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First transgender woman elected in Peru dies from coronavirus

Luisa Revilla Urcia passed away on Thursday

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Luisa Revilla Urcia (Photo via Facebook)

TRUJILLO, Peru — The first openly transgender person elected in Peru died on Thursday from the coronavirus.

Luisa Revilla Urcia, 49, passed away in Trujillo, a city in northwestern Peru. Media reports indicate she tested positive for the coronavirus two weeks ago and had been admitted to a Trujillo hospital.

Revilla in 2014 won a seat on the local council in La Esperanza, a city adjacent to Trujillo. She left office in 2018.

Miluska Luzquiños, a trans activist who has been friends with Revilla for decades, on her Facebook page wrote that Revilla founded Casa Trans La Libertad to support the local trans community.

Revilla in 2014 participated in a conference in the Peruvian capital of Lima the LGBTQ Victory Institute and the U.S. Agency for International Development co-sponsored.

Then-U.S. Ambassador to Peru Brian Nichols in 2015 met with Revilla and other LGBTQ activists from the South American country. Revilla the same year attended another LGBTQ Victory Institute-sponsored conference that took place in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.

“We are living in very difficult times my dear sister,” wrote Luzquiños on her Facebook page. “What a great pain and a loss for Peru’s trans movement. You leave behind an important legacy.”

Peruvian Congressman Alberto de Belaúnde, who is openly gay, also mourned Revilla’s death.

“I’m very sorry for Luisa’s passing,” de Belaúnde told the Blade on Friday.

De Belaúnde said the region in which Revilla was elected is a very conservative part of Peru. De Belaúnde also noted to the Blade that Revilla remains the only openly trans woman to hold public office in the country.

“Luisa was a very valiant woman,” said Belaúnde.

Luisa Revilla Urcia, left, speaks with Miluska Luzquiños on Sept. 5, 2014, during a meeting of LGBT activists from Latin America and the Caribbean in Lima, Peru, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Victory Institute co-sponsored. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
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Politics

Trump’s CPAC speech did not target the trans community

The former president’s speech included scant mention of LGBTQ issues, apart, perhaps, from some oblique references to “woke” public education

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Former President Donald Trump speaks at CPAC on Feb. 24 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — When he took the stage before a packed ballroom at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, it seemed inevitable that former President Donald Trump would target the transgender community with insults, ridicule and hostile policy pronouncements.

After all, this kind of rhetoric had become a through-line at this year’s convening of Republican lawmakers, pundits, media personalities, electoral candidates, attorneys, activists and government officials — a feature of virtually every speech and panel discussion from Wednesday to Saturday.

And for his part, Trump kicked off his presidential campaign by pledging, in February 2023, to weaponize the federal government against the trans community if he returns to the White House. This came after he unveiled a “Plan to Protect Children from Left-Wing Gender Insanity” and was followed by similar pronouncements from Trump in the months since, as documented by GLAAD.

On Saturday, though, the former president’s speech included scant mention of LGBTQ issues, apart, perhaps, from some oblique references to “woke” public education and attacks on Christianity.

Trump instead addressed a variety of topics over an hour and a half, from attacks on President Joe Biden and the prosecutors who have targeted him with 91 felony counts to diatribes on overseas conflicts and immigration.

The Independent noted several instances in which Trump made untrue or misleading claims onstage, which concerned the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan during his presidency and a supposed electoral fraud scheme in which Californians are being sent multiple ballots.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Guilty verdict in first federal trial of murder based on gender identity

After a four-day trial a jury found a South Carolina man, Daqua Lameek Ritter, guilty of all charges in the indictment

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Dime Doe (Family photo)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A federal jury handed down a guilty verdict of a man accused of murdering a Black transgender female in what is classified as the first in the nation federal trial over a hate crime based on gender identity.

After a four-day trial in a federal hate crime case, a jury found a South Carolina man, Daqua Lameek Ritter, guilty of all charges in the indictment, which included one hate crime count, one federal firearms count, and one obstruction count, all arising out of the murder of Dime Doe, a transgender woman.

“Acts of violence against LGBTQI+ people, including transgender women of color like Dime Doe, are on the rise and have no place in our society,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer. “The Justice Department takes seriously all bias-motivated acts of violence and will not hesitate to hold accountable those who commit them. No one should have to live in fear of deadly violence because of who they are.”

According to court documents and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, evidence presented at trial showed that Ritter was upset that rumors about his sexual relationship with Dime Doe were out in the community. On Aug. 4, 2019, the defendant lured Doe to a remote area in Allendale, South Carolina, and shot her three times in the head. At trial, the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Ritter murdered Doe because of her gender identity. Ritter then burned the clothes he was wearing during the crime, disposed of the murder weapon, and repeatedly lied to law enforcement. 

This was the first trial under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for violence against a transgender person. The Shepard-Byrd Act is a landmark federal statute passed in 2009 which allows federal criminal prosecution of hate crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

“A unanimous jury has found the defendant guilty for the heinous and tragic murder of Dime Doe, a Black transgender woman,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The jury’s verdict sends a clear message: Black trans lives matter, bias-motivated violence will not be tolerated, and perpetrators of hate crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This case is historic; this defendant is the first to be found guilty by trial verdict for a hate crime motivated by gender identify under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. We want the Black trans community to know that you are seen and heard, that we stand with the LGBTQI+ community, and that we will use every tool available to seek justice for victims and their families.”

Ritter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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Oklahoma

Oklahoma state senator says LGBTQ+ people are “filth”

The Tahlequah Daily Press newspaper reported several audience members clapped, while others appeared shocked

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Oklahoma Republican state Sen. Tom Woods (Screenshot/YouTube)

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Republican state Sen. Tom Woods took part in a public legislative panel forum Friday Feb 23rd during which the panel was asked by a constituent about the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old non-binary Owasso High School student, who had been attacked and beaten in a school bathroom.

The Oklahoma Voice reported that Cathy Cott, a 64-year-old semi-retired resident, asked the lawmakers why the Legislature had such an obsession with the LGBTQ+ citizens of the state, what people do in their personal lives and how they raise their children, according to the Tahlequah Daily Press, which first reported the remarks.

When she got no answer, she asked about the bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

“Why does the Legislature have such an obsession with the LGBTQ citizens of Oklahoma and what people do in their personal lives and how they raise their children?” Cott asked.

Woods replied, “We are a Republican state – supermajority – in the House and Senate. I represent a constituency that doesn’t want that filth in Oklahoma. You know we are a religious state. We are going to fight and keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma because we’re a Christian state”

The Tahlequah Daily Press also reported several audience members clapped, while others appeared shocked.

Cott said in an interview with Oklahoma Voice that she was not surprised by Woods’ answer.

Cott said she has many family and friends who are LGBTQ+.

“I have dealt with other state representatives and senators and been to lobby day and tried to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community when I can so I am used to it,” she said. “They haven’t said anything like this to me before where they describe citizens of the state as filth, but they let me know they just don’t care.”

She said Woods’ remarks absolutely contribute to the hostile climate in the state for the LGBTQ+ community.

Prior to his election to his seat to represent Oklahoma’s 4th Senate district in 2022, Woods was a farmer and business owner. He ran a dairy farm, feed store, and trucking company. His district runs along the eastern border of Oklahoma from West Fort Smith, Okla. to Grove, and runs into Tahlequah.

Another Republican, state Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, a former teacher, told the audience he’s always seen educators’ jobs as “to educate students, not indoctrinate students.”

In a statement to the Blade, Brandon Wolf, the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign said:

The only “filth” here is this vile statement from a sitting state senator. This is the kind of hate speech that incites deadly violence against our communities. This is what we mean when we say that the flames of dehumanization and hate have been fanned in Oklahoma. Enough is enough. There needs to be accountability for this climate of hate — and the damage being done.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, the CEO and president of GLAAD told the Blade:

“Enough is enough. Oklahoma’s Republican leaders are continuing to nurture a climate of anti-LGBTQ animus, modeling disgusting anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, questioning our very humanity, attacking marginalized youth and educators who support them, and improperly handling bullying and assaults at school. Leaders with a bully pulpit have the power to inspire empathy and understanding, but they also have the power to inspire hate, bullying, and physical attacks. These so-called leaders fomenting hate, Sen. Tom Woods, Superintendent Ryan Walters, Governor Kevin Stitt are failing Oklahoma’s youth in dangerous and myriad ways.”

There has been national outage in reaction to the death of Benedict. Vice President Kamala Harris, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) are among those in leadership decrying the death and the political climate that LGBTQ+ advocacy groups say have been contributing factors.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson has called for federal investigations by the U.S. Justice and Education Departments.

In her social media post, the Vice-President said: “My heart goes out to Nex Benedict’s family, friends, and their entire community. To the LGBTQI+ youth who are hurting and are afraid right now: President Joe Biden and I see you, we stand with you, and you are not alone.”

Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt who in 2022 signed an anti-trans bill prohibiting students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates, wrote in his statement that “our hearts go out to Nex’s family, classmates, and the Owasso community. The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy — and bullies must be held accountable.”

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Oklahoma

Owasso, Okla. police release body cam footage of non-binary teen

In the video, 16-year-old Nex Benedict describes how they were bullied by three girls for “the way that we dress”

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Screenshot/YouTube Owasso Police Department body cam footage.

OWASSO, Okla. – The Owasso Police Department released Body Cam footage from the interview conducted by the Owasso High School resource officer taken at the emergency room, investigating the attack on a non-binary high school student who died a day after the attack.

In the video, 16-year-old Nex Benedict describes how they were bullied by three girls for “the way that we dress.” After Nex dumped some water on them, the girls pinned them to the floor of the restroom and beat Nex until Nex blacked out.

Nex’s mother stresses that Nex did not throw any punches or get physically combative during the attack. Facts that Nex then verified in their account to the investigating officer.

Police have confirmed to multiple media outlets that the school failed to follow procedure and notify law enforcement about the beating.

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Riverside County

Riverside judge refuses to block trans outing & CRT policies

Forced disclosure requires schools to inform parents if a student requests to use a name or pronoun different from their birth certificate

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Temecula Valley Unified School District Board of Education admin offices (Screenshot/YouTube KTLA)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – A Riverside County Superior Court judge denied a motion on Friday morning, Feb. 23, to issue an injunction seeking to stop the Temecula Valley Unified School District from enforcement of two controversial polices on transgender notification to parents or guardians and a ban on teaching of critical race theory.

Superior Court Judge Eric Keen denied plaintiffs’ motions to issue the injunctions without clarification or elaboration. The Daily Bulletin media outlet reported Public Counsel, which sought the injunction, will appeal Keen’s ruling Public Counsel attorney Amanda Mangaser Savage said after the hearing.

“We always knew that this case was going to go up on appeal, whether we prevailed or not,” she said. “This is a question that the California appellate courts really need to decide to set a precedent for superior courts across the state of California.”

She added: “While yes, we are disappointed in today’s ruling, we are excited about the possibility of taking this up on appeal and having a court rule on the merits of our claims in a way that will impact courts across California.”

“Despite the small but vocal opponents that seek to rewrite history and indoctrinate students, I am very optimistic for our school district,” Dr. Joseph Komrosky, President of the school board said in a statement issued Friday after the ruling. “I believe that the diversity that exists among the District’s community of students, staff, parents, and guardians is an asset to be honored and valued. These policies were enacted by the school board to ensure our district puts the needs of students and their parents above all else. Our district remains focused on providing a holistic education for all of our students, free from both discrimination and indoctrination.”

According to the Daily Bulletin last week Keen ruled that the lawsuit, described as a groundbreaking challenge of a critical race theory ban, could move forward.

The battle over parental notification of trans and non-binary students policies at school board levels across California, which opponents say are plainly dangerous forced outings, resulted in another court fight, which in that case San Bernardino California Superior Court Judge Michael Sachs issued a preliminary oral injunction last Fall against the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education’s mandatory gender identity disclosure policy, further halting the enforcement of the policy.

The Superior Court’s ruling came after California Attorney General Bonta in August announced a lawsuit challenging the enforcement of the Board’s forced outing policy. Prior to filing a lawsuit, Attorney General Bonta announced opening a civil rights investigation into the legality of the Board’s adoption of the policy.

Bonta in January issued a legal alert addressed to all California county, school district, and charter school boards and superintendents, warning them against forced gender identity disclosure policies detrimental to the privacy, safety, and well-being of transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

Forced disclosure policies require schools to inform parents whenever a student requests to use a name or pronoun different from that on their birth certificate or official records, even without the student’s permission or when doing so would put them at risk of physical, emotional, or psychological harm.

Such policies also require notification if a student requests to use facilities or participates in programs that do not align with their sex on official records. In today’s alert, Attorney General Bonta reminds all school boards that these forced gender identity disclosure policies violate the California Constitution and state laws safeguarding students’ civil rights.

According to City News Service, Yi Li, a fellow at Public Counsel said: “Unfortunately, Temecula is just one example of school districts and states around the country that are putting culture war politics before the needs of the students and communities. Temecula students are now in classrooms where they cannot learn material required by state standards, or have open and honest discussion about current events. And Temecula teachers are at risk of facing sever and arbitrary penalties just by doing their jobs.”

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

U.S. Army anesthesiologist charged in sexual assault of 42 males

The sheer number of alleged victims could make this one of the U.S. Army’s largest sexual assault prosecutions

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Troops pass in review at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Prosecutors with the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps formally charged Maj. Michael Stockin, a pain management anesthesiologist at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on this sprawling base located between Olympia and Tacoma in eastern Washington State with sexually assaulting 42 male service members.

The Army’s Office of Special Trial Counsel spokeswoman Michelle McCaskill told Army Times in a statement Friday that in January prosecutors referred 53 charges and specifications against Stockin to a general court-martial. Those charges included “multiple instances of abusive sexual contact and indecent viewing.”

Stockin’s trial is currently scheduled for Oct. 7.

McCaskill’s statement added that the investigation into Stockin remains open and will remain open through the trial. “Army (Criminal Investigation Division) has interviewed patients from Maj. Stockin’s duty stations and will further investigate should additional victims come forward.”

In addition to the charges Stockin is facing stemming from incidents at the Madigan Army Medical Center Lewis-McChord, Army investigators are now widening their inquiry to bases in Hawaii, Maryland and Iraq. The sheer number of alleged victims could make this one of the Army’s largest sexual assault prosecutions.

CBS News reported Friday that the chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), has sent a letter asking the Pentagon’s inspector general to investigate whether the military “failed” to support the alleged victims of Maj. Stockin.

CBS also noted that Ryan Guilds, an attorney who is representing seven of the 42 alleged victims, says that from the outset of the Army’s CID investigation, his clients have been kept in the dark and have not been properly supported or provided with victims’ resources, including access to legal services.

“These services have failed because leadership has failed,” Guilds wrote in a letter to the House and Senate Armed Services subcommittees on personnel.

Robert F. Capovilla, Stockin’s attorney, told Army Times in a statement that his client will plead not guilty to all charges and specifications in today’s hearing.

“At this point, the defense can say with supreme confidence that we intend to fight against every single allegation until the jury renders their verdict,” Capovilla wrote. “Until then, we sincerely hope that the United States Army is fully prepared to respect Major Stockin’s Constitutional rights at every phase of this process, both inside and outside of the courtroom.”

Capovilla added that “in today’s political culture” the media will condemn Stockin and render judgement before the judge or jury hear evidence.

“We urge everyone to keep an open mind, to remember [Maj.] Stockin is presumed innocent and understand that this fight is just getting started,” Capovilla wrote.

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The White House

White House addresses ‘gut-wrenching’ death of Nex Benedict

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre expressed she was “absolutely heartbroken” to learn about the death of nonbinary Okla. teen Nex Benedict

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre delivers a briefing on Feb. 23 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

WASHINGTON – White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began Friday’s press briefing by expressing how “absolutely heartbroken” she was to learn about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported in school,” she said. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, friends, entire school community in the wake of this horrific and gut wrenching tragedy.”

Jean-Pierre added, “I know that for many LGBTQ+ students across the country this may feel personal and deeply, deeply painful. There’s always someone you can talk to if you’re going through a hard time and need support.”

“The president and his administration launched the 988 line to help, and we have a line dedicated to serving LGBTQ+ young people that can be reached by dialing 933 and pressing 3,” she said. “Through devastating tragedies like these we must support each other and lift one another up.”

Authorities are still investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death on Feb. 8, which allegedly came the day after they were attacked in a restroom at Owasso High School, which followed months of bullying from peers.

This week, political leaders including Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Jean-Pierre issued statements on X, formerly Twitter.

In recent years the state of Oklahoma has become a hotbed of anti-LGBTQ legislation, including an anti-trans bathroom bill signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2022.

Many LGBTQ advocates responded to news of Benedict’s death by calling out the escalation of hostile policies and rhetoric targeting transgender and gender-diverse communities, which advocates have warned can carry deadly consequences.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson has urged federal investigators at the Justice and Education Department to get involved in the case.

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Canada

Canadian town narrowly votes to ban Pride flags

Conservatives in Canada have increasingly taken to campaigning against LGBTQ rights, and particularly in Alberta

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RF Staples School Thunder Alliance & Town of Westlock, Alberta, Canada Pride crosswalk dedication, June 28 2023. (Photo Credit: Town of Westlock, Alberta, Canada)

By Rob Salerno | WESTLOCK, Canada – The small town of Westlock, Alberta voted yesterday to ban the display of Pride flags, as well as any flag other than the Canadian flag or provincial and municipal flags, on public property, in a referendum that saw the ban win by a margin of just 24 votes.

Unofficial results posted Thursday night at 9:30 showed the flag ban received 663 votes in favor and 639 votes against. 

The town of 5,000 people about 50 miles north of Edmonton was required to hold the citizen-initiated referendum over the objections of its council due to Alberta’s Municipal Government Act. 

Anti-LGBTQ+ activists began organizing against Pride flags when the local high school’s gay-straight alliance asked the town council for permission to install a rainbow crosswalk near the town hall. The council voted unanimously to allow the students to paint the crosswalk and the RF Staples School Thunder Alliance installed it in June.

Anti-LGBTQ+ activists promptly set to work collecting signatures for their anti-Pride-flag initiative and got 700 signatures by September – more than enough to force the town to hold the referendum.

The referendum asked residents, “Do you agree that: Only Federal, Provincial and Municipal flags may be flown on flagpoles on Town of Westlock municipal property, all crosswalks in the Town of Westlock must be the standard white striped pattern between two parallel white lines, and the existing rainbow colored crosswalk in the Town of Westlock be removed?”

It’s not clear when the rainbow crosswalk will be removed.

In a press release issued after the results were made public, Westlock mayor Jon Kramer said the town council will continue to support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, even as it is required to uphold the bylaw.

“Council did not support the proposed Crosswalk and Flagpole Bylaw, as we felt it went against our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. This plebiscite is binding, and as such, the bylaw does restrict how we are able to show this commitment. However, we will continue to find ways to embrace those in our community who need a helping hand, including marginalized groups,” he said. 

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“Equity is the reason we require wheelchair accessible parking; it is why we are developing an accessible playground; and yes, it is the reason we show support to marginalized groups like our local 2SLGBTQ+ community. That won’t stop, it will just take on a different form. We know the Town of Westlock is a welcoming community and that will not change.”

Petition organizer Stephanie Bakker has been at pains to stress that her activism has been about forcing the government to be “neutral,” rather than specifically anti-LGBTQ+, even though it was only the Pride crosswalk that motivated her to action. 

In a post on her campaign web site, she thanks the town for voting in favor of the ban, and says that an official announcement will follow. 

Activists in Alberta aren’t taking this defeat lying down. 

“Smells like discrimination. Looks like discrimination. It is discrimination. I’d expect a court challenge on the way. You can’t single out the 2SLGBTQ+ community and call it neutrality. That’s a violation of human rights,” says Kristopher Wells, an activist and educator in Edmonton, in a post on X.

Under Alberta law, the municipal government may not repeal or amend the bylaw until three years have passed from the referendum date. Alternatively, another citizen-initiated referendum could be called to repeal, but only after a year has passed. However, the bylaw is not immune from a possible constitutional challenge. 

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Conservatives in Canada have increasingly taken to campaigning against LGBTQ rights, and particularly in Alberta, where the government recently announced new policies restricting teaching about LGBTQ+ people in schools, restricting access to gender care for trans youth, and requiring trans students to get parental permission to use a different name or pronoun in school. 

Also on Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Edmonton, where he met with LGBTQ+ community members. At a press conference, he delivered sharp criticism of the Alberta government’s proposed policies, calling them “some of the most difficult policies against vulnerable youth that the country has ever seen.”

“Why has the right suddenly decided to attack the LGBTQ community?” Trudeau said. “Shame on them. And of course, as a government we’re going to be there to protect our most vulnerable.”

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Politics

VP Harris, other leaders issue statements on Nex Benedict’s death

The 16-year-old’s death on Feb. 8 sparked outrage and questions about the high school’s response to the altercation

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Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8 after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

WASHINGTON – Vice President Kamala Harris, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt are among the political leaders who have issued statements in recent days about the death of nonbinary teenager Nex Benedict after they were assaulted in a school bathroom after enduring months of bullying.

The 16-year-old’s death on Feb. 8 sparked outrage and questions about the high school’s response to the altercation, which had occurred the previous day. LGBTQ leaders who include Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson have called for federal investigations by the Justice and Education Departments.

Advocates pointed to the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies, particularly targeting transgender and gender-diverse communities, that have escalated in Oklahoma over the past few years, noting that they tend to increase the incidence of bias-motivated hate violence.

In their statements on X, which offered condolences to those mourning Benedict’s death, the vice president and White House press secretary also pledged solidarity with the LGBTQ community, while Pelosi took aim at “the anti-trans fervor fueled by extreme Republicans” and Pocan — who is gay and chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus — promised to keep fighting for “the dignity that nonbinary and trans Americans deserve. ”

Stitt, who in 2022 signed an anti-trans bill prohibiting students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates, wrote in his statement that “our hearts go out to Nex’s family, classmates, and the Owasso community. The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy — and bullies must be held accountable.”

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Africa

Kenyan advocacy organizations join fight against femicide

30 women have been murdered in the country this year

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Kenyan flag (Photo by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Some LGBTQ+ rights groups in Kenya have devised new security strategies to protect female community members from the risk of femicide that has been on the rise in the country in recent years. 

The strategies employed include hiring trained security response teams, emergency toll-free numbers for swift intervention and training queer women on safety as they go about their daily lives in homophobic societies.  

The LGBTQ+ rights organizations’ move to come up with their safety measures is driven by laxity by security agencies that they accuse of “personal bias, discrimination and victimization” of the complainants based on their sexual orientation whenever they seek help.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are outlawed in Kenya under Sections 162 and 165 of the Penal Code and the queer rights groups the Washington Blade interviewed said the authorities exploit this criminalization. 

“We have contracted two security response focal persons in our organization to respond to violations of LBQ womxn in Kenya,” noted Elly Doe, the executive director of KISLEB, a Kisumu-based organization that champions the rights of lesbian, bisexual and queer women.

Doe, whose organization also advocates against femicide, said KISLEB is part of a special security situation room formed to explore ways of tackling rising cases of insecurity among the LGBTQ+ community in the country. 

The Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination, an LGBTQ+ rights organization also contacted by the Blade, stated it has been conducting advocacy programs that include creating safer spaces forums to address femicide and violence against women both physical and online.   

One of the forums convened last September in Mombasa, for instance, explored how communities and institutions can work together to prevent violence against marginalized women, effective support for survivors, mentorship and awareness campaigns. The participants included lesbian, bisexual, queer and Transgender women, women in politics, sports, media, women living with disabilities and sex workers.    

INEND Communications Officer Melody Njuki, who expressed her organization’s concern over growing cases of femicide, oppression and violence against women, including those who identify as queer that go unchecked is caused by several social factors that include economic exclusion. 

“The intersectional issues faced by marginalized communities and structurally silenced women particularly sex workers and LBQT+ individuals adds complexity to the challenges experienced by victims of femicide due to discrimination, stigma and systemic inequalities exacerbating the vulnerability of women to violence,” Njuki said. 

Both INEND and KISLEB last month joined other LGBTQ+ rights groups, feminists and dozens of human rights organizations in Kenya in a nationwide street protest against rising cases of femicide and violence against women. 

The Jan. 27 protests were in response to the brutal killing of 16 women across the country since the beginning of the year. Hundreds of women, including those who identify as queer, during a Valentine’s Day vigil donned black outfits and held lit candles and red roses in honor of this year’s femicide victims, whose number had risen to more than 30.

“KISLEB as an organization that champions the rights of the LBQ womxn could not sit back and watch as women are being intentionally violated and killed yet in recent years the number has been rising rapidly and so many culprits go unpunished,” Doe said over her organization’s participation in the protest. “Participating in the protest was our way of expressing our solidarity with other women’s rights organizations in condemning femicide.”

Doe raised a concern over a rise in the number of homophobic threats against queer women, particularly on social media and residential areas, and called for police officers to be sensitized on LGBTQ+ issues to deal with this menace without discrimination. 

“We have also seen the cases of the murders of the LGBTQ community rising such as a trans woman activist Erica Chandra in August in Nairobi and a nonbinary lesbian woman Sheila Lumumba in April 2022,” she said. 

INEND, together with the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Galck+ which participated in Lumumba’s murder case last December, were disappointed with the court after sentencing the suspect Billington Mwathi to 30 years in jail. The three LGBTQ+ rights groups described the sentence as “lenient” and said it didn’t meet the justice Lumumba deserved — the suspect raped her before killing her.

The organizations said they wanted Mwathi to receive a life sentence because Lumumba’s killing was not just an act of violence on an individual, but an attack on the dignity and safety of the LGBTQ+ community.  

INEND, nonetheless, attributes the rise in femicide to victim blaming on the part of the public and some leaders, which leads to a disconnect on the protection of the victims’ rights and its subsequent erosion as witnessed in the LGBTQ+ community.  

“The road to genocide starts with the dehumanization of the most marginalized, then continues to devour its way up the hierarchy of patriarchal systems,” Njuki said.  

She disclosed INEND was organizing a collective movement dubbed “#EndFemicideKe” to enlighten policymakers on the dire need to enforce strict measures on the killing of women. Njuki, however, commended jurists who are members of the Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association for their partnership with INEND and willingness to show a deeper understanding of human rights particularly the protection of LGBTQ+ rights.

She cited last year’s launch of a judicial guidebook to help judges better protect queer people’s rights and the High Court’s ruling that allowed the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to register as a non-governmental organization in promoting freedom of association.

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