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Atlanta shootings leave LGBTQ AAPI community reeling

Gay Ga. state representative describes aftermath as ‘personal’

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ATLANTA — The shootings at three Atlanta-area spas and massage parlors on March 16 have left members of the LGBTQ Asian American and Pacific Islander community deeply shaken and angry.

A gunman killed eight people when he opened fire at Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth in suburban Cherokee County and at the Gold Massage and Aromatherapy Spas in Atlanta. Six of the victims were women of Asian descent.

Georgia state Rep. Sam Park, an openly gay man of Korean descent who represents suburban Gwinnett County in the Georgia House of Representatives, is among the local AAPI community leaders who met with President Biden and Vice President Harris on Friday in Atlanta. Park spoke with the Blade a couple of hours before the meeting.

“It’s been tough,” said Park when asked about his reaction to the shootings. “As an elected representative, as someone who wants to serve and be a voice for the Asian American community, to stand and be with them during this difficult period of time, it’s challenging.”

Park also noted “the vast majority of Asian Americans who live in Georgia” live in Gwinnett County, which is northeast of Atlanta.

“There’s a lot of grief and outrage,” said Park.

Andrea Marra, a transgender woman of Korean descent who is the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, described the shootings as “gut-wrenching” in a message she wrote on her Facebook page.

“I woke up to the news of six Asian women gunned down by a 21-year-old white man in Atlanta, said Marra. “And this only follows the growing coverage of hate violence targeting Asian women and elders nationwide.”

“Asian communities across the country are right now grappling with overwhelming amounts of grief, despair and outrage,” she added. “We are mourning for our dead, fearing for our lives, and finding ways to protect loved ones while attempting to organize against the rising and unchecked tides of anti-Asian violence. And all during an ongoing global pandemic that was used by Trump to further demonize Asian people.”

Asian and Pacific Islander Queers United for Action DC co-organized a vigil for the victims that took place on Wednesday in D.C.’s Chinatown.

AQUA DC Political Chair Nicholas L. Hatcher told the Blade the LGBTQ AAPI “community really needs time to mourn and grieve, not just for these women who did not ask for their deaths and their lives to be thrust into the national spotlight, but also for the many of us who are and know Asian American women and femmes who have experienced assault and violence.”

Trump ‘capitalized upon’ anti-AAPI narrative during pandemic

The shootings took place against the backdrop of an increase in violence against AAPI people. Activists in the LGBTQ AAPI community with whom the Blade spoke say former President Trump bears some responsibility because of the anti-AAPI rhetoric and slurs he used in his comments about the pandemic.

Sammie Ablaza Wills, executive director of APIENC, a San Francisco-based LGBTQ AAPI group, on Friday told the Blade that Trump “has continued a long-standing rhetoric of Asian American communities as perpetual foreigners, and as the harbingers of disease.”

“When the COVID pandemic hit, he capitalized upon an already standing narrative that has been baked into the DNA of the United States,” said Wills. “[He] has pushed it to a new degree in the modern age, saying things at the federal level, like the ‘China virus,’ or the ‘Kung flu,’ which only allows people’s minds to hook on to those ideas, and furthers the belief that Asian folks deserve to be targeted, deserve to be other eyes, and deserve to be attacked, because of some kind of washed out tired idea for who Asian people are and what they bring.”

Media reports indicate a spokesperson for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, who said the shooter had a “really bad day” when he spoke at a Wednesday press conference with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and other local officials, previously sold t-shirts with anti-AAPI slogans about the coronavirus. CNN reported that Baker is no longer a spokesperson for the case.

The San Francisco-based Prism Foundation advocates for the LGBTQ AAPI community.

It’s board of directors in a statement to the Blade said “our community has repeatedly been subjected to anti-Asian rhetoric and brutality towards our elderly.” The statement adds “recent events, including the premeditated murders in Atlanta, makes it evidently clear the refusal to recognize the atrocities for what they are — hate and racism.”

“These events perpetuate the model minority myth that anti-Asian racism isn’t real,” it reads. “We must make it plainly clear: the hate and violence on the API community must stop. Our community will be seen and heard.”

Guam Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio, who is openly gay, said elected and religious leaders can no longer remain silent about racism.

“What bothers me most about the shootings in Atlanta, the violent attacks on Asians, especially the elderly, and the insurrection at the Capitol is the silence and indifference of so many leaders, both elected and religious,” he told the Blade. “We cannot allow these acts to go unpunished and must hold these leaders accountable for their roles in sowing division.”

Guam Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Wills said the shootings raise larger questions about the treatment of AAPI people in the U.S.

“There’s a few different things that come to mind, and some of it is deeply systemic,” they told the Blade.

“A question that comes to mind for me very, very, very easily is why was the massage parlor even open during a pandemic? Why did these folks have to work in the middle of a global crisis that necessitates people not touching? Why were they not cared for by society and the state more deeply, to the point at which they had to do this labor?” added Wills.

“I even think about … the kind of broader things about it, about how legacies of war and imperialism made it so that Asian women, Asian trans folks, Asian sex workers are overly fetishized and thought of as just bodies for pleasure and not humans, not full humans,” they told the Blade. “There’s things like that when it when I think of this as a preventable violence, I’m like, these folks should not have had to work in the ways that they had not had that, that they had to work and show up and earn money to live and survive. And these folks as humans should not have had to exist in the society in which they were dehumanized from so many different angles.”

A reporter during Wednesday’s press conference asked Bottoms whether the three spas “were places where somebody could have had sexual encounters.”

“We are not about to get into victim blaming, victim shaming here,” said Bottoms.

Shootings ‘clearly a hate crime’

Authorities have not charged the shooter under Georgia’s hate crimes law, which took effect last summer. Park told the Blade he “would” categorize the shootings as a hate crime.

Michael T. Nguyen, chair of the GLBTQ+ Asian Pacific Alliance, a San Francisco-based LGBTQ AAPI advocacy group, agreed.

“The shooter hit up three different massage parlors,” Nguyen told the Blade. “It’s very intentional. You don’t just go drive, park, kill, go back, drive, park and kill. To me, it’s clearly a hate crime.”

Wills said the shootings were “100 percent motivated by race and gender and hate, but was hesitant to describe them as a hate crime.

“I don’t like the framing of hate crime because it doesn’t matter,” they said. “The legality of it is not the focus to me … the criminalization part is not the focus.”

“The sheriff of the county is rushing to humanize the assailant, while people continue to dehumanize those of those who have been lost,” added Wills. “This is an act of racialized and gendered violence, fueled by hate and vitriolic belief.”

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Florida

Florida prohibits Medicaid reimbursement for trans healthcare

Lambda Legal tells the LA Blade its “exploring all possible avenues for challenging this discriminatory rulemaking”

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Photo Credit: Equality Florida

TALLAHASSEE – On Thursday, Florida officially joined the roster of conservative states whose Medicaid programs carve out coverage exemptions for transgender related healthcare, including gender-affirming therapies for young people. 

Against the guidance of mainstream medical opinion, the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) ratified new rules prohibiting taxpayer reimbursement for puberty blockers, hormone therapies, or surgical procedures to treat gender dysphoria. 

“We are exploring all possible avenues for challenging this discriminatory rulemaking,” wrote Carl Charles, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, in an emailed statement to The Los Angeles Blade. “Lambda Legal has secured victories on this issue in other states such as Alaska (Being v. Crum), and just this month in our case, Fain v. Crouch, in West Virginia.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and its Florida Chapter (FCAAP) wrote in an emailed statement to The Blade that they were “disheartened” by AHCA’s finalization of rules blocking Medicaid coverage for gender affirming care: 

“The state’s interference with the physician-patient relationship and its prohibition of this vital care will negatively impact Floridians who are trying to live their lives as their true, healthiest selves. As pediatricians, our only goal is to work with families and provide our patients with the best evidence-based care possible. When necessary and appropriate, that includes gender-affirming care. The AAP and FCAAP will continue to stand up in support of all young people, including those who are transgender.”

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not return a request for comment in time for publication. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Also on Thursday, Florida’s AHCA inaccurately accused HHS and the AAP of misleading the public about the safety of transgender related healthcare, though it was not the first time the state’s health agency has butted up against its federal counterparts and associations of medical practitioners. 

AHCA previously issued a bulletin in April that prompted rebukes from groups including the Endocrine Society, which accused AHCA of spreading misinformation about healthcare treatments for transgender people, including youth. The bulletin’s contents also conflicted with official positions on these matters held by HHS. 

A coalition of legal advocacy organizations including Lambda Legal immediately condemned the AHCA’s latest move in a joint statement Thursday, writing: “Ignoring thousands of public comments and expert testimony, Florida’s AHCA has finalized a rule that will deny Medicaid coverage for all medically necessary gender-affirming care for both youth and adults. This discriminatory and medically unsound rule will take effect on August 21, 2022, putting transgender people in jeopardy of losing access to critical gender-affirming health care services.”

The statement also took aim at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: “AHCA’s actions, at the behest of Governor DeSantis and his political appointees, are morally and legally wrong as well as medically and scientifically unsound. This rule represents a dangerous escalation in Governor DeSantis’s political zeal to persecute LGBTQ+ people in Florida, and particularly transgender youth.”

The Movement Advancement Project publishes a chart tracking state-by-state Medicaid coverage for transgender-related care, which is a patchwork of different exemptions and carveouts that generally maps onto the extent to which each leans conservative. 

Much like with other public health insurance programs like state employee health plans, discriminatory state Medicaid programs have often been the subject of litigation challenging them, in lawsuits that are often successful.

Nikole Parker, Equality Florida’s Director of Transgender Equality in an emailed statement said:

“Just over one week from today, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, at the behest of Governor DeSantis, plans to strip thousands of vulnerable Floridians of their health care. Transgender people have been accessing gender-affirming care through Medicaid for years. That care is now being shut off by a state agency that has been corrupted, weaponized, and stacked with extremists by a governor desperate to fuel his own political ambitions.

Today, more than 9,000 transgender Floridians access care through Medicaid. On August 21, the state government will put  that care on the chopping block. As further evidence for his complete disregard for the health and well being of transgender Floridians, the DeSantis Administration has done nothing to quantify or assess the terrible impact this rule would have on the thousands of transgender people who rely on Medicaid for their care. The transgender community, like all people, shouldn’t have necessary, life-saving care stripped away by extremist politicians working overtime to stoke right-wing fervor. This brazen, politically-motivated attack is cruel, dangerous and puts the health of thousands at risk.”

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Virginia

Virginia’s Gov. Youngkin will force teachers to out their LGBTQ+ students

“I firmly believe that teachers and schools have an obligation to make sure that parents are well informed”

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Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin (Screenshot/YouTube CBS News)

RICHMOND – Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin affirmed his support on Tuesday for measures that would require teachers to notify parents of their children’s sexual orientation or gender identity, regardless of the students’ consent. 

The move was justified under the pretext of protecting “parental rights,” a specious argument that has given cover to policies enacted by conservative legislatures across the country that target LGBTQ+ people, including students, in public schools. 

“With regards to informing parents with most important decisions about their children…Parents should be at the forefront of all of these discussions,” Youngkin told WJLA News. “And I firmly believe that teachers and schools have an obligation to make sure that parents are well informed about what’s happening in their kids’ lives.”

Critics, however, charge that coming out is an intensely personal act, that taking away a student’s ability to do so on their own terms can be psychologically damaging, intrusive, and hurtful. In some cases, for students whose parents or guardians might harbor anti-LGBTQ+ views, it can be dangerous. 

Lambda Legal reports between 20 and 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+ and are “frequently rejected by their families or fleeing abusive long-term placements.” Forcibly outing young LGBTQ+ people can mean they will be forced to live on the streets. 

Notwithstanding Youngkin’s efforts to portray himself as a moderate when campaigning for governor, Tuesday’s statement follows a series of extreme rightward moves he has made with respect to education policies in the state that concern LGBTQ+ youth and subject matter. 

Florida’s controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which critics termed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, was similarly premised on the right of parents to control the material to which their children will have access in school. 

In reality, the overbroad legislation prohibits any classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity for students in certain grades, which could potentially lead to disciplinary action against a teacher who mentions their same-sex spouse. 

Youngkin has similarly taken aim at educational materials in public schools, such as by signing into law SB656, which requires parental notification of nebulously defined “sexually explicit content.” 

Just after taking office in January, he set up a “tip line” to solicit comments from Virginia parents on “divisive practices” or the inclusion of curricula and materials they may consider objectionable. 

Plaintiffs in multiple lawsuits, the most recent of which was filed on Monday, accuse Youngkin of violating public records laws by his refusal to share “tip line” emails with news media organizations.

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Vermont

Out Vermont state senator wins Democratic primary in U.S. House race

Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress

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Screenshot via Becca Balint for Congress

MONTPELIER – The Green Mountain State’s state Senate president pro tempore has won the Democratic nomination for the state’s at-large congressional seat, the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Becca Balin is running to succeed U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress if elected in November. Vermont is the only state that has never had a female member of its congressional delegation.

The VTDigger, a statewide news website, reported; “Balint, 53, is the first openly gay woman elected to the Vermont Senate and the first woman to serve as its president. The former middle school teacher and stay-at-home mother won her first political contest in a race for her southeastern Vermont Senate seat in 2014

She rose quickly through the ranks of the Democrat-controlled chamber, becoming majority leader in 2017, at the start of her second term. Four years later, in 2021, she was elected pro tem — the top position in the Senate.”

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