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West Virginia Senate Passes Anti-Trans Athlete Bill

This fight is far from over

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West Virginia State Senate Chambers (Official West Virginia State Government Photo)

CHARLESTON, WV – The West Virginia State Senate passed HB 3293 Thursday, an anti-transgender bill that would ban transgender girls and women from participating in sports at the elementary, secondary, or post-secondary level consistent with their gender identity. The bill now heads back to the House for concurrence on the Senate version.  

West Virginia is one of 30 states that has introduced a slate of discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ legislation this session, part of a fast and furious effort led by national anti-LGBTQ groups aiming to stymie LGBTQ progress made on the national level and in many states.

“This fight is far from over,” said Fairness West Virginia Executive Director Andrew Schneider. “Transgender kids across West Virginia deserve love, support, and the chance to fully participate in the sport they love, and we’ll continue standing up for them every day. Senators have unfortunately made this bad bill even worse by extending the transgender athlete ban to cover colleges and universities without any regard for how that could affect West Virginia University’s standing with the NCAA. This bill is bad for business, it’s bad for our state’s image, and it’s bad for kids who are just looking to belong.”

There are so far more than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country. Of those, 105 directly target transgender people and about half of those (56 bills) would, like HB 3293, ban transgender girls and women from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.

The majority of the legislative efforts are driven by the Heritage Foundation and the Alliance Defending Freedom, (ADF), a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group. The first anti-trans sports bill was in Montana, HB 112, and was pushed by and worked on by the ADF.

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World

Out in the World: LGBTQ+ news from Europe & Asia

LGBTQ+ news stories from around the globe including Australia, China, Philippines, Ukraine, Slovenia & Qatar

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AUSTRALIA

Sydney Mardi Gras parade pays tribute to a murdered gay couple from New South Wales, Jesse Baird and Luke Davies. In its annual float, Qantas airlines painted the name of Davies who worked for the carrier as a flight attendant on the side of the faux cockpit.
(Screenshot/YouTube ABC News Australia)

SYDNEY, Australia – As the 46th Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras ended its two week long celebrations with the annual massive Mardi Gras parade on Oxford Street this past weekend, this year’s celebration marred by the murder of a gay couple that jarred the country’s entire LGBTQ+ community, the parade came to a halt on Saturday in a powerful act of remembrance for the couple, Jesse Baird and Luke Davies.

In its annual float, Qantas airlines paid tribute to Davies who worked for the carrier as a flight attendant. A Qantas spokesperson confirmed that Davies’ name was added prominently on the side of the Qantas float, and the airline’s Executive Manager Cabin Crew Leeanne Langridge in a statement said that Davies “was a much-loved member of the Qantas cabin crew community in Brisbane and Sydney.

“He had a passion for travel, life, his family and friends and the customers that he served. He will be deeply missed. The whole team at Qantas are thinking of Luke and Jesse’s loved ones,” Lanridge said.

The Sydney Star Observer, the country’s largest queer news media outlet, reported that a New South Wales police officer Beaumont Lamarre-Condon, who reportedly once dated Baird a Network 10 reporter and a sports official, umpiring in AFL matches in the Northern Football and Netball League, has been charged with their murders.

Jesse Baird (L) and Luke Davies (R) (Photo Credit: @jessebairddd/Instagram and NSW Police)

Lamarre-Condon is accused of shooting them dead with his police-issued sidearm at Baird’s home in Paddington, Sydney. The couple’s remains were found at a property at Bungonia, near Goulburn, around 185 kilometers south of Sydney on February 27, 2024. 

The murder of the couple caused the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras organizers to uninvite police from the iconic Mardi Gras parade the BBC reported.

The parade’s board said the decision to exclude police, who have taken part in the annual march for over two decades, was “not taken lightly” but that it was essential to create a safe environment “to protest, celebrate” and “honour and grieve those we’ve lost”.

Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade has a complex history of both LGBT activism and police brutality, after the first march in 1978 resulted in dozens of people being beaten and arrested by local officers, the BBC noted.

CHINA

Lai Ke (also known as Xiran) (Photo Credit: Xiran/WeChat)

HONG KONG, China – A Chinese transgender activist is facing deportation back to mainland China as she is scheduled for release on Sunday from Siu Lam Psychiatric Center, a psychiatric detention institution where Hong Kong authorities usually hold transgender detainees.

Lai Ke (also known as Xiran) was convicted of using “forged” documents to attempt to travel from China to Toronto, Canada via Hong Kong last year. Lai Ke was detained at Hong Kong International Airport on May 3, 2023 while transferring to a flight to Toronto having begun her journey in Shanghai.

Lai was convicted in a Hong Kong court on 16 June 2023 and sentenced to 15 months in prison, which she served at the Siu Lam Psychiatric Center. A release notice from the Center seen by Amnesty International states that Lai is due to be released early for good behaviour on 2 March. As Lai is not a resident of Hong Kong, she is subject to being deported to mainland China under Section 19 of the Hong Kong Immigration Ordinance. 

“Time is of the essence to prevent Lai Ke from being unlawfully deported to mainland China, where she would be at grave risk of serious human rights violations – including arbitrary detention, unfair trial, and even torture and other ill-treatment – due to both her transgender identity and her activism,” Sarah Brooks, the Deputy Regional Director, Asia for Amnesty International said.  

“To return her given these risks would be an abandonment of Hong Kong’s obligations under international law.” 

Lai Ke had been a vocal advocate for transgender rights in China alongside her partner. According to her friends, her partner was imprisoned in China in June 2023 on account of her own activism and her transgender identity. 

While serving her sentence, Lai has been denied access to the medication she was taking as a part of her hormone replacement therapy and held in solitary confinement for complaining about the denial of her medical treatment, her friends added. 

“There is a very real risk that Lai Ke will face persecution – including further imprisonment – if she is returned to mainland China,” said Brooks.

PHILIPPINES

Drag performer Pura Luka Vega, aka Amadeus Fernando Pagente booking photo.
(Photo Credit: Pura Luka Vega/Amadeus Fernando Pagente & Manila Police)

MANILA, Luzon, Philippines – A 33-year-old drag queen who had been incarcerated in a Manila jail last Fall for allegedly violating the Catholic-majority country’s obscenity laws for his performance dressed as Jesus Christ, performing a rock version of the Lord’s Prayer in Tagalog, was arrested again this past week.

Investigators from the Manila Police District, charged Amadeus Fernando Pagente, who performs under the stage/drag name Pura Luka Vega, for six counts of alleged violation of Article 201 including immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions, and indecent shows. The arrest of the drag artist on February 29, 2024, was due to a warrant issued by a court in Quezon City.

Supporters and fans raised the bail of 720,000 Philippine pesos, (12852.55 USD) and Pagente was released on Friday, March 1. In a post on X (formerly Twitter) the drag artist thanked his benefactors writing: “The fight still goes on, life still goes on. I am very grateful to those who helped me with my bail. To my drag sisters who tirelessly helped me and organized fund raising for legal fees, thank you very much. Thank you.”

These latest charges stem from a complaint issued by the Kapisanan ng Social Media Broadcasters ng Pilipinas, a broadcast media organization, on behalf of Philippines for Jesus Movement.

This is the second time the Philippines for Jesus Movement, comprising Protestant church leaders, has registered a criminal complaint with prosecutors against the drag performer. He was accused of violating obscenity laws for his performance dressed as Jesus Christ, performing a rock version of the Lord’s Prayer in Tagalog last August. He was incarcerated and then later released.

At the time Pagente told Agence France-Presse: “The arrest shows the degree of homophobia” in the Philippines. “I understand that people call my performance blasphemous, offensive, or regrettable. However, they shouldn’t tell me how I practice my faith or how I do my drag.”

Ryan Thoreson, a specialist at the Human Rights Watch’s LGBT+ rights program, also called for the charges against Pagente to be dropped. “Freedom of expression includes artistic expression that offends, satirizes, or challenges religious beliefs,” Thoreson told the BBC.

UKRAINE

Victor Pilipenko/Telegram

KYIV, Ukraine – A Ukrainian army combat medic was stripped of honors awarded to his unit by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church after the church leadership was informed that he was gay.

Viktor Pylypenko, a medic with 1st mechanized battalion, 72nd Black Zaporozhians Brigade medical corps along with his fellow servicemembers were awarded medals for “sacrifice and love to Ukraine” by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate’s Patriarch Filaret for their actions and deeds serving in the Donbas region against the Russian invaders.

Pylypenko who serves as an openly gay soldier together with the commander of the medical corps, Yurii Lytvynenko, arrived from Donbas to receive the medals from Patriarch Filaret. The Patriarch personally thanked Pylypenko for his service.

According to the Ukrainian news website obozrevatel.com, that after receiving the award, the soldier published a post on his Facebook page thanking Patriarch Filarett for the award, thinking that in this way the UOC changed its attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community.

“I am sincerely glad that Patriarch Filaret took such a step and thanked me, an openly gay man and human rights activist, for the protection. He gave me a medal with his signature and seal. He and the Kyiv Patriarchate headed by him have radically changed their position on LGBTQ+ people and no longer consider us “sinful” or the cause of the coronavirus,” Pylypenko wrote.

On February 25 the church responded in its own Facebook post calling Pylypenko’s post a falsehood:

Among the distinguished military personnel of the medical point was Victor Pilipenko. Unfortunately, on his social media pages, he posted false information about Patriarch Filaret awarding him a distinction as openly gay for human rights and that Patriarch Filaret and the Kyiv Patriarchate radically changed their negative position on LGBT.

This is an outright lie and manipulation.

Taking into account the efforts of the dark forces to distort the consistent position of the upc of the Kyiv Patriarchate, we want to officially state:

1. Soldier Victor Pilipenko received a thank you from the Church, exclusively as a defender of Ukraine, not as an LGBT activist, at the submission of his fellow soldiers from the combat unit of the heroic 72nd Brigade of the Black Zaporozhye. Patriarch Filaret did not personally award the Pilipenkoví medal and did not know about his sinful tendencies.

2. Holy Patriarch Filaret and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, based on the foundations of the Holy Scriptures, the thousand-year teaching of the Orthodox Church, invariably occupies a principled negative position on Sodom sin, condemns propaganda t. zv “same-sex marriages”. Homosexual sex relationships are a false distortion of the God-given nature of man. As said in the Bible, the Lord Himself for the sins of people destroyed Sodom and Homorrah. The Patriarch repeatedly stated it publicly and in court proved the legality of such his right.

3. We thank warrior Victor Pilipenko (as well as all our defenders for defending our liberty and territorial integrity) for his military service, but we do not divide his sinful likeness and LGBT agitation. We inform that due to open propaganda of sinful ideology and the denial of the existence of God, consider the church award to Victor Pilipenko from 08.02.2024 Order no. 27468 – revoked.

The Apostle Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians warned: “he deceive yourself: neither prostitutes, nor idolosuluzeliji, nor adulterous, nor malakí̈, nor mužoložcí, nor thieves, nor lehvari, nor drunkards, nor lihoslovci, nor predators – the kingdom of God will not inherit. And such were some of you; but washed, but sanctified, but justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God» (1 Cor. 6, 9-11).

Based on the foundations of Christian evangelical love for all, sinners in particular, desiring them salvation, we urge everyone to repent of their personal sins.

Then the church’s press service said: “We would like to inform you that in view of the open propaganda of a sinful ideology and the denial of the existence of God, the church award to Viktor Pylypenko is hereby revoked.”

Pilipenko then accused the Kyiv Patriarchate of awarding the medals as a PR campaign:

“I wrote words of gratitude to Filaret, naively imagining that he deliberately awarded me and showed his colleagues a Christian, undoubtedly noble gesture, a signpost to reconciliation and mutual respect for gays, atheists, and people of other faiths. But everything turned out to be more prosaic: Filaret was just handing out his awards as a PR campaign for his denomination.”

Outrage from his fellow soldiers and others has been building regarding the Kyiv Patriarchate’s actions.

Ilia Krotenko, a fighter with the 72nd Black Zaporozhians Brigade, emphasized that the “trinkets” handed out by the church are worthless.

“In connection with the absolutely disgusting act of the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate and Patriarch Filaret, who took away the award from war veteran Viktor Pylypenko only because he is openly gay, I also refuse a similar award of my own,” he wrote.

SLOVENIA

8th of March Research Institute protests in Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia.
(Photo Credit: 8th of March Research Institute)

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia – Activists from across Europe, including Slovenia, Spain, France and Poland formed an alliance to launch a petition today to collect over 300,000 signatures as a first step towards laying the groundwork to ensure that in Europe, reproductive rights are safeguarded and accessible for each and every woman.

This event marks a pivotal moment where voices from diverse European nations unite to advocate for reproductive rights, underscoring the collective resolve to ensure the safety and accessibility of abortion services across the continent.

Nika Kovac, founding director of the 8th of March Research Institute, part of the new alliance, said, “The need to kick off the petition is driven by a deep concern over the erosion of reproductive rights, as witnessed in various parts of the world, including the United States and Poland. We are dedicated to creating a network of friends united by shared values of empathy and solidarity. The key to change is international solidarity.”

“The freedom to choose our body is a common value in every single country of Europe. We are here to demand that it also becomes a right that everyone has in practice,” she added.

Though a large majority of Europeans support abortion, the values of women’s bodily autonomy and their freedom to choose are not shared by all governments and state laws. In a significant number of EU countries, legal and access restrictions prove to be a considerable hurdle for those who need it the most. Slovenia has proven to be a significant outlier, being the only European country to enshrine the right to abortion in its constitution with France currently trying to do the same.

“Ban on abortion kills women, ban on abortion ruins lives and the lack of access to abortion kills women and ruins lives,” said Marta Lempart, founder of Polish Women’s Strike, who has been the loudest advocate for reproductive rights in the country.

“In my country, women die in state hospitals because they are denied abortions. Each time it happens, we cry and protest and say ‘not one more’ but today I am not here to cry and shout but to say that we can get through it. You will never walk alone.”

“In many countries, abortions are legal but not free, so, it’s only for rich people; Also, in many countries abortions are legal, but women are intimidated, and humiliated for accessing a health service. This should not be happening. We need solidarity as we need to protect women not only in Poland but across Europe.”

Alice Coffin, who leads permanent action against patriarchal structures that harm French society and is a member of the alliance, said, “While Poland is infamous for severely restricted access to abortion, populist far-right parties with the same agenda are emerging across the continent. Their anti-abortion agenda is rarely in the forefront of their public communication but it becomes an important policy point if they achieve power. However, there is widespread public opposition to these measures.”

She added, “The French Senate is due to vote on including abortion in its Constitution on Wednesday 28 February. The President of the Senate is opposed. The Vatican has expressed its anger. But we have every hope that it will come to pass. So, abortion is an issue that will be very much on the political and media agenda in France over the next few days.”

The petition will actively be distributed among various individuals across multiple countries to ensure wide reach and engagement with the aim of gathering an initial 300,000 signatures. With this petition, the coalition hopes to build momentum and support for the substantive changes they aim to achieve.

The initiative represents a powerful, united front of committed individuals and organizations, and was attended by prominent feminist activists including Nika Kovač who has been one of the initiators of the #metoo movement in Slovenia, Marta Lempart, activist, and founder of the Polish Women’s Strike, who has been the loudest advocate for reproductive rights in a country with an almost total ban on abortions and has organized the biggest pro reproductive rights protests in the history of Poland (Poland), Alice Coffin, renowned feminist and author from France, Silvia Casalino, activist from France, along with Dr. Imma Clarà, director of the Spanish organization L’Associació, LGBT activist and researcher Kika Fumero, feminist activist and journalist Cristina Fallarás who launched the Spanish #MeToo movement, #Cuéntalo (Spain) participated in the petition launch.

The coalition’s political stance stems from a fundamental disagreement with the reality that women in Europe still face life-threatening risks due to lack of access to safe abortion services.

The coalition’s overall goal is to safeguard and advance abortion rights across Europe, ensuring that all women have access to the safe, respectful, and legal healthcare services they deserve.

QATAR 

Manuel Guerrero Aviña and the British Embassy DoHo, Qatar
(Photo Credit: Twitter/UK Government)

DOHA, Qatar – An HIV positive openly gay dual British and Mexican citizen is being held because of his sexuality in this peninsular Arab country bordering the Persian Gulf. Manuel Guerrero Aviña, 44-year-old Qatar Airways employee, has been imprisoned since February 4 after responding to a false Grindr text.

PinkNewsUK reported according to his brother Enrique Aviña, who is leading the campaign QatarFreeManuel, his brother is being imprisoned because of his sexuality, and has been denied access to antiretroviral medicines.

“Qatar police used a false Grindr profile to contact Manuel and invite him to participate in a meeting with other people from the LGBT community in the city of Doha,” Enrique Aviña told British newspaper The Mirror. 

“Manuel was supposed to meet a person he thought he had arranged an appointment with on the night of 4 February but instead encountered police officers who were waiting to arrest him.”

“He has been denied the right to a lawyer and has been forced to sign documents in Arabic without a translator to assist him. Even worse, he has been prevented access to antiretroviral medicines he needs to be able to live with HIV, which constitutes an act of torture and puts his life at risk,” Enrique Aviña said.

PinkNewsUk also reported because Aviña registered as a British national when he was hired by Qatar Airlines and moved there to work, the Mexican Embassy in Qatar said, the British Embassy is dealing with his case, but Mexican consular officers been in contact with his family.

“With regards to the case of Manuel Guerrero Aviña, who has Mexican and British nationality and is currently under arrest in Doha, the Mexican Embassy in Qatar confirms it has been following developments since it was informed about the detention,” an embassy statement read.

“It has been in constant contact with his relatives and has confirmed Manuel has legal representation.”

A spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office told PinkNewsUK: “We are providing consular assistance to a British man who is detained in Qatar and are supporting his family.”

Additional reporting from The Sydney Star Observer, ABC News Australia, The BBC, Agence France-Presse, Obozrevatel.com, Kyiv Post, and PinkNewsUK.

 

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Los Angeles County

Ballot-dropoff sites at Metro transit stations & free rides election day

Metro issued a map of its route lines which includes nine locations that have dropoff boxes for ballots. The free rides include buses & trains

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles/Metro Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – On Primary Election Day which is next Tuesday March 5, the Los Angeles area regional transit agency Metro is again offering free public transit rides on Election Day to help voters reach the polls.

Metro issued a map of its route lines which includes nine locations that have dropoff boxes for ballots. The free rides include all Metro buses, trains, bike share and Micro rideshare.

On Election Day – Tuesday March 5 – polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. but the free rides continue until midnight.

The Super Tuesday ballot includes the presidential race, California’s U.S. Senate seat, multiple seats in Congress and many local races and measures.

RIDE FREE ON METRO ON ELECTION DAY TUESDAY!

ballot dropoff at 9 stations http://mtro.la/fw2F50QK2SN

plan trip Google/Apple maps, http://metro.net

polling locations etc http://lavote.gov

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Los Angeles County

Connie Norman Trans Center is first voting center in a trans space

Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center prepares to open as a voting place Saturday for Los Angeles County primary voting

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California Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis addressing the audience at the Connie Norman Trans Empowerment Center. (Photo Credit: Paulo Murillo)

By Paulo Murillo | LOS ANGELES – California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Katy Yaroslavsky paid a visit to the Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center (CONOTEC) on Thursday morning, joining FLUX, the Unique Women’s Coalition (UWC), and the Human Rights Campaign in commemorating a historic moment.

The center has made U.S. history by becoming the nation’s first Vote Center situated within a Transgender establishment. The center prepares to open as a voting place Saturday for Los Angeles County primary voting.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Katy Yaroslavsky

FLUX’s Queen Victoria Ortega, UWC’s Queen Chela Demuir, Councilwoman Katy Yaroslavsky, and the Lieutenant Governor marked this milestone by announcing that CONOTEC would open its doors to all Los Angeles County voters from Saturday, March 2, through primary election day on Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis expressed, “The opening of the nation’s first transgender voting center today in Los Angeles marks a significant milestone in our efforts to champion equity, inclusivity, and LGBTQA+ rights in California. By providing a safe and affirming space for the transgender community to exercise their fundamental right to vote, we are breaking down barriers and ensuring every Californian has equal access to the ballot box.”

Councilwoman Katy Yaroslavsky added, “I couldn’t be prouder that L.A.’s Fifth Council District is now home to the first voting center in the Nation located in a transgender facility. As extremists across the country continue their endless attacks on both the LGBT Community and our democracy, Los Angeles must stand as a beacon of hope. I want to thank CONOTEC for opening this voting center and for the critical work they do every day to support the needs of the Los Angeles transgender and nonbinary community.”

California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis and LA City Councilwoman Katy Yaroslavsky joined FLUX, Unique Woman’s Coalition, and Human Rights Campaign at Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center today as it prepares to open Saturday for Los Angeles County primary voting

Queen Victoria Ortega, international president of FLUX, stated, “Fighting to provide a safe and welcoming place for our transgender and non-binary siblings is exactly why the Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center exists. We will continue to work towards equality for all.”

Queen Chela Demuir of UWC echoed, “We have reached out to our transgender community across Los Angeles County, encouraging them to join us to vote here at the Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center. This is our home. This is their home. Everyone is welcome here. Come and cast your ballot and do your civic duty to make your voice heard.”

In Los Angeles County, voters can cast their ballot at any Vote Center, irrespective of their residential address. Dean Logan, Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, highlighted, “Our vote center model gives us the flexibility to locate vote centers in facilities and communities that give voters options that convey the significance of being heard through the act of voting.”

Voter registration services are available at all vote centers, and voters can drop off their voted mail ballot at any vote center as well.

Brian Michael Smith, actor from 911 Lone Star and Human Rights Campaign Board Member, stated, “The Human Rights Campaign is proud to stand with and assist Queens Victoria and Chela as they do critical work of fighting for Equality for all – without exception. Part of that equality includes having a safe space for voting in your community.”

The Connie Norman Trans Empowerment Center, named in honor of Connie Norman, the ‘AIDS Diva,’ a fearless Transgender and AIDS activist who passed away in 1996, opened on September 10, 2021.

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Paulo Murillo is Editor in Chief and Publisher of WEHO TIMES. He brings over 20 years of experience as a columnist, reporter, and photo journalist.

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The preceding article was previously published by WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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Texas

Texas AG’s effort to persecute families of trans youth blocked

PFLAG received demands from Paxton to turn over documents, communications, & info related to its work helping families with trans adolescents

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Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse. Austin, Texas. (Photo Credit: Travis County Texas government)

AUSTIN, Texas – Travis County District Court Judge Maria Cantú Hexsel today blocked the latest effort by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to persecute Texas families with transgender youth, temporarily halting the Attorney General’s demand that PFLAG, Inc. turn over information and documents about its support of families in Texas seeking gender-affirming medical care for their transgender youth.

PFLAG National, a nonprofit group that supports LGBTQ people and their families, sued the Republican Texas Attorney General late Wednesday in Travis County District Court, arguing that the demand from Paxton’s office was “a clear and unmistakable overreach.”

Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU, and Transgender Law Center, who filed a new lawsuit on behalf of PFLAG National and requested a temporary restraining order against the Attorney General’s investigative demands on Wednesday evening, issued the following joint statement:

We’re grateful that the Court saw the harm the Attorney General’s Office’s intrusive demands posed for PFLAG National and its Texas members — and is protecting them from having to respond while we continue to litigate the legality of the office’s requests. We now will return to court to seek an extended and ultimately permanent block so that PFLAG can continue supporting its Texas members with transgender youth in doing what all loving parents do: supporting and caring for their children.”

On February 9, PFLAG National received civil demands from the Attorney General’s Office to turn over documents, communications, and information related to PFLAG National and the organization’s work helping families with transgender adolescents.

related

PFLAG National is a plaintiff in two lawsuits filed against restrictions on gender-affirming medical care for adolescents in Texas: one lawsuit Loe v. Texas, challenging S.B. 14, the state’s ban on gender-affirming medical care for minors, and PFLAG v. Abbott, challenging the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) rule mandating investigations of parents who work with medical professionals to provide their adolescent transgender children with medically necessary healthcare.

Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU, Transgender Law Center, and the law firm Arnold & Porter represent PFLAG, Inc. in this newly filed case.

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Oklahoma

HRC triggers U.S. Dept. of Ed investigation of Owasso Schools

HRC’s letter regarded Owasso Public Schools failure to respond to harassment that may have contributed to the death of Nex Benedict

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Photo Credit: Owasso Public Schools, Owasso, Oklahoma.

WASHINGTON — On Friday the U.S. Department of Education informed Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Kelley Robinson that the department will open an investigation in response to HRC’s letter regarding Owasso Public Schools and its failure to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment that may have contributed to the tragic death of Nex Benedict (he/they), a 16-year-old non-binary teen of Choctaw heritage.

This investigation was triggered by a formal complaint made last week by Robinson, who wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and asked his department to use the enforcement mechanisms at its disposal to prevent similar tragedies from taking place in the future and to help hold accountable those responsible for Nex’s tragic death.

The letter from the Department of Education reads: “the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), is opening for investigation the above-referenced complaint that you filed against the Owasso Public Schools (the District). Your complaint alleges that the District discriminated against students by failing to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment, of which it had notice, at Owasso High School during the 2023-2024 school year,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

“Nex’s family, community, and the broader 2SLGBTQI+ (two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex+)  community in Oklahoma are still awaiting answers following their tragic loss. We appreciate the Department of Education responding to our complaint and opening an investigation–we need them to act urgently so there can be justice for Nex, and so that all students at Owasso High School and every school in Oklahoma can be safe from bullying, harassment, and discrimination,” Robinson added.

According to the letter, OCR is opening the following issues for investigation:

  • Whether the District failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students in a manner consistent with the requirements of Title IX.
  • Whether the District failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students in a manner consistent with the requirements of Section 504 and Title II.

HRC sent a second letter to the Department asking it to promptly begin an investigation into the Oklahoma State Department of Education, as well as the current State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ryan Walters. In addition:

  • Robinson wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Department of Justice to begin an investigation into Nex’s death.
  • Robinson wrote to Dr. Margaret Coates, superintendent of the Owasso school district in Oklahoma, calling for the superintendent to take advantage of the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools program— the most comprehensive bias-based bullying prevention program in the nation to provide LGBTQ+ and gender inclusive training and resources — and offering to bring experts to the district immediately.

The full text of the letter from the Department of Education in response to HRC can be found here.

The full text of the initial letter from HRC President Kelley Robinson to Secretary Cardona can be found here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Guilty pleas in Planned Parenthood arson attack

The men also discussed and researched how to attack the Dodger Stadium’s electrical room on a night celebrating LGBTQ+ pride

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Planned Parenthood clinic Costa Mesa (Photo Credit: Costa Mesa Health Center of Costa Mesa)

SANTA ANA, Calif. – An Orange County man pleaded guilty Thursday to a firebombing attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Costa Mesa in March 2022 and planning to attack an electrical substation in Orange County, and further admitted to plotting an attack on Dodger Stadium last June on the Dodger’s annual Pride night game.

Tibet Ergul, 22, of Irvine, pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to damage an energy facility and one misdemeanor count of intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 30 and faces a maximum penalty of 21 years in prison.

According to his plea agreement, in February and March 2022, Ergul and Chance Brannon, 24, of San Juan Capistrano, California, agreed to use a Molotov cocktail to damage a Planned Parenthood clinic in Orange County.

Ergul and Brannon, who at the time was an active-duty U.S. Marine, targeted the clinic because it provided reproductive health services and they wanted to encourage others to engage in similar violent acts. Ergul and Brannon also wanted to make a statement about abortion; scare pregnant women away from obtaining abortions; deter doctors, staff and employees at the clinic from providing abortions; and intimidate the clinic’s patients.

On March 12, 2022, in Ergul’s garage, Ergul and Brannon knowingly assembled a Molotov cocktail. During the early morning hours of March 13, 2022, Ergul and Brannon – disguised in dark clothing, masks, hoods and gloves – drove to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Costa Mesa, ignited the Molotov cocktail and threw it at the clinic’s entrance, intentionally starting a fire. Due to the fire and the damage it caused, the clinic was forced to temporarily close and reschedule approximately 30 patient appointments.

Ergul further admitted that in June 2022, following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, he and Brannon planned to use a second Molotov cocktail to attack another Planned Parenthood clinic. Ergul and Brannon abandoned this plan after seeing law enforcement near the targeted clinic.

Ergul also conspired with others, including Brannon, to damage a Southern California Edison electrical substation to debilitate Orange County’s power grid. Ergul and his accomplices planned to attack the substation by using firearms or a Molotov cocktail that Ergul possessed in his garage. Ergul and Brannon consulted with an associate about surveillance, drone operations and firearms.

In March 2023, Ergul messaged an associate to say he had found a substation in Orange to target. Ergul sent the associate aerial photographs of the substation and suggested doing a “drive-thru” at 3 a.m. Ergul also sent Brannon a letter in which he wrote: “The rifle is in a box in my room waiting to be used in the upcoming race war,” and he discussed a desire to murder politicians and journalists. Ergul and Brannon did not carry out this attack prior to their arrest in this case.

During the early summer of 2023, Ergul and Brannon also discussed and researched how to attack the Dodger Stadium parking lot or the stadium’s electrical room on a night celebrating LGBTQ+ pride, including by using a device that could be detonated remotely, Ergul admitted in his plea agreement. Brannon and Ergul exchanged sabotage manuals and discussed doing “dry runs” to “case” the stadium. Law enforcement arrested Ergul and Brannon two days before Dodger Stadium’s scheduled “Pride Night.”

Ergul, who has been in federal custody since June 2023, is the third and final defendant to plead guilty in this case.

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Brannon, who also has been in federal custody since June 2023, pleaded guilty in November to four crimes: conspiracy, malicious destruction of property by fire and explosives, possession of an unregistered destructive device and intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility – a violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. Brannon’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 15.

Xavier Batten, 21, of Brooksville, Florida, who has been in federal custody since July 2023, pleaded guilty on Jan. 19 to one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device and one count of intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility. Batten’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 15.

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigated this matter. The Costa Mesa Police Department and the Costa Mesa Fire Department provided substantial assistance.

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National

Judy and Dennis Shepard discuss Nex Benedict, anti-LGBTQ+ laws at DC event

Nonbinary Okla. high school student died last month after fight

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Dennis and Judy Shephard speak at the Raben Group’s D.C. offices on Feb. 29, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Amber Laenen)

WASHINGTON — Judy and Dennis Shepard on Thursday reflected on Nex Benedict’s death and the proliferation of anti-LGBTQ+ laws across the country during a discussion the Raben Group hosted at their D.C. office.

The discussion, which MSNBC host Jonathan Capehart moderated, took place less than a month after Benedict died.

Benedict, who was nonbinary, passed away on Feb. 8 after students at their high school in Owasso, Okla., assaulted them in a bathroom. 

Vice President Kamala Harris, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt are among those who have publicly responded to Benedict’s death, which took place after they endured months of bullying. More than 300 advocacy groups have demanded Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters’ removal and called for a federal investigation into the Oklahoma Department of Education’s “actions and policies” that have facilitated a “culture where rampant harassment of 2SLGBTQI+ students has been allowed to go unchecked.”

“Parents are doing whatever they can to protect and encourage and support kids, and you have these what I call evil, evil people around the country pushing these laws,” said Dennis Shepard.

He noted lawmakers around the country are pushing anti-LGBTQ+ laws and other efforts that include the elimination of diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Dennis Shepard also highlighted an effort to defund gender studies programs at the University of Wyoming.

“[It is] the old white male, Christian geezers who want to go back to the days of the 50s when they had that superior arrogant attitude,” he said. “They’re losing it and they don’t want to, so they’re passing everything they can.”

“What happened to Nex is a result of that,” added Dennis Shepard. “They feel like Henderson and McKinney felt when they took Matt out on the prairie.”

Matthew Shepard died on Oct. 12, 1998, after Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney brutally beat him and left him tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyo. Then-President Barack Obama in 2009 signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal hate crimes law.

“If you’re considered different, you’re in fear of your life right now because you don’t fit in and it’s got to stop,” said Dennis Shepard.

Judy Shepard echoed her husband, noting this moment is “the last gasp of the fight against the community.” 

“In my heart, I know this is a moment in time, and it’s going to pass. But also in that time, all these young people, everyone in the community is afraid, but young people are being terrorized,” she said. “It just shouldn’t be happening.”

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Missouri

Missouri teachers using affirming ‘pronouns’ could face felony crime

The proposed law prescribes penalties beyond a felony charge in the form of forcing the person convicted to register as a sexual offender

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State Representative Jamie Ray Gragg opens a session of the Missouri House of Representatives in February 2024. (Photo Credit: Missouri House of Representatives)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A new bill introduced in the Missouri legislature would put teachers on the sex offense registry if they “contribute to social transition” of a trans youth- including pronouns, haircuts, information, and more. It would make the actions of the teacher “contributing to social transition” a class E felony.

House Bill 2885 was introduced by Republican State Representative Jamie Ray Gragg (District 140 Christian County), a first term lawmaker who has previously publicly expressed strong anti-LGBTQ+ viewpoints as well as being anti-abortion rights. He sits on four House committees; Children and Families, Elementary and Secondary Education, Healthcare Reform, and Subcommittee on Appropriations- Education.

In the bill, the language reads:

  1. A person commits the offense of contributing to social transition if
    2 the person is acting in his or her official capacity as a teacher or school counselor and
    3 the person provides support, regardless of whether the support is material, information,
    4 or other resources to a child regarding social transition.
    5 2. The offense of contributing to social transition is a class E felony.
    6 3. As used in this section, the following terms mean:
    7 (1) “Child”, a person under eighteen years of age;
    8 (2) “Social transition”, the process by which an individual adopts the name,
    9 pronouns, and gender expression, such as clothing or haircuts, that match the
    10 individual’s gender identity and not the gender assumed by the individual’s sex at birth;
    11 (3) “Teacher”, as that term is defined in subdivisions (4), (5), and (7) of section
    12 168.104.

The proposed law prescribes penalties beyond a felony charge in the form of forcing the person convicted to register as a Tier I sexual offender with required annual registration.

Missouri legislative political watchers told the Blade late Thursday that the measure probably will die in committee hearings and should it make it to the floor of the House, passage is unlikely.

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Los Angeles

Mom says beating & stabbing of her 16-year-old son is a hate crime

The video shows the teen cover his face as he’s being stomped, kicked & stabbed as homophobic epithets & racist slurs can be heard being used

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Photo provided by the family of the victim

PLAYA DEL REY, Calif. – The mother of a sixteen-year-old boy is asking for community support as her son recovers from a vicious beating and stabbing by multiple people at Dockweiler Beach while his attackers shouted racial and homophobic slurs, the entire incident caught on mobile phone video.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department told the Blade that based on witness statements some of the suspect assailants have been identified as minors and are being interviewed by LAPD detectives. The spokesperson noted that investigators are aware of the video footage of the attack, including it in their criminal probe.

The mother Frankie, who chose to remain unidentified by her surname, told both the LAPD and KABC 7 Eyewitness News the assault happened Feb. 10 at a bonfire party at the beach. She says her son suffered a concussion and spent days in the intensive care unit with severe injuries.

“He had a tube going through his chest. They had to collapse a lung to repair the other lung,” she said. “They had to take a camera in his stomach to check to see if there was anything else going on in his stomach because there was so much blood.”

According to the mother, the fight started after her son tried to help a friend and that he was not the aggressor – a detail police confirmed to KABC Eyewitness News.

“When he went to go help her up I guess the guys didn’t like it, and they came and wanted to fight, and my son didn’t want any problems,” his mother said. “The guy just pushed him, and then another guy came and they just all started attacking him – there was nothing my son could do.”

The video showed the teen cover his face as he’s being stomped, kicked and stabbed by at least five assailants. Also homophobic epithets and racist slurs can be heard yelled by the attackers. Initially when she got to hospital, When she got to the hospital, doctors told her they weren’t sure if he would survive. “Everything went black from there,” she added.

The LAPD has not classified it as a hate crime and continue to investigate.

The mother has set up a GoFundMe page to help offset medical expenses which continue to increase as he remains in hospital recovering and the costs of relocating.

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U.S. Federal Courts

N.Y. AG joins multi-state brief in Colo. anti-trans discrimination case

“Denying service to someone simply because of who they are is illegal discrimination, plain and simple,” James said

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New York Attorney General Letitia James. (Photo Credit: State of New York)

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday joined a brief by 18 other Democratic state attorneys general urging the Colorado Supreme Court to uphold a lower court ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop for anti-trans discrimination.

A customer, Autumn Scardina, sued the business over claims that it refused to provide her a cake upon learning that it was for a celebration of her transition. The case is not the first in which owner Jack Smith has faced claims of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

In 2012, Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to fulfill an order for a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, which led to the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission — and a narrow ruling that did not address core legal questions weighing the constitutionality of First Amendment claims vis-a-vis the government’s enforcement of LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.

“Denying service to someone simply because of who they are is illegal discrimination, plain and simple,” James said in a press release. “Allowing this kind of behavior would undermine our nation’s fundamental values of freedom and equality and set a dangerous precedent.”

She added, “I am proud to stand with my fellow attorneys general against this blatant transphobic discrimination.”

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Scardina, noting that Smith objected to fulfilling her cake order only after learning about her intended use for it “and that Phillips did not believe the cake itself expressed any inherent message.”

The fact pattern in both cases against Masterpiece Cakeshop resembles that of another case that originated in Colorado and was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court last year, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis.

This time, the justices did not sidestep the question of whether the state’s anti-discrimination law can be enforced against a business owner, Lorie Smith, a website designer who claimed religious protections for her refusal to provide services to a same-sex couple for their nuptials.

The court’s conservative supermajority ruled in favor of Smith, which was widely seen as a blow to LGBTQ rights.

Joining James in her brief are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and D.C.

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