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Activists, Orlando officials mark four years since Pulse nightclub massacre

Gunman killed 49 people on June 12, 2016

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The makeshift memorial at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on May 31, 2020 (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Friday marks four years since a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

“Four years have now passed, but our community’s commitment to honoring the 49 angels and supporting the survivors, families of the victims and first responders remains strong,” tweeted Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who was in office on June 12, 2016, when the massacre took place.

The onePULSE Foundation, a group founded by Pulse owner Barbara Poma that is planning to build a permanent memorial, on Friday will hold a virtual ceremony to honor the massacre’s victims. The coronavirus pandemic prompted organizers not to hold an in-person commemoration this year.

“We are grateful for the tremendous support of the community and would love nothing more than to have our community members join us in remembering our 49 Angels, and honoring our survivors and first responders, but we must prioritize the health and safety of the public, the Pulse community, and our employees,” said Poma in a statement. “We ask the community to join together again, in a different way this year, as a symbol of strength and solidarity in the face of tragedy, forever proving: We will not let hate win.”

Nearly half of the massacre’s victims were LGBTQ Puerto Ricans.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz has ordered flags in her city to be lowered to half-mast. Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ advocacy group, on Friday visited a memorial in a San Juan park that honors the victims.

“Love always wins — always,” said Serrano in a tweet that shows him visiting the memorial.

 

An interim memorial has opened at the nightclub, which is less than two miles from downtown Orlando.

Scott Bowman of the onePulse Foundation on Thursday said $19 million has been raised for the permanent memorial that will have three components: The National Pulse Memorial, the Museum and Education Center and the Orlando Health Survivors Walk. Bowman told the Los Angeles Blade the Orlando Health Survivors Walk’s groundbreaking will take place next April.

The Orlando Sentinel on Friday reported U.S. Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), who represents portions of Orlando, has introduced a bill that would designate Pulse as a national memorial. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis designated Friday as “Pulse Remembrance Day” and ordered flags in the state lowered to half-staff.

 

Pulse nightclub, Orlando, gay news, Washington Blade
A large American flag behind the picture of a gay couple who died inside the Pulse nightclub at memorial in downtown Orlando, Fla., that grew in size in the days after the massacre. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, and it renewed calls for gun control in this country.

Equality Florida — along with the Human Rights Campaign, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund and Giffords Law Center — on Friday issued a report that documents gun violence’s impact on LGBTQ people. The report, among other things, notes nearly 80 percent of Black transgender women who have been killed since 2013 were shot to death.

“Gun safety is an LGBTQ issue, plain and simple,” said HRC President Alphonso David in a statement.

This year’s commemorations of the massacre are taking place amid continued protests against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. President Trump is also running for re-election.

Equality Florida has announced it plans to target 500,000 “pro-equality voters in the state of Florida with the goal of ensuring they have updated registrations, resources to educate themselves on where candidates stand on equality, and sign up to receive their ballots by mail.”

“When we set out on this journey four years ago, Equality Florida promised to do the work of uprooting hate and violence,” said Equality Florida Senior Political Director Joe Saunders in a press release. “Dismantling systems of racism and homophobia requires that pro-equality voters make our voices heard and ensure our votes shape who represents us and what policies they champion.”

“We live in the most important political real estate in the country and pro-equality voters are positioned to make the difference between a state that will be won or lost by 100,000 votes,” he added. “In 2020 we’re going to leave it all on the field.” 

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Pérez and Earl Fowlkes, who chairs the DNC’s LGBTQ Caucus, on Friday issued a statement that acknowledged the massacre’s fourth anniversary.

Trump in the days after the massacre reiterated his calls that the U.S. should temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country. Pérez and Fowlkes in their statement said Trump “took advantage of the tragedy at Pulse to attack immigrants and Muslims, as he has continued to throughout his presidency.”

“Instead of advocating for commonsense gun reform or equal rights, he sought to divide Americans during a crisis — as he has during today’s twin public health crises of coronavirus and systemic racism,” added Pérez and Fowlkes. “Throughout his presidency, Trump has uprooted LGBTQ+ rights, attacked our access to health care, separated families, and fanned the flames of bigotry and hate. We need Joe Biden as president to unite Americans and continue our long march toward a more equal country.”

White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere in a statement to the Blade acknowledged the massacre’s anniversary.

“The horrible attack on the LGBT community at the Pulse nightclub four years ago is just one of many reasons why President Trump has made it a top priority to root out radical Islamic extremists wherever they hide,” said Deere. “As the president has said, we will never forget the 49 individuals who were senselessly murdered that night.” 

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Federal Government

State Department to issue passports with ‘X’ gender marker

Special LGBTQ rights envoy celebrates ‘significant step’

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(Public domain photo)

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Wednesday is expected to issue the first U.S. passport with an “X” gender marker.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad, on Tuesday told the Los Angeles Blade and the Associated Press during a conference call the State Department will initially issue a gender-neutral passport to one person.

Stern said the State Department will begin “offering the ‘X’ gender marker option to routine passport applicants” in early 2022. A State Department official said the delay is necessary because the U.S. Office of Management and Budget needs to approve “the required form updates.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in June announced the State Department will allow passport applicants to “self-select their gender as ‘M’ or ‘F'”

People who identify as intersex, non-binary or gender non-conforming can choose a gender-neutral gender marker for their passports and Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a document that confirms an American who was born overseas is a U.S. citizen. The new policy that Blinken announced in June no longer requires “medical certification if an applicant’s self-selected gender does not match the gender on their other citizenship or identity documents.”

“Offering a third gender marker is a significant step towards ensuring that our administrative systems account for the diversity of gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics,” said Stern during the conference call. “Because people do not always fit within a male or a female designation, it doesn’t benefit anyone to have inconsistencies between people and systems.”

Stern added passports with an “X” gender marker will “reflect the true gender of the passport holder and make people safer, hopefully by reducing the likelihood of dehumanizing harassment and mistreatment that so often happens at border crossings when a person’s legal documentation does not correspond with their gender expression.”

“When a person obtains identity documents that reflect their true identity, they live with greater dignity and respect,” said Stern.

The State Department’s announcement comes a day after it publicly acknowledged Intersex Awareness Day, which commemorates the world’s first-ever intersex rights protect that took place in Boston in 1996.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. The State Department official with whom the Blade spoke on Tuesday declined to say whether Zzyym is the first person who will receive a gender-neutral passport in the U.S.

“The department does not generally comment on individual passport applications due to privacy considerations,” said the official.

Lambda Legal, which represents Zzyym, in a press release said their client on Wednesday received a passport with an “X” gender marker.

“I almost burst into tears when I opened the envelope, pulled out my new passport, and saw the ‘X’ stamped boldly under ‘sex,’” said Zzyym in the press release. “I’m also ecstatic that other intersex and non-binary U.S. citizens will soon be able to apply for passports with the correct gender marker. It took six years, but to have an accurate passport, one that doesn’t force me to identify as male or female but recognizes I am neither, is liberating.”

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad. (Photo courtesy of OutRight Action International)

President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

The White House in June named Stern, who had previously been the executive director of OutRight Action International, a global LGBTQ advocacy group, to her position. Stern said the issuance of passports with “X” gender markers demonstrates the Biden administration’s commitment to LGBTQ rights.

“I am proud that the United States seeks to protect and promote the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons globally and this is an excellent example of leading by example,” said Stern.

Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina are among the handful of other countries that issue gender-neutral passports.

The State Department official said their colleagues have “been coordinating with Canada and New Zealand on best practices as we work towards this goal, based on their experiences.” They said the State Department has also “coordinated with several LGBTQI+ organizations, both directly and through the White House Domestic Policy Council, throughout this process.”

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Federal Government

State Department publicly acknowledges Intersex Awareness Day

Special LGBTQ rights envoy moderated activist roundtable

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State Department (public domain photo)

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Tuesday acknowledged the annual Intersex Awareness Day.

“We proudly recognize the voices and human rights of intersex people around the world,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement. “The Department of State is committed to promoting and protecting the rights, dignity, and equality of all individuals, including intersex persons.”

Price in his statement said U.S. foreign policy seeks to “pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics, while acknowledging the intersections with disability, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or other status.” Price also acknowledged intersex people “are subject to violence, discrimination, and abuse on the basis of their sex characteristics” and “many intersex persons, including children, experience invasive, unnecessary, and sometimes irreversible medical procedures.” 

“The department supports the empowerment of movements and organizations advancing the human rights of intersex persons and the inclusion of intersex persons in the development of policies that impact their enjoyment of human rights,” he said.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad, on Tuesday moderated a virtual panel with intersex activists from around the world.

Intersex Awareness Day commemorates the world’s first-ever intersex protest that took place in Boston on Oct. 26, 1996.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with their sex listed as “X.” The State Department in June announced it would begin to issue gender-neutral passports and documents for American citizens who were born overseas.

The U.S. and more than 50 other countries earlier this month signed a statement that urges the U.N. Human Rights Council to protect the rights of intersex people.

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Ohio

Ohio high school cancels play with Gay character after Pastor complains

The School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month until the play was canceled

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Hillsboro High School (Screenshot via Cincinnati ABC affiliate WCPO-TV)

HILLSBORO, Oh. — A Southwest Ohio high school’s play was abruptly canceled after Jeff Lyle, a local pastor from Good News Gathering, complained of a gay character. 

Hillsboro High School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month, until students learned the play would be canceled last week, reports Cincinnati’s ABC affiliate WCPO

The story follows a high school senior as she learns about her late sister’s life. It is implied throughout the play that her sister is gay, according to the news station.

The play’s cancellation comes a week after Lyle, a long-time voice of the anti-LGBTQ+ religious-right in Ohio, and a group of parents confronted the production’s directors at a meeting, according to Cincinnati CBS affiliate Local 12. Lyle denies pressuring school officials, but tells WCPO he supports the decision.

“From a Biblical worldview this play is inappropriate for a number of reasons, e.g. sexual innuendo, implied sexual activity between unmarried persons, repeated use of foul language including taking the Lord’s name in vain,” Lyle said. 

Some families say they believe Lyle did influence the school’s decision. 

“I think that’s wrong,” Jon Polstra, a father of one of the actors, told WCPO. “All they would have had to do if they objected to something in the play was not go to the play.”

In a statement to Local 12, Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Tim Davis said the play was canceled because it “was not appropriate for our K-12 audience.”

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that the school planned to perform a version intended for audiences as young as 11 years old. 

Students were “devastated” and “blindsided” by the news, according to WCPO. 

“It felt like we had just been told, ‘Screw off and your lives don’t matter,'” Christopher Cronan, a Hillsboro High student, said. “I am openly bisexual in that school and I have faced a lot of homophobia there, but I never expected them to cancel a play for a fictional character.”

Cronan’s father, Ryan, also voiced his frustration. 

“They want to say the town is just not ready, but how are you not ready? It’s 2021,” Ryan Cronan said.

Students have started a GoFundMe in hopes of putting on the production at a community theater in 2022.

“If we do raise enough money, I am going to be genuinely happy for a very long time, because that means people do care,” Cronan told WCPO.

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