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Black trans service members welcome chance to again serve openly

Biden order ‘closes a dark chapter of history.’

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U.S. Navy Corpsman Akira Wyatt. (Photo courtesy of Akira Wyatt)

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Transgender U.S. Navy Corpsman Akira Wyatt rises at 6 a.m. at Camp Pendleton each day to see sailors and Marines for sick calls, and today she does so a little easier.

President Biden on Jan. 25 signed an executive order rescinding the Trump administration’s ban on trans individuals being able to enlist or openly serve in the military.

The ban was in response to former President Trump’s July 26, 2017, tweets prohibiting “transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.” But Wyatt and others who had transitioned prior to the ban going into effect in April 2019 continued to serve in silence while others like them were prevented from enlisting or receiving transitional care. And some, like Wyatt, also served in critical medical roles during the global coronavirus crisis.

When she heard the ban had been lifted, the 29-year-old Black Filipina woman said she felt “like when Mario hits the mushroom and goes up a level.”

“President Biden’s restoration of open service recognizes transgender service members as an integral part of our military and closes a dark chapter of history,” said Emma Shinn, a Marine Corps captain and president of SPART*A, an organization supporting trans service members, in a joint statement with the Modern Military Association of America. “I am elated that the approximately 15,000 transgender service members proudly serving across the globe can rest easier knowing that their service to our nation is seen, valued and that they can continue to serve as their authentic selves.”

Wyatt told the Los Angeles Blade she was also happy to see the U.S. elect a Black woman of South Asian descent born to immigrants like herself. On that day, even before the ban had been lifted, she sat back with her cup of coffee and “felt like a boss.”

“I had my Keurig and I sipped it,” Wyatt laughed happily while recalling the moment she learned Kamala Harris had become the next vice president. “I shall embody her, I shall be her, and this morning shall be boss!”

Wyatt and Army Staff Sgts. Allyn Cropper and Keishaun Lowery are all active duty service members who also identify as trans people of color. They each recalled feeling anxiety not only during the four years of the ban but also during last summer’s racial unrest and the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6 in which former service members and white supremacists were reported to have taken part.

But the election of the first Black vice president of Asian descent and the Senate confirmation of retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, III, as the first Black secretary of defense made them feel hopeful again for the future.

Austin on Feb. 5 signed the Department of Defense Instruction 1325.06, “Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces,” directing commanding officers and supervisors to discuss extremism in the ranks during a one-day “stand down,” according to a Pentagon press release.       

Wyatt’s unit responded on Feb. 11 by holding an open forum on race where she and her co-workers shared with peers what life was like for them. Wyatt said many women service members and service members of color were happy to have a new defense secretary and vice president who represents them, but she said others seemed to need justification for why diverse leaders “deserved to be there” in high positions. Wyatt said it seemed as if their leadership positions were unearned.

Still, she was glad for the opportunity and the discussion brought on by more inclusive senior leadership.

“I see this now as progress. We’re growing as a country,” said Cropper, who self-identifies as a 32-year-old Black man of trans experience. “Now we have a leader who is choosing to see the needs of the people and he is addressing them. And I think that says a lot that it’s not even a hundred days (for him in office) yet.”

Cropper met Biden at the Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019, in Miami where the future president shook his hand and said, “I see you.” He also met now-Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who commended him on his military service as a prior service member himself.

While driving to a routine doctor’s appointment on Feb. 11 and doing “just regular everyday life stuff,” Cropper told the Blade of the hope he feels now that Trump’s trans service member ban is now behind him.

“There’s always going to be something, I mean I’m Black and I’m in the military,” Cropper said. “But this is now one less thing off my shoulders that I have to worry about.”

Instead, he can try to relax and just focus on caring for his partner, his l6-year-old cousin, his two miniature schnauzers Seoul and Carlito, and his Staffordshire terrier Siri.

“Reversing this ban is a victory for all Americans,” said SPART*A Vice President Bree Fram, who is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, in the Jan. 25 joint statement. “President Biden has given the gift of opportunity to thousands of individuals who will use it to serve the country they love.”

Since first enlisting in 2008, Cropper had served under varying policies limiting how he expressed his LGBTQ identity, including the repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that banned openly lesbian, gay and bisexual service members.

Despite these restrictions, he still earned several military awards and honors, including one for physical fitness.

“A lot of times the physical aspect of military service is brought up with trans service members,” Cropper said while pointing out he and others like him not only met the physical standards but exceeded them. “To be a Master Fitness Trainer you have to score in the 90th percentile in every event.”

Lowery, who also identifies as a Black trans masculine service member, told the Blade that being able to serve openly also affects leadership skills.

“When leaders can be more authentic, they can be more honest,” he said. “In the world in general, we have a shortage of honest leaders. Anything we can do to have people be more honest and authentic in general is the right thing to do.”

Lowery currently lives with his wife, daughter and two great Danes, but he grew up “pretty poor” and joined the Army in search of a better life.

While Cropper came from a family of professionals, including a mother who is a doctor of internal medicine, and wanted to prove that he could make it on his own, Lowery struggled with work, school and long bus commutes before finally signing up in 2007.

“We didn’t have Lyft in 2004,” he laughed. “It was the bus or mom, and mom wasn’t always happy to help you.”

Lowery also recalled being a “tomboy raised in a Pentecostal world” who wore basketball shorts for the “sheer comfort.” He didn’t know what being trans was in those days, but he knew being himself meant being masculine.

“It was a way of life,” he said, one that he couldn’t live openly under the ban. “Medical professionals didn’t have the resources to assist you.”

He also described troubles not with peers or subordinates, but with senior leaders who didn’t know how to handle his decision to transition.

While updating his military paperwork and taking Zoom college classes from home, Lowery told the Blade about a major under whom he served during the ban who told the team he led that they didn’t have to use his correct pronouns, that “the regulations don’t force us to.”

“You can call him whatever you want legally,” Lowery said, recalling the major’s words. “You’re not going to get into trouble.”

Currently, Lowery is taking classes so he can one day go to law school and help others who find their lives limited by discriminatory laws and policies like his was. He wants to study family and human rights law because “we need more people influencing policies who are actually impacted by them.”

Both Cropper and Lowery also spoke of their identities as Black men serving during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

“I had emotions that overtook me when it came down to those protests,” Cropper said. “I felt every single part of my identity was under attack last year. I couldn’t be Black enough, I couldn’t be trans enough and I couldn’t be valued as a soldier which I gave up over a decade of my life becoming.”

But he looked to the differences between Biden and Trump and saw a chance for growth and opportunity.

“The Armed Service now is more reflective of America,” Cropper said. “Now, we’re saying to more people, you are valued and you, too, can serve your country.”

Still, Lowery was a little more pragmatic. He questioned how even senior leaders with good intentions, but working all the way in D.C., could really impact the lives of individual soldiers of color in isolated, rural areas like Kansas. He pointed out that sometimes well-meaning changes to improve troop morale were too superficial to help isolated Black, Latino, LGBTQ or other soldiers from diverse backgrounds who were longing for community, family and acceptance.

“Adding a Smoothie King on base won’t change things at an installation that is not diverse, but I still want it,” he laughed. “But it won’t change things.”

So for now, Lowery continues his pre-law studies, Cropper continues to work hard to advance his military career, and Wyatt continues to spend precious time with her new husband when not rising early for sick call duties.

“Me and my (trans) sisters have this saying,” Wyatt said. “That your courage is your crown, so wear it to the T.”

Army Staff Sgt. Allyn Cropper. (Photo courtesy of Allyn Cropper)
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Kansas

Anti-LGBTQ Kansas lawmaker who assaulted student given probation

In the classroom incident last Spring students recorded videos of the lawmaker talking about suicide, sex, masturbation, God and the Bible

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Kansas State House Representative Mark Samsel (R- House District 5/Wellsville) (Photo Credit: Kansas House)

OTTAWA, Ks. – Fourth Judicial Circuit Magistrate Judge Kevin Kimball sentenced Kansas House Representative Mark Samsel, (R- House District 5/Wellsville) to 90 days in jail (suspended) and probation for a year on Monday. Samsel was convicted of assaulting a male student after a physical altercation while he was substitute teaching at the Wellsville High School last April.

Samsel originally faced three misdemeanor battery charges following his arrest in April that involved two male victims, both approximately 16 years old.

The Kansas City reported that during a short hearing conducted over Zoom, Kimball in his ruling ordered that Samsel must apologize to his teenage victims. Samsel is also prohibited from using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms for personal use. An exception is included to allow social media for political and legislative purposes.

In the classroom incident last Spring that sparked four months of court proceedings according to the Kansas City Star, high school students began recording videos of the lawmaker talking about suicide, sex, masturbation, God and the Bible.

In one video shared with The Star, Samsel tells students about “a sophomore who’s tried killing himself three times,” adding that it was because “he has two parents and they’re both females.”

“He’s a foster kid. His alternatives in life were having no parents or foster care parents who are gay,” Samsel said.

The student videos additionally showed the lawmaker verbally targeting one student and encouraging other students to bully him.

The Star also reported: At one point, Samsel tells the student, “You’re about ready to anger me and get the wrath of God. Do you believe me when I tell you that God has been speaking to me?” He then pushes him, and the student runs to the other side of the classroom.

“You should run and scream.” In another video, he tells students, “Class, you have permission to kick him in the balls.”

Parents told The Star that Samsel “put hands on the student” and allegedly kneed him in the crotch. In a video apparently taken immediately after the incident, the student is shown on the ground. Samsel is standing over him and says, “did it hurt?”

He then asks him why he is about to start crying, pats him on the shoulder and apologizes, and then says he can “go to the nurse, she can check it for you.” Samsel addresses another student and says, “do you want to check his nuts for him, please?”

In another video, Samsel is shown telling the student about “distractions from the devil,” and then grabs him from behind and lifts him off his feet. In a different clip, he tells the student to go to the office. “You were not following — not my rules — God’s rules right now,” he tells the student. “You better take a Bible.”

“Keep denying God, keep denying God, see how it’s going to turn out,” he told the student.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal appeals court orders Trans professor fired in 2011 reinstated

The Tenth Circuit also rejected Southeastern’s cross-appeal in its entirety, citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County

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U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Byron White Courthouse Denver Colorado (Photo Credit - Library of Congress Collections)

DENVER – The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 55-page ruling issued Monday, ordered Southeastern Oklahoma State University located in Durant, Oklahoma to reinstate a Trans professor who was fired over a decade ago.

Douglas N. McMillan, then interim vice president for academic affairs at the university reportedly said that the professor’s “lifestyle” offended his Baptist beliefs.

Dr. Rachel Tudor, a 54-year-old Native American member of the Chickasaw Nation, in a statement released after the appellate court’s ruling said that [she is] “looking forward to being the first tenured Native American professor in her department in the 100-plus year history of the Native American-serving institution that is Southeastern Oklahoma State University.”

The 10th Circuit in its ruling overturned a lower District Court in Oklahoma City that had ruled “reinstatement would not be possible due to alleged hostility between Dr. Tudor and Southeastern.”

Tudor worked as a tenure-track professor of English at Southeastern Oklahoma State University between 2004 and 2011. In 2007, she informed Southeastern that she would be transitioning and that her gender identity was female. Following this, she was denied tenure and terminated even though her own students and the English Department supported her tenure application.

In her appeal, Tudor was represented by the Washington D.C. based National Women’s Law Center and its private law firm counsel, Erica Lai, who argued for NWLC.

In a recap statement NWLC noted:

The Tenth Circuit also rejected Southeastern’s cross-appeal in its entirety, heavily citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which overruled previous 10th Circuit precedent and held that discrimination against transgender employees is sex discrimination under Title VII.  

 After fighting her case in the courts, she won her jury trial on November 20, 2017. Although the jury awarded her $1,165,000, the court both lowered this amount to $300,000 and then awarded her only front-pay wages in an amount of $60,040.77. This front-pay figure was calculated without the court undertaking any meaningful analysis as to her ability to return to a tenure job in English at Southeastern as she wanted, or what amount would make up for her lost future earnings.

[…] Also, courts have made clear that employers may not cite litigation-related hostility as a reason to refuse someone a job. Finally, as the jury found, Dr. Tudor was only denied tenure because of sex discrimination.

Tudor’s statement reflected her desire to return to the classroom and press on the Tulsa World reported:

As injurious as the sex discrimination and retaliation were to Dr. Tudor, she did not consider it merely personal. Rather, she was a symbol to those who discriminated against her. They wanted to create an environment where certain views and certain people are punished to create fear and shame instead of self-confidence and opportunity for all.

“They wanted people like Dr. Tudor to be afraid, and to go away. Instead of going away, instead of accepting a settlement — conditioned on never teaching in Oklahoma — she fought for the rights and dignity of her Native and LGBT communities.

“Dr. Tudor would like to thank her allies and colleagues for their support through 10 long years of fighting for justice. She is grateful and honored to be the recipient of their goodwill. She promises to repay their trust by being the best professor she can be.”

 

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Colorado

Anti-LGBTQ extremist Bob Enyart who spread COVID lies- dies from virus

Enyart proudly referred to himself as “America’s most popular right-wing, religious fanatic, homophobic, anti-choice talk show host”

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Bob Enyart (Screenshot via KUSA9 NBC News Denver)

DENVER – The vehemently anti-LGBTQ preacher who made national headlines over his gleefully reading out the obituaries of AIDS victims on his cable television show, while cranking out the song “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen- whose lead singer, Freddie Mercury, died from that disease, has himself died from complications after contracting COVID-19.

Bob Enyart, 62, who had proudly referred to himself as “America’s most popular self-proclaimed right-wing, religious fanatic, homophobic, anti-choice talk show host” and pastor of the Denver Bible Church, died Monday after a short battle with the coronavirus. The news was confirmed by his longtime radio and podcast show co-host Fred Williams in a Facebook post Monday.

Enyart and his second wife Cheryl, had both contracted COVID-19 after refusing to take the vaccine citing pro-life reasons; “Bob and Cheryl Enyart have sworn off taking the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson vaccines because, as those firms admit, they tested these three products on the cells of aborted babies,” according to a statement in August on Enyart’s webpage.

In addition to falsely claiming that the vaccines were developed using fetal tissue, Enyart urged his followers to boycott the vaccines to “further increase social tension and put pressure on the child killers. (Remember, many institutions and celebrities who have been “pro-choice” all along are now also calling to legalize infanticide, what they call after-birth abortion.

In October of 2020, Enyart filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver asking to overturn the Colorado State Public Health order on facial masks at religious services, as well as rules limiting gatherings to 175 people amid the pandemic.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Domenico, who was appointed by President Trump, granted a temporary restraining order against the health order.

A long time radical anti-abortion activists and a spokesperson for the pro-life Colorado Right to Life, Enyart in 2009 along with other antiabortion protesters were jailed over protest at Focus on the Family after the group accused Focus founder James Dobson of not being antiabortion enough.

After attempting to deliver a letter to Focus president James Daly deploring Dobson’s endorsement of 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, American Right to Life Action members staged an hour long standoff with ministry security, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

In addition to his open hostility towards the LGBTQ community on air, in 2016 protesting the U.S. Supreme Court ruling the previous year that granted same-sex couples the right to marry, the Huffington Post reported that he released a bizarre video as part of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) boycott of Starbucks, after the coffee-based chain announced its support of same-sex marriage.

As first reported by Good As You blogger Jeremy Hopper, Pastor Bob Enyart of Denver Bible Church purchased a Starbucks coffee before proceeding to dump it down a sewer in protest.

“Jesus Christ said God made us male and female at the beginning of the creation,” Enyart proclaims. “Starbucks, in a move that’s not wise for eternity and not good for business here and now, has decided to promote homosexual marriage.”

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