Connect with us

National

Transgender activist once again banned from Facebook page

C Rivera has been denied access six times in 2020.

Published

on

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Facebook on Oct. 24 once again disabled a transgender activist’s personal page, following a string of bans this year and prior issues with the platform.

C Rivera, who is from Puerto Rico and identifies as a non-binary trans woman, has had trouble with Facebook since they created their account in 2009. Pedro Julio Serrano, an LGBTQ activist who is also from Puerto Rico, was able to access his page on Oct. 21 after being banned since August. Serrano and Rivera have worked with each other in the past in their advocacy work, as well.

Shortly after Serrano reclaimed his page, Rivera, who spoke with the Los Angeles Blade on their history with bans on the platform, had their page completely disabled because they did not follow Facebook’s “community standards.” The action also cannot be reversed, and Rivera cannot create another account. They did not receive an explanation for the decision to disable their page.

“Digital death is what this means, right? It’s very finite,” they said. “And the attitude of having no process of appeal whatsoever or dialogue—it’s actually surprising.”

Facebook did not respond directly to Rivera’s case, but a spokesperson said hate speech is difficult to accurately detect because of the variability of the act that can be visual, text-based or in different languages.

Rivera has had six bans alone this year, all with varying time limits.

Facebook on Oct. 20 reversed a 30-day ban on their profile. Days later, Facebook completely disabled their page, which Rivera said is rare. They told the Blade that Facebook usually issues bans with an explanation or follow a prolonged ban.

Rivera said this increased censorship is because of their identity. Often, they write back against hate speech directed to them and trans people, which has been the cause of most of the bans, they said. Rivera once posted a screenshot of a transphobic message directed to them and was promptly banned, they said.

Facebook outlines guidelines online, and it recognizes under its “objectionable content” terms that hate speech can be reused in an empowering way. The intent of publication should be “clear,” but it’s unknown what standard Facebook uses to deem a post as “clear.”

“In some cases, words or terms that might otherwise violate our standards are used self-referentially or in an empowering way … we allow the content but expect people to clearly indicate their intent, which helps us better understand why they shared it. Where the intention is unclear, we may remove the content,” the “objectionable content” guidelines read.

Facebook wrote in an email the platform uses both artificial intelligence and human review systems to regulate harmful content. But Rivera said Facebook also bans them and other LGBTQ people who do not “defend themselves.”

Groups that are subject to attack have been banned for “attracting trouble for existing,” they said. The pages and users who incite the attacks are not reviewed to such a degree as LGBTQ pages and users, and the disproportionate censoring could be due to the algorithms and systems in place, they said.

Serrano said this has been an ongoing problem on the platform.

“It’s unfortunate, and it’s clearly a pattern that we’ve been noticing that LGBTQ activists are being censored in some way,” Serrano said. “So we need for Facebook to be an open and free space for people to communicate and to do the activism. That that is so critical to saving lives.”

Losing the activism aspect of the platform is not Rivera’s concern, they said. There are several powerful advocates on Facebook, like Serrano. Their concern and frustration are more on the personal side of not having the means to connect with friends and family, inability to share photos and difficulty accessing outside services set up through their Facebook account. The sentimental aspects they saved to Facebook are now not accessible, such a memorial post they wrote to their father who died in 2015, they said.

“I don’t have access pictures of my cats that I had,” they said. “I had all of those things and I no longer have them.”

Rivera said they’ve had their page disabled once before, in 2015, when they tried to change their name after coming out to some friends and family as trans. Facebook disabled the account pending verification of identification after attempting to change their name. About a week later, their page was restored, but with their deadname.

While using names printed on government identification relates to Facebook’s push for “authenticity,” Rivera said these efforts are inherently transphobic.

Despite their trouble with the platform, Rivera said if their page is granted back to them, they will continue to use the platform to organize, connect with people and share content. Rivera has submitted a request to review the disabled page.

“I’m willing to dialogue with Facebook. I understand the complexity of what they face,” they said. “But I also think that they need to be more conscious of the differences in how we get treated.”

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Federal Government

Harms of waiving anti-discrimination rules for religious universities

“Once the money stops flowing, they will almost all instantly change their policies and start protecting queer students”

Published

on

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Federal Building, Washington D.C., headquarters of the U.S. Department of Education (Photo Credit: GSA/U.S. Dept. of Education)

WASHINGTON – Democratic lawmakers re-introduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act on Friday, which marked the 13th anniversary of the 18-year-old New Jersey college student’s death by suicide after he was targeted with homophobic harassment by his peers.

The bill, which establishes cyberbullying as a form of harassment, directing colleges and universities to share anti-harassment policies to current and prospective students and employees, was introduced by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Patty Murray (Wash.), along with U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (Wis.), Chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

Advocacy groups including the Tyler Clementi Foundation, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and The Trevor Project have endorsed the legislation, which comes as issues concerning anti-LGBTQ+ harassment in institutions of higher education have earned renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Earlier this month, the Washington Blade connected with an expert to discuss these and other subjects: Paul Southwick, a Portland, Oregon-based litigation attorney who leads a legal advocacy group focused on religious institutions of higher education and their treatment of LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities.

On Tuesday, he shared a statement responding to Friday’s reintroduction of the Tyler Clementi bill, stressing the need for equal enforcement of its provisions in light of efforts by conservative Christian schools to avoid oversight and legal liability for certain federal civil rights regulations:

“We are still evaluating the bill regarding how the bill would interact with the religious exemption in Title IX,” Southwick said. “We fully support the expansion of anti-harassment protections for students and corresponding requirements for educational institutions.”

He added, “We also believe that such protections and requirements should extend to students at taxpayer funded, religiously affiliated educational institutions, regardless of whether those institutions claim, or receive, an assurance of religious exemption from Title IX regulations” through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Baylor University’s unprecedented Title IX exemption

In response to a request from Baylor University, a conservative Baptist college located in Waco, Texas, the Education Department in July granted a first of its kind religious-based exemption from federal regulations governing harassment, a form of sex-based discrimination proscribed under Title IX.

Southwick explained that during the Obama administration, the federal government began to understand and recognize discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as forms of sex-based discrimination covered by the statute. The Biden-Harris administration issued a directive for the Education Department to formalize the LGBTQ+ inclusive definitions under Title IX, with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that is now underway at the agency.

Beginning with the Department’s 2010 “dear colleague” letter clarifying the administration’s view that discrimination against LGBTQ+ people constitutes sex-based discrimination under the law, Southwick said the pushback from religious schools was immediate. In the years since, many have successfully petitioned the Education Department for “exemptions so they can discriminate against queer, trans and non-binary people,” but these carveouts were limited “to things like admissions, housing, athletics.”

No one had argued that “federally funded educational institutions [should] have no regulation by the federal government as to whether they’re protecting their students from harassment,” he remarked – at least not until the Baylor case.

Addressing the unprecedented move in a letter to the Department on September 5, U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Greg Casar (D-Texas), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), and Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) urged the agency to “clarify the narrow scope of this exemption and assure students at religious institutions that they continue to have protections against sex-based harassment.”

Southwick told the Blade other members of Congress have expressed an interest in the matter, as have some progressive nonprofit groups.

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Department confirmed receipt of the lawmakers’ letter and said the agency will respond to the members.

The Department’s issuance of the exemption to Baylor came despite an open investigation into the university by its Office of Civil Rights over a Title IX complaint brought in 2021 by Southwick’s organization, the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), on behalf of a queer student who claimed she was subjected to homophobic abuse from other students while university officials to whom she reported the harassment failed to intervene.

It is not yet clear whether the agency will close its investigation as a result of its decision to exempt Baylor from Title IX’s harassment rules.

Veronica Bonifacio Penales, the student behind the complaint against Baylor, is also a plaintiff in REAP’s separate class action lawsuit challenging the Education Department’s practice of waving Title IX rules for faith-based colleges and universities – which, the plaintiffs argue, facilitates anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

The case, Hunter v. U.S. Department of Education, is on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Other religious schools are likely to follow Baylor’s lead

Southwick said the agency’s decision in the Baylor case “puts students at risk of harassment without a civil remedy against their school’s failures to properly address harassment,” adding, “Taxpayer funded educational institutions, whether religious or secular, should never be permitted to escape oversight from OCR in how they handle anti-harassment claims from LGBTQIA+ or other students protected by federal non-discrimination law.”

Buoyed by Baylor’s successful effort, requesting exemptions to Title IX rules for purposes of allowing the harassment of LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff is likely to become routine practice for many of America’s conservative institutions of higher education, Southwick said.

The nonprofit group Campus Pride maintains a list of America’s “absolute worst, most unsafe campuses for LGBTQ+ youth,” schools that “received and/or applied for a Title IX exemption to discriminate against LGBTQ+ youth, and/or demonstrated past history and track record of anti-LGBTQ+ actions, programs and practices.”

193 colleges and universities have met the criteria.

Many of the thousands of LGBTQ+ students enrolled in these institutions often have insufficient support, Southwick said, in part because “a lot of the larger civil rights organizations and queer rights organizations are very occupied, and rightly so, with pushing back against anti-trans legislation in the public sphere.”

Regardless, even in America’s most conservative schools like Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan, Southwick noted that pro-equality students, faculty, and staff have pushed for change.

He added that while there are, no doubt, young people who harbor anti-LGBTQ+ views, “they often become much more progressive the longer they’re in school, because there’s just queer people coming out everywhere, you know, and it’s hard to hate people who are your friends.”

The powerful influence and role of financial incentives  

Southwick said meaningful reform at the institutional level is made more difficult by the reality that “financial incentives from the government and from the market are aligned to favor the continuation of discrimination.”

“Once the money stops flowing, they will almost all instantly change their policies and start protecting queer students,” he said, but added that colleges and universities have little reason to change without the risk that discriminatory policies and practices will incur meaningful consequences, like the loss of government funding and accreditation.

Another challenge, Southwick said, is the tendency of institutions of higher education to often prioritize the wishes and interests of moneyed alumni networks, boards of trustees, and donors, groups that generally skew older and tend to be more conservative.

Southwick said when he and his colleagues at REAP discuss proposed pro-LGBTQ+ reforms with contacts at conservative religious universities, they are warned “over and over again,” that “donors will be angry.”

Following the establishment of nationwide prohibitions against segregation and other forms of racial discrimination with passage of the federal 1964 Civil Rights Act and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which applied to public schools, and Runyon v. McCrary (1976), which covered private schools, Southwick noted that “A lot of Christian schools and college colleges continued to deny admission to black students.”

One by one, however, the so-called “segregation academies” would permanently close their doors or agree to racial integration, Southwick said – buckling under pressure from the U.S. government’s categorical denial of federal funding to these institutions, coupled with other factors like the decision of many professional associations to deny membership to their professors and academics.

Another important distinction, Southwick added: unlike Title IX, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “does not have a religious exemption.”

Continue Reading

Florida

Florida’s Charlotte County schools purge LGBTQ+ books

The Florida Department of Education was informed of Charlotte County’s overreaction to the law over 2 weeks ago and has not corrected it

Published

on

Charlotte County Schools Superintendent Mark Vianello. (Screenshot/YouTube WFTX Fox 4 News)

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – Charlotte County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Vianello has instructed librarians in all district schools to purge any book that contained LGBTQ+ themes, mentions, or characters.

According to a public records request by the non-profit advocacy group Florida Freedom to Read Project,  district librarians sought guidance regarding how to apply an expansion of the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, to all grades.

“Are we removing books from any school/media center, PreK-12 if a character has, for example, 2 mothers or because there is a gay best friend or a main character is gay?” the librarians asked. Charlotte County Superintendent Mark Vianello answered, “Yes.”

According to journalist Judd Legum, the guidance by Vianello and the school board’s attorney, Michael McKinley, was obtained by the Florida Freedom to Read Project (FFTRP) through a public records request and shared with Popular Information. FFTRP requested “electronic records of district and school decisions regarding classroom and library materials.” In response, FFTRP received a document memorializing a July 24 conversation between Vianello and district librarians, known in Florida as media specialists. 

The guidance made clear that all books with LGBTQ characters are to be removed even if the book contained no sexually explicit content. The librarians asked if they could retain books in school and classroom libraries with LGBTQ characters “as long as they do not have explicit sex scenes or sexual descriptions and are not approaching ‘how to’ manuals for how to be an LGBTQ+ person.” Vianello responded, “No. Books with LBGTQ+ characters are not to be included in classroom libraries or school library media centers.”

Equality Florida reacted in a statement saying:

“The school district superintendent in Charlotte County instructed librarians in public schools to remove all books with LGBTQ characters or themes from school and classroom libraries.

“Our schools have been turned over to book-banning extremists who censor and whitewash history and relentlessly attack LGBTQ students and parents. We cannot let DeSantis’ path of destruction continue.

Banning books does not protect our children, it’s detrimental to their education. Ron DeSantis has launched an all-out assault on the core values of freedom, equality, and democracy. He has ignored the real challenges in our state to sow division and pursue an agenda of government intrusion and control. We must stand up and fight against the harm being done to our students.”

“Every child deserves to have their lives reflected in the books available in their public school classroom or library,” Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the FFTRP told Popular Information. “The Florida Department of Education was informed of Charlotte County’s overreaction to the law and state rule over two weeks ago, and has not acted to correct it. Public school families in Florida deserve better. We cannot tolerate this discriminatory exclusion.”

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Charlotte County Schools told Popular Information that books with LGBTQ characters were removed from libraries because “there are elementary schools that utilize their school library media center as classrooms… [for] elective courses that our students are officially scheduled into and attend on a regular basis.” Therefore, the library “is considered a classroom setting.” As a result, “our school board attorney advises that we do not make books with these themes available in media centers that serve as classrooms since this would be considered ‘classroom instruction’ and such instruction and/or availability of these themes may not occur in PreK- grade 8.”

A spokesperson later issued a clarification Tuesday:

“Books featuring LGBTQ characters are accessible in the media center for grades 9-12. While they may not be utilized for classroom instruction, these books are available for individual study and can be borrowed by students. The document… served as a training resource, and the discussion accompanying it provided further guidance to educators.”

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: Texas’ ban on certain drag shows is unconstitutional

Senate Bill 12 would have prohibited performers from dancing suggestively or wearing certain prosthetics in front of children

Published

on

Drag queen Scarlett Kiss performs at Long Play Lounge in East Austin on June 12, 2021. (Photo Credit: Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune)

By Alejandro Serrano & William Melhado | AUSTIN, Texas – Texas cannot enforce a new law that restricts some public drag shows, a federal judge said Tuesday in declaring the legislation unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner found Senate Bill 12 “impermissibly infringes on the First Amendment and chills free speech.” The struck-down law prohibited any performers from dancing suggestively or wearing certain prosthetics in front of children.

Hittner ruled that language discriminated based on viewpoint and is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.

“The Court sees no way to read the provisions of SB 12 without concluding that a large amount of constitutionally-protected conduct can and will be wrapped up in the enforcement of SB 12,” the ruling reads. “It is not unreasonable to read SB 12 and conclude that activities such as cheerleading, dancing, live theater, and other common public occurrences could possibly become a civil or criminal violation.”

While SB 12 was originally billed as legislation that would prevent children from seeing drag shows, the final version did not directly reference people dressing as the opposite gender.

However, Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott made it clear that drag shows were the bill’s target — comments and history that Hittner wrote “the court cannot ignore.”

Last month, Hittner temporarily blocked SB 12 from taking effect on Sept. 1 after a two-day hearing for a lawsuit filed against the state by a drag queen and LGBTQ+ groups.

LGBTQ+ Texans, advocates, artists and business groups who sued the state, argued that the law discriminates against the content of performances and restricts equally protected free expression that is protected under the First and 14th Amendments.

“I believe the purpose of SB 12 is to push drag and queer artistry out of public spaces,” said Brigitte Bandit, an Austin-based drag performer, during August arguments. Bandit testified to the political messaging often included in her performances.

Other states have passed similar legislation restricting drag performance, which have also been struck down by federal courts.

In June, a federal judge in Tennessee, appointed by former President Donald Trump, ruled a law there was unconstitutional in its effort to suppress First Amendment-protected speech.

***************************************************************************************

The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished with permission.

Texans need truth. Help us report it.

Our Fall Member Drive is underway, and we need your support. The Texas Tribune is a critical source of truth and information for Texans across the state and beyond — and our community of members, the readers who donate, make our work possible. Will you join as a member with a tax-deductible donation of any amount?

YES, I’LL DONATE TODAY

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Two men charged with attacking Trans Puerto Rican woman plead guilty to federal hate crimes charges

Alexa Negrón Luciano attacked with paintball gun before her murder

Published

on

Jose V. Toledo Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse, San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo Credit: GSA/Library of Congress photographs collection.)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Two men on Monday pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes charges in connection with attacking a Transgender woman in Puerto Rico in 2020.

A Justice Department press release notes Jordany Laboy Garcia, Christian Rivera Otero and Anthony Lobos Ruiz “were out driving together” in Toa Baja, a municipality that is about 15 miles west of San Juan, early on Feb. 24, 2020, “when they saw” Alexa Negrón Luciano “standing under a tent near the side of the road.”

“The defendants recognized A.N.L. from social media posts concerning an incident that had occurred the day prior at a McDonald’s in Toa Baja,” reads the press release. “During that incident, A.N.L. had used a stall in the McDonald’s women’s restroom.”

“Upon recognizing A.N.L., Lobos-Ruiz used his iPhone to record a video of himself yelling, ‘la loca, la loca,’ (‘the crazy woman, the crazy woman’) as well as other disparaging and threatening comments to A.N.L. from inside the car,” it notes. “The defendants then decided to get a paintball gun to shoot A.N.L. and record another iPhone video. Within 30 minutes, they retrieved a paintball gun and returned to the location where they had last seen A.N.L., who was still at that location. Lobos-Ruiz then used his iPhone to record Laboy-Garcia shooting at A.N.L. multiple times with the paintball gun. After the assault ended, Lobos Ruiz shared the iPhone video recordings with others.”

Negrón was later killed in Toa Baja.

Laboy and Rivera pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit a hate crime and obstruction of justice. El Nuevo Día, a Puerto Rican newspaper, notes a federal judge sentenced Lobos to two years and nine months in prison after he pleaded guilty to hate crimes charges last November.

Laboy and Rivera are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 10.

They, along with Lobos, have not been charged with Negrón’s murder.

“To assault an innocent victim who posed no threat to the defendants for no other reason than her gender identity is reprehensible behavior that will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico in the Justice Department’s press release. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend the rights of all people, regardless of their gender identity, to be free from hate-fueled violence. Our community must stand together against acts of violence motivated by hate for any group of people — we remain steadfast in our commitment to prosecute civil rights violations and keep our communities safe and free from fear.”

Pedro Julio Serrano, spokesperson for Puerto Rico Para Todes, a Puerto Rican LGBTQ+ rights group, on Tuesday welcomed the guilty pleas. Serrano also urged authorities to bring those who killed Negrón to justice. 

“The time for total justice for Alexa is now,” said Serrano in a press release. “Her murder was a hate crime. Nobody doubts this. They falsely accused her, persecuted her, hunted her, insulted her with transphobic epithets, uploaded onto social media a video of them accosting her and they killed her. There are already three individuals who will serve time in federal prison for attacking her in a hate crime. That’s some justice, but not complete.” 

Continue Reading

Illinois

Libs Of TikTok post instigates another round of bomb threats

An all too familiar occurrence an elementary school evacuated for bomb threats after being targeted by Libs of TikTok for a pride flag

Published

on

EIM/Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – A Highland Park, Illinois, elementary school evacuated its premises and relocated its young students for two consecutive days following bomb threats. This alarming incident came on the heels of the controversial anti-LGBTQ+ account, Libs of TikTok, overseen by Chaya Raichik, showcasing an image of a classroom in the school adorned with a pride flag.

Notably, extremism researchers have previously associated the Libs of TikTok account with real-world violent threats potentially incited by posts to the account. As more schools and businesses face hostility simply for displaying a Pride flag, LGBTQ+ advocates and allies are left questioning why online social media platforms continue to tolerate such virulent hate content.

The Libs of TikTok account is run by Chaya Raichik, who maintained anonymity until December of 2022. In an interview with Tucker Carlson, which she deemed a “face reveal,” she revealed that Governor DeSantis offered her to stay in the Governor’s Mansion guesthouse in order to “provide her safety.” Her account has regularly posted the names of hospitals, schools, and businesses that have LGBTQ+ inclusive initiatives, pride flags, or show support for LGBTQ+ students in any other number of ways.

Such a post was made on September 15 by the account of the interior of a classroom at a Highland Park elementary school which featured a pride flag and general rainbow theme. Her post asked, “Why would an elementary school have a massive progress pride flag hanging above students heads all day?” to which her respondents replied by calling the teacher a groomer and pedophile.

Here is a picture of the post, seen by 584,000 people on Twitter:

Within days, the school began to receive bomb threats, closing it down. Elementary students were evacuated to a nearby location. A message posted to the Highland Park, Illinois Facebook page noted that multiple schools delayed the start of their school days and that further updates would be provided to students. Notably, Highland Park is also the location of a recent mass shooting in 2022.

Message posted to Highland Park Facebook Page, as retrieved by @aridrennen

Raichik has a long history of targeting a location and that location then being the recipient of violent threats. Shortly after her tweets against Boston Children’s Hospital, the hospital began receiving a series of bomb threats, partially shutting it down at times.

In Kiel, Wisconsin, after the account posted tweets targeting a school district there, multiple replies called for violence against the district. The district was then paralyzed for over a month by bomb threats. Similar examples could be seen in Pittsburgh Children’s HospitalDoernbecher Children’s HospitalPhoenix Children’s Hospital, and more.

All in all, the account has been linked to potentially inciting 66 separate threat events, most of which occurred within 5 days of her tweets as of December of 2022.

Anti-LGBTQ+ violent threats have become increasingly frequent in recent months. In California, a shop owner was killed for flying a Pride flag – the account followed and interacted with several anti-LGBTQ+ influencer accounts online.

In Texas, a church that hosted a drag event was firebombed after an anti-LGBTQ+ youtuber visited. In a report released in June, GLAAD had identified 350 anti-LGBTQ+ hate and extremism events across the United States.

Many organizations have called for social media platforms to do better at curtailing hate content. GLAAD’s Social Media Safety Index this year, for instance, reported that all give major platforms were failing at restricting anti-LGBTQ+ hate content, with Twitter scoring the worst. The platform notably dropped protections for transgender people from its harassment policy earlier this year.

Without significant reforms, accounts such as Libs of TikTok are poised to persist in disseminating hate content, ultimately translating to tangible harassment and violence. In just the past week, this account has set its sights on several more schools and libraries for their support of transgender youth, pride displays, and other LGBTQ+-positive measures.

Ironically, these institutions will likely find themselves ramping up security measures to safeguard their students from accounts that purport to act “to protect kids” from LGBTQ+ people.

****************************************************************************

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.

Follow her on Twitter (Link)

Website here: https://www.erininthemorning.com/

******************************************************************************************

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

Continue Reading

Federal Government

Barbara Lee: PEPFAR is ‘more in peril’ than ever

Congress has yet to reauthorize funding for Bush-era HIV/AIDS program

Published

on

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) speaks about the future of PEPFAR at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Legislative Conference in D.C. on Sept. 22, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — California Congresswoman Barbara Lee on Sept. 22 said the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is “more in peril” now than at any point since its launch two decades ago.

“This program is reauthorized every five years, but it’s always on a bipartisan basis,” said Lee during a panel at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference that took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. “As we approach the benchmark of an AIDS-free generation by 2023, it is unfortunately more in peril now than ever before.”

Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR.

Lee noted PEPFAR as of 2020 has provided nearly $100 billion in “cumulative funding for HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention and research.” She said PEPFAR is the largest global funding program for a single disease outside of COVID-19.

New PEPFAR strategy includes ‘targeted programming’ for marginalized groups

The panel took place amid the continued push for Congress to reauthorize PEPFAR for another five years. The federal government will shut down on Oct. 1 if Congress does not pass an appropriations bill.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken last December at a World AIDS Day event in D.C. acknowledged HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ and intersex people and other marginalized groups. A new PEPFAR strategy the Biden-Harris administration announced that seeks to “fill those gaps” over the next five years includes the following points:

• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ+ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups

• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.

• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”

The Family Research Council Action in an email to supporters urged them to tell Congress to “stop Biden from hijacking PEPFAR to promote its radical social policies overseas.” Family Watch International has said PEPFAR “has been hijacked to advance a radical sexual agenda.”

“Please sign the petition to tell the U.S. Congress to ensure that no U.S. funds go to organizations that promote abortion, LGBT ideology, or ‘comprehensive sexuality education,'” said the group in an email to its supporters. 

A group of lawmakers and religious leaders from Kenya and other African countries in a letter they wrote to members of Congress in June said PEPFAR, in their view, no longer serves its original purposes of fighting HIV/AIDS because it champions homosexuality and abortion.

“We wrote that letter to the U.S. Congress not to stop PEPFAR funding to Kenya, but to demand the initiative to revert to its original mission without conditioning it to also supporting LGBTQ as human rights,” it reads.

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

American officials earlier this year postponed a meeting on PEPFAR’s work in Uganda in order to assess the potential impact the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act will have on it. The law, which Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed on May 29, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

Biden in his U.N. General Assembly speech last week noted LGBTQ+ and intersex rights and highlighted PEPFAR. Family Watch International in its email to supporters included a link to the letter from the African lawmakers and religious leaders.  

The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated both the FRC and Family Watch International as anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups.

“[PEPFAR is] not about abortions,” said Lee.

HIV/AIDS activists protest inside house speaker kevin mccarthy (r-calif.)’s office in d.c. on sept. 11, 2023. (washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power during the panel referenced Bush’s recent op-ed in the Washington Post that urged lawmakers to reauthorize PEPFAR.

“The way he put it is no program is more pro-life [than] one that has saved more than 25 million lives,” said Power.

Power referenced the “manufactured controversy that is making it difficult to get this reauthorization.” U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. John Knengasong said a failure to reauthorize PEPFAR would weaken “our own foreign policy and diplomacy.”

“Once again the United States will be missing in action,” stressed Lee.

Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary for Legislation Melanie Egorin and Kenny Kamson, a Nigerian HIV/AIDS activist, also spoke on the panel that MSNBC host Jonathan Capehart moderated. 

From left: U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. John Nkengasong and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power discuss the future of PEPFAR at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference in D.C. on Sept. 22, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
Continue Reading

National

Writer’s Guild of America & studios have reached a tentative deal

“We are, as of today, suspending WGA picketing. Instead, if you are able, we encourage you to join the SAG-AFTRA picket lines this week”

Published

on

WGA/Los Angeles Blade graphic

HOLLYWOOD – The end may be in sight for the strike by The Writers Guild of America that has lasted more than 140 days and put thousands of people out of work. On Sunday, the WGA Negotiating Committee said that the union and the major Hollywood studios have reached a tentative deal for a new contract, although the deal must still be ratified by the union’s 11,500 members.

In a statement released by the WGA Sunday evening the WGA Negotiating Committee leadership wrote:

“We have reached a tentative agreement on a new 2023 MBA, which is to say an agreement in principle on all deal points, subject to drafting final contract language. 

What we have won in this contract—most particularly, everything we have gained since May 2nd—is due to the willingness of this membership to exercise its power, to demonstrate its solidarity, to walk side-by-side, to endure the pain and uncertainty of the past 146 days. It is the leverage generated by your strike, in concert with the extraordinary support of our union siblings, that finally brought the companies back to the table to make a deal. […]

What remains now is for our staff to make sure everything we have agreed to is codified in final contract language. And though we are eager to share the details of what has been achieved with you, we cannot do that until the last “i” is dotted. To do so would complicate our ability to finish the job. So, as you have been patient with us before, we ask you to be patient again—one last time. 

Once the Memorandum of Agreement with the AMPTP is complete, the Negotiating Committee will vote on whether to recommend the agreement and send it on to the WGAW Board and WGAE Council for approval. The Board and Council will then vote on whether to authorize a contract ratification vote by the membership. 

If that authorization is approved, the Board and Council would also vote on whether to lift the restraining order and end the strike at a certain date and time (to be determined) pending ratification. This would allow writers to return to work during the ratification vote, but would not affect the membership’s right to make a final determination on contract approval. 

Immediately after those leadership votes, which are tentatively scheduled for Tuesday if the language is settled, we will provide a comprehensive summary of the deal points and the Memorandum of Agreement. We will also convene meetings where members will have the opportunity to learn more about and assess the deal before voting on ratification. 

To be clear, no one is to return to work until specifically authorized to by the Guild. We are still on strike until then. But we are, as of today, suspending WGA picketing. Instead, if you are able, we encourage you to join the SAG-AFTRA picket lines this week.”

 

Governor Gavin Newsom issued the following statement in response to the tentative agreement reached by the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers:

“California’s entertainment industry would not be what it is today without our world class writers. For over 100 days, 11,000 writers went on strike over existential threats to their careers and livelihoods — expressing real concerns over the stress and anxiety workers are feeling. I am grateful that the two sides have come together to reach an agreement that benefits all parties involved, and can put a major piece of California’s economy back to work.”

Continue Reading

Connecticut

Connecticut police investigate bomb threat to Pride Center

Published

on

Gay Pride Center on Orange Street in New Haven, Connecticut. (Screenshot/YouTube Fox 61.com)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — New Haven Police in this coastal city on Long Island Sound, home to the Ivy League Yale University, are investigating a bomb threat made to the New Haven Pride Center.

According to local Fox affiliate Fox61/WTIC-TV, the bomb threat came via email and threatened that an explosive device would be activated at 1:00 pm at the Center located in the downtown area in the hundredth block of Orange Street.

As a precaution multiple downtown streets were closed and patients from the DaVita Dialysis Center located on the floor above the LGBTQ Center were evacuated via ambulances that had responded.

Police, after determining there was not an explosive device by NHPD Hazardous Device Team deemed the building safe as of 1:45 p.m., but are continuing their investigation into the incident.

In a phone call with Fox 61, Juancarlos Soto, the LGBTQ+ Center’s executive director said:

“I mean, we’re we’re a little shaky. I think regardless of whenever you get something like this, it shakes you a little bit and reminds you that that, you know, LGBTQ people are under attack across our entire country. There’s a race and LGBTQ rhetoric and rhetoric and violence against LGBTQ people. You know, I think it also reminds us of the importance of safe spaces, you know, and how even in 2023, we have so much to fight still for our community and make sure that we are safe.”

“I think it has the opposite effect of what this person intended, right. Because it bolsters your your your strength to continue to fight for a community. And it it puts us on the path to to to just keep going, Soto added. 

West Hartford Pride released a statement afterwards in solitary with the New Haven center:

“West Hartford Pride stands strongly with our friends at the New Haven Pride Center, its staff, and the New Haven Community. At West Hartford Pride, our motto is STAND AGAINST HATE. When one of us is attacked, we are all attacked.

This despicable act is one of hate and cowardice. We applaud the New Haven Pride Center for their quick actions to keep everyone safe, and their commitment to continuing to serve their community. We look forward to standing with the New Haven Pride Center at a rescheduled Pride Celebration. When we stand together in defiance of hatred and bigotry, we are stronger.”

New Haven police investigate bomb threat made to Gay Pride Center:

Continue Reading

New York

NYPD: Brooklyn library’s Drag Story Hour moved after bomb threat

“These are children, and children just want to hear stories … It’s a shame how somebody just ruined it and threatened violence”

Published

on

The Cortelyou branch of Brooklyn Public Library at 1305 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn, New York. (Photo Credit: Brooklyn Public Library)

BROOKLYN – The New York Police Department confirmed that a bomb threat was emailed to the Cortelyou branch of Brooklyn Public Library forcing the staff and patrons to relocate the scheduled Drag Queen Story Hour just prior to the event Saturday morning.

The NYPD confirmed Saturday afternoon that an email addressed to a library staff person sourced to an unknown person with a Buffalo, New York origin threatened that a bomb would detonate at 11:30 a.m., and according to a NYPD spokesperson a male caller also phoned 911 about the threat.

The NYPD’s canine and emergency services units briefly evacuated the branch and did a search but did not locate a device or anything suspicious. “Officers responded to a bomb threat. There were no devices located,” said the spokesperson.

The New York Post reported the drag queens moved their event to a Connecticut Muffin coffee shop a block away after convincing staffers there to help. About seven children and parents attended.

“It’s a shame, and it’s something that’s extremely dangerous,” fumed a parent of a 2-year-old girl who sat in on the reading.

“These are children, and children just want to hear stories … It’s a shame how somebody just ruined it and threatened violence.”

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge overturns Calif. high capacity magazines ban again

There are over 110 gun deaths daily & nearly 41,000 per year in the U.S. Guns are the leading cause of death of children & adolescents

Published

on

Gun ammunition magazines with capacity of holding more than 10 rounds. (Screenshot/YouTube)

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – California Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta reacted sharply to a ruling Friday by a federal judge blocking California’s ban on gun ammunition magazines with capacity of holding more than 10 rounds.

U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez, a President George W. Bush appointee on the bench of the Southern District of California wrote: “This case is about a California state law that makes it a crime to keep and bear common firearm magazines typically possessed for lawful purposes. Based on the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, this law is clearly unconstitutional.”

This is not the only time Benitez has ruled against the ban by the state on high capacity magazines. The Sacramento Bee noted that Benitez struck down California’s large-capacity ammunition ban originally in 2019 — when the case was still called Duncan v. Becerra, for then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra — only for the case to make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which kicked it back down for further proceedings.

In his opinion today Benitez wrote, “The fact that there are so many different numerical limits demonstrates the arbitrary nature of magazine capacity limits,” referring to similar bans in other states but with differing numbers of rounds limited.

He also noted several cases where he said ammunition capacity “was a matter of life and death for lawful gun owners.”

“There have been, and there will be, times where many more than 10 rounds are needed to stop attackers. […] Woe to the victim who runs out of ammunition before armed attackers do. The police will mark the ground with chalk, count the number of shell casings, and file the report.”

In a statement released by his office, Newsom took aim at the ruling:

“Unsurprisingly, Judge Benitez chose to issue this radical decision on the same day President Biden announced his new Office of Gun Violence Prevention. As a reminder, this is the same judge who used Gun Violence Awareness Day to strike down California’s assault weapons ban — comparing the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife. 

“Judge Benitez is not even pretending anymore. This is politics, pure and simple.  

“It’s time to wake up. Unless we enshrine a Right to Safety in the Constitution, we are at the mercy of ideologues like Judge Benitez. All of our gun safety laws that are proven to save lives are at risk. It doesn’t matter what laws we pass. It doesn’t matter what the voters decide. Concealed carry. Banning weapons of war. Reasonable waiting periods. Background checks. The idealogues are coming for all of them. 

“This is exactly why I’ve called for a Constitutional amendment, and this is why I’ll keep fighting to defend our right to protect ourselves from gun violence.”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta immediately filed a notice of appeal to overturn the decision. The notice of appeal, filed just hours after Benitez issued his decision and temporary stay, is the first step toward seeking a further stay of the decision by the Ninth Circuit pending appeal. 

“In the past half-century, large-capacity magazines have been used in about three-quarters of gun massacres with 10 or more deaths and in 100 percent of gun massacres with 20 or more deaths,” said Attorney General Bonta. “We will continue to fight for our authority to keep Californians safe from weapon enhancements designed to cause mass casualties. The Supreme Court was clear that Bruen did not create a regulatory straitjacket for states — and we believe that the district court got this wrong. We will move quickly to correct this incredibly dangerous mistake. We will not stop in our efforts to protect the safety of communities and Californians’ rights to go about their business without fear of becoming victims of gun violence, while at the same time respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

Gun violence remains a growing threat to public safety throughout the nation. Mass shootings are on the rise throughout the country and frequently feature large-capacity magazines, causing more deaths and injuries.

On average, there are over 110 gun deaths each day and nearly 41,000 each year in the U.S. Guns are the leading cause of death among children and adolescents, with U.S. children being more likely to die from gun violence than in any other comparable country. 

In 2021, California was ranked as the #1 state for gun safety by Giffords Law Center, and the state saw a 37% lower gun death rate than the national average. According to the CDC, California’s gun death rate was the 44th lowest in the nation and the gun death rate for children is 58% lower than the national average.

Continue Reading

Popular