all these [ship] names — the Secretary of the Navy.”

The Court Council subsequently began a national letter-writing campaign, pushing then-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to name a ship for Milk.

Milk, who was elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors in 1978, was assassinated 10 months later by an ex-supervisor, Dan White, who shot Milk to death along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. He had been a Naval dive officer based in San Diego nearly 30 years before being elected, but was forced to resign from the Navy in the 1950s after being caught in a San Diego park known as a cruising spot for gay men.

According to Stuart Milk, the late LGBTQ rights pioneer’s nephew, his uncle always knew he would die as a result of his advocacy.

“I think people should know it’s not Hollywood,” the younger Milk said. “He did know that he was going to be killed. He didn’t know who, and he didn’t know when, but it gave him the courage to continue doing what he was doing.”

“He dreamed of a day like today,” Milk continued, “when not only would we have the military honoring LGBT, but we have a mayor from the Republican party and we have everyone that represents the San Diego community coming out. This would have been un-dreamable for people back in 1978.

[It] sends a global message of inclusion more powerful than simply ‘We’ll tolerate everyone. [It says] ‘we celebrate everyone.’ ”

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Congress

U.S. Senate vote sets up passage of same-sex marriage act

Coordinated campaign by anti-LGBTQ groups fails to weaken support among GOP Senators as the bill sees clear path to near-certain passage

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U.S. Capitol Building (Photo Credit: Rev. Brandan Robertson)

WASHINGTON – Passage of the Respect for Marriage Act became all but certain with the U.S. Senate’s procedural 61-35 vote on Monday night to forego additional debate in the chamber over the landmark legislation.

From here, the bill will return to the U.S. House of Representatives, which will consider — and is expected to approve — an amendment that was added by a bipartisan group of Senators led by Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Then, it will reach President Joe Biden’s desk.

The president has repeatedly urged lawmakers to pass the bill so he can sign it into law. His administration, along with Congressional Democratic leadership, has made the Respect for Marriage Act a top legislative priority in the weeks before the new Congress is seated in January.

Today’s move by the Senate came on the heels of a coordinated campaign by conservative and anti-LGBTQ advocacy groups that wield considerable influence on Capitol Hill and marshaled their efforts to peel off support from Republican senators in the days leading up to Monday’s vote.

Republican Sens. Todd Young (Ind.) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), who were among the 12 Senate Republicans who supported advancing the legislation in a procedural vote taken before Thanksgiving, cast the final two votes on Monday allowing the measure to clear the 60-vote majority threshold to pass. Axios reports the two lawmakers faced particular pressure from conservative activists who sought to erode their support for the legislation.

The Respect for Marriage Act will repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, adding legal protections for same-sex couples, many of whom would otherwise face devastating consequences if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses or substantially weakens the constitutional right to marriage equality.

Notwithstanding criticism from some progressives who feel the bill is too conservative in scope, the Respect for Marriage Act — along with the bipartisan amendment that was introduced in the Senate to enshrine protections for religious liberty — is supported by major LGBTQ organizations including the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Transgender Equality, GLSEN and PFLAG National, among others.

The bill’s aim, narrowly tailored, was to gird against the possibility that the high court would revisit its precedential decisions in United States v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).

Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his intention to do so with his concurring opinion earlier this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — a case that revoked Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, overturning the Court’s historic rulings in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).

Over the summer, the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act with an overwhelming majority, including votes from 47 Republican members. Dozens of religious denominations and groups that represent a broad spectrum of beliefs have endorsed the legislation, including the Mormon church, which took pains to reaffirm its position that same-sex relationships are sinful. Scholars representing a similarly diverse range of opinions on germane legal questions have also publicly backed the bill.

Still, the opposition remained steadfast.

“Religious Americans will be subject to potentially ruinous litigation, while the tax-exempt status of certain charitable organizations, educational institutions, and non-profits will be threatened,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in a statement opposing the legislation as written and proposing an additional amendment to the bill.

Organizations like the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, echoed Lee’s concerns about the Respect for Marriage Act vis-à-vis protections for religious liberty. Others, like the Liberty Counsel, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, peddled outrageous arguments including the lie that the Respect for Marriage Act would normalize or facilitate child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Even in the aftermath of the deadly shooting on Nov. 19 at a Colorado Springs, Colo., LGBTQ nightclub, these attacks from conservative groups continued apace and even increased as the Senate’s vote on Monday drew nearer.

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U.S. State Department

Negotiations to release Griner stalled for now diplomat says

“We have made a serious proposal to free American prisoners. We did not see a serious response from the Russian side to our proposal”

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Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. chargée d’affaires in Moscow (Photo Credit: Embassy of the United States, Russia)

MOSCOW – In remarks published Monday, Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. chargée d’affaires in Moscow, told Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency that talks to free jailed Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan were continuing through the “designated channel.”

During the long ranging interview covering a variety of subjects, Rood was asked if she intended to visit the imprisoned WNBA star who is serving time in a Mordovian prison.

“Of course, we are going to do this as soon as the Russian authorities give us permission to visit Brittney Griner in the new colony where she was recently transferred,” the American diplomat responded and in answer to a follow-up question regarding Griner’s status Rood answered; “As far as we understood from talking to her, she is healthy and doing as well as can be expected in her difficult circumstances.”

RIA then focused on the negotiations asking for some of the details including the possibility of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout being included in the “exchange list” in the potential prisoner swap deal between the Russian and American authorities.

“I can say that the United States continues to discuss with the Russian authorities through special channels the issue of the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.  As we have already said, the United States has submitted a serious proposal for consideration. We finalized this proposal and offered alternatives. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation has so far received no serious response to these proposals, ” the U.S. chargée d’affaires answered.

“However, I would like to emphasize that the main concern and the first priority of the US Embassy is to ensure the well-being of the American citizens who are here. And the situation is not limited to the names of those who are mentioned in the media headlines – a number of American citizens are kept in Russian prisons. We are extremely concerned about the condition of each of them, and we continue to follow their affairs very closely and support them in every possible way,” she added.

RIA then asked: “What did you mean by “serious response” from Russia? Moscow has repeatedly stressed that the negotiations are being conducted through professional channels… What does the American side mean by “serious response”?

Rood answered telling RIA; “I mean, we have made a serious proposal that reflects our intention to take action to free American prisoners. We did not see a serious response from the Russian side to our proposal.

By “serious answer” do you mean consent? RIA asked in a follow-up question.

“I mean an answer that would help us come to an agreement,” she answered.

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Colorado

USN’s Club Q hero who helped tackle gunman issues statement

“I simply wanted to save the family I found- If I had my way, I would shield everyone I could from the nonsensical acts of hate in the world”

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U.S. Navy Information Systems Technician Petty Officer Second Class Thomas James (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy Public Affairs)

COLORADO SPRINGS – One of the three persons who charged and then disarmed the suspect in the LGBTQ+ nightclub shooting in Colorado Springs last weekend issued a statement Sunday.

“I simply wanted to save the family I found,” James said. “If I had my way, I would shield everyone I could from the nonsensical acts of hate in the world, but I am only one person.”

“To the youth, I say be brave. Your family is out there. You are loved and valued. So when you come out of the closet, come out swinging,” U.S. Navy Information Systems Technician Petty Officer Second Class Thomas James said through a Centura Penrose Hospital spokesman Sunday.

This the first public comments by James since he, U.S. Army veteran, Major Richard Fierro, and another Club Q patron, a trans woman, all joined in the courageous takedown, disarming the 22-year-old suspect and holding him until the arrival by responding Colorado Springs police.

James is recovering from unspecified injuries at Centura Penrose, where a number of the Club Q shooting victims were sent. The hospital spokesman releasing the statement added that James is now in stable condition.

In a statement released this past Tuesday, the U.S. Navy confirmed that James was in hospital but added that “is currently in stable condition and we remain hopeful he will make a full recovery.”

CBS Colorado reported Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers had called out and identified James as one of the heroes whom had charged and helped subdue the shooter. Details as to each person’s role in subduing the shooter are still under investigation.

Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said that James was one of two people who helped to stop the suspected shooter who walked into Club Q late on Nov. 19 with multiple firearms and is accused of killing five people. At least 17 others were injured.

James reportedly pushed a rifle out of the suspect’s reach while Fierro repeatedly struck the shooter with a handgun they brought into the bar, officials have said.

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New York

New bills to prevent hate crimes in New York signed by Gov. Hochul

“New York belongs to the good, not those with hate in their hearts – we’re taking bold action to reclaim our city and state from the haters”

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New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) (Screenshot/YouTube)

NEW YORK – On the same day that a 34-year-old man was arrested for allegedly throwing bricks at the window of a gay nightclub in Hell’s Kitchen, New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) announced new measures to stop hate crimes in the Empire State.

Speaking to reporters last Tuesday at an emotional press conference, the governor called on New Yorkers to reclaim the state from “bigots who have butchered communities’ sense of security.”

“New York belongs to the good, not those with hate in their hearts – we’re taking bold action to reclaim our city and state from the haters, bigots and white supremacists,” Hochul said.

The governor’s actions comes after comes after the NYPD arrested two men for allegedly plotting to shoot synagogues and wreak havoc on the Jewish community, targeted attacks on the Asian community, and the recent mass-shooting at an LGBTQ nite club in Colorado Springs.

NYPD detectives arrested Sean Kuilan Tuesday afternoon and charged him with criminal possession of a weapon, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment for allegedly throwing bricks and a rock at the window of a gay nightclub in Hell’s Kitchen three times last week in what a NYPD spokesperson characterized as a potential hate crime.

Hochul, who led the state through the racist Buffalo massacre last spring, said that a horrifying mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado and a sinister anti-Semitic plot foiled in New York over the weekend offered “painful reminders that there is a rising tide of hate in our country,” the New York Daily News reported.

“This is our defining moment, New Yorkers,” the governor declared.

“Every one of us has a role to play,” Hochul said. “From this day forward, ask yourself: Did I do something to help spread the love that should be part of who we are as New Yorkers?”

After delivering her remarks, Hochul then signed two bills, Senate/Assembly Bill (S.6570/A.1202) to “Require individuals convicted of hate crimes to undergo mandatory training in hate crime prevention and education.”

Legislation (S.6570/A.1202) amends the penal law to establish that in addition to other penalties, individuals convicted of hate crimes shall undergo mandatory training in hate crime prevention and education as part of their sentence. The programs, training sessions, or counseling sessions must be authorized by the court or local agencies in cooperation with organizations serving the affected community.

The second measure, (S.123A/A.5913A) establishes a statewide campaign, developed and run by the New York State Division of Human Rights to promote the acceptance, inclusion, tolerance, and understanding of the diversity of the people of New York.

Legislation (S.123A/A.5913A) amends the executive law to establish and implement a statewide campaign for the acceptance, inclusion, tolerance, and understanding of diversity. The campaign, which will be developed and implemented by the Division of Human Rights, will coordinate and cooperate with public and private organizations, including, but not limited to, local governments, community groups, school districts, places of worship, charitable organizations, and foundations and will develop educational materials to be published on the internet, social media, and other platforms to reach the public.

“Our hearts are broken after a weekend during which LGBTQ Americans were massacred and Jewish New Yorkers were targeted in horrific acts of hateful violence,” Hochul said. “New York belongs to the good, not those with hate in their hearts – we’re taking bold action to reclaim our city and state from the haters, bigots and white supremacists. Domestic-based violent extremism is the greatest threat to our homeland security, and that is why we continue to remain laser-focused on combatting hate and keeping New Yorkers safe.”

Governor Hochul Announces Actions to Prevent Hate Crimes and Protect New Yorkers:

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Texas

ACLU asks investigation of Texas school districts anti-trans policies

Frisco ISD’s new bathroom policy & Keller ISD’s ban on books referencing gender violate federal rules prohibiting sex-based discrimination

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The ACLU of Texas is calling for federal civil rights investigations into the Keller and Frisco school districts for policies they say discriminate against transgender students. (Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune)

By Brian Lopez | DALLAS – The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas is calling for civil rights investigations into two North Texas school districts over recently implemented anti-transgender policies.

The ACLU, which filed the complaints last week, wants the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate the Frisco Independent School District for passing a policy on Nov. 14 requiring students to use bathrooms that align with their gender assigned at birth. The district said it would make accommodations for students who ask to use a private restroom.

The ACLU said Frisco’s policy would allow the district to “challenge or second-guess students’ official birth certificates.”

“It is deeply invasive and unlawful for school administrators to interrogate students’ private medical information in this way,” the ACLU said in a letter to the Department of Education. “School districts have no right to question students’ sexual characteristics such as genitalia, hormones, internal anatomy, or chromosomes.”

The ACLU also wants an investigation into the Keller Independent School District, which earlier this month passed a ban on all books that depict or reference transgender and nonbinary people.

“The policy attempts to erase the existence of transgender and non-binary individuals,” the ACLU’s letter said.

Keller ISD’s anti-transgender policy came about six months after three conservative school board members were elected onto the seven-member board. The new members, all of whom received large donations from a Christian political action committee, campaigned on issues like banning books about LGBTQ experiences from school libraries and banning critical race theory, a college-level field of study that explores the idea that racism is embedded in institutions and legal systems.

Public education advocates and Texas teachers have largely said the discipline is not part of the curriculum in Texas public schools but it has become a shorthand for conservative groups to criticize how history and current events are taught with regard to race.

The ACLU claims that Frisco and Keller’s policies violate Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school that receives federal funding.

Frisco and Keller are the latest North Texas school districts to have civil rights complaints lodged against them. Earlier this year, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a similar civil rights complaint against the Carroll Independent School District, based in Southlake, for failing to protect students from discrimination based on their race, sex or gender identity.

Southlake, located between Dallas and Fort Worth, came into the spotlight three years ago after a viral video of white high school students chanting a racist slur prompted community members to share stories of harassment, NBC News reported.

Neither Keller ISD nor Frisco ISD immediately responded to a request for comment.

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Brian Lopez’s staff photo

Brian Lopez is the Public Education Reporter for The Texas Tribune. He joined the Tribune in August 2021 after a covering local government at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for a little over a year. The Star-Telegram was his first gig after graduating from the University of Texas at Arlington in May 2020 where he worked for the student-run newspaper The Shorthorn. When not on the job, he’s either watching or playing soccer.

The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

Quality journalism doesn’t come free

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.

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Colorado

Biden calls Club Q owners; community grapples with aftermath

Fallout over the shooting continues as anger mounts at what many in the LGBTQ+ community see as a resurgence of anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech

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Entrance to the Focus on the Family complex in Colorado Springs after the mass-murder at LGBTQ+ Club Q (Photo Credit: Twitter)

COLORADO SPRINGS – As the LGBTQ+ community continues to mourn the loss of the five people killed in last weekend’s mass shooting, focus is now shifting to a reflection of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has evolved from prejudice to incitement according to Nic Grzecka a co-owner of Club Q.

In an interview with the Associated Press, one of his first since the chaos of the aftermath created by the mass-shooting, Grzecka said he believes the targeting of a drag queen event is connected to the art form being cast in a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children.

Even though general acceptance of the LGBTQ community has grown, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous climate, he said.

“It’s different to walk down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand and getting spit at (as opposed to) a politician relating a drag queen to a groomer of their children,” Grzecka said. “I would rather be spit on in the street than the hate get as bad as where we are today.”

On Thursday, President Joe Biden spending the Thanksgiving holiday with the First Lady and family members in Nantucket, Massachusetts, called Grzecka and Club Q co-owner Matthew Haynes.

The President and the First Lady offered condolences and reiterated their support for the community as well as their commitment to fighting back against hate and gun violence. They also thanked the two men for the ‘incredible contributions they have made and will continue to make to Colorado Springs.’

The president told reporters enroute to Nantucket, reflecting on the mass-shooting at the LGBTQ+ club and then another mass-shooting Tuesday, at a Wal-Mart store when a night manager opened fire in a breakroom in Chesapeake, Va., killing six, and wounding at least half a dozen more, said he has plans to support a bill banning assault rifles during the lame-duck session before the next Congress is seated in January.

“I’m going to do it whenever — I got to make that assessment as I get in and start counting the votes,” Biden said

As the memorial outside Club Q grows, more attention is now being focused on the needs of the survivors and others in the LGBTQ + community in Colorado Springs affected by the mass-shooting.

An annual ‘Friendsgiving’ feast for the members of the LGBTQ+ community unable to spend time with relatives because of their being LGBTQ+ and which was normally held by the owners and staff of Club Q was shifted to a community dinner at the Colorado Springs MCC Church.

In an Instagram post, earlier in the week, Grzecka thanked Colorado Governor Jared Polis, state Attorney General Phil Weiser, Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez and city councilmember Nancy Henjum whose district the LGBTQ+ club is located, “for your hard work to ensure there was a Crisis Center to service the Club Q and Colorado Springs community during the holiday.”

Fallout over the shooting continues as anger mounts at what many in the LGBTQ+ community see as targeted hate amplified by a resurgence of anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech online and by right-wing media outlets and far-right figures such as Fox host Tucker Carlson.

Colorado Springs is also home to Focus on the Family, one of the largest anti-LGBTQ+ groups in the United States. The Christian ministry group has opposed same-sex marriage, LGBTQ+ service in any branch of the U.S. armed forces and continues to advocate for the discredited practice of conversion therapy.

Late Thursday person or persons unknown vandalized the sign at the main entrance to the group’s headquarters complex. “We went out there to investigate if there was a crime that took place,” Colorado Springs Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Jason Ledbetter told the Gazette regarding the overnight incident. “There is no suspect information at this time.”

In a Instagram post, Club Q owner Grzecka displayed a picture of the vandalized sign with graffiti spray painted in black reading; “Their blood is on your hands five lives taken.”

In his message accompanying the picture, Grzecka noted:

Focus on the Family moved to our city in the 90’s, was a large group behind pushing through amendment 2 along with Colorado for family matters. People such as Dr. James Dobson and Will Perkins have spread a nasty, false and hurtful narrative about our LGBT community.

Amendment 2 was passed in 1992, and Colorado Springs ( El Paso county) were the votes to pass the amendment, the same amendment that gave our city the nickname “hate city USA”

Words have consequences and your continuous false narrative about the lgbt community has consequences,
@focusonthefamily this message added to your sign has more truth to it than you may actually be able to understand.

This is not vandalism this is not an attack on Christian’s. This message is just that a message that was delivered in a way to ensure you receive it.

@cityofcos, Mayor Suthers when can we meet to discuss how this type of Anti Gay speech, is coming from our own backyard.

The Gazette also reported that people from around the nation are holding in-person and online fundraisers for victims and families of the Club Q mass shooting. 

While the state has an official online donation site, the Colorado Healing Fund, a private online drive, also has become one of the largest appeals.

Good Judy Garage in Denver, an LGBTQ business, raised $25,000 in two hours after starting a GoFundMe drive on Sunday. The initial goal was upped to $50,000 and now is at $750,000, as donations continue to pour in. As of Friday, the amount collected was $761,707 raised.

Link to the GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-for-the-club-q-families-and-survivors.

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