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Coronavirus sweeps through Italy, Spain

Activists remain on lockdown as disease ravages countries

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Arcigay, an Italian LGBTQ advocacy group, has joined the effort to respond to the coronavirus pandemic in the country. (Photo courtesy of Arcigay)

Italy and Spain remain two of the countries hardest hit by the global coronavirus pandemic.

The latest statistics from Johns Hopkins University of Medicine indicate there are 69,176 coronavirus cases in Italy. The disease has killed 6,820 people in the country.

Statistics from John Hopkins University of Medicine as of deadline note 47,610 confirmed coronavirus cases in Spain. The disease has killed 3,434 people in the country.

Tiziana Fisichella, coordinator of Milan Pride, spoke with the Los Angeles Blade on Tuesday from her home in Milan, a city in Italy’s Lombardy region that remains the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

She noted Italy has been in a “total lockdown for a few days.” Fisichella also told the Blade via WhatsApp she lost her job three weeks ago.

“Most citizens have not left their house for a few weeks,” she said, using Google Translate to speak with the Blade in English. “Lombardy, where I live, is one of the two regions with the most cases and victims. Almost all commercial and manufacturing activities are stopped.”

Marco Cacciato Insilla is an LGBTQ activist, author and teacher who lives in Florence with his boyfriend.

Insilla told the Blade on Monday he sends video lessons to his students from his home because Italian schools have been closed since March 5. Insilla said his boyfriend is a mechanic and the government has deemed his job essential, but he has not gone to work since last Thursday because “there is little work.”   

“Cities are almost empty,” Insilla told the Blade, noting he uses a grocery delivery service so he does not have to leave his home. “The government has ordered everyone to stay at home, and many people are sticking to the rules.”

Cathy Renna, a long-time LGBTQ activist who lives in Montclair, N.J., on Monday told the Blade during a telephone interview from her home that members of her extended family in Conversano, a medieval town in southern Italy’s Puglia region, remain isolated in their homes.

Renna said her cousin was studying at the University of Milan and “fled” to southern Italy “right before the very serious lockdown.” Renna told the Blade her cousin since she returned home has been self-quarantined alone in an apartment her family uses as an office.

“She went in there,” said Renna. “She’s probably coming out I think sometime this week; the two weeks is up. She’ll get tested and then she’ll be able to join family.”

“It’s like prison,” added Renna, noting her family leaves food for her cousin outside of the door of the apartment in which she is self-quarantined. “They take this very, very seriously and it’s because up north it wasn’t taken seriously and we’ve seen what happened.”

Renna said another cousin is a doctor who has been transferred to the emergency room in anticipation of more coronavirus cases in Puglia.

“They’re braced down south for what has been slowly, but surely spreading from the north,” she said.

The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association has postponed its annual convention that was to have taken place in Milan from May 6-9. Axel Hotels, which caters to LGBTQ travelers, has closed its property in Venice because of coronavirus.

Milan Pride is scheduled to take place from June 19-27. Fisichella told the Blade organizers have not made a final decision about whether to postpone the event, but she said they “are ready to make the best one for the welfare of all.”

“We would like to able to announce that everything remains as expected, but I fear it is a utopian vision,” said Fisichella.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ Italians are doing their best to cope with the coronavirus lockdown.

Arcigay, an Italian LGBTQ advocacy group, posted to its Facebook page a video that shows men how to properly use a condom.

Insilla said he and his neighbors everyday at 6 p.m. walk out to their balconies or go to their windows and sing together. Insilla also told the Blade they clap for doctors and nurses “who are doing an extraordinary job.”

Fisichella said she is using the lockdown to work on future projects. Fisichella added the only way to stop coronavirus from spreading further is “by limiting social contact as much as possible.”

“This is what all people can and should do,” she said. “Nobody is immune, but we must all feel responsible for the health of others. We stay at home, we go out only if really necessary.”

“There will be a time to hug again,” added Fisichella.

Coronavirus in Madrid is ‘very bad’

Activists in Spain are also trying to respond to the coronavirus pandemic that has prompted Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to place the country under a near total lockdown.

Madrid remains the epicenter of Spain’s coronavirus epidemic with 14,597 cases. Statistics indicate 1,825 people in the Spanish capital have died from coronavirus.

A source in Madrid with whom the Blade spoke on Saturday said the situation in the Spanish capital is “very bad.” Uge Sangil, president of Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gays, Transexuales y Bisexuales (FELGTB), a Spanish LGBTQ advocacy group, agreed.

“People who live in Madrid are even more scared,” Sangil told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview from the Canary Islands. “There is a lot of uncertainly because we don’t know what our future will be, when this is going to end, how we are going to incorporate it (coronavirus) into our day-to-day life.”

Upwards of two million people were expected to attend Madrid Pride that was scheduled to take place from June 27-July 5. Organizers on Tuesday announced they have postponed it.

Sangil said Madrid Pride was postponed “out of responsibility.”

“It is a decision that was made with a lot of pain, but we also understand it was the responsible thing to do,” Sangil told the Blade.

FELGBT has launched Línea Arcoíris, a hotline that allows LGBTQ Spaniards and other vulnerable groups to call or email while they are isolated in their homes. FELGBT has also created Espacio Arcoíris, an online platform that allows LGBTQ Spaniards to participate in events that focus on a variety of topics that include HIV prevention and literature.

“It is a space where the federation offers cultural programs through its social media pages,” Sangil told the Blade. “It is a tool to talk about certain issues that worry us and also get in touch.”

La Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gais, Trans y Bisexuales (FELGTB), a Spanish LGBTQ advocacy group, has created a hotline to help LGBTQ Spaniards cope with the coronavirus crisis. (Photo courtesy of FELGTB)

Coronavirus has also had a significant impact on other Spanish LGBTQ advocacy groups.

Rafael Roble Reina is president of Asociación Melillense de Lesbianas, Gays, Transexuales y Bisexuales (AMLEGA), an advocacy group in Melilla, a Spanish city on the north African coast that borders Morocco.

Roble told the Blade on Tuesday during a WhatsApp interview from Melilla that he and his colleagues “take turns” working in their office. Roble said most of the LGBTQ asylum seekers with whom AMLEGA works are not allowed to leave the facility in which they currently live because of the lockdown.

“They cannot leave from there during the quarantine,” Roble told the Blade. “They are now confined.”

Sánchez on Sunday announced he wants to extend the lockdown until April 11, which is the day before Easter. Sangil told the Blade the Spanish government is “doing everything it can do” to try to stop the coronavirus.

“The government has taken the correct decision to extend the lockdown until after Holy Week to also prevent the flow of people who leave for vacation,” she noted. “There have certainly been mistakes, but I think that we are in a very serious situation.”

Asociación Melillense de Lesbianas, Gays, Transexuales y Bisexuales (AMLEGA), an LGBTQ advocacy group in the Spanish city of Melilla, has closed its offices to the public because of coronavirus. (Photo courtesy of Rafael Robles Reina)
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South America

Brazil presidential election heads to runoff between Bolsonaro and Lula

Neither candidate received 50 percent of vote on Sunday

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From left, Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Photo of Bolsonaro by Celso Pupo/Bigstock; photo of Lula courtesy Lula campaign)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers will be on assignment in Brazil through Oct. 11.

BRASÍLIA, Brazil — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will face off in the second round of the country’s presidential election on Oct. 30 after neither of them received a majority of votes on Sunday.

Da Silva was ahead of Bolsonaro by a 47.9-43.6 percent margin with 97.5 percent of electronic voting machines counted, according to Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

Bolsonaro, a former Brazilian Army captain who is a member of the right-wing Liberal Party, represented Rio de Janeiro in the Brazilian Congress from 1991 until he took office in 2018. 

Polls ahead of Sunday’s election suggested Da Silva was poised to defeat Bolsonaro in the first round. Bolsonaro’s efforts to discredit Brazil’s electoral system increased concerns that violence could erupt in the country if Bolsonaro did not accept the results. 

The incumbent president has faced sharp criticism because of his rhetoric against LGBTQ+ and intersex Brazilians, women, people of African and indigenous descent and other groups.

He has encouraged fathers to beat their sons if they think they are gay.

Bolsonaro during a 2019 press conference in the White House Rose Garden stressed his “respect of traditional family values.” Bolsonaro has expressed his opposition to “gender ideology,” supports legislation that would limit LGBTQ+-specific curricula in Brazil’s schools and condemned a 2019 Brazilian Supreme Court ruling that criminalized homophobia and transphobia.

A Brazilian Federal Police investigator in August called for prosecutors to charge Bolsonaro with incitement for spreading false information about COVID-19 after he said people who are vaccinated against the virus are at increased risk for AIDS. Activists and HIV/AIDS service providers with whom the Washington Blade spoke in March sharply criticized Bolsonaro’s policies towards people with HIV/AIDS.

Supporters of president jair bolsonaro hold a ‘motociata’ near the brazilian congress in brasÍlia, brazil, on oct. 1, 2022. (video by michael k. lavers)

Da Silva, who was Brazil’s president from 2003-2010, is a member of the country’s leftist Workers’ Party.

Sergio Moro, a judge who Bolsonaro later tapped as his government’s Justice and Public Security Minister, in 2017 sentenced Da Silva to 9 1/2 years in prison after his conviction on money laundering and corruption charges that stemmed from Operation Car Wash. 

The Brazilian Supreme Court in November 2019 ordered Da Silva’s release.

Julian Rodrigues, who was the coordinator of the Workers’ Party’s National Working Group from 2006-2012, noted to the Blade during a previous interview that Da Silva in 2004 created the Health Ministry’s “Brazil without Homophobia” campaign. Rodrigues also highlighted Da Silva created the Culture Ministry’s Diversity Secretariat that, among other things, funded community centers and sought to make police officers and other law enforcement officials more friendly to LGBTQ and intersex people.

The Blade will update this story.

A flag in support of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in a bookstore in Brasília, Brazil, on Oct. 1, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
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Tennessee

GOP State lawmakers to hospital: Stop gender-affirming surgeries

The clinic is the only healthcare provider in Tennessee offering clinical care programs for transgender & gender-expansive children

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The Matt Walsh Show (Screenshot/YouTube)

NASHVILLE – A group of Republican state lawmakers in Tennessee sent a letter to Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Pediatric Transgender Clinic demanding gender-affirming surgeries cease.

The letter came a few days after Republican Governor Bill Lee called for an investigation into the clinic at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in a statement after reporting by transphobic far-right pundit Matt Walsh on his Daily Wire show.

“The ‘pediatric transgender clinic’ at Vanderbilt University Medical Center raises serious moral, ethical and legal concerns,” Governor Lee said in his statement. “We should not allow permanent, life-altering decisions that hurt children or policies that suppress religious liberties, all for the purpose of financial gain. We have to protect Tennessee children, and this warrants a thorough investigation.”

State Rep. Jason Zachary and more than 60 of his Republican colleagues sent a letter to addressed to the chair of the hospital’s board of directors calling on Vanderbilt to halt the Clinic’s trans youth healthcare regarding gender affirming treatments.

Zachary also noted the letter also requested that all conscientious and religious objections be honored.

Walsh and the far-right extremist anti-LGBTQ Twitter account Libs of TikTok, run by Brooklyn-based Chaya Raichik have previously grabbed headlines for spreading what Trans advocates and LGBTQ+ activists call anti-LGBTQ hate speech.

Raichik who has been suspended from Facebook and also Twitter for inflammatory lies and propaganda about Trans youth healthcare, pledged to redouble her attacks on hospitals providing trans people with health care, she wrote in a rant on her Substack in which she called gender-affirming care “mutilating the body.” 

Libs of TikTok has reportedly been suspended multiple times on multiple platforms, including InstagramFacebook, and Twitter. Raichik’s last Twitter suspension came for accusing LGBTQ people of “grooming” children, which Twitter confirmed violates its policies against hateful conduct.

In line with the earlier attacks on Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Washington D.C.’s Children’s with misinformation and misleading characterizations of the trans youth health care provided by those facilities, in a lengthy thread Twitter the Daily Wire’s Walsh attacked Vanderbilt’s clinic.

Vanderbilt opened its trans clinic in 2018. During a lecture the same year, Dr. Shayne Taylor explained how she convinced Nashville to get into the gender transition game. She emphasized that it’s a “big money maker,” especially because the surgeries require a lot of “follow ups” Walsh tweeted adding:

Vanderbilt was apparently concerned that not all of its staff would be on board. Dr. Ellen Clayton warned that “conscientious objections” are “problematic.” Anyone who decides not to be involved in transition surgeries due to “religious beliefs” will face “consequences”

In case the objectors hadn’t gotten the memo, Vanderbilt unveiled a program called “Trans Buddies.” The “buddies” are trans activists from the community who attend appointments with trans patients, monitoring the doctors to guard against “unsafe” behavior such as misgendering, Walsh continued.

Vanderbilt makes their Trans Buddies available to children, too. They make lots of “services” available to children, including chemical castration. Though at some point in the last month they removed explicit admission of this fact from their site. Here’s the archived screenshot:

But they must have forgot to delete a video from Vanderbilt Psychiatry’s Youtube channel back in 2020 which admits explicitly that they will give and have given irreversible hormone drugs to children as young as 13, Walsh wrote in the thread.

After they have drugged and sterilized the kids, Vanderbilt — as explained in this video presentation by plastic surgeon Julien Winocour and Physician’s Assistant Shalyn Vanderbloemen — will happily perform double mastectomies on adolescent girls.

So, let’s review. Vanderbilt got into the gender transition game admittedly in large part because it is very financially profitable. They then threatened any staff members who objected, and enlisted a gang of trans activists to act as surveillance in order to force compliance.

They now castrate, sterilize, and mutilate minors as well as adults, while apparently taking steps to hide this activity from the public view. This is what “health care” has become in modern America, Walsh finished.

Vanderbilt responded to Walsh in a statement:

“(VUMC) is now the subject of social media posts and a video that misrepresent facts about the care the Medical Center provides to transgender patients,” said the university. “VUMC began its Transgender Health Clinic because transgender individuals are a high-risk population for mental and physical health issues and have been consistently underserved by the U.S. health system.”

Walsh also shared a video that featured Vanderbilt University law and genomics professor Ellen Clayton, who discouraged physicians from religious objections to transgender surgeries.

“Saying that you’re not going to do something because of your … religious beliefs is not without consequences, and it should not be without consequences,” she said in the undated clip. “I just want to put that out there. If you don’t want to do this kind of work, don’t work at Vanderbilt.”

The University in its statement disputed that assertion by Clayton:

“Our policies allow employees to decline to participate in care they find morally objectionable, and do not permit discrimination against employees who choose to do so. This includes employees whose personal or religious beliefs do not support gender-affirming care for transgender persons,” Vanderbilt wrote.

The Tennessee Equality Project notes that the clinic is the only healthcare provider in the state offering clinical care programs for transgender and gender-expansive children and adolescents.

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California Politics

Race to the Midterms Preview: Victory Fund’s Annise Parker

MAGA GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy only needs five seats to take back the Speaker’s gavel from fellow Californian Nancy Pelosi

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Annise Parker (Screenshot/YouTube)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The tension is nearly intolerable. Just six weeks until the Nov. 8 midterm elections and headaches abound. Will voters really stick to tradition and give Republicans, the party out of power, congressional gains over quixotic turns in the economy, despite the GOP promise to pass a federal ban on abortion? California’s MAGA Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy only needs five seats to take back the Speaker’s gavel from fellow Californian, Speaker Nancy Pelosi.   

And it’s not just the House. “Yes, Democrats’ fortunes have improved, but the most likely outcome of the midterm elections is still a shift in power to the Republicans — and bigger headaches for President Biden over the next two years,” Axios reported Saturday. “Despite the streak of discouraging news, Republicans still have a clear path to retaking the Senate majority. They only need to net one seat to win back the upper chamber, and there are plenty of paths to get there even if many of their recruits fizzle out.”

Why are our LGBTQ leaders not screaming from the rafters? Report after report after report warns that LGBTQ people are at risk of not only losing access to the fruits and freedoms of democracy — including the First Amendment right to free speech — but could be erased state by state by state by state without more than a flareup of protest.  

“On March 28, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that effectively bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida’s schools. The so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill creates new restrictions on classroom speech around LGBT people and same-sex families and empowers parents to sue a school if the policy is violated, chilling any talk of LGBT themes lest schools or teachers face potentially costly litigation,” the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law recently reported. “This bill is the latest in a record-setting year of legislation targeting LGBT people: in 2022 alone, more than 200 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures across a range of issues, with a majority targeting transgender individuals,” despite a recent PRRI poll showing that 79 percent of Americans favor laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination. 

“LGBT rights are the canary in the coal mine of democratic backsliding,” the report continues. “Authoritarian leaders may target LGBT people precisely because their rights are seen as less institutionalized than other groups….Even Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill was explicitly modeled after similar efforts in Hungary.  Against this backdrop, we should recognize the propagation of anti-LGBT laws in the U.S. for what it signifies: an existential threat to our inclusive democracy.”

One leader traveling around the country, raising the alarm and raising the stakes for the LGBTQ community facing the midterms is former Houston, Texas Mayor Annise Parker, now President and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund and the Victory Institute. Founded in 1991 with two LGBTQ candidates, the Victory Fund has now endorsed and promoted more than 450 out candidates seeking election on Nov. 8 to not only congressional seats but down-ballot state and local seats, as well. Victory’s Political Team is also on the ground campaigning and getting out the vote in states such Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, Kentucky, New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Connecticut. 

In the upcoming special episode of Race to the Midterms, produced by Karen Ocamb and Max Huskins in conjunction with the Los Angeles Blade, we talk to Annise Parker about the state of the nation and the Out candidates running to make America better.

“Our candidates win at the same rate that any other candidates win,” says Parker. “When you control for your experience and the demographics of the district and the quality of the campaign, which is a really good sign. , and the fact that more and more people are acknowledging their gender identity or their sexual orientation — for us, having been in this game for so many decades with a singular purpose, whether someone is successful, I mean, we do want to see candidates win, but whether they ultimately are successful at the ballot box — when they run as their authentic selves, they’re true to themselves, they’re comfortable in their own skin, it has a transformative effect. And we’re excited about the possibilities this year.”

Check LosAngelesBlade.com later today to see the full interview and clips of some of the candidates Parker highlights. 

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