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Brian Sims accused of threatening fellow Pa. lawmaker

Gay official said to be outraged that GOP colleague introduced LGBTQ bill

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Brian Sims, gay news, Washington Blade

Police are investigating a report that Brian Sims threatened a GOP colleague. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) is under investigation by local police for making “veiled and direct threats” against a Republican lawmaker during a heated phone conversation on Monday night, Aug. 3, according to the alleged target of the threats.

Republican state Rep. Thomas Murt, who represents a district along the border of Philadelphia and a suburban county, told the Washington Blade that Sims appears to have become irate when he learned that Murt sent a memo that same day to fellow lawmakers asking them to co-sponsor an “LGBTQ+ Bill of Rights.” Murt said he and three fellow lawmakers plan to co-introduce the bill in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives after making a few last minute “tweaks” to the legislation.

“He made veiled and direct threats to me, to my staff, to my constituents,” Murt told the Blade in an interview. “You know what he did is possible criminal behavior. And it’s being investigated now by law enforcement,” Murt said.

Neither Sims nor a spokesperson from his legislative office in the state capital in Harrisburg responded to a call from the Blade seeking to obtain Sims’ version of the alleged threats that Murt says he made. Sims is one of the state’s first openly gay elected officials.

The Blade contacted the police department at Upper Moreland Township, which Murt said he contacted shortly after Sims allegedly threated him to report the incident. An operator answering the phone referred the Blade to the direct number of the department’s Chief of Police, Andrew Block. Block didn’t immediately return the call.

In a statement released by his office on Aug. 4 Murt said that in the recent past, he and Sims have been “gracious colleagues and friends.” According to Murt, on Aug. 3 Sims sent him a text message that was “angry, enraged and wrathful, accusing me of treating LGBTQ+ rights as a ‘joke or a football.’”
Murt said in the statement that he immediately called Sims to find out what he was upset about.

“He answered my call and he directly launched a verbal, hostile and threatening attack on me personally, using foul language, screaming at me, and stating that (in this order): ‘I will ruin you.’ ‘You are finished.’ ‘I will get you for this.’ ‘I’m not done with you.’”

As if that were not enough, Murt said, “His language was so loud and profane, my wife heard every word coming through the telephone. His language was so vitriolic I walked outside with the telephone so my family would not hear his obscene language and his repeated use of the f-word,” Murt said.

After ending the call Murt said he called the Upper Moreland Township Police Department and an officer later visited his home. “I spoke to an officer about what happened. I expressed to the officer that based on the actions and threats made by Rep. Sims, I was very concerned for the safety of me, my family and my staff,” he said.

Sims did not directly say why he was angry, Murt says in his Aug. 4 statement. “I could only suspect that it might be about a co-sponsor memo I circulated earlier that day” seeking co-sponsors for his planned LGBTQ rights bill, Murt notes in his statement. “In the past, Rep. Sims and I have worked together on LGBTQ+ issues, so I was not sure why he would have been so enraged about this particular bill.”

The Capital Star, the daily newspaper in Harrisburg, and the Philadelphia Gay News, which reports on LGBTQ news in Pennsylvania, each published a story about what they described as Sims’ “belligerent” phone conversation with Murt. The two papers said Sims did not respond to their requests for comment.

But the papers quoted from a Twitter message they reported that Sims posted before he deleted the post a short time later.

“Lol in my entire life I’ve never said these things to Tom or anyone else,” the two papers quoted the post as saying. “I did make it abundantly clear to him that killing the effort to advance LGBTQ legislation in Pennsylvania with his weird campaign effort is something that I’d make sure advocates knew about. And they do.”

Sims alluded to his apparent opposition to Murt’s plan to introduce an LGBTQ rights bill in an Aug. 6 op-ed commentary he wrote for the LGBTQ news magazine The Advocate. Entitled the “Dangers of Performative Allyship,” the op-ed warns that Republican members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly “have often attempted during election years to portray themselves as moderates rather than the conservative, anti-civil rights advocates they truly are.”

Sims argues in his op-ed that Republicans have retained control of both houses of the state’s General Assembly due to a “gerrymandered” electoral system in Pennsylvania in which there are nearly a million more registered Democrats in the state than Republicans. He said Republicans manage to retain control of the legislature by tricking voters into thinking they are far more “moderate” than they are by, among other things, introducing progressive legislation at the end of the legislative session during election years, knowing the legislation doesn’t have a chance to pass.

Sims makes no direct mention in his op-ed of GOP representative Murt and Murt’s plan to introduce an LGBTQ rights bill. But the op-ed implies that Murt’s effort is an insincere ploy to dupe voters, including LGBTQ voters, into thinking Republicans are supportive of LGBTQ equality.

“So, I ask everyone who believes in equality, to keep a close eye on the false efforts, and the false support, we’re going to see these next few months,” Sims wrote in his op-ed. “…[T]hey are not an ally, they are an opportunist.”

Longtime LGBTQ rights advocate Mark Segal, the editor and publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, wrote his own commentary about the Sims development in an Aug. 6 op-ed that disputes Sims’ suggestion that Murt is not a true LGBTQ rights supporter.

“State Rep. Brian Sims, to put it politely, lost his temper with State Rep. Tom Murt this week,” Segal wrote. “Murt has been a strong LGBT ally for years, not just in election years,” Segal states. “This is not the first such outburst from Sims, but while he might claim that other outbursts were directed at those who do not support our rights, this time it was aimed at an ally, someone who has consistently been in our corner.”

Segal goes on to dispute what he says is Sims’ claim that Murt’s motive for introducing the LGBTQ rights legislation was to advance the cause of fellow Republicans and himself and that the effort would ultimately hurt efforts to pass LGBTQ rights legislation. Segal notes that Murt is not running for re-election this year, so introducing an LGBTQ bill couldn’t be aimed at advancing his own re-election.

“How does a pro-LGBTQ bill kill the effort to advance LGBTQ legislation?” Segal asks in his op-ed.

“With Sims’ failure to deliver LGBTQ non-discrimination legislation in his eight years in office, you’d think he’d support any positive LGBTQ movement in Harrisburg,” Segal wrote. “Or is it because his name was not front and center this time?”

Another possible reason for Sims’ opposition to the LGBTQ rights bill Murt plans to introduce, Segal says in his op-ed, is that Sims is supporting the Democratic candidate running against one of the Republican co-sponsors of Murt’s bill in the upcoming election.

“That indeed would be playing political football with our rights,” Segal wrote. “And the one doing it is Sims. He is putting politics before LGBTQ legislation”

Segal adds in his op-ed that Sims goes one step further by calling on fellow Democrats not to sign on as co-sponsors of the LGBTQ rights bill that Murt will be introducing, an action, Segal wrote, that could hurt efforts to build bipartisan allies to support LGBTQ rights legislation.

Murt, meanwhile, said Sims appears to be implying that Republicans can’t be trusted to support LGBTQ rights legislation.

“This is an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to work together on these issues,” Murt said. “And I’m sorry that he’s attempting to make a political donnybrook out of it because these are people of good will on both sides of the aisle that care about these issues.”

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Vigil held after Wilton Manors Pride parade accident

Fort Lauderdale mayor expressed ‘regret’ over initial terrorism claim

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A vigil in the wake of the accident at the Stonewall Pride Parade took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — More than 100 people on Sunday attended a prayer vigil in the wake of an accident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

The vigil took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.

Clergy joined activists and local officials at a vigil at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

A 77-year-old man who was driving a pickup truck struck two men near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday. One of the victims died a short time later at a Fort Lauderdale hospital.

The pickup truck narrowly missed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade, and Florida Congressman Ted Deutch.

The driver of the pickup truck and the two men he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday described the incident as a “fatal traffic crash” and not a terrorism incident as Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially claimed.

“As we were about to begin the parade, this pickup truck, this jacked up white pickup truck, dashed across, breaking through the line, hitting people, all of us that were there could not believe our eyes,” said Trantalis as he spoke at the vigil.

Trantalis noted the pickup truck nearly hit Wasserman Schultz. He also referenced the arrest of a 20-year-old supporter of former President Trump earlier in the week after he allegedly vandalized a Pride flag mural that had been painted in an intersection in Delray Beach, which is roughly 30 miles north of Fort Lauderdale.

“I immediately knew that something terrible was happening,” said Trantalis, referring to the Stonewall Pride Parade accident. “My visceral reaction was that we were being attacked. Why not? Why not feel that way?”

“I guess I should watch to make sure there are no reporters standing by when I have those feelings, but that was my first reaction and I regret the fact that I said it was a terrorist attack because we found out that it was not, but I don’t regret my feelings,” he added. “But I don’t regret that I felt terrorized by someone who plowed through the crowd inches away from the congresswoman and the congressman, myself and others.”

Trantalis also told vigil attendees that “I guess we forgive” the pickup truck driver.

“But I regret that his consequences resulted in the death of an individual who was innocent and who was there to have a good time, like the rest of us, and I regret there is a man who is in serious condition … fighting for his life and there,” added Trantalis.

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Veterans Affairs to provide gender-confirmation surgery reversing 2013 ban

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and expand access to care for transgender veterans

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The new Orlando VA Medical Center at Lake Nona (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs )

ORLANDO – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced his Department is moving to provide gender-confirmation surgery through its health care coverage reversing a 2013 ban on those surgical procedures.

Speaking at a Pride Month event at the Orlando VA Healthcare System Saturday, McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

The process to roll-back the restrictions may take upwards of two years. The federal rulemaking process, expected to begin this summer, will include a period for public comment, spokesman Terrence Hayes told The Washington Post on Saturday.

“This time will allow VA to develop capacity to meet the surgical needs that transgender veterans have called for and deserved for a long time,” McDonough said in his remarks. “and I am proud to begin the process of delivering it,” he added.

On February 8, 2013, the VA issued a directive that stated that the VA Healthcare System does not provide sex reassignment surgery. This directive sought to clarify a previous VA directive issued June 9, 2011, “Providing Healthcare for Transgender and Intersex Veterans,” which established the provision of hormone therapy, gender-related mental health counseling, and other transition-related services through the VA, as well as a mandate that the VA health system provides care “without discrimination and in a manner … consistent with the Veteran’s self-identified gender.”

“This directive, however, does not include coverage of surgical procedures although the VA does provide transgender veterans with pre- and postoperative care.”

The outcome was that the directive(s) effectively prevented transgender veterans from a surgery considered medically necessary by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

38 CFR § 17.38 Medical benefits package, is the specific federal code that makes provisions for veterans healthcare, which Section (b) clearly defines as; “Care referred to in the “medical benefits package” will be provided to individuals only if it is determined by appropriate health care professionals that the care is needed to promote, preserve, or restore the health of the individual and is in accord with generally accepted standards of medical practice.”

However, 38 CFR § 17.38 does limit care for transgender veteran’s stating: “(c) In addition to the care specifically excluded from the “medical benefits package” under paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section, the “medical benefits package” does not include the following: […] ‘(4) Gender alterations.'”

McDonough noted that changes “will require changing VA’s regulations and establishing policy that will ensure the equitable treatment and safety” of all transgender veterans.

“There are several steps to take, which will take time. But we are moving ahead, methodically, because we want this important change in policy to be implemented in a manner that has been thoroughly considered to ensure that the services made available to veterans meet VA’s rigorous standards for quality health care.”

In a study related to the 2011 and 2013 directives, the VA noted that research showed that the transgender population in general experiences severe physical and mental health disparities, compared to the cisgender population, including high rates of HIV, suicidality, depression, anxiety, and mental health-related hospitalization.

Studies have found that these disparities are even more glaring among transgender veterans. In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

U. S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-CA, who is openly gay, issued a statement applauding McDonough’s actions.

“Veterans in need of gender confirmation surgery should not have to seek healthcare outside of the VA health system or navigate complicated processes to get the care they need,” Takano said. “VA must be inclusive of all veterans who have served, regardless of their identity.”

The Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Jon Tester, D-MT also approved of the expansion of health care offerings for trans veterans.

“Every service member and veteran deserves equal access to quality care from VA, and this includes our LGBTQ+ veterans,” Tester said in a statement. “We must reaffirm our commitment to making VA a more welcoming place for everyone who fought to protect our freedoms.”

Gina Duncan, director of transgender equality for the statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization Equality Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel that her agency was “thrilled to have allies at the highest level of government” and noted the contrast with recent moves by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis to limit transgender youth participation in school sports.

“In a moment of fierce state and local backlash against the transgender community, this move by the Biden Administration is a reminder that elections matter,” Duncan said. “Support for transgender veterans and the lifesaving healthcare they need to live authentically is a critical component to fulfilling our nation’s promise of caring for those who’ve served.”

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)
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Police describe Wilton Manors Pride incident as ‘fatal traffic crash’

Pickup truck driver identified as 77-year-old man

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A screenshot from a video taken at the scene by Joey Spears. (Image courtesy of @pinto_spears, via Twitter.) Screenshot used with permission from South Florida Gay News.

WILTON MANORS, Fla. — The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday released additional information about an incident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

A press release notes a 77-year-old man who was “a participant who had ailments preventing him from walking the duration of the parade and was selected to drive as the lead vehicle” was behind the wheel of a 2011 white Dodge Ram pickup truck that struck the two people near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday.

“As the vehicle began to move forward in anticipation for the start of the parade, the vehicle accelerated unexpectedly, striking two pedestrians,” reads the press release. “After striking the pedestrians, the driver continued across all lanes of traffic, ultimately crashing into the fence of a business on the west side of the street.”

“The driver remained on scene and has been cooperative with investigators for the duration of the investigation,” further notes the press release. “A DUI investigation of the driver was conducted on scene and showed no signs of impairment.”

The press release confirms the driver and the two people he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus.

Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue transported both victims to Broward Health Medical Center “with serious injuries.” The press release notes one of the victims died shortly after he arrived at the hospital.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department, which is leading the investigation, has not publicly identified the victims and the driver, but the press release describes the incident as a “fatal traffic crash.” The press release notes the second victim remains hospitalized at Broward Health Medical Center, but “is expected to survive.”

“While no arrests have been made, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department continues to investigate this incident and will not be releasing the names of the involved parties due to the status of the investigation,” says the press release. “The Fort Lauderdale Police Department asks anyone who may have witnessed this incident, who has not already spoken to investigators, to contact Traffic Homicide Investigator Paul Williams at (954) 828-5755.”

The pickup truck narrowly avoided U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade. Florida Congressman Ted Deutch was also nearby.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tragic accident that occurred when the Stonewall Pride Parade was just getting started,” said Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus President Justin Knight in a statement he issued after the incident. “Our fellow chorus members were those injured and the driver was also part of the chorus family.”

“To my knowledge, this was not an attack on the LGBTQ community,” added Knight. “We anticipate more details to follow and ask for the community’s love and support.”

Fort Lauderdale mayor initially described incident as anti-LGBTQ ‘terrorist attack’

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially described the incident as “a terrorist attack against the LGBT community,” without any official confirmation. Detective Ali Adamson of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Saturday confirmed to reporters that investigators are “working with” the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but stressed the “investigation is active and we are considering and evaluating all possibilities.”

“Last evening, at the start of what was to be a celebration of pride for the LGBT community and commemoration of our hard-won victories for equality, our community faced the worst of tragedies. The grief of our LGBT community — and greater Fort Lauderdale as a whole — is palpable,” said Trantalis on Sunday in a statement he posted to his Facebook page.

“I was an eyewitness to the horrifying events. It terrorized me and all around me. I reported what I saw to law enforcement and had strong concerns about what transpired — concerns for the safety of my community. I feared it could be intentional based on what I saw from mere feet away,” he added.

Trantalis added “law enforcement took what appeared obvious to me and others nearby and investigated further — as is their job.”

“As the facts continue to be pieced together, a picture is emerging of an accident in which a truck careened out of control,” he said. “As a result, one man died, two others were injured and the lives of two members of Congress were at risk. My heart breaks for all impacted by this tragedy.”

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