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Ecuador LGBTQ advocacy group launches coronavirus relief fund

Country remains pandemic’s Latin America epicenter

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Ecuador remains the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in Latin America. (Image public domain)

An advocacy group in Ecuador has created a fund to help LGBTQ people and Venezuelan refugees in the country during the coronavirus pandemic.

Diálogo Diverso describes its Solidarity for Diversity campaign as an “emergency fund” to support LGBTQ Ecuadorians and Venezuelan refugees who live in the country’s capital of Quito and in the cities of Guayaquil and Manta.

Diálogo Diverso Director Danilo Manzano told the Los Angeles Blade on Monday during a WhatsApp interview from Quito the fund hopes to raise $100,000 for roughly 200 LGBTQ families who live in Quito, Guayaquil and Manta.

Manzano said the money will be used to help the families pay rent and to provide them with food, toilet paper and other basic supplies for two months.

He told the Blade the fund is part of Diálogo Diverso’s ongoing efforts to provide assistance — health care and access to lawyers, psychologists and social workers, among other things — to LGBTQ Ecuadorians and Venezuelans who have sought refuge in the country. Manzano also noted the U.N. Refugee Agency and the Australian and Canadian governments support Diálogo Diverso’s work.

“We have tried to meet the needs of LGBT people and especially Venezuelans who are migrants or refugees in the most comprehensive way possible,” Manzano told the Blade.

Statistics from Ecuador’s Ministry of Public Health indicate there are 8,225 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country with 403 deaths. Guayaquil, which is Ecuador’s largest city and main port, has become an epicenter of the pandemic in Latin America.

The Ecuadorian government says there are currently 5,754 confirmed coronavirus cases and 187 deaths in Guayas province in which Guayaquil is located. Media reports indicate dead bodies have been left in the city’s streets because the pandemic has overwhelmed hospitals and morgues.

“Guayaquil has the biggest need,” Manzano told the Blade. “The city is the focus of the pandemic.”

Manzano said LGBTQ people and Venezuelan migrants have become even more vulnerable because they cannot work and travel freely.

“The situation is very complicated because they don’t have the financial resources to be able to support themselves day-to-day,” he told the Blade. “It is therefore a very difficult situation.”

Manzano also said people have run out of medications because they cannot leave their homes.

“The coronavirus crisis affects the poorest people,” he told the Blade. “In this case the Venezuelan community is doubly or triply vulnerable and at-risk.”

Manzano said the Ecuadorian government’s response to the pandemic does not take into account the specific needs of LGBTQ Ecuadorians and Venezuelan migrants. Manzano told the Blade that Diálogo Diverso continues to work with local advocacy groups to deliver supplies to LGBTQ people in Guayaquil, Quito and Manta.

The fund can be found here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Appeals court allows Indiana’s ban on gender care for Trans youth

“This ruling is beyond disappointing and a heartbreaking development for thousands of transgender youth, their doctors, & their families”

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Main courtroom, for the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Indianapolis, Ind. (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts/GSA)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals today issued a stay that will lift a lower court’s injunction blocking Indiana’s gender-affirming care ban. The law, originally set to take effect on July 1, 2023, will now take effect immediately.

In June 2023, Judge Patrick Hanlon, a Trump-appointed federal judge, issued a temporary restraining order halting Indiana’s ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth. The request for a preliminary injunction against SB 480 came in a lawsuit brought by four transgender youth and their families, as well as a doctor and health care clinic,

The law prohibits medical providers from providing gender-affirming health care to transgender youth, effective immediately.

“This ruling is beyond disappointing and a heartbreaking development for thousands of transgender youth, their doctors, and their families. As we and our clients consider our next steps, we want all the transgender youth of Indiana to know this fight is far from over and we will continue to challenge this law until it is permanently defeated and Indiana is made a safer place to raise every family,” said Ariella Sult, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Indiana in a joint statement issued with the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday.

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Arizona

Senator breaks with GOP: Arizona anti-trans ballot measure dies

In a stunning defeat for anti-trans activists in Arizona, SCR1013 will not appear on the November ballot in the state

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Arizona Republican state Sen. Ken Bennett (LD-1 Prescott) (Screenshot/YouTube)

By Erin Reed | PHOENIX, Ariz. – In a stunning defeat for anti-trans activists in Arizona, a major bill targeting transgender people in schools has failed. The bill, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1013, would have banned transgender students from using bathrooms matching their gender identity. It also would have forced teachers to misgender their transgender students unless parental permission was received.

Most importantly, the bill would have placed the issues on the November election ballot, bypassing Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs’ veto, which has been used against similar legislation. This represents the first major ballot referendum on transgender people that has been defeated in 2024 and could signal Republican hesitancy around the electoral impacts of such referendums.

The bill was brought forward by Sen. John Kavanaugh, who has previously sponsored other legislation targeting transgender people in schools. Sen. Kavanaugh’s district includes portions of Scottsdale, Arizona, which is notably the same city where the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is headquartered.

The ADF has been intricately involved in the drafting and defending of anti-trans laws across the United States this year and has backed Chloe Cole, who is leading a similar referendum effort in California.

In the Senate Education Committee earlier this month, over 500 people registered opposition to the bill, and only 32 registered in favor, one of the most lopsided testimony ratios in any bill this year nationwide. Speaking against the bill in the hearing, Democratic Sen. Marsh pointed out the negative consequences that hearing such a bill would have, stating, “This will become a debate on a statewide level harming god knows how many kids and forcing them into further isolation, harassment, bullying, victimization, and vulnerability that comes. I think the effect of that will be incalculable.”

When it came time for a committee decision, Republican Sen. Ken Bennett voted in favor of the bill but stated he had concerns with the way the bill was written and that he would have trouble supporting it for final passage in the Senate.

Then, on Monday, the bill was brought forward for a final vote on the full Senate floor. Democratic senators read statements from parents and trans youth who would be impacted by the bill as the votes rolled in. Then, Republican Sen. Bennett voted “no,” explaining his vote: “I am very concerned about putting this bill to a vote of the people. These bills combined are roughly a third of the entire US Constitution. When we put things on the ballot for people to vote on them, if something goes awry, if there are unintended consequences, we have to go back to the people to fix it.”

The defeat means that in Arizona, the question will not advance to the November ballot. However, in other states, ballot measures are currently being pursued. In California, the group “Protect Kids California” has enlisted high-profile anti-trans activists such as Chloe Cole and Chris Elston to collect signatures. Measures there would out transgender students to their parents, ban them from participating in sports and using bathrooms that match their gender identity, and would ban gender-affirming care for trans youth. Similar ballot measures are also being pursued in Colorado. Nevertheless, with the defeat of SCR1013, there may be hesitancy to push for this as a major ballot issue in 2024 in a swing state like Arizona.

Anti-LGBTQ legislation is not highly popular, especially in general election contests. In the most recent school board elections in 2023, Moms for Liberty lost 70% of their school board elections, having run primarily on anti-trans issues in schools. Meanwhile, Democrats took the House and Senate in Virginia after Gov. Glenn Youngkin pushed a party platform at rallies that targeted trans youth throughout the state. Anti-trans politics have also previously failed to help Republicans in Arizona. In the 2022 governor’s race, Republicans attempted to target Gov. Katie Hobbs’ husband for providing counseling for trans youth in the closing weeks of the campaign—a gambit that failed to swing results in their favor.

That is certainly what Gaelle Esposito, a partner at Creosote Partners who has worked with major organizations supporting transgender people in the state, believes. When asked about what the bill’s defeat says in an election year, she responded, “we are also starting to see that Republicans recognize that anti-trans hatred and pure bigotry is not a big winner for them. It’s not like they have seen time and again, including here in Arizona, that this just doesn’t play well with voters. It doesn’t sit well with people.”

Esposito added a hopeful message: “The fact that we didn’t see the full force of their network trying to squeeze them to get this on the ballot shows they know it too. That they, in an election year here in Arizona, where so much is critical for them, this went down in flames… I think shows how the tide is turning in our favor.”

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

The preceding post was previously published at Erin in the Morning and is republished with permission.

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Florida

Seminole artist brings queer indigenous lives into focus

“Sometimes that visual existence as a queer person in our community is enough,” Battiest said. “Sometimes it just starts with you”

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NBC journalist Jay Valle with his partner of seven years, Spencer Battiest. (Photo Credit: Spencer Battiest/Facebook)

By John McDonald | FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – There was no big announcement or meeting called in Spencer Battiest’s coming out story. 

“They all just kind of knew,” said Battiest, who at the age of 21, came out to his immediate family. “I did it on my own time. I’m not one to make anyone feel uncomfortable, I don’t like to say: ‘Come sit down family, I have something to say to you.’ That’s not how we as Native people are. We don’t have those moments.” 

Instead, the award-winning singer/songwriter/actor sensed acceptance as he brought his boyfriend to tribal functions on the Seminole reservation. There, he gradually introduced family members to his truth.

“Sometimes that visual existence as a queer person in our community is enough,” Battiest said. “Sometimes it just starts with you.”

On March 9, Battiest will receive the Harvey Milk Medal at the eighth annual Diversity Honors at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Initially, Battiest said he felt unworthy of such recognition, but his partner of seven years, NBC journalist Jay Valle, pointed to the impact their relationship was having among Native Americans. 

“He had some really good words for me,” Battiest said. “He reminded me that I’ve taken him to every tribal function since we’ve been together. Fully and authentically being myself and sharing with my community and family the person that I love and share my life with — sometimes just being that can be inspiring to others.” 

Battiest started performing publicly as a 4-year-old in Broken Bow, Okla., singing at his grandfather’s church. By age 11 he was belting out the National Anthem before large crowds, an honor that continues today. 

In 2011, Battiest collaborated with his brother Doc to produce The Storm, a passion project that was critically acclaimed in the Native American music industry.

“I’ll forever sing that song no matter where I go in our career because that’s the history as taught to us by our grandparents, chairmens and family.”

Although he is half Choctaw from his father, Battiest is a member of the Seminole tribe — the Indigenous people of Florida who escaped European colonization and remain unconquered to this day. 

It is on his ancestral land that a shiny new Guitar Hotel was built and inside is a display dedicated to Spencer and Doc’s award-winning work.

“I wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for allies like Susan Renneisen [Hard Rock VP of Community Affairs & Special Events] who has watched me progress in my career since I was 14,” said Battiest. 

As a songwriter, Battiest doesn’t shy away from heartbreak, as evidenced in his album “Stupid In Love”, and prefers to keep lyrics gender-neutral for more universal appeal. 

“I write from a place of truth and honesty,” he said.  “As queer indigenous people, we’ve lived in a space where it hasn’t always been great.” 

Expressing vulnerability is part of the authenticity Harvey Milk proclaimed when he famously declared, “Hope will never be silent.” For Battiest that means striking the right balance. 

“I try to find harmony and peace in the life that I’ve lived and to be an example for anyone who sees me and that includes the struggle, insecurity and negative responses that come with being a queer person especially living out here in this state,” he said. “You have to find the harmony and peace that’s within yourself and for me that’s my family, tribe and partner.” 

Diversity Honors is scheduled for Saturday, March 9 at 7 p.m. and includes a cocktail reception, seated dinner and after party at the Guitar Hotel.

For tickets or more information, call (954) 463-9005, ext. 105 or visit www.diversityhonors.org.

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John McDonald is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Oregon. He has written for many publications over the course of a 29-year career that started as a high school football writer in Troy, Alabama. His memoir, Slice of Good Ol Boy Life, is available on Amazon. 

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Texas

Texas High School cancels play about Matthew Shepard

“As a queer student in this show, I’m livid it’s been cancelled not once, but 2X. People in KISD should not have the right to discriminate”

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A Timber Creek High School theatre production dress rehearsal. (File Photo Credit: Timber Creek High School - Keller ISD/Facebook)

FORT WORTH, Texas – In an email sent out to students and parents last week, officials of Timber Creek High School in suburban Ft. Worth announced that student-led production of The Laramie Project — a play about the aftermath of the 1998 murder of 21-year-old University of Wyoming freshman Matthew Shepard was cancelled.

According to The Dallas Morning News:

In the brief email to families, school leaders said they are “working on developing an alternative production opportunity for our students.” Keller Independent School District spokesman Bryce Nieman said in a statement that the decision was “made by many stakeholders.”

“The decision to move forward with another production at Timber Creek High School was based on the desire to provide a performance similar to the ones that have created much excitement from the community, like this year’s Keller ISD musical productions of Mary Poppins and White Christmas,” Nieman wrote in an email.

The Dallas Morning News also reported that parents were not given an explanation when they were informed the show was cancelled. “We understand that it is unusual for a production change like this to take place. Students will still have an opportunity to read, discuss, and analyze the play during the school day,” Nieman’s email read. 

Judy Shepard, told the paper she was disappointed. “My heart is broken when people still refuse to see how important this work is,” she said. Judy and her husband Dennis founded the Denver, Colorado-based Matthew Shepard Foundation in the months after their son’s murder 25 years ago.

The Laramie Project, written by Moisés Kaufman, is one of the many programs endorsed by the Foundation in its ongoing effort to advocate for LGBTQ+ youth and has been performed tens of thousands of times globally since it premiered at The Ricketson Theatre by the Denver Center Theatre Company in February of 2000.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation provides help and resources for those wishing to produce The Laramie Project or The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. The Foundation’s Laramie Project Specialist can help with media, historical context, creative consulting, and other resources and services at no charge to non-profit theatres and educational and religious institutions. The Foundation can also help those who wish to engage their communities in a conversation about how to erase hate in the world.

A Change.org petition was started to get the Keller ISD administrators to reconsider their decision. A signer and Timber High School drama and theatre student who identified himself as Danny Street commented:

“As a queer student in this show, I am absolutely livid that it has been cancelled not once, but TWICE. My freshman year we were meant to perform Laramie, and it was changed right before auditions. KISD has been continuously pushing their anti-lgbtq agenda these past few years and it’s hurtful and uncalled for. This year alone we have given teachers “the right” to not call transgender students by their preferred name, which is a problem I have to face daily. The people in our district should not have the right to discriminate against its queer students. Let us tell this story, if you don’t then you are proving you’re on the wrong side of history and you stand right with the bigots who caused the demise of Matthew Shepard. Protect queer kids and queer art in schools.”

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California Politics

MAGA Republicans trying to oust Newsom, again

Rescue California said 400 plus Californians are serving as proponents of the recall which needs valid signatures equal to 12% of the vote

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaking in Los Angeles, Oct. 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO – The Republican group that organized the 2021 effort to unsuccessfully recall California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Monday that it is once again targeting the Golden State’s Chief Executive.

“Gavin Newsom has abandoned the state to advance his Presidential ambitions, leaving behind a $73 Billion budget deficit and a public safety, immigration and education crisis,” said Rescue California’s campaign director Anne Dunsmore in a statement to Sacramento’s NBC News affiliate KCRA 3. “California needs a full-time governor who is fully focused on the serious problems the state and its citizens are facing. This may be our last opportunity to rescue and restore our state, while we highlight for the rest of the country the destruction Newsom has left in his wake.”

Newsom ally U.S. Rep. Pete Aguilar who represents the 33rd Congressional District of California centered in San Bernardino County noted: “Governor Newsom has always fought to safeguard our democracy and protect the freedoms of all Californians. California Republicans tried this charade before and it failed. Trust me, this latest effort will fail again.”

Other prominent Democrats also weighed in on this latest effort including Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass who posted on X (formerly Twitter): “Governor @GavinNewsom has delivered countless times for Los Angeles over just the past year helping us address homelessness, rebuild after the 10 freeway fire and recover from recent storms. Republican recalls do nothing more than waste taxpayer dollars and valuable time.”

Newsom, who was formally served notice of Rescue California’s filing on Monday, also took to X (formerly Twitter) and blasted this latest effort: “Trump Republicans are launching another wasteful recall campaign to distract us from the existential fight for democracy and reproductive freedom,” Newsom posted Monday. “We will defeat them.”

Rescue California’s Dunmore said more than 400 Californians are serving as proponents of the recall.

California’s senior U.S. Senator Alex Padilla said in his X post: “The same MAGA Republicans who tried to recall @GavinNewsom are at it again playing political games. With CA leading the fight on everything from climate action to abortion access, and even the future of our democracy, Governor Newsom won’t be distracted by partisan attacks.”

The governor will have ten days to formally respond to the effort. That response will end up on a petition that will begin circulating to gather signatures to land the issue on the ballot.

In order for it to qualify for the November ballot, proponents will need to gather enough valid signatures equal to 12% of the vote for Newsom in the last election (just under 1.4 million) by May. If the signature gathering lasts beyond May, the election could happen later.

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California Politics

Equality California announces 2024 state legislative package

Access to TGI inclusive health care, expand LGBTQ+ inclusive benefits, equitable coverage for IVF, support unhoused LGBTQ+ young people

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California Capitol Dome (Photo Credit: State of California government)

SACRAMENTO — Equality California, announced on Tuesday its initial 11 sponsored bills for the 2024 state legislative session. 

“In the face of rising anti-LGBTQ+ hate and extremism in California and across the country, Equality California has assembled a bold legislative package to defend the progress we’ve made and continue advancing our mission to create a world that is healthy, just, and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people,” said Executive Director Tony Hoang. “From expanding access to TGI-inclusive healthcare to supporting unhoused LGBTQ+ youth to ensuring that fertility services like IVF remain accessible to all people, including LGBTQ+ people — we can make certain California remains at the forefront of advancing policies that uplift our entire community.”

Equality California is sponsoring the following bills:

Improve Access to Gender-Affirming Care

AB 2442 (Zbur) Expedite Licensure for Gender-Affirming Care Providers – Expands the network of gender-affirming care providers in the state to improve accessibility of care by expediting licensure applications for health care providers who intend to provide gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care in California.

SB 959 (Menjivar) Ensure Comprehensive Access to Information – Creates an online resource for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGI) Californians and their families to combat misinformation and provide accurate information about access to trans-inclusive health care, existing legal protections for patients and providers, and other available support services. 

Support LGBTQ+ Families

AB 518 (Wicks) Extend Paid Family Leave to Chosen Family – Provides critical protections for LGBTQ+, immigrant, and other workers who need to take time off work to care for a loved one with a serious illness by allowing them to receive Paid Family Leave benefits when caring for their seriously ill chosen or extended family members.

SB 729 (Menjivar) Provide Equitable Fertility Coverage – Advances reproductive freedom in California by requiring large group health plans to provide coverage for fertility and infertility care, including IVF, and updating the definition of infertility to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ family planning experiences.

Strengthen Data Equity 

SB 957 (Wiener) Enhance SOGI Data Collection – Enacts recommendations from last year’s state audit to close loopholes in existing law and ensure that the California Department of Public Health is collecting, analyzing, and reporting data on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) to improve LGBTQ+ health outcomes.

SB 1333 (Eggman) Improve HIV Data Sharing – Allows confidential data sharing for HIV and other communicable diseases to ensure that public health officials and health care providers can more effectively respond during public health emergencies and improve care coordination for people living with HIV.

Support Unhoused LGBTQ+ Youth

AB 2007 (Boerner) Establish Unicorn Homes Pilot Program – Establishes a 3-year pilot program – the Unicorn Homes Transitional Housing for Homeless LGBTQ+ Youth Program – to place unhoused LGBTQ+ youth with affirming volunteer host families and provide trauma-informed crisis intervention care, with the ultimate goal of reunification with the youth’s family when possible. 

Protect Access to Health Care

AB 2258 (Zbur) Increase Access to Preventive Care – Codifies longstanding federal guidance requiring health plans to cover services that are integral to recommended preventive care – including HIV and STI screenings for PrEP and cervical cancer screenings – without requiring patients to pay out-of-pocket.

Combat Systemic Discrimination

SB 1022 (Skinner) Strengthen Enforcement of Civil Rights – Enables the Civil Rights Department to more effectively investigate and prosecute long-running civil rights violations affecting groups or classes of people by making technical changes to the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Improve Inclusive Emergency Preparedness and Response

SB 990 (Padilla) LGBTQ+ Disaster Preparedness – Requires California to update the State Emergency Plan to include LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and best practices to ensure that LGBTQ+ people can access affirming services and resources before, during, and after an emergency or natural disaster.

Launch California LGBTQ+ Commission

AB 3031 (Lee and Low) LGBTQ+ Commission – Establishes a statewide LGBTQ+ Commission representing California’s diverse LGBTQ+ community to shine a light on the unique challenges LGBTQ+ people face, assess and monitor programs and legislation to address systemic barriers, and make recommendations to improve the health, safety, and well-being of LGBTQ+ Californians.

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West Hollywood

WeHo hosts V-Day & One Billion Rising anti-violence outreach

Vice-Mayor Chelsea Byers joined members of the LA Sheriff’s Department, Block by Block Security Ambassadors & LA LGBT Center’s WeHo Life

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V-Day and One Billion Rising Anti-Violence Outreach. (Photo Credit: WEHO TIMES)

By Paulo Murillo | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The City of West Hollywood hosted a community outreach event as part of its annual recognition of V -Day, the global activist movement to end violence against all women (cisgender, transgender, and those who hold fluid identities that are subject to gender-based violence), girls and the planet.

Community members distributed materials to help to promote a message of consent with its “Only Yes Means Yes” public awareness campaign, distribute drink-spiking test strips, share domestic violence awareness information and human trafficking prevention and awareness information as well as general safety information and resources.

V-Day and One Billion Rising Anti-Violence Outreach – WEHO TIMES

West Hollywood Vice Mayor Chelsea Lee Byers joined members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s West Hollywood Station, Block by Block Security Ambassadors, members of the LA LGBT Center’s WeHo Life group, members of the City of West Hollywood’s Women’s Advisory Board, Public Safety, and City staff members in WeHo’s Rainbow district, to pass out awareness and prevention materials at various nightlife locations in the city. Members of the public are invited to stop by and pick up materials at a table on Santa Monica Boulevard.

V-Day and One Billion Rising Anti-Violence Outreach – WEHO TIMES

“Today we’re passing out drink test strips,” Vice-Mayor Byers told WEHO TIMES. “It’s an initiative that the city’s been really proud to partner with the LA LGBT Center and APLA Health. We’ve been out here passing out test strips to the community, and people at the bars on the Saturday afternoon. We’re having a conversation with them about the risks that are inherent in that activity and the ways that they can better protect themselves. We’re really excited to be engaging in that way as a community.”

V-Day and One Billion Rising Anti-Violence Outreach – WEHO TIMES

Drink-spiking test strips are designed to detect the possible presence of “date rape” drugs, such as GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) or ketamine. Outreach staff from the WeHo Life program began test-strip distribution efforts in October 2022 to inform and educate community members and businesses that drink-spiking test strips are a tool for personal safety that can be used anywhere at any time.

First launched in 2016, the #onlyYes campaign is a public-awareness campaign to encourage people in the community to be more aware of sexual assault and to promote a message of consent.

For over 20 years the City has participated in V-Day.  V-Day was founded on the belief that when art and activism come together, they have the power to transform systems and change culture. Founded by V (formerly Eve Ensler), activist and author of the The Vagina Monologues, V-Day has inspired women all over the world and raised collective consciousness about how violence and gender intersect. V-Day is a movement and an example of how the power of art can be used as a liberating tool for transformational holistic education and social justice. www.vday.org

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Paulo Murillo is Editor in Chief and Publisher of WEHO TIMES. He brings over 20 years of experience as a columnist, reporter, and photo journalist.

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The preceding article was previously published by WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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Canada

Canadian parliament debates regulating online hate speech & porn

As opposition-backed “Protecting Young Persons from Exposure to Pornography Act” nears passage, government introduces “Online Harms Act”

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The West Block is one of the three buildings on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Ontario. Since 28 January 2019, it has housed the interim House of Commons Chamber, installed to accommodate the House while the Centre Block is closed. (Photo Credit: Parliament of Canada/Parlement du Canada)

By Rob Salerno | OTTAWA, Canada – Canadian lawmakers are debating dueling bills meant to protect children from hate speech and pornography, and critics are saying both bills have serious civil liberties concerns and may restrict access to lawful LGBTQ+ content on the internet. 

The Canadian government introduced it’s long-promised “Online Harms Act” (C-63) that aims to regulate and ban hate speech and revenge porn on the internet into Parliament on Monday. The government says the bill will hold online platforms accountable for the dissemination and amplification of harmful content.

The new bill would impose on social media companies an obligation to act responsibly for content on their services, including by protecting children and removing child porn and non-consensual porn. A new regulatory body would also handle complaints from Canadians about child and nonconsensual porn on the internet. 

Additionally, the new bill would increase penalties for spreading hate propaganda online, with a maximum penalty set at life imprisonment. 

Arif Virani, the minister of justice, says the government’s bill is necessary to protect children from exploitation and psychological harm online.

“Children are vulnerable online. They need to be protected from online sexual exploitation, hate and cyberbullying. Now more than ever, especially given the evolving capabilities of AI, online platforms must take responsibility for addressing harmful content and creating a digital world where everyone can participate safely and freely. This legislation does just that,” Virani says.

The bill comes as the largely opposition-backed “Protecting Young Persons from Exposure to Pornography Act” (S-210) nears passage. S-210 aims to prevent young people from accessing online pornography by requiring any site that habitually shows pornography to require age verification. 

It’s not yet clear how the sites would be required to verify users’ ages – that’s meant to be developed in future regulations. But proposals have included facial scanning that uses AI to estimate users ages or requiring users to submit government ID to the site. Civil liberties critics have said both ideas intrude on civil liberties and put users’ personal information in jeopardy, and both are likely to be easily circumvented.

The bill also does not define what sites would be required to verify ages. Pure porn sites would be included, but it’s possible that search engines like Google or social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit would. Given the heavy penalties S-210 would impose for violations, platforms may respond by  either overzealously blocking content or blocking access from Canada entirely 

The government does not support S-210, but it has already passed through the Senate and passed second reading in the House of Commons with the support of all opposition parties and a handful of Liberal government MPs. It’s currently in the committee stage.

The government bill, C-63, does not address access to legal pornography. The opposition Conservative Party denounced C-63 before it was even introduced.

But the parties have spent the last few weeks sparring over S-210. Last week, Conservative party leader Pierre Poilievre said if he were Prime Minister he would require porn sites to verify ages, but Conservatives have consistently said they oppose every proposed measure to verify ages and not proposed any other mechanisms.

The bill’s sponsor, Conservative MP Karen Vecchio, told the House in November, “there should be no direct collection of identity documentation by the site publisher from the pornographic site, no age estimates based on the user’s web browser history and no processing of biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying or authenticating a natural person.”

And last week, one of the largest porn sites in the world, PornHub, which is owned by the Montreal-based porn conglomerate Aylo, which also owns SeanCody, Men.com, and WhyNotBi, waded into the debate. Solomon Friedman, a Vice-President of Aylo’s parent company Ethical Capital Partners, says that the company would never agree to collect users’ data and would simply block access to all of Canada. He’s calling instead for device manufacturers to build age restrictions into the phones and laptops that children use. 

“We will never ever take the private identifying information of our users,” Friedman told the Canadian Press.

“(We) will always comply with the law,” he said. “That’s either by imposing the solution, not operating … or in addition to all those, challenging these in law, if we think that they violate some higher legal principle like the Constitution.”

Pornhub has already blocked access from several US states in response to similar ID-requirement laws. But some critics have questioned the effectiveness of the laws, pointing out that data shows usage of VPNs, which hide a user’s geographic location and would enable them to get around such blocks appeared to skyrocket in those states immediately after.

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

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Research/Study

Race & LGBTQ+ issues negatively impact K-12 classrooms

50% of K-12 teachers say students shouldn’t learn about gender but should learn that the legacy of slavery still impacts Black Americans

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – As debate rages over K-12 classroom curriculum nationally over forced outing of trans students and accompanying bathroom bans, coupled with bans on books that deal with race and LGBTQ+ issues, a recent survey by Pew Research found that a sizeable share of teachers (41%) say these debates have had a negative impact on their ability to do their job.

Pew researchers found that 71% of teachers say teachers themselves don’t have enough influence over what’s taught in public schools in their area.

In turn, a majority of teachers (58%) say their state government has too much influence over this. And more say the federal government, the local school board and parents have too much influence than say they don’t have enough.

The survey of 2,531 U.S. public K-12 teachers was conducted from Oct. 17-Nov. 14, 2023, and also includes some findings from a survey of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 and a survey of U.S. adults.

Key Findings of those two groups includes:

  • 38% of teens say they feel comfortable when topics related to racism or racial inequality come up in class (among those who say these topics have come up). A smaller share (29%) say they feel comfortable when topics related to sexual orientation or gender identity come up.
  • Among the American public, more say parents should be able to opt their children out of learning about LGBTQ issues than say the same about topics related to race (54% vs. 34%).

The Pew researchers also asked public K-12 teachers what they think students should learn in school about two topics in particular:

  • Whether the legacy of slavery still affects the position of Black people in American society today.
  • Whether a person’s gender can be different from or is determined by their sex at birth.

The legacy of slavery

Most teachers (64%) say students should learn that the legacy of slavery still affects the position of Black people in American society today.

About a quarter (23%) say students should learn that slavery is part of American history but no longer affects the position of Black people in American society. Just 8% say students shouldn’t learn about this topic in school at all.

Majorities of elementary, middle and high school teachers say students should learn that the legacy of slavery still has an impact on the lives of Black Americans, the researchers found.

Gender identity

When it comes to teaching about gender identity – specifically whether a person’s gender can be different from or is determined by their sex assigned at birth – half of public K-12 teachers say students shouldn’t learn about this in school.

A third of teachers think students should learn that someone can be a boy or a girl even if that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.

A smaller share (14%) say students should learn that whether someone is a boy or a girl is determined by their sex at birth.

Views differ among elementary, middle and high school teachers. But teachers across the three levels are more likely to say students should learn that a person’s gender can be different from their sex at birth than to say students should learn gender is determined by sex at birth.

Most elementary school teachers (62%) say students shouldn’t learn about gender identity in school. This is much larger than the shares of middle and high school teachers who say the same (45% and 35%).

How teachers’ views compare with the public’s views

Like teachers, Americans overall are more likely to say parents should be able to opt their children out of learning about sexual orientation or gender identity (54%) than to say they should be able to opt their children out of learning about racism or racial inequality (34%).

Across both issues, Americans overall are somewhat more likely than teachers to say parents should be able to opt their children out.

Researchers also found that most teachers who’ve been teaching for more than a year (68%) say the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity rarely or never came up in their classroom in the 2022-23 school year. About one-in-five (21%) say these topics came up sometimes, and 8% say they came up often or extremely often.

Topics related to racism or racial inequality come up more frequently. A majority of teachers (56%) say these topics came up at least sometimes in their classroom, with 21% saying they came up often or extremely often.

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Politics

Virginia Lt. governor misgenders trans lawmaker in Senate session

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.’”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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