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Cuba’s LGBTQ community is living a week of celebrations and controversy

May 11 marked a year since an independent march took place in Havana

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(Photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Editor’s note: Tremenda Nota is the Los Angeles Blade’s media partner in Cuba. Tremenda Nota published this article on their website on May 20.

HAVANA — This past Monday the LGBTI+ community celebrated the first anniversary of the march of May 11, 2019, when several hundred people demonstrated in Havana. This protest followed the cancellation of an official event for the LGBTI+ community that had taken place every year for a decade.

The independent march was also inspired by the previous year’s debates about Article 68, a proposed revision to the Cuban Constitution that would have allowed marriage equality. Article 68 was suppressed in the new Constitution’s final revision, which was submitted to popular referendum in February 2019, creating tension between the community and the Cuban government.

The government responded to the May 11 march with violence, dispersing the crowd with dozens of policemen who arrested activists and other participants. It also discredited the event in official state-run media.

This police violence drew parallels with incidents such as Stonewall, an iconic moment for the international LGBTI+ movement, and caused May 11 to be considered by some activists as the Day of the LGBTIQ Cuban Movement.

Taking this perspective, the Miami-based influencer Alex Otaola celebrated the anniversary with an online forum on Monday morning. Otaola is known for his show “Hola Ota-Ola”, where he has promoted controversial campaigns against artists who publicly sympathize with the Cuban government.

That afternoon, independent LGBTI+ activists who work in Cuba — that is, those unaffiliated with the Cuban government — held their own virtual forum. The forum was broadcast on Facebook after a hacking attack reportedly disabled the website originally planned to host it, according to complaints the organizers shared by social media.

The activist Jancel Moreno told Tremenda Nota, “At about 9 a.m., I could no longer access my page ‘Give Me Your Hand.’ After I complained publicly about this, my mobile data connection completely disappeared.”

The forum organized from Havana began hours late because of the hacking, which Moreno denounced.

The majority of the forum’s panelists were activists who participated in the march of May 11th and analyzed the LGBTI+ community’s challenges, including the upcoming debate about revising the Cuban Family Code. This revision represents the country’s best chance to legalize marriage equality, among other rights and protections for LGBTI+ Cubans and their families.

They also related their experiences of May 11 and spoke about its historical significance.

For example, the poet and critic Norge Espinosa Mendoza described the independent march as “a turning point in the history of the relationship between political powers and diverse sexualities in Cuba, a history that’s densely packed, fragmented, and very complex.” Espinosa was among the activists who first waved a rainbow flag at a public event in Cuba more than 20 years ago.

“What happened on May 11th can definitely be understood as a phenomenon that gave voice and visibility to other needs of Cuban society beyond sexuality,” he said.

Activists disagree with the boycott of CENESEX workers

Above-mentioned influencer Alex Otaola is a South Florida-based opinion leader of the Cuban exile community. He said this Monday that the Cuban LGBTI+ movement is “divided” because many of those who drove the march of May 11, 2019, refused to participate in the special anniversary program he hosted from Miami.

“There’s a group that participated in that march but didn’t want to celebrate with us today because they think … that I’m a very politicized figure and that it won’t be the kind of homage the event deserves.”

The activist Ulises Padrón mentioned Otaola’s program in a Facebook post, where he said that “his histrionic approach to politics, his oversimplified arguments, and his incitement of hate keep him from presenting a more heterogeneous picture of Cuba.”

But Victor Manuel Dueñas, a supporter of Otaola’s virtual event, and Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, an exile activist in Washington, believe that some participants in the 2019 march represent an activism “built in the Obama era specifically with the objective of creating a vision of opening, a vision of independence for the LGBT movement.”

Durung the virtual event, Dueñas launched a petition asking the U.S. government to cancel visas and financing to employees of Cuba’s National Center of Sexual Education (CENESEX), who are referred to in the text as “ex-government officials.”

Cenesex, led by Mariela Castro, the daughter of Raúl Castro and niece of Fidel Castro, is an official state agency whose social mission includes assuming the leadership of LGBTI+ activism in Cuba.

Dueñas’ petition denounces recent statements in which Mariela Castro spoke about the forced labor camps established by the Cuban government in the 1960s. People considered a threat to Cuba’s revolutionary society were sent away to the camps, including political dissidents and homosexual men. Castro’s statements minimized the human rights violations reported to have taken place at these camps.

The petition argues that, based on these recent statements by Mariela Castro and other reasons not fully explained, the U.S. State Department should prohibit a dozen people involved with CENESEX from entering the U.S. to prevent “the financing of the National Center of Sexual Education by institutions and individuals in U.S. territory.”

At time this article was published, the petition has more than 4,000 signatories on change.org, a platform that cannot be accessed from Cuba.

Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, one of the petition’s authors, told Tremenda Nota that Mariela Castro is already prohibited from entering the U.S., but that “she can send some of those who are mentioned in the petition” in order to “raise funds for her agency.”

Mayeta was unable to confirm for Tremenda Nota whether in fact CENESEX currently receives any funds sent from the U.S.

Tremenda Nota inquired about this point with Manuel Vázquez Seijido, one of the government officials named in the petition to the State Department.

Seijido, deputy director of CENESEX, said that the agency will not issue any statements about alleged funding from the U.S. and that there was “no news” in the petition by the exile activist community.

Some independent activists who have worked with CENESEX or have accessed its services made statements on their social networks about the petition.

“Yesterday Otaola tried to draw all the attention around [May 11] to himself. During his show, apart from hosting guests who all share a single political position (it should have been more diverse), he made statements and petitions far from the program’s stated purpose,” said Ulises Padrón referring to the petition promoted on Monday.

Padrón opined that “to disallow the activities of [CENESEX] and the activism it promotes represents an infantile, dangerously ideological attitude.”

Mel Herrera, a transsexual woman who collaborates with the independent publication “Q de Cuir” (“Q as in Queer”), said on Facebook that “thanks to CENESEX, I’ve been able to realize many of the goals I had for myself, and this has helped me stay away from the possibility of suicide.”

She emphatically stated, “Don’t count on me for this boycott.”

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Australia

Australian & New Zealand medical org rejects anti-trans review

The Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is the latest rejections of Cass Review’s findings by medical orgs worldwide

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Photo Credit: Trans Justice Project Australia/Facebook

By Erin Reed | MELBOURNE, Australia Two months ago, the Cass Review was released in the United Kingdom. This review, guided and advised by individuals with ties to SPLC-designated hate groups and who met with Governor Ron DeSantis’ medical board—handpicked to ban care in Florida—has led to severe restrictions in the U.K., including criminalizing the possession of puberty blockers.

The response outside the U.K. has been much more critical, with numerous medical organizations and doctors worldwide rejecting its recommendations. The latest major medical body to speak out is the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), the leading organization for training psychiatrists in both countries.

The Cass Review, a highly criticized evaluation of transgender care, was developed in the United Kingdom by Dr. Hillary Cass, a pediatrician without direct experience in transgender care.

Although it was presented as an unbiased and neutral review, intentionally excluding transgender individuals from the decision-making process, it was later revealed that advisors with ties to the Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine, an SPLC-designated hate group, were involved.

Dr. Cass has since controversially blamed being trans on pornography and labeled the American Academy of Pediatrics as a “left-leaning organization” due to its support for the medical care of transgender youth.

Last month, a handful of members of the RANZCP, some of which are notable figures in anti-trans activism in the country, wrote a letter to the organization stating that they had “serious concerns” about gender affirming care for transgender youth.

They pointed to the Cass Review as justification for their concerns. The top signature on the letter is that of Jillian Spencer, who stated in an interview that she was fired for “being a danger to trans and gender-diverse children.” Now, the college has responded.

In a response posted to the RANZCP website, the college announced that the Cass Review is one of “a number of reviews,” and that it rejects the call for a “government inquiry” into trans care in the countries it represents.

It further states that transgender care should be “patient centered” and individualized to a patient’s needs. Lastly, it expresses a full support for transgender youth and rejects claims that being transgender is a “mental health condition”:

The College is committed to respectful, sensitive and appropriate mental health care being provided to individuals who identify as LGBTIQ+. Being Trans or Gender Diverse is not a mental health condition, and the RANZCP unequivocally supports the rights of trans and gender diverse people to have equal access to safe and effective mental health care that is underpinned by dignity, empathy and respect.

The College emphasises that assessment and treatment should be patient centred, evidence-informed and responsive to and supportive of the child or young person’s needs and that psychiatrists have a responsibility to counter stigma and discrimination directed towards trans and gender diverse people.”

The statement from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is the latest in a series of rejections of the Cass Review’s findings by medical organizations worldwide.

Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics responded to the review, disagreeing with many of its claims and asserting that the organization supports “individualized health care for each patient, in consultation with their family and health care team” when it comes to transgender youth. The Endocrine Society also dismissed the recommendations, stating, “Medical evidence, not politics, should inform treatment decisions.”

In Canada, the Canadian Pediatric Society rejected the Cass Review’s recommendations, announcing that “current evidence shows puberty blockers to be safe when used appropriately, and they remain an option to be considered within a wider view of the patient’s mental and psychosocial health.” Children’s Healthcare Canada, which oversees the country’s children’s hospitals, concurred, stating, “Our position remains unchanged on the topic.”

Evidence continues to support the use of gender affirming care for transgender youth. A Cornell review of more than 51 studies found “gender transition is effective in treating gender dysphoria and can significantly improve the well-being of transgender individuals.” Numerous studies show lower suicidality, with as much as a 73% reduction in suicidality for trans youth who are allowed care.

In a recent article that was not considered by the Cass Review in the Journal of Adolescent Health, puberty blockers reduced depression and anxiety significantly. In Germany, a recent review by over 27 medical organizations has judged that “not providing treatment can do harm” to transgender youth. Due to strong evidence around transgender care, the American Psychological Association released a historic policy resolution condemning bans on gender affirming care. Notably, they are the largest psychological association in the world, with representatives elected to represent 157,000 members.

The lack of credibility given to the Cass Review outside the United Kingdom, especially in the United States, has frustrated its proponents. In a recent article published in The BMJ titled “Gender medicine in the US: how the Cass review failed to land,” anti-trans writer Jennifer Block laments that Erin Reed, the author of this article, highlighted the review’s anti-trans political ties with DeSantis’ picks, which hampered its acceptance.

Although Block incorrectly claims that only a single meeting took place (Cass advisor Dr. Kaltiala attended several meetings and even advocated for the ban as a primary witness), she accurately demonstrates that the document’s political roots have been detrimental to its acceptance among credible scientific organizations.

These political roots were recently confirmed when Conservative Women and Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, admitted that “gender critical” individuals were placed in health roles to facilitate the Cass Review—a mechanism remarkably similar to how Florida’s review led to the banning of care in the state, borrowing from DeSantis’ strategy.

Despite its lack of acceptance abroad, the Cass Review continues to do tremendous damage in places predisposed to targeting transgender healthcare. It has already been cited in the United States to ban care in South Carolina, a Republican-controlled state. In the United Kingdom, it has led to the criminalization of possessing puberty blockers. As more medical organizations reject its findings, politicians will undoubtedly use its conclusions to push forward with bans on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, despite having little evidence to justify such decisions.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) 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.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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New York

Pride flags vandalized at Stonewall National Monument – again

The Stonewall National Monument, the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ+ history, was dedicated in 2016

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A rainbow flag at the Stonewall National Monument, established 2016, with the NPS arrowhead flying in Christopher Park. (Photo Credit: USNPS)

WEST GREENWICH VILLAGE, NY – During Pride month every June, Stonewall National Monument volunteers put up 250 LGBTQ+ Pride Flags on the Black iron decorative picket fence that rings the Christopher Street park.

This year, according to a statement from an New York Police Department spokesperson, 160 of the flags were torn down and damaged between Thursday evening and Friday morning. The NYPD said that no arrests have been made and that the vandals climbed over the Black iron decorative picket fence that rings the Christopher Street park to gain access to the monument.

This is the second year in a row for an vandalism incident on the Stonewall National Monument. In 2023, Park volunteers found at least 70 of those flags torn down and damaged in what the New York Police Department‘s Hate Crimes Task Force investigated as a hate crime and later arrested three men.

Openly gay New York City Councilmember Erik Bottcher, whose district includes West Greenwich Village, posted photos of the snapped flags on Instagram and X on Friday. 

“Last night, bigots vandalized the Stonewall National Monument, snapping flag sticks & stealing 3/4 of the flags around the permitter of the park. Also, someone burned Pride decorations at 22nd St. in Chelsea. Anyone who thinks this will intimidate our community is badly mistaken,” Bottcher wrote.

Reacting to the vandalism at Stonewall, New York City Mayor Eric Adams in a statement said that “hate has no place in our city.” The mayor added “Our administration wants every member of our LGBTQ+ community to know: we are here for you and our administration will always have your back,” Adams said. “We will work in close coordination with the NYPD to identify and hold accountability whoever committed this heinous act.”

The Stonewall National Monument, the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ+ history, was dedicated in 2016. It encompasses a park across the street from the Stonewall Inn, a bar where patrons fought back against a police raid on June 28, 1969, and helped spark the contemporary LGBTQ+ rights movement.

In a graphic published Saturday by NBC News, over twenty acts of hate against LGBTQ+ Pride have occurred so far this month:

Source: News reports. (Graphic: Nigel Chiwaya / NBC News)
CityState
ArvadaColo.
BoiseIdaho
BurienWash.
CarlisleMass.
Cedar ParkTexas
German VillageOhio
KennebunkMaine
Little RockArk.
MadisonN.J.
MandevilleLa.
MercedCalif.
MissoulaMont.
MitchellS.D.
MoretownVt.
New YorkN.Y.
NewbergOre.
PoulsboWash.
SpokaneWash.
WailukuHawaii
WalpoleMass.

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West Hollywood

Heart WeHo owners say club will remain open until further notice

It will be business as usual at the former home of Rage Nightclub while the business is in escrow and legal agreements are ironed out

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Heart WeHo/WEHO TIMES

By Paulo Murillo | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Heart WeHo nightclub, located at 8911 Santa Monica Boulevard, is not closing anytime soon, say the owners of Beaches Tropicana, the new restaurant and bar set to take over the space near the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and San Vicente Boulevard.

It will be business as usual at the former home of Rage Nightclub while the business is in escrow and legal agreements are ironed out.

Beaches WeHo owner Jacob Shaw tells WEHO TIMES that a report stating Heart WeHo was closing after WeHo Pride weekend is false. He said there will be a transition from business to business and that Heart WeHo will remain open through most of it until they may have to close for major renovations.

Partner Paul Nichols added that there will be no disruption to operations and there will not be a farewell party because some partners are staying (Nichols included), and the partners leaving are simply going across the street to Rocco’s WeHo.

In fact, this past Thursday night, Heart WeHo had a busy night with a long line snaking around the corner for an album release party for Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Lo. There is also a Thank You for Pride Party happening this Saturday.

The Beaches WeHo team has formally announced that a whole new concept called Beaches Tropicana is coming to the former Heart WeHo space in the heart of West Hollywood’s Rainbow District. Renovations are set to kick off after Pride Month celebrations, with the highly anticipated grand reopening slated for Labor Day 2024.

“HEY BEACHES FAM!” reads a post on Beaches WeHo’s social media platforms. “We have some exciting news to share with you all. We’ve officially purchased the venue that is currently Heart WeHo, and Heart’s original partners Lance Bass and Paul Nichols will be joining the Beaches team. Together, we are all excited to transform the space into something truly special. INTRODUCING **BEACHES TROPICANA!”

According to the post, Beaches Tropicana will be their flagship headquarters, combining a full-service Cuban-American restaurant with an entertainment venue where guests can dine, dance, and enjoy top-notch performances, all in one space.

Beaches WeHo at 8928 Santa Monica Boulevard will also be getting a makeover and will be turned into Beaches Baja with a new Tex-Mex menu. According to a press release, the team is in talks with several high-profile chefs and hopes to make an exciting announcement once these plans are finalized.

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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. Murillo began his professional writing career as the author of “Love Ya, Mean It,” an irreverent and sometimes controversial West Hollywood lifestyle column for FAB! newspaper. His work has appea

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

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District of Columbia

Fentanyl dealer, distribution charge in deaths of two D.C. gay men

When the cause and manner of death were disclosed by the Medical Examiner, D.C. police said the investigation into the deaths remained open

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Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Body Cam footage from a non-related incident as a MPD uniformed officer makes an arrest. (Screenshot/YouTube MPD Washington D.C.)

WASHINGTON – The Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. has announced that federal prosecutors on June 13 obtained an indictment against one of two D.C. brothers previously charged with multiple counts of illegal drug distribution that now charges him with “distributing cocaine and fentanyl” on Dec. 26, 2023, that resulted in the deaths of D.C. gay men Brandon Roman and Robert “Robbie” Barletta.

In a June 13 press release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Jevaughn ‘Ledo’ Mark, 32, is charged in a new “secondary superseding indictment” linked to the Roman and Barletta deaths. It says he and his brother, Angelo Mark, 30, “previously were charged on April 9 in a 17-count superseding indictment for participating in a conspiracy that distributed large amounts of fentanyl and cocaine in the metropolitan area.”

The press release says Jevaughn Mark is currently being held without bond on charges that include eight counts of unlawful distribution of fentanyl, cocaine, and heroin and distributing 40 grams or more of fentanyl between Jan. 10, 2024, and March 13, 2024. According to the press release, the charges were based on six illegal drug purchases from Jevaughn Mark by undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and undercover D.C. police officers.

Court records show that Angelo Mark was charged in a criminal complaint on March 22 with multiple counts of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and is also being held without bond.

D.C. police and Fire and Emergency Medical Services reports show that Roman, 38, a prominent D.C. attorney and LGBTQ rights advocate, and Barletta, 28, a historic preservation expert and home renovation business owner, were found unconscious when police and emergency medical personnel responded to a 911 call and arrived at Barletta’s home on Dec. 27. The reports show that Roman was declared deceased at the scene and Barletta was taken to Washington Hospital Center where he died on Dec. 29.

A police spokesperson told the Washington  Blade in February that police were investigating the Roman and Barletta deaths, but investigators had to wait for the D.C. Medical Examiner’s official determination of the cause and manner of death before the investigation could fully proceed.

Both men were patrons at D.C. gay bars and their passing prompted many in the LGBTQ community to call for stepped up prevention services related to drug overdose cases, even though the cause and manner of death for the two men was not officially determined until early April.

In April, the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner disclosed that the cause of death for both men was an accidental consumption of several drugs that created a fatal “toxic” effect. The Medical Examiner’s office said Barletta’s death was linked to the consumption of at least four different drugs and Roman’s death was caused by the “combined toxic effect” of six drugs. The Medical Examiner’s office disclosed that cocaine and fentanyl were among the drugs found in the bodies of both men. And for both men, the manner of death was listed as “Accident/Intoxication.”

When the cause and manner of death were disclosed by the Medical Examiner, D.C. police spokesperson Tom Lynch said the police investigation into the deaths remained open but said, “There are no updates on the investigation that we are ready to release to the public.”

But the Medical Examiner’s findings prompted Johnny Bailey, the community outreach coordinator for HIPS D.C., an LGBTQ supportive organization that provides services and support for those who use recreational drugs, to say he strongly believed that Barletta and Roman did not intentionally consume some of the drugs found in their system.

“I’m going to say I do believe this was a poisoning,” Bailey told the Blade. “I think it is unfair to call some things an overdose because an overdose is when you do too much of a drug and you die from that drug,” he said. “This is like if you have a few glasses of wine every night and someone puts arsenic in your wine, no one would be like, ‘oh, they drank themselves to death.’ They were poisoned. And that’s what I think is happening here,” he said in referring to Barletta and Roman.

In announcing the new charges against Jevaughn Mark that link him to Barletta and Roman’s deaths, the U.S. Attorney’s press release discloses that he supplied fentanyl in the drugs he sold unknowingly to the undercover DEA and D.C. police officers when one of the officers, posing as a drug buyer, did not ask for fentanyl.

“In each instance, the DEA/MPD agents requested to buy ‘Special K’ or Ketamine from Jevaughn Mark,” the press release says. “In every instance, Jevaughn Mark supplied a mixture of fentanyl and other substances, including heroin, but not ketamine,” it says.

The release says that after the earlier indictment against Jevaughn Mark was issued, law enforcement agents conducted a search of his Southeast D.C. home and “recovered two firearms, cocaine, fentanyl, about $38,000 in cash, body armor vests, and drug trafficking paraphernalia.” It says on that same day authorities executed another search for a second residence linked to Jevaughn Mark, where they located a bedroom used by his brother Angelo Mark.

“From Angelo Mark’s bedroom, law enforcement recovered seven firearms, 900 rounds of ammunition, dozens of pills, cocaine, fentanyl, drug trafficking paraphernalia, and about $50,000 in cash,” the press release says, adding, “Based on the evidence, both brothers were indicted in the first superseding indictment.” 

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Michigan

Governor & Michigan lawmakers recognize June as Pride month

House lawmakers passed a resolution Wednesday recognizing June 2024 as Pride month and acknowledging the push for equality for LGBTQ+ people

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Michigan Pride at the Capitol in Lansing, June 25, 2023 (Photo Credit: Angela Demas/Michigan Advance)

By Lucy Valeski | LANSING, Mich. – It’s Pride month in Michigan, an annual recognition of the LGBTQ+ community marked by parades and celebrations in every corner of the state

In Lansing, House lawmakers passed a resolution Wednesday recognizing June 2024 as Pride month and acknowledging the push for equality for LGBTQ+ people in Michigan, past and present. 

The LGBTQ+ community has celebrated Pride month since June 1970, the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. The month was first recognized in the United States in 1999 by President Bill Clinton. The Michigan legislature did not formally recognize Pride month until 2021. 

“Resolutions like this aren’t policy, obviously,” state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) told the Advance. “But it’s important that we do everything we can to make sure that folks in Michigan, and particularly our LGBTQ residents, know that they’re welcome and that they have a government that recognizes them and appreciates them and respects them.”

Pohutsky, a member of the House LGBTQ+ Caucus, sponsored the resolution. She said the resolution is especially important this year, as GOP lawmakers previously blocked the recognition of Pride month.

In 2022, the then-GOP-controlled Senate blocked a vote on a resolution recognizing Pride month. Republican lawmakers wanted to add language reflecting that not every Michigander “agrees with the lifestyle of the LGBT community.” The resolution passed the previous year in 2021, but not in 2019 or 2020.

“There was such a long time where we couldn’t even get the bare minimum of a Pride resolution passed,” Pohutsky said. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also formally recognized the Pride month with a proclamation on June 1. Whitmer was the first governor to march at the Motor City Pride parade and fly a Pride flag on a state building in 2019. 

“Michigan will always be a place where everyone has the freedom to be who they are and love who they love,” Whitmer said in a release. “Our work is not done, but every year, we make progress to move Michigan forward. Let’s keep getting it done.”

LGBTQ+ legislation in Michigan

During this session, Michigan’s Democratic-controlled Legislature has passed several bills aimed at protecting the LGBTQ+ community in the state. Whitmer, a Democrat, signed legislation expanded Michigan’s anti-discrimination law to include LGBTQ+ people last year and banned conversion therapy for minors.

These bills had languished in the Legislature for years when it was led by Republicans.

Lawmakers are also working on a bill that would ban gay and trans panic defenses. The defense excuses crimes, like assault, of an LGBTQ+ person because it lets the perpetrator blame their identity. 

But Pohutsky said it is important to think about how any bill will impact the LGBTQ+ community. Laws relating to legal name changes or reproductive rights can affect queer Michiganders in unique ways, she said. 

“I think one of the really wonderful things that has happened as a positive consequence of us electing more LGBTQ leaders is that we are more apt to recognize how policies impact the community, and that’s been really important,” Pohutsky said. 

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Lucy Valeski

Lucy Valeski is a States Newsroom fellow for the Michigan Advance. She is currently a student at the University of Missouri, where she studies journalism and political science. She previously covered local government for the Columbia Missourian, statewide news for Missouri Business Alert and technology policy for MLex in Brussels.

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The preceding story was previously published by the Michigan Advance and is republished with permission.

Corporate media aren’t cutting it. The Michigan Advance is a nonprofit outlet featuring hard-hitting reporting on politics and policy and the best progressive commentary in the state.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Politics

Oregon U.S. Senator & trans advocates: renewed Equality Act push

“Our rights & freedoms are on the ballot. I won’t stop fighting until every American can live safely & freely as their authentic self”

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) speaks at the Senate Swamp on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) called for passage of the Equality Act during a press conference on Wednesday alongside Advocates for Trans Equality, who were convened on Capitol Hill for the Trans Day of Empowerment lobby day.

Instead of freedom and the opportunity to participate fully in society, the senator said, “We see hatred, we see harassment, we see homelessness, we see discrimination, and bigotry, and violence, we see unemployment, we even see state-sanctioned attempts to outlaw the very identity of our transgender members of our community.”

“Across America in 2024, in our state legislatures there have been 500 bills drafted to constrain the opportunity for transgender Americans,” Merkley said. “They take on school curriculum, or they ban gender affirming care or otherwise seek to constrain the opportunity to participate in society, by our transgender individuals, in so many different ways.”

“This is wrong,” he said. “This is unacceptable. And we need to therefore pass the Equality Act here in the halls of Congress.”

Merkley, who introduced the latest iteration of the bill in the Senate, noted the legislation would “end discrimination on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, in housing, in public accommodations, in mortgages, in financial transactions, in jury duty — every facet of American society.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, is leading the House version of the bill.

However, Merkley said, “our partners on the right side of the aisle have abandoned us. So, the responsibility to pass the Equality Act falls firmly on the Democratic Party.”

The senator called for an end to the Senate filibuster as a means of passing important legislation like the Equality Act.

Separately, in a statement to the Washington Blade, Merkley said, “Voting is the heart of our democracy. As Americans cast their ballots this fall, they have the chance to decide major issues facing our nation — from LGBTQ+ rights to reproductive freedom to so much more.”

“Democracy doesn’t exist unless every eligible voter has equal opportunity to make their voice heard,” he said. “As attacks on our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors continue in the halls of Congress, state legislatures, and in our communities, we must all speak out and vote against this rising hate.”

The senator added, “Our rights and freedoms are on the ballot this year, and I won’t stop fighting until every American can live safely and freely as their authentic self.”

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Political commentary & analysis

Family Research Council falsely claims Pride events ‘scaled back’

“Pride is a time to celebrate all the progress that has been made; especially within sports over the past decade”

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Suzanne Bowdey, editorial director and senior writer at the FRC’s outlet, The Washington Stand, made that claim in a June 4, 2024 online column and in an appearance on Washington Watch with Tony Perkins. (Screenshot/YouTube Washington Watch with Tony Perkins)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Borrowing a tactic from former president and convicted felon Donald Trump, the Family Research Council’s in-house propaganda machine published a lie in hopes it will be accepted by the uninformed as truth. In this case, the false claim is headlined “Major Sports Leagues Dump Pride, as Biden Fights to Fill the Void.” 

Suzanne Bowdey, editorial director and senior writer at the FRC’s outlet, The Washington Stand, made that claim in the form of an online commentary

“…Not just major brands but major leagues are making the conscious decision to sit this month out, desperate to protect their profits from the consumer outrage that’s burned down brands like Bud Light and Target,” she wrote. “…America’s five major sports leagues pushed the LGBT holiday to the sidelines. Unlike past years, the rainbows that used to color the logos of the NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLS for the month are gone.

“Only Major League Baseball dipped its toes into the 2024 Pride waters — a brief experiment that they abandoned when fans went berserk. After its ‘Baseball is everyone’s game’ post on the morning of June 1, users exploded in the comments…” 

Exploded? Well, maybe, as the typical homophobic trolls were met with glitter and glee and anticipation of hate messages so typical for X these days. 

And some others just admired the rainbow logo

To verify Bowdey’s claims, the Los Angeles Blade reached out to media representatives for a wide range of sports leagues and checked the social media pages for the MLB, NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL teams like the Edmonton Oilers, the Philadelphia Flyers and the league’s players association, MLS and NASCAR to see if they had indeed “dumped” Pride.

Nope, although as Pink News reported, there are several NFL teams that did not rebrand their logos with rainbow colors, despite the league’s Instagram post, including Harrison Butker’s Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. 

Contrary to reports in right-wing media, the Green Bay Packers are one of the 20 teams that support Pride Month on its social media, and even the teams that aren’t on board still sell Pride merch on their websites. 

The Blade also reached out to public relations specialist Paulo Senra, who founded PushPull PR nearly a decade ago and for nearly a year has been Canada Soccer’s Chief Communications and Content Officer. Senra called Bowdey’s op-ed “way off base.” 

“Just look to what U.S. soccer is doing with its Pride jerseys. We would know, as we are partners working with them on their Pride game and jersey auction. Any suggestion to the contrary is just simply factually incorrect,” Senra told the Blade. “All the major sports leagues are celebrating Pride this year. One just has to quickly search social media posts to see that leagues and individual teams are sharing their Pride stories and support for the community in many ways from games, donations, parade participation and engaging with training resources we provide.” 

Some examples: 

As the Blade has reported, the NHL reversed course last year and dropped a ban on rainbow-colored Pride tape on players’ hockey sticks to honor the LGBTQ+ community at Pride games, which the NHL celebrates on its website.

The NBA, which could see the Celtics crowned champions tonight, is also a big supporter of Pride, both as a league and through its individual teams, like the Dallas Mavericks.

The league provided the Blade with a statement of its “core values” of equality, respect and inclusion.” 

“As part of our ongoing commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion, the NBA and WNBA family works in partnership with leading LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations — including Athlete Ally, GLAAD and GLSEN — to support a variety of programs and initiatives designed to promote LGBTQ+ equality and create a more inclusive environment in our leagues and across sports year-round,” the NBA said in its statement to the Blade. 

“The NBA and WNBA are engaging players, teams, and fans through a variety of activations that celebrate the league’s year-round commitment to the LGBTQ+ community and inspire all to be more inclusive,” said the NBA through its statement. The league also boasts a Pride employees resource team: “Started in 2015, NBA Pride aims to bring together the league office’s LGBTQ+ employees and allies to foster an environment in which LGBTQ+ employees feel empowered and encouraged to bring their whole selves to work each day.  The Pride ERT was the first LGBTQ+ employee resource team in a major professional sports league, and hosts regular programming for league employees.” 

The NBA had a float in last year’s New York City Pride March and in its statement to the Blade, the league promised it will do so again this year. 

“Pride is a time to celebrate all the progress that has been made; especially within sports over the past decade,” said Senra. “We’re proud of work we have done to make the world of sports more inclusive and a safe space for all. Pride is also an opportunity to reflect on opportunities where we can continue to have a lasting impact and continue the work year-round to ensure that anyone connected to sport as a player, fan, coach, official or executive can be a part of it authentically and welcomed by their organization.”

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Indiana

‘You will lose access’: Pornhub says as age verification takes effect

Pornhub — joined by other explicit content providers and a free speech group — sued the state in an attempt to block the law

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Starting July 1, Hoosiers wanting to access adult content websites, like PornHub, will be required to upload age-verification documents online thanks to a new Indiana law aimed at protecting minors. (Screenshot from website)

By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz | MONTREAL, Canada – Pornography video-sharing website Pornhub says it’ll block access to Hoosier users as Indiana prepares to enact a recently approved age verification requirement. Its exit is planned for June 27.

And it’s warning users directly.

“You will lose access to Pornhub in 13 days,” a website pop-up read Thursday.

“Did you know that your government wants you to give your driver’s license before you can access Pornhub?” it continued. “As crazy as that sounds, it’s true.”

It comes days after Pornhub — joined by other explicit content providers and a free speech group — sued the state in an attempt to block the law.

Pornhub parent company Aylo said it has publicly supported age verification for “years” but added, “the way many jurisdictions worldwide have chosen to implement age verification is ineffective, haphazard, and dangerous.”

Senate Bill 17 requires that “adult-oriented websites” hosting explicit materials — such as pornography or other “material harmful to minors” — verify a user’s identity before allowing access. That could be by scanning a driver’s license or registering with a third-party verification service.

 The user notice pop-up on Pornhub. (Screenshot of website)

Lawmakers tussled over the legislation in committee and on the floor. Despite that, they overwhelmingly voted to pass the law, according to the Legislature’s bill action tracker.

“We have children who have seen hardcore content before they have their first kiss,” bill author Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, said in January.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis — the bill’s most outspoken opponent — held that the legislation lacked information privacy “guardrails.” He raised concerns about how securely the proof of age documents will be handled.

That’s an argument Pornhub is making directly to its users.

In its pop-up, Pornhub said it doesn’t want minors accessing its website, but that “putting everybody’s privacy at risk won’t achieve that.”

Rather than attempt to verify Hoosier users’ ages, Pornhub plans to close up shop in Indiana.

Parent company Aylo said Pornhub was “one of the few sites” to comply with Louisiana’s age verification law when it took effect in early 2023.

“Since then, our traffic in Louisiana dropped approximately 80%. These people did not stop looking for porn,” Aylo said. “They just migrated to darker corners of the internet that don’t ask users to verify age, that don’t follow the law, that don’t take user safety seriously, and that often don’t even moderate content.”

“In practice, the laws have just made the internet more dangerous for adults and children,” Aylo continued.

The company has instead advocated for “device-based” age verification, and said it was “happy to collaborate” with government, technology companies and other partners to work on a “solution.”

Critics have said the approach, which uses a device’s built-in features to verify a user’s age, doesn’t protect children who use a parent’s phone or other device. Aylo also suggested people use existing parental control features.

“The safety of our users is our number one concern,” Aylo concluded. “We will always comply with the law, but we hope that governments around the world will implement laws that actually protect the safety and security of users.”

Indiana’s law goes into effect July 1 — unless a judge blocks it.

Pornhub and the other plaintiffs filed suit on Monday, alleging that the law is unconstitutional — violating the First Amendment — and unenforceable. They asked a federal judge in Indianapolis to issue a preliminary injunction against the law.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita defended it Tuesday as a “commonsense” way to protect children.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Indiana Capital Chronicle and is republished with permission.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Florida

Openly gay Carlos Guillermo Smith elected to Florida State Senate

He is the second gay man elected to the Florida Senate, after Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Miami Gardens Democrat

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Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-FL10) congratulates Florida state Senator-elect Carlos Guillermo Smith. (Photo Credit: Office of Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Former State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith officially won his race for the Florida State Senate (District 17), becoming the second openly LGBTQ member elected to the chamber in state history.

“He’s making history AGAIN as the 1st LGBTQ+ Latino in the Florida Senate. Together, we’re growing the multi-racial, multi-generational, working-class movement in Central Florida. Let’s go!” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost who represents Central Florida in the House.

In 2022, while seeking reelection to the Florida House, Guillermo Smith was targeted by the Florida State Republican Party, who invested millions campaigning to defeat him. Now less than two years after losing his re-election, Guillermo Smith won election unopposed to succeed Democratic State Senator Linda Stewart.

In a statement to reporters, Senator-elect said:

“My heart is full of gratitude for this community who has entrusted me with the responsibility of serving as their state Senator,” Smith said.

“Since last year, our campaign has knocked on over 10,000 doors in Senate District 17. We know that voters are frustrated with the direction our state has been heading and they’ve had enough. Rents and property insurance premiums are soaring, over a million Floridians have recently lost health care, and Tallahassee has turned our classrooms into political battlefields.”

Florida Politics noted:

Smith served in the House for six years, where he was among the most outspoken progressive activists in the Democratic minority. He was also the first openly gay Latino LGBTQ member of the House, and will soon hold the same distinction in the Senate.

He is the second gay man elected to the Senate, after Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Miami Gardens Democrat.

During his time in the House, Smith developed a reputation both as a progressive champion and a scorn of conservatives. The onetime Orange County Democratic Party Chair represented a University of Central Florida-centric district for three terms, first elected in 2016.

Stratton Pollitzer, Chair of Equality Florida Action PAC, said in a press release:

“We’re thrilled that voters are sending Carlos back to Tallahassee to continue the fight in the Florida Legislature. Carlos is an unflinching progressive and one of the governor’s sharpest critics. He consistently exposes the governor’s lies, hypocrisy, and agenda to strip away our rights and freedoms. When the governor hid public information from voters, Carlos took him to court and won. Carlos is on the front lines, working to ensure the safety and well-being of all Floridians.”

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Congress

House Republicans pass NDAA with anti-LGBTQ riders

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases

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U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) during the debate on Thursday over the National Defense Authorization Act (Screen capture via C-Span)


WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases during a debate over the annual National Defense Authorization Act spending bill on Thursday.

The appropriations package, which contains five anti-LGBTQ riders pushed by House GOP members, was passed on Friday.

“We know there are a lot of threats to the health and well-being of our service members and their families: poisoned water, toxic mold in military housing, PTSD, and suicide,” said Garcia, who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“So I’m stunned to see that the Republican idea to protect our troops is to ban drag shows,” he said. “Mr. Speaker, my Republican colleagues want us to believe that ‘these gays are trying to murder us.’ They want us to believe that drag is harmful, or immoral and wrong. This is ridiculous.”

“We can document and celebrate drag shows on military bases since the late 1800s, and through both world wars,” Garcia continued. “The USO and the Red Cross supported drag during World War II. That’s right: the Army that defeated Hitler and saved the world included drag queens.” 

“Ronald Regan starred in a movie called ‘This Is the Army!’ — a movie about World War II that featured four drag performances,” he said. “And he’s not the only Republican president who knew that drag can be fun and sometimes silly.”

Garcia displayed a photo of former president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump alongside former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was dressed in drag.

“Mr. Speaker,” the congressman said, “drag is Art. Drag is Culture. Drag is Creativity. Drag is Comedy. And no, drag is Not a Crime. It’s not pornography. The real obscenity is when one of our colleagues, the gentlewoman from Georgia, shows literal posters of revenge porn in our Oversight Committee! If we want to end porn in government facilities, let’s ban that.”

In a statement on Friday, the Equality Caucus called out House Republicans’ politicization of the military appropriations bill.

“Like last year, House Republicans voted to add poison pill, anti-LGBTQI+ provisions to the NDAA that discriminate against our LGTBQI+ servicemembers and their families,” said Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) “The Equality Caucus remains committed to preventing these discriminatory provisions from becoming law.”

Along with Brecheen’s drag show ban, the caucus highlighted four of these riders from this year’s NDAA:

  • Amendment 46 by U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), which would “prohibit funds for the Department of Defense Education Activity from being used to purchase, maintain, or display in a school library or classroom books that include transgender and intersex characters or touch on topics related to gender identity or variations in sex characteristics,”
  • Amendment 49 by U.S. Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.), which would “ban Pride flags from any workplace, common access area, or public area of the Department of Defense,” and
  • Amendments 52 and 53 by U.S. Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Ralph Norman (S.C.), which would, respectively, “ban TRICARE from covering and furnishing gender-affirming surgeries and hormone treatments,” and “prohibit the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) from covering or providing referrals for “gender transition procedures”—including puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgeries—for servicemembers’ dependent minor children.”

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