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Congressional hearing spotlights use of religious liberty against LGBTQ people

Trump administration’s anti-LGBTQ policy highlighted in testimony

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Ernesto Olivares and Evan Minton testified about the discrimination they endured as LGBTQ people. (Blade photo by Michael Key).

When religious liberty — a right afforded fundamental protection in the United States — is used to assault LGBTQ rights was the focus of a congressional hearing Thursday drawing attention to faith-based adoption agencies denying child placement into LGBTQ homes.

Chairing the three-hour hearing before the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee was Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who in her opening statement assailed the Trump administration’s use of religious liberty as a weapon to attack LGBTQ rights.

“Let me make something crystal clear: I am a strong supporter of religious liberty,” Maloney said. “But it should not be distorted and twisted into a weapon to enable discrimination. Scrubbing the White House website of references to gay people has nothing to do with religious freedom. It has everything to do with the Trump administration’s assault on the LGBTQ community.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Among the Trump administration’s actions highlighted during the hearing were regulatory moves allowing taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to refuse child placement in LGBTQ homes and a “conscience rule” allowing medical practitioners to decline to offer procedures they find objectionable, including gender reassignment surgery. (Courts have since enjoined the administration from enforcing the “conscience rule.”)

Although the title of the hearing was the Trump administration using religious liberty to assault LGBTQ rights, the scope was more expansive and covered anti-LGBTQ discrimination across the board.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said in his opening statement the “big question” is whether businesses engaged in commerce or federally funded institutions, such as hospitals and adoption agencies, can refuse services to LGBTQ people — and the answer should be easy.

“I am sure there will be a handful of close calls in harmonizing individual religious freedom and equal rights under law, but the vast majority of cases are, in fact, easy,” Raskin said. “Yet, alas, the Trump administration has been working zealously to turn the government into an instrument of hostility towards LGBTQ rights across the executive branch.”

At times, the hearing seemed more like two distinct conversations taking place, with Democrats asking their witnesses about LGBTQ rights, Republicans asking theirs about religious liberty and no attempt to reach a focus for common ground.

Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) was at the forefront of calls from Republicans to call for protections of religious liberty, even if those protections were at the expense of allowing anti-LGBTQ discrimination, based on language in the First Amendment.

“So we see that Congress cannot mandate a national religion. We get that,” Hice said. “But we also understand from this that neither can Congress prevent Americans from practicing their faith in the public square, and fundamentally, the First Amendment protects Americans from an ideological coercion from government. And this is the rub for me.”

Disputing the notion the Trump administration was assaulting LGBTQ rights, Hice insisted the United States is still “a world leader in guaranteeing the civil rights of all, including the LGBTQ community,” noting the appointment of Richard Grenell, acting Director of National Intelligence and now the highest-ranking openly gay presidential appointee in U.S. history.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), one of seven openly gay members of the U.S. House and a witness before the committee, disputed Grenell’s appointment as evidence of Trump’s support for LGBTQ rights, saying that alone doesn’t cut it.

“The appointment of one person who’s LGBTQ,” Takano said, “does not compensate for the fact that last fall, the Trump administration made legal arguments before the Supreme Court that would limit non-discrimination protections under Title VII, which exists to prevent people from being fired for their sexual orientation. The want to give employers the power to fire you based on who you are or who you love. I say religious liberty does not extend to firing people based on who are they are.”

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

One of the Republican members of the committee asked to have entered into the record a letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressing displeasure over Congress holding a hearing that has framed religious liberty as an assault.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign and one of the witnesses at the hearing, told the Blade afterward the Republican preoccupation with religious liberty and disregard for LGBTQ rights was off-base.

“I think, unfortunately, a number of the Republican Congress members today really misrepresented what religious liberty is,” Warbelow said. “Religious liberty, it means an ability for people to hold their sincerely held religious belief, to practice their faith, but it doesn’t mean that you get to engage in discrimination.”

Among the witnesses were LGBTQ people who had suffered discrimination and came to the congressional hearing to tell their stories.

Evan Minton, a transgender resident of Livermore, Calif., told the story of going to the Mercy San Juan Medical Center in the Dignity Health chain for a hysterectomy, then being told the surgery was cancelled because it was related to gender transition.

“I was fortunate in that I was able to undergo a hysterectomy at a different hospital,” Minton said. “But the experience was scarring. I had no idea prior to my hysterectomy that my local community hospital was a Catholic hospital, or that they would argue that religious doctrine permits them to prevent doctors from providing patients with medically necessary care just because those patents are transgender.”

The experience was so degrading, Minton said, he refused to return afterward when he had a medical emergency and needed to remove his catheter and needed assistance when his pharmacist accidentally gave him a drug overdose.

“I needed to go to the emergency room,” Minton said. “In my drug stupor and even in my inability to talk, I was able to make out the sound, ‘No. Not that.’ And they took me to an emergency room farther away.”

Ernesto Olivares, a gay man who lives in San Antonio, Texas, recounted the bullying and harassment he encountered as a youth growing up in the foster care system.

“I remember one day, we were getting ready to go on a family vacation and I went to grab my bag, the big bright blue one they give us to put all our things in when it’s time to move placements,” Olivares said. “Someone had scratched out my name and written ‘faggot’ in its place. I cried and kept it to myself until we got back from vacation.”

Olivares said he told his therapist about the incident, and even though he asked her not to tell his foster parents, she told anyway. Even though he showed them the tag as proof, they denied anyone in the house would do that and nothing was ever done about that incident.

A key focus of the hearing was the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, federal legislation introduced by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) that would prohibit adoption agencies from discriminating LGBTQ families in child placement or discrimination against LGBTQ children, such as forcing them to undergo widely discredited conversion therapy.

Championing the legislation was Rev. Stan Sloan, an Episcopal priest and CEO of the pro-LGBT Family Equality Council, who said the bill was needed to ensure children in adoption agencies and foster care have access to families.

“There are currently over 440,000 children in our child welfare system,” Sloan said. “Over a quarter of those children are able to be adopted at this moment, and yet over 20,000 of those kids will graduate out of the system this year alone without ever finding parents.”

Sloan said LGBTQ people in America are seven times more likely to become foster parents or adopt a child, and yet 11 states, most recently Tennessee, now have laws on books permitting adoption agencies to refuse placement to LGBTQ families.

The Every Child Deserves a Family Act, Sloan said, would “overturn those bad laws nationwide, and if you care about kids in need you will support that act.”

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), another openly gay member of Congress, testified before the committee as a witness in favor of same-sex adoption by telling the story of raising children with his husband.

“When you allow people to discriminate against those couples, you deprive children of good moms, dads, families who are going to love them, and you dress it up as religious liberty, you simply sanction discrimination and deprive those children of a home they deserve,” Maloney said.

At the opposite end of that legislation is the Child Welfare Inclusion Act, legislation Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) promoted as a witness during the hearing that would prohibit adverse action against child welfare agencies for declining to provide services based on religious beliefs, such as declining placement into LGBTQ families.

“The faith community has deeply held religious beliefs,” Kelly said. “The LGBTQ community has deeply held beliefs. We do not discriminate against those beliefs, and we say if that’s what you choose, that is fine. All we ask is that we don’t discriminate against somebody…because they don’t hold those same beliefs.”

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a member of committee, spoke out against the use religious belief to justify bias against anti-LGBTQ people, saying that offends her as a woman of faith.

“It is very difficult to sit here and listen to arguments in the long history in this country of using scripture and weaponizing it and using scripture to justify bigotry,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “White supremacists have done it, those who justified slavery did it, those who fought against integration and we’re seeing it today.”

The title of the hearing was the Trump’s administration using religious liberty to assault LGBTQ rights, but no representative of the White House was present before the hearing. A committee spokesperson didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on whether the Trump administration was invited to send a witness. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Tennessee

New Tenn. law allows refusal to conduct same-sex marriages

Republicans control both chambers of the state house & have been advancing what Tennessee Equality Project called a “slate of hate” bills

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Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Lee signing legislation. (File photo credit: Office of the Governor)

By Rob Salerno | NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Lee signed a law Wednesday that allows people to refuse to solemnize a marriage if they disagree with it, a measure critics say was designed to allow officials to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages.

Bill HB 0878 adds a single section to the Tennessee Code, stating “A person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage if the person has an objection to solemnizing the marriage based on the person’s conscience or religious beliefs.” The bill was given an emergency clause, making it come into effect upon the governor’s signature.

Under existing Tennessee law, couples get a marriage license from a county clerk before having their marriage solemnized by a notary public, government official, or religious figure. Religious figures already have protections under the first amendment allowing them to deny solemnizing marriages contrary to their faith.

Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project says his organization is ready to fight the law in court.

“Half of this bill is unnecessary because clergy are already protected. The other half is discriminatory because it allows public officials to turn away couples who have obtained a valid marriage license. Public officials should serve the entire public. We would be glad to work with organizations seeking to bring a legal challenge to the law,” he says.

Tennessee Equality Project is encouraging anyone who has a public official refuse to solemnize their wedding to contact them.

The law has the potential to affect more than the LGBT community. Under the law, officials could refuse to marry interfaith or interracial couples. While couples may have the opportunity to find alternate officials to solemnize their marriages in larger cities, couples in smaller or rural communities may be forced to travel far simply to find someone willing to solemnize their legal marriage.

The bill passed the Tennesseee state house 74-22 last March and passed the state senate 27-5 on Feb 12.  Only one house Democrat supported the bill; no Republicans voted against it.

Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature and have been advancing what Tennessee Equality Project has called a “slate of hate” bills this session. 

Also on Wednesday, a bill that would ban any flag but the flag of the United States or the state of Tennessee from being displayed in any school narrowly advanced out of the senate education committee. The bill is one of many copycat bills being introduced by Republican legislators attempting to ban the Pride flag in schools.

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A companion bill in the House has had an amendment added which would allow the display of certain other flags, including the flags of other countries, Native American tribes, and military flags. The Tennessean reported that during debate, the house education committee attorney said it was unclear if the Confederate flag or the Nazi flag would be banned from schools under the amended bill.

Another bill is scheduled for consideration in the senate judiciary committee that would bar the department of children’s services from requiring that foster parents support a policy on sexual orientation or gender identity that conflicts with their beliefs. The bill would essentially require the department to place queer and trans foster kids with non-affirming parents.

The legislature is also considering bills to bar trans people from using a gender-appropriate bathroom, removing the concept of “gender identity” from state law, forcibly outs trans students to their parents, and creates a separate marriage procedure for same-sex couples.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Iowa

Iowa senate passes “blank check to discriminate” opponents say

Critics charge businesses could use the law to circumvent civil rights laws by citing religious beliefs as justification to deny services

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Iowa state capitol building in Des Moines. (Photo credit: State of Iowa)

DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Senate passed legislation Tuesday that opponents say will be used as as a “blank check to discriminate” against LGBTQ+ Iowans and marginalized communities.

The legislation bars governments across Iowa from “substantially burdens” meaning that any action that directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails, or denies the exercise of religion by any person or compels any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion and includes but is not limited to withholding of benefits; assessment of criminal, civil, or administrative penalties; or exclusion from governmental programs or access to governmental facilities.

The Des Moines Register noted that the legislation would say that state and local governments shall not “substantially burden” someone’s exercise of religion unless it is in furtherance of a compelling government interest and the least restrictive means of pursuing that interest.

A person, corporation, church, foundation or other entity whose exercise of religion has been burdened would have the power to go to court to seek damages or other means of redressing the harm against them.

The Republican majority-held Senate voted 31-16 along party lines with all Democrats in opposition to pass Senate File 2095, which its sponsor, state Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, told the Register: “I believe that it is time for Iowa to add a religious freedom restoration act to our code.”

The Register also reported that Republicans have consistently introduced similar religious freedom bills since taking control of the House, Senate and governor’s office in 2016, but Tuesday’s vote was the first time such a proposal has passed the Senate.

Opponents and critics charge that people or businesses could use the law to circumvent civil rights laws by citing religious beliefs as justification to deny services, housing, employment or other public accommodations to LGBTQ Iowans or other minority groups, the Register reported.

State Senator Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, the son of two married moms reflected:

“This legislation is not about restoring religious freedom at all. This legislation is about allowing some people to cite their religious beliefs to violate the basic civil rights protections that all Iowans benefit from. This bill is a direct assault on the basic idea of equal protection under the law,” said Wahls.

Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, told the Register it seems like the bill’s opponents see it as “some kind of a plot by conservative Christians to discriminate against people.” But he said the legislation would benefit people of all faiths, not just conservative Christians.

“This is not religion specific,” he said. “This is going to benefit everybody.”

The Republican Party controls the offices of governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and both chambers of the state legislature. The Register noted that An identical version of the bill advanced through a committee in the Iowa House. It must still pass the full chamber before it could go to Gov. Kim Reynolds for her signature.

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Oklahoma

White House responds to nonbinary teenager’s death

The victim’s mother told the Independent that Benedict had suffered bullying over their gender since the start of the 2023 school year

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Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8 after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

WASHINGTON – White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and national advocacy groups issued statements on Wednesday about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict after they were allegedly assaulted in a high school restroom.

Benedict died on Feb. 8. According to ABC News, officials investigating the incident said they will be interviewing students and staff “over the next few weeks” and plan to share findings with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.

The victim’s mother told the Independent that Benedict had suffered bullying over their gender since the start of the 2023 school year, shortly after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill to prohibit students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school,” Jean-Pierre said in a post on X. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, their friends, and their entire school community in the wake of this horrific tragedy.”

Calling Benedict’s death a “gut-wrenching tragedy that exposes the chilling reality of anti-trans hatred,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said. “We are reaching out to the DOJ, we are encouraging the community to speak out.”

Along with Robinson’s remarks, HRC’s Press Team included a link to the organization’s blog post about Benedict and a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the HRC Transgender Justice Initiative:

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“Extremist anti-LGBTQ+ hate accounts, like online troll Chaya Raichik, the woman behind ‘Libs of TikTok’, who was recently appointed to Oklahoma’s library advisory board, are perpetuating a vile and hateful narrative that is permitting these types of public attacks,” she wrote.

State schools superintendent Ryan Walters, who last year called transgender youth using public restrooms “an assault on truth” and a danger to other kids, was responsible for naming Raichik to the library media panel.

“The assault on Nex is an inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric and discriminatory legislation targeting Oklahoma trans youth,” Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma wrote in a joint statement.

“We are deeply troubled by reports the school failed to respond appropriately to the altercation that preceded Nex’s death and demand a thorough, open investigation into the matter,” the groups wrote.

Their statement also notes the organizations’ lawsuit challenging Oklahoma Senate Bill 615, the bathroom bill signed by Stitt last year.

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Congress

Transphobic U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene targets Adm. Levine

Greene’s post Saturday was not the first time she expressed rank anti-LGBTQ bigotry- on the House floor she misgendered the health official

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – In a post on X Saturday, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) lobbed transphobic insults at Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the highest ranking transgender government official.

The congresswoman was responding to a video posted by Levine on X, which highlighted the disproportionate harms wrought by climate change on “the physical and mental health of Black communities” along with HHS’s work addressing these issues.

“Here is a man pretending to be a woman claiming the climate is hurting black Americans more than others” Greene wrote in her post. “This is the Democrat Party. Mental illness on full display.”

The congresswoman has repeatedly targeted Levine, largely over her support for gender-affirming care — medically necessary, evidence-based interventions that are governed by clinical practice guidelines and endorsed by every mainstream scientific and medical society in the world.

Greene’s post on Saturday was not the first time she crossed the line into rank anti-LGBTQ bigotry, however.

Speaking from the House floor in November, Greene misgendered and dead-named the health official while introducing an amendment to “reduce — no, castrate” her government salary to $1.

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New York

Beverly Tillery leaving New York City Anti-Violence Project

“I am so proud of the work we have done over the last eight years, which have been some of the most difficult our community has experienced”

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Beverly Tillery of the Anti-Violence Project. (Photo by Chris Tuttle)

NEW YORK CITY – After eight years of serving as executive director, Beverly Tillery announced on Tuesday that she will be leaving the New York-based Anti-Violence Project, America’s largest support and advocacy organization for LGBTQ survivors of violence.

“I am so proud of the work we have done over the last eight years, years which have been some of the most difficult our community has experienced in decades,” she said in a statement. Despite the steady increase in threats since the start of her tenure, Tillery said, “we helped our communities respond to the increases in hate violence attacks and came together with other targeted communities to protect each other.”

AVP Board Chair Stephanie K. Blackwood credited Tillery with helping to grow the group into “an organization that is poised for a national role,” recognized for its “model support services to survivors and their families, innovative policy and advocacy work and impactful community organizing.”

Recent advocacy work has included educating policymakers and leaders about the escalating threats and attacks against LGBTQ spaces, following the group’s issuance of its comprehensive survey and corresponding report titled, “Under Attack: 2022 LGBTQ+ Safe Spaces National Needs Assessment.”

Tillery spoke with the Washington Blade in October about AVP’s meetings with the White House, top officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health, and congressional offices.

The group plans to begin the search for a new executive director next month. Tillery’s last day will be July 31.

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U.S. State Department

Former State Department spokesperson named UN ambassador’s deputy

Ned Price is gay

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Former State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield has announced former State Department spokesperson Ned Price will manage her D.C. office.

Thomas-Greenfield in a statement to Politico on Feb. 16 said Price’s “judgment and expertise will be a tremendous asset to me and the entire USUN team.” Price, who is gay, in a post to his personal X account acknowledged his appointment.

“I am grateful to (U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield), (Secretary of State Antony Blinken) and my colleagues across the administration for the opportunity to help promote America’s interests and values in the U.N. and broader multilateral system together with our allies and partners,” wrote Price.

Price on Jan. 20, 2021, became the first openly gay State Department spokesperson. He stepped down in March 2023 in order to become a senior advisor to Blinken.

Price was previously a senior communications official for the National Security Council and worked at the Central Intelligence Agency.

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Oklahoma

Oklahoma non-binary high schooler dies after physical altercation

The school district has been previously targeted by the far-right anti-LGBTQ+ extremist Libs of TikTok’s creator Chaya Raichik

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16-year-old non-binary Nex (Dagny) Benedict died from injuries suffered in a physical altercation at Owasso High School on February 7th, 2024. (Family Photo)

OWASSO, Okla. – Located in Tulsa County on U.S. Highway 169 six miles north of Tulsa’s city limits, this city of 39,328 persons is grappling with conflict and accusations after Nex (Dagny) Benedict, a 16-year-old Owasso High School non-binary sophomore, died after a physical fight in a restroom at the school.

However, according to school officials there was no notification or staff awareness of the fight until the young student had been taken to hospital and later died. The Owasso Police Department is now investigating the circumstances surrounding the student’s death.

According to the local newspaper, the Owasso Reporter:

On Wednesday, Feb. 7, around 3:30 p.m., police were called to Bailey Medical Center by the parent of a 16-year-old Owasso High School student who allegedly had a physical altercation at the campus earlier that day, according to the police report.

It states that no initial report of the fight was made to police prior to their admission to Bailey, although information was taken by a school resource officer at the hospital.

On Thursday evening, police were made aware that the student was rushed back to the hospital where they were pronounced dead from a medical episode, the report states.

Editor’s note. The following report is from KJRH-TV News 2 which does use pronouns other than those used by non-binary persons. Those have been placed in brackets for clarity.

KJRH-TV News 2 in neighboring Tulsa reported that a person knowledgeable of the events leading to the teen’s death, who claimed to be the mother of the victim’s best friend, told the station regarding the teen’s death:

“I think complications from brain trauma, head trauma, is what caused it,” she said.

The woman wouldn’t say the victim’s name but said [she] was a sophomore. She said the victim was outgoing and loyal once they got comfortable and was not afraid to be outspoken. The woman said three older girls were beating on the victim and her daughter in the girl’s bathroom.

“I know at one point, one of the girls was pretty much repeatedly beating [their] head across the floor,” she said. That’s when [they said] a teacher walked in and broke it up.

“[They] couldn’t walk to the nurses’ station on [their] own, and staff didn’t call the ambulance, which amazes me,” she said.

The woman told 2 News the victim’s grandmother, who [they] primarily lived with, brought [them] to the hospital after the fight. She said the victim was released that evening but was brought back the next day and died.

KJRH-TV News 2 reached out multiple times along with other media outlets to Owasso Public Schools. A School district spokesperson responded saying there would be no comment “because this is an active police investigation.”

The Owasso Police Department also declined to comment except for noting investigators still don’t know if the fight was related to the teen’s death or if a separate medical issue was the cause. OPD said they’re waiting on the corner-medical examiner’s report before releasing more information.

Owasso Public Schools released this statement about the student’s death:

“The Owasso Police Department has notified district leaders of the death of an Owasso High School student. The student’s name and cause of death have not yet been made public. As this is an active police investigation, we will have no additional comment at this time. Further inquiries should be directed to the Owasso Police Department.”

“The district will have additional counselors at the school to provide support to students and staff beginning on Friday.”

On Feb. 15, after a service was held at Mowery Funeral Service Chapel, Benedict was buried at Ridgelawn Cemetery in Collinsville.

LGBTQ+ advocates and others are angered by the death, the misgendering in local media and the fact that the school district, which has been previously targeted by the far-right anti-LGBTQ+ extremist Libs of TikTok’s creator Chaya Raichik, seems unable to grapple with anti-LGBTQ+ bullying.

Raichik was named to sit on an Oklahoma committee reviewing school library content by far-right leaning State Superintendent of schools Ryan Walters.

In 2022, Raichik targeted a now former Owasso 8th grade teacher for speaking out in support of LGBTQ+ students who lacked acceptance from their parents. That teacher, Tyler Wrynn, was labeled a ‘groomer’ and a predator in social media posts.

According to LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, Raichik’s endless targeting only seems to encourage more violence against LGBTQ+ youth.

Lance Preston, the CEO of the Indianapolis-based Rainbow Youth Project, which has been working to assist queer youth in the state, posted a video expressing his frustration and anger over this death and the other anti-LGBTQ+ violence.

 

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District of Columbia

After queer safe space pled for help, community rallied to rescue

“AYA gives us a place to feel community, it is so rare to find a queer space where I can have fun and feel safe”

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As You Are bar in March 2022 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Less than a week after the D.C. LGBTQ café and bar As You Are located in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill issued a GoFundMe appeal on Feb. 5 seeking emergency financial support to prevent it from closing, the popular business reached its goal of $150,000 to get out of debt.

And as of Sunday night, the fundraising appeal had pulled in $171,471 from more than 3,000 individual donations, according to As You Are’s GoFundMe site.

In comments posted on the GoFundMe site, many of the donors said they were motivated to contribute to As You Are because they view it as a special, safe space that offers a welcoming, accepting place for them and their LGBTQ friends or family members.

In their GoFundMe message, As You Are co-owners Jo McDaniel and Rachel “Coach” Pike describe how they view their business as offering community center type programming beyond just a bar and café.

“AYA is a café, bar and dance floor that hosts diverse programming nearly every night of the week, including social sport leagues, Queer youth socials, weekly karaoke, book clubs, open mics, Queer author events, dance parties and much more,” the two said in their message.

“We have faced some particularly tall and costly hurdles that have set us back significantly since the beginning,” the two said in their GoFundMe message. “As we are tapping every resource we can imagine with creativity and open minds we need urgent assistance,” they said. 

“Rach and Jo are truly loved, and AYA is so important to so many people and everyone knew that,” said gay D.C. civic activist Mike Silverstein, who is one of the GoFundMe donors. “The response was absolutely amazing,” Silverstein said. “From every part of our community. People put everything aside, worked together and focused on saving a space that means so much.”

As You Are opened for business in March 2022. McDaniel and Pike have said the financial problems were caused, in part, by a delay in their planned opening due to complications associated with getting their required occupancy permit from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The two said negotiations with the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which demanded certain soundproofing structures be installed for the interior walls of their building, also added to the delay and increased costs.

Like other bars and restaurants across the city, McDaniel and Pike said their rent became a financial burden during a slow period for business last summer. They told the Washington Blade their landlord declined a request to renegotiate the lease to make an allowance based on sales. The two told the Washington Post that their rent is $27,000 per month, which they had to begin paying before they were able to open for business, and they spent $40,000 on soundproofing the walls, all of which contributed to a debt of about $150,000.

McDaniel and Pike, who spoke to the Blade at the time they launched their GoFundMe appeal, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the success of their fundraising and their future plans for As You Are. They told the Post now that they are no longer in debt, they plan to take up several offers of financial advice and they’re looking into possibly buying a property rather than renting. They said they also plan to apply for D.C. government business grants now that they have caught up on back tax payments.

Among those who posted comments on the As You Are GoFundMe site after making a contribution was Megan Mowery, who wrote, “AYA gives us a place to feel community, it is so rare to find a queer space where I can have fun and feel safe.” Mowrey added, “The programming AYA puts on absolutely has something for everyone. I love you AYA!!!”

Helena Chaves, another donor, stated in a GoFundMe post, “As You Are has been a monumental addition to the LGBTQIA+ community in Washington, D.C. They hold so many events and fundraisers, provide beautiful accommodations for us disabled folk, and have protocols in place to diminish harassment in the space.” 

Among the larger donors shown on the As You Are GoFundMe site is the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride festival and parade, which donated $2,500. 

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New York

Exorcism of “any remaining evil spirits” after trans funeral urged

Gentili is the first out trans person & outspoken sex worker to have their funeral services at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Patrick’s

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Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan celebrating a Mass inside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Mid-town Manhattan. (Photo Credit: Archdiocese of New York)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Outraged reaction is building from some Catholics over the funeral services for Cecilia Gentili, a history-making trans activist, which were held at New York City’s historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Thursday.

It is believed that Gentili is the first out transgender person and outspoken sex worker to have their funeral services at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Patrick’s, which has historically not been a friendly institution to the LGBTQ+ community.

The Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported the pastor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City said the church has offered a Mass of Reparation after a controversial irreverent funeral service was held. Over 1400 mourners came to memorialize and honor Gentili at St. Patrick’s in the Midtown Manhattan neighborhood of New York City. It is the seat of the Archbishop of New York as well as a parish church.

CNA went on to misgender Gentili reporting that [Gentili] was a major fundraiser for transgender causes and was a man who identified as a woman.

CNA also noted that the queer organizers reportedly did not disclose to St. Patrick’s that Gentili, who died Feb. 6 at age 52, was a [biological man] who identified as a woman.

“I kept it under wraps,” Ceyeye Doroshow, the Gentili’s funeral services organizer, told The New York Times, CNA pointed out.

Throughout the liturgy, the presider, Father Edward Dougherty, referred to Gentili with feminine pronouns and described the trans-identifying man as “our sister,” CNA reported adding; Additionally, during the prayers of the faithful, the reader prayed for so-called gender-affirming health care, while attendees frequently and approvingly referred to Gentili as the “mother of whores.”

This past Saturday, Rev. Enrique Salvo, the Pastor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, issued a statement:

“Thanks to so many who have let us know they share our outrage over the scandalous behavior at a funeral here at St. Patrick’s Cathedral earlier this week. The Cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic, and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way. That such a scandal occurred at “America’s Parish Church” makes it worse; that it took place as Lent was beginning, the annual forty–day struggle with the forces of sin and darkness, is a potent reminder of how much we need the prayer, reparation, repentance, grace, and mercy to which this holy season invites us. 

“At the Cardinal’s directive, we have offered an appropriate Mass of Reparation.”

New York journalist Joe Jervis reported the far-right Catholic site LifeSiteNews has launched a petition calling on Cardinal Timothy Dolan to hold an exorcism of “any remaining evil spirits” still hanging around St. Patrick’s since the funeral.

Online, the CatholicVote community of religious extremists posted to X (formerly Twitter):

Vehemently extremist anti-LGBTQ+ Catholic League head Bill Donohue raged:

“Gentili is a man who falsely claimed to be a woman. He was an illegal alien, a drug addict, prostitute, trans activist and atheist.

At the service, many of those in attendance dressed as hookers, danced in the aisles, sang “Ave Cecilia” when “Ave Maria” was sung, and shouted, “St. Cecilia, Mother Of All Whores.”

The presiding priest, Fr. Edward Dougherty, falsely declared Gentili to be a woman, referring to him as “our sister.” Fr. James Martin, an LGBT advocate, was delighted with the event, saying the trans activists are “as much a part of the church as anyone else.”

“Many are wondering how this profane service could have happened. It happened because it was held under false pretenses,” Donohue angrily posted.

Her funeral service was both somber and celebratory of Gentili’s lasting impact on the LGBTQ+ community in New York City and across the country, with mourners chanting “Cecilia” in her honor.

Related

Gentili was a legendary organizer, author, advocate, performer, and community icon. As the founder of Transgender Equity consulting and a beloved mother to countless queer, trans, and immigrant individuals in New York City, her legacy endures on both systemic and personal levels.

The vibrant ceremony included a performance from actor Billy Porter and speeches from chosen family, including trans activists Ceyenne Doroshow, Liaam Winslet, and Gentili’s partner, Peter Scotto. Notably, celebrities in attendance included, Sara Ramirez, Indya Moore, Peppermint, Raquel Willis, Ryan McGinley, and more.

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Libs of TikTok angered over Kleenex® & Disney Pride sponsorship

Why do companies need to find every possible avenue to force this agenda? Because Satan wants evil to be normalized, & this agenda is evil

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(Screenshot/YouTube Kleenex® Thailand)

BROOKLYN, N.Y – Perpetually outraged Libs of TikTok’s far-right anti-LGBTQ+ extremist creator Chaya Raichik expressed anger over a partnership between Kleenex® Brand and the Disney corporation for their Thailand Pride sponsorship.

Thailand Pride had occurred seven months previously in June of 2023, although apparently Raichik was just now made aware of that fact.

Both the Walt Disney Company and Kleenex® Brand’s parent company Kimberly-Clark foster a safe and welcoming environment for their LGBTQ+ employees as noted by the annual Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI).

Also leading the charge, the Independent Journal Review, a right-wing American news and opinion website based in Alexandria, Virginia which reported:

Disney seems to constantly believe it needs to be involved with the LGBTQ crowd, this time partnering up with Kleenex® to feature rainbow versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse on tissue containers. The new collection was launched in a [Thai] commercial that featured footage from ‘pride’ parades where both men and women can be seen dressed scantily in public.

The IJR then noted:

Why is this the case? Why do these companies need to find every possible avenue they can to force this agenda on consumers — even if it hurts their business as it did with Bud Light Because Satan wants evil to be normalized, and this agenda is evil.

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