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Belarus LGBTQ activist joins anti-government protests

Vika Biran returned to country after disputed election

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Vika Biran is a Belorusian LGBTQ activist who is participating in protests against her country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, after this month’s disputed election. (Photo courtesy of Vika Biran)

An LGBTQ activist in Belarus on Monday said she remains optimistic that nationwide protests will ultimately oust her country’s authoritarian president.

Vika Biran is originally from Pinsk, a city in southern Belarus that is roughly 180 miles from Minsk, the country’s capital.

Biran, who is a project manager, told the Los Angeles Blade she flew from Berlin to Minsk on Aug 12, three days after President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in the country’s presidential election. Biran said she decided to return to Belarus and participate in the anti-government protests after police arrested and beat several of her friends.

“I want to support them and I want to be in this movement as well,” Biran told the Blade.

Biran said she has not been detained, attacked or injured during the protests. Biran told the Blade the worst of the police crackdown against protesters took place before she arrived in Minsk.

“I was really surprised when I was on the main square,” said Biran. “I was sitting in front of soldiers, and their commanders were not informing people that people will be beaten soon … they said just please leave this square clean.”

“That was really surprising,” added Biran. “I was happy and nothing terrible happened to me.”

Belarus is a former Soviet republic that borders Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Lukashenko — described as Europe’s “last dictator” — has been Belarus’ president since 1994. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate who challenged Lukashenko after authorities arrested her husband, fled to Lithuania after the Aug. 9 vote.  

Media reports indicate Lukashenko over the weekend spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Associated Press reported upwards of 200,000 people gathered in Minsk’s Independence Square for what has been described as the largest protest in Belarusian history.

Journalists at state media outlets and workers at government-owned factories have also joined strikes against Lukashenko.

“These events that are happening in Belarus are really unique,” Biran told the Blade. “We have never had anything like that happening before.”

Biran added the protests make her hopeful about her country’s future.

“I don’t want Lukashenka to be president anymore,” said Biran. “I have hope because not only cultural workers or people from NGOs are disappointed and want to show their reaction to everything; but … people from factories, teachers, medical workers, all those people who are receiving their money from the (state) budget are also not happy with what is happening in the country.”

Lukashenko’s last name is spelled Lukashenka in Belarusian.

Belorusian troops deployed in the country’s capital of Minsk. (Photo courtesy of Vika Biran)

European Union Foreign Affairs Minister Josep Borrell in a statement noted hundreds of thousands of people “took to the streets all across Belarus” on Sunday to protest Lukashenko.

“These peaceful demonstrations had clear demands: The release of all unlawfully detained people, the prosecution of those responsible for police brutality, and holding of new presidential elections,” said Borrell.

“The sheer numbers clearly show that the Belarusian population wants change, and wants it now,” he added. “The EU stands by them.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an Aug. 10 statement described the vote as “not free and fair.” Pompeo also criticized the Belarusian government’s response to protesters.

“We urge the Belarusian government to respect the rights of all Belarusians to participate in peaceful assembly, refrain from use of force, and release those wrongfully detained,” he said. “We strongly condemn ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters, as well as the use of internet shutdowns to hinder the ability of the Belarusian people to share information about the election and the demonstrations.” 

Biran told the Blade she hopes the international community will continue to apply pressure to Lukashenko and his government.

“We really do need a reaction from different countries and different politicians who are making decisions and who can put economic pressure on this government,” said Biran.

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Southern California

Enjoy as a tradition returns this year with July 4 fireworks displays

Here are the places hosting firework shows around Southern California, organized by each county in the region:

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Screenshot/YouTube

LOS ANGELES – (KABC 7) Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last two years looked a little different on the Fourth of July weekend. This year, events are back in full force.

Here are the places hosting firework shows around Southern California, organized by each county in the region:

Los Angeles County

Burbank
Starlight Bowl, 1249 Lockheed View Dr., Burbank
Festivities from 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.
starlightbowl.com

Glendale
Jewel City Sparkles Fireworks show in downtown Glendale.
Centered near Harvard St and Brand Blvd.
Fireworks show will begin at 9 p.m.
For information, call (818)548-2792.
glendaleca.gov

La Crescenta
Crescenta Valley High School, 2900 Community Ave.
Show begins at 9:30 p.m.
cvfireworks.com

Long Beach
Fireworks over Queensway Bay
Begins at 9 p.m.
visitlongbeach.com

Hollywood Bowl
This year the Hollywood Bowl is having three nights of Fourth of July traditions.
Thomas Wilkin and the Los Angeles Philharmonic are performing a program of favorites alongside Steve Martin and Martin Short.
First night of festivities is July 2.
The last night will be on the Fourth of July.
Gate opens at 5:30 p.m.
Show begins at 7:30 p.m.
hollywoodbowl.com

Marina del Rey
Fireworks can be seen at Burton Chace Park or Fisherman’s Village
Event begins at 9 p.m. and is a 20-minute show.
visitmdr.com

Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena
The annual AmericaFest is recognized as one of the nation’s largest and longest running shows celebrating the Fourth of July.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
The event starts at 7 p.m.
Tickets are available and start at $20.
visitpasadena.com

Santa Clarita
Spirit of America Fireworks Spectacular at Westfield Valencia Town Center.
Begins at 9:20 p.m.
santa-clarita.com

Santa Fe Springs
Annual independence day celebration and firework spectacular at Los Nietos Park.
11143 Charlesworth Rd.
Sunday July 3, festivities start at 4:30 p.m. with the fireworks show at 9 p.m.
santafesprings.org

South Gate
Fireworks show at South Gate Park
Show starts at 9 p.m.
cityofsouthgate.org

Woodland Hills
The July Fourth extravaganza is at Warner Center Park and starts off with a free concert and festivities everyone can enjoy.
5800 Topanga Canyon Blvd
It goes from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
The fireworks show is 15 minutes long.
valleycultural.org

Lancaster
The July Fourth extravaganza is at the Antelope Valley Fair & Event Center and will feature live entertainment, summer games and competitions.
2551 W Ave H
cityoflancasterca.org

Riverside County

Corona – Santana Park
The city of Corona invites the community to the Main Street USA Independence Day Parade. Corona’s Main Street USA Independence Day Parade is a non-competitive parade which provides entertainment, community spirit and fun for all to enjoy. Drawing 4,000+ families, friends, and neighbors, the parade takes place on Main Street from Ontario Avenue to Olive Street.
Parade begins at 9 a.m.
Live entertainment starts at 5 p.m. at Santana Park.
The fireworks celebration will occur at sundown.
coronaca.gov

Riverside
The city of Riverside Pparks
The city’s free event displays an array of fireworks at two separate locations which include La Sierra Park (5215 La Sierra Ave.) and Ryan Bonaminio Park (5000 Tequesquite Ave). Participants are encouraged to bring their own blankets and refreshments. Access will not be permitted in La Sierra and Carlson Dog Park all day on Sunday, July 4 after 7 a.m.
Show begins at 9 p.m.
riversideca.gov

Orange County

Huntington Beach
The city of Huntington Beach welcomes back the 118th Annual 4th of July parade after two years of the event not taking place due to COVID regulations.
The parade starts at 10 a.m.
Closing out the festivities will be a fireworks show at the Huntington Beach Pier.
The show starts at 9 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit hb4thofjuly.org

City of Orange
Grijalva Park, 368 North Prospect St., hosts a family event on Sunday July 3.
The event starts at 4 p.m., and there will be plenty of interactive activities for kids.
Local nonprofits host food trucks. Around 8 p.m. the Orange Community Master Chorale performs with the grand finale patriotic fireworks happening around 8:45 p.m.
cityoforange.org

Newport Beach
Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort, 1131 Back Bay Drive, hosts family events from July 1 to July 4.
Family-friendly events on July 1-3 begin at 10:00 a.m. while July 4’s events begin at 12:00 p.m.
Monday’s firework show begins at 9:00 p.m.
newportdunes.com/event

Los Alamitos
The cities of Los Alamitos and Seal Beach will host the 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base.
This year, bring your lawn chairs and your blankets for the traditional event setup.
Gates will open at 4 p.m. and close at 8:45 p.m.
The fireworks show will begin at 9 p.m.
cityoflosalamitos.org

Mission Viejo
The Mission Viejo Activities Committee will hold the Annual Street Faire and Fireworks Spectacular on Olympiad between Marguerite and Melinda.
Festivities start at noon, with plenty of food, activities for kids and live entertainment.
Admission is free with tickets being sold for games and rides.
Parking will be available around surrounding streets but the Marty Russo Youth Athletic Field parking lot is closed will be closed to the public on the 4th of July
The show begins at 9 p.m.
mvactivities.com

San Bernardino County

Big Bear Lake
Fireworks spectacular at Big Bear Lake.
Show time begins between 8:45-9:15 PM, runs approximately 30-40 mins, and is free to spectators.
For more information check here:
bigbear.com

City of Upland
Light up the Night fireworks show on Monday July 4.
Gates open at 5:30 p.m.
Show begins at 9 p.m.
Tickets are on sale now and are $12 at the gate.uplandca.gov

City of Victorville
The city of Victorville will host the annual fireworks show on Monday, July 4.
The event will be located at the Victorville Fairgrounds.
Gates open at 4 p.m. and the fireworks show is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. For further information, call Hook Community Center at (760) 245-5551.victorvilleca.gov

Lake Arrowhead
The Arrowhead Lake Association’s 2022 Lake Arrowhead Fireworks show will be on Sunday, July 3.
Show begins at 9 p.m.
lakearrowheadchamber.com

Apple Valley Fireworks
Lenny Brewster Sports Center, 21024 Otoe Rd.
Festivities from 2 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Show begins at 9 p.m.
applevalley.org

Fontana
Fontana’s Fourth of July Celebration
Miller Park Amphitheater, 17004 Arrow Rd
There will be music, food, novelty vendors and of course, fireworks.
fontana.org

Ventura County

Thousand Oaks
The 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular takes place on the hill behind the Hillcrest Center of the Arts in Thousand Oaks.
Fireworks start at 9 p.m.
conejovalleyguide.com

Westlake Village
The city of Westlake Village presents its 6th Annual Fireworks Spectacular Show from the Westlake Village Golf Course.
4812 Lakeview Canyon Road
There will be family-friendly activities.
Event begins at 5 p.m.
Show will be at 9:10 p.m.
wlv.org

Moorpark
3rd of July Fireworks Extravaganza is going to be at Arroyo Vista Community Park.
Fireworks show starts at 9 p.m.
Tickets are on sale now.
moorparkca.gov

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The White House

White House, Don’t Say Gay law: “This is discrimination, plain and simple”

“State officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves”

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (The White House)

WASHINGTON – The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement Friday as Florida’s notorious ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law took effect, saying “[…] state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.”

President Biden also tweeted about the law prior to leaving for Camp David to spend the July 4th holiday weekend, calling the law “the latest attempt by Republicans in state houses to target LGBTQI+ students, teachers, and families.”

In her statement, Jean-Pierre said:

“Today, some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families are more fearful and less free. As the state’s shameful “Don’t Say Gay” law takes effect, state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.

“Already, there have been reports that “Safe Space” stickers are being taken down from classrooms. Teachers are being instructed not to wear rainbow clothing. LGBTQI+ teachers are being told to take down family photos of their husbands and wives—cherished family photos like the ones on my own desk.

“This is not an issue of “parents’ rights.” This is discrimination, plain and simple. It’s part of a disturbing and dangerous nationwide trend of right-wing politicians cynically targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals to score political points.

“It encourages bullying and threatens students’ mental health, physical safety, and well-being. It censors dedicated teachers and educators who want to do the right thing and support their students. And it must stop.

“President Biden has been very clear that every student deserves to feel safe and welcome in the classroom.

“The Department of Education will be monitoring this law, and any student or parent who believes they are experiencing discrimination is encouraged to file a complaint with the Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

“Our Administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family—in Florida and around the country.”

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Florida

Florida county’s school policy critics say “essentially targets LGBTQ+ kids”

“Sending out a parent notification could be seen as placing a target on a student’s back,” said Lauren Kelly-Manders, a Tallahassee resident

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Screenshot/YouTube students in a classroom generic news coverage

TALLAHASSEE – The Leon County School Board this week unanimously approved its “LGBTQ Inclusive School Guide” after a rancorous and at times heated debate Tuesday. At the heart of the new policy are guidelines that critics charge will harm LGBTQ+ youth in the school system.

The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reported what drew the most debate was a provision that a school will notify parents — by form — if a student who is “open about their gender identity” is in a physical education class or on an overnight trip. 

Some teachers and students during the Tuesday night meeting said the policy will “out” LGBTQ+ students — revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity without their permission. 

While the policy language does explicitly say a student’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression “should not be shared with others without their input and permission,”  advocacy groups and activists claim that in “real world” application the policy’s danger to Outing LGBTQ+ kids remains regardless.

Los Angeles-based writer and actor Benjamin Siemon took to Twitter angrily noting that the policy “essentially paints these children as sex offenders that require warnings.”

Supporters of the school board’s new policy included the Leon County chapter of Mom’s for Liberty, a national far-right anti-LGBTQ+ activist group which has sought to ban LGBTQ+ books and curriculum nationwide. But the sticking point for the group is the provision doesn’t go far enough.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Sharyn Kerwin, head of the Leon County chapter of Mom’s for Liberty and who also served on the advisory committee to the School board as it crafted the new policy, told board members and the audience Tuesday: “Any attempt to withhold information from a parent or try to influence a child in a knowing way is against Florida law.”

Kerwin and other parents argued that the Parental Rights in Education bill, HB 1557, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law requires school administrators to notify parents and many in the audience Tuesday citing biblical verses maintained discussions about sexual orientation have no place in schools.

Opponents charge that this policy will effectively weaponize bigotry and target LGBTQ+ kids, especially trans youth.

Critics of the notification policy say the district’s language is equating “gender identity” with LGBTQ sexuality. They note that even someone who is “straight” expresses themselves via their clothing choices or appearance and can be “open about their gender identity,” the Tallahassee Democrat noted.

“Sending out a parent notification could be seen as placing a target on a student’s back,” said Lauren Kelly-Manders, a Tallahassee resident. 

In the end, even with the policy approved, none were happy with the outcome as one side claiming not enough consideration was given to parental rights and opponents charging this will simply increase bullying of LGBTQ+ kids.

“Normally when we have something on the agenda, we have a group that’s for, and a group that’s against,” school board Vice Chair Alva Striplin noted adding, “Well, tonight we had everyone against.”

The school board voted to approve the guide unanimously 4-0.  According to the Tallahassee Democrat school board members will schedule another meeting to revisit the guide in six months to adjust the policy if needed. 

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