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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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Kansas

Federal judge issues mixed ruling in Kansas Trans case

Fort Riley Middle School, located on the sprawling home to the U.S. Army’s First Division, has policies to protect LGBTQ+ students

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Geary County Unified School District 475 (Screenshot/WIBW News 13)

TOPEKA – In a ruling last week, a U. S. District Court allowed the Geary County Unified School District 475, (GCUSD 475) to continue its policy of requiring teachers and staff to respect trans students pronouns and additionally not out them to their parents.

However, Judge Holly Teeter sided with the teacher that brought the lawsuit prohibiting the GCUSD 475 from disciplining her for her refusal to follow policies based on her religious beliefs.

Fort Riley Middle School, located on the Ft. Riley post, the sprawling home to the U.S. Army’s First Division, has a long standing set of policies to protect LGBTQ+ students.

A math teacher Pamela Ricard, sued Geary County Schools over LGBTQ anti-discrimination those policies claiming that those policies conflicted with her Christian beliefs. Ricard was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group for its anti-LGBTQ+ lying and deceptive propaganda.

Teeter, was nominated by former President Donald Trump and on August 1, 2018, the U.S. Senate confirmed her as United States District Court Judge for the District of Kansas.

Topeka Capital-Journal journalist Jason Tidd reported , Teeter issued a preliminary injunction on Monday blocking the school from disciplining Ricard if she reveals preferred names and pronouns of her transgender students when communicating with their parents.

“The Court relies on Plaintiff’s statements that she does not intend to communicate with a parent for the sole purpose of disclosing a student’s preferred name and pronouns,” Teeter wrote.

Ricard has two transgender students in her class, the judge wrote, neither of whom have authorized the district to disclose their preferred names and pronouns to their parents. While Ricard uses their preferred names in class and avoids pronouns, she has emailed parents using a student’s legal name and biological pronouns, the Topeka Capital-Journal noted.

“Plaintiff believes that addressing students one way at school and a different way when speaking to their parents is dishonest,” the opinion states. “Being dishonest violates her sincere religious beliefs.”

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, Teeter, ordered the injunction to remain in place until May 18 or until Ricard’s contractual responsibilities to the district end, whichever comes last. Court records state that Ricard is not returning to work next year at Fort Riley Middle School, after teaching in the district since 2005.

Will Rapp, a statewide organizer for the Kansas chapter of GLSEN, told the Capital-Journal:

“Any effort to force teachers to out students to their guardians is a violation of young people’s privacy and can place vulnerable young people in harm’s way,” Rapp said. “When transgender and nonbinary youth feel unsafe at school, they experience negative impacts not only to their health, but to their academic achievement and likelihood of graduating or moving to higher education opportunities.

“Attempts to forcibly out students also jeopardize educators’ ability to foster trust and create the kind of safe school environment that allows young people to grow and learn without fear of harassment or discrimination.”

 

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The White House

WNBA players back petition for Biden to ‘prioritize’ Brittney Griner’s release

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Russian state TV has released a photo of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was arrested on drug charges in the country after Russian officials say cannabis oil was found in her luggage. (Screenshot)

WASHINGTON — The Women’s National Basketball Players Association has endorsed a petition that urges the Biden administration to “prioritize” WNBA star Brittney Griner’s release.

“It is imperative that the U.S. government immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home quickly and safely,” reads the Change.org petition that Tamryn Spruill, a freelance journalist and author, created.

“The WNBPA and its members proudly join Tamryn Spruill, the creator of this petition, in demanding that lawmakers prioritize Griner’s return,” it continues. “White House and Biden adminsitration, we ask that you take action today—doing whatever is necessary—to bring Brittney Griner home swiftly and safely.”

More than 135,000 people have signed the petition.

Spruill on Saturday in a tweet said the WNBPA, a union that represents WNBA players, partnered with them and Change.org “in demanding that our elected officials work urgently to gain BG’s swift and safe release.”

Griner — a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife — was taken into custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. Russian officials said customs inspectors found hashish oil in her luggage.

The State Department earlier this month determined Russia “wrongfully detained” Griner. A Russian court on Friday extended her detention for another month.

“The Russian system wrongfully detained Ms. Griner,” then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday during her last White House briefing. “We take our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens seriously.  And we will continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for all U.S. citizens when they are subject to legal processes overseas.”
 
“Now, because the State Department recategorized her as wrongfully detained, it means that our Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs — it’s quite a title but a well-deserved one — is going to be overseeing this case and leading the effort,” added Psaki. “Because it’s a deliberative process and we know from experience of bringing other Americans home, we’re just not going to detail what those efforts look like at this point in time.”

Griner faces up to 10 years in prison.

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Politics

Disney donating all profits from pride merch to help LGBTQ+ community

“Disney has a long history of supporting LGBTQ+ organizations & charities- the Pride Collection is showing our support for the community”

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The Disney Pride Collection courtesy of The Walt Disney Company

BURBANK – The Walt Disney Company announced Monday that it is donating all of the profits of its pride merchandise to charities that help the LGBTQ community. The announcement comes over the company’s battles with Florida’s Republican political leadership over the passage of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ measure and more recent government actions that removed the self-governing law over Disney-held properties known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

In a post on the company’s blog, Disney Senior Vice President, Global Marketing Lisa Becket, who identifies a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself wrote:

“Disney has a long history of supporting LGBTQIA+ organizations and charities around the world, including GLSEN in the U.S. This year, we are further deepening our support. We will be donating all of our profits from the Disney Pride Collection sales now through June 30, 2022, to organizations that support LGBTQIA+ youth and families. This includes merchandise from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars.

In the U.S., profits from the collection will benefit GLSEN,  PFLAGThe Trevor ProjectZebra CoalitionLos Angeles LGBT CenterLGBT Center Orange CountySan Francisco LGBT Center and Ali Forney Center. Profits from other regions around the world will continue to support local charities in those countries. You can learn more about these organizations and their incredible, impactful work by visiting TWDCPrideCollection.com

I’m proud to share just a bit about what we are doing for the LGBTQIA+ community and to joyfully celebrate Pride not just for the month of June, but all year-round.”

The Disney Pride Collection courtesy of The Walt Disney Company
The Disney Pride Collection courtesy of The Walt Disney Company

The company also noted:

“The Disney Pride Collection is just one way Disney Parks, Experiences and Products is showing our support for the LGBTQIA+ community during the month of June. There’s plenty to celebrate at our theme parks and resorts, from entertainment and art displays to festive décor, Disney PhotoPass Service photo opportunities, and themed food and beverage offerings. We’ll also be highlighting inspirational and celebratory stories about our guests, cast and community on the Disney Parks Blog and across our social media channels.”

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