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When Trans Athletes Win

We need to understand what’s happening to fuel all of these anti-trans bills.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Austris Augusts on Unsplash

We need to understand what’s happening to fuel all of these anti-trans bills.

By Zack Ford | The war on trans people’s right to exist has escalated greatly this year in state legislatures. By far, the most popular anti-trans legislation — in terms of both how many bills have been introduced and how successfully they’re becoming law — comes in the form of bills banning transgender student athletes from competing on teams that match their gender identity. And there’s something fascinating we have to reconcile about the success these bills are having this year: conservatives found more success advancing anti-trans discrimination by lowering the stakes of their arguments.

Think about it. Half a decade ago, everything you heard from conservatives was about bathrooms and locker rooms. The narrative was safety: “Women won’t be safe if they have to see a trans person changing!” It was offensive bullshit, of course, but as far as narratives go, “safety” is a pretty high-stakes one. But the new narrative is “fairness” — in sports of all things — and it’s a much lower-stakes claim. And, perhaps counterintuitively, I think that’s why it’s been more successful.

Many of the bills we’re also seeing are attacking the health care that trans kids deserve, which is very dangerous and high-stakes, so I don’t want to ignore it. But I’ll ask you to join me in setting those bills aside for a moment to consider just where this surge of anti-trans sports bills is coming from and why it’s so effective. At least 33 different states have seen at least one of these bills introduced, and seven states now have bans in place, including West Virginia, where the ban just became law this past week.

There was previously only one ban in place. Idaho was the first state to pass such a ban into law just last year, and Idaho’s ban is not even currently enforceable thanks to the ACLU’s quick victory in court challenging it. From one state in 2020 to at last seven so far in 2021 is a huge escalation, and we have to examine what’s happening there, because these sports bills are gateway bills. As we’ve already seen at a rapid pace in Arkansas, one kind of anti-trans discrimination begets another (including the bills targeting kids’ health care and the bathroom bills of yore).

So how is this lower-stakes argument for anti-trans discrimination accomplishing so much more for conservatives?

It’s because some trans girls won their races. Some Black trans girls.

Yeah, race is a factor too. Because of course it is.

Out Of The Locker Room, Onto The Field

If you think back to the surge of anti-trans advocacy we saw after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision in 2015, the focus was almost entirely on bathrooms and locker rooms. Overblown stories about simply seeing trans people in these spaces (like the Planet Fitness case in Michigan) were used to demonize all trans people (though really just trans women) as perverts and predators and justify discrimination against them. This arguably culminated in early 2016 with North Carolina’s passage of HB2, which mandated discrimination against trans people in public places.

While the effort to demonize trans people has by no means dissipated, the focus on such “bathroom bills” has seemingly diminished since then.

Before even getting into the reasons why that might be, it’s important to note that these anti-trans campaigns are not organic. More than any other conservative organization or individual, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an anti-LGBTQ hate group, is controlling the narrative and approach of anti-LGBTQ litigation and legislation. My buddy Josh Israel profiled ADF in 2014 as “The 800-Pound Gorilla of the Christian Right,” and it’s only grown since then. The strategic shifts we’ve seen in the attacks on trans people can easily be connected to ADF’s successes and failures.

As to why we’ve seen less of a push for bathroom bills, the first and foremost reason is surely how monumental the backlash to HB2 was. The bill itself was a reaction to Charlotte becoming North Carolina’s first city to pass LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections at the local level — you know, the kind of inclusive protection that dozens of major cities and states have that have resulted in none of the consequences conservatives fear-monger about. HB2 both banned such protections in North Carolina cities and prohibited trans people statewide from using public facilities consistent with their identities. Major corporations, artists, and sports leagues punished the state so heavily that HB2’s major champion, Gov. Pat McCrory (R), lost reelection in 2016 even as Donald Trump won North Carolina’s electoral votes.

Newly elected Gov. Roy Cooper (D) quickly worked to repeal the ban on trans people using facilities in 2017 and set an end-date for the ban on municipal LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. When that ban finally lifted last December, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, Durham, Greensboro, and Orange County all immediately followed Charlotte’s lead and passed their own protections. As a law, HB2 is now history, and the state has better LGBTQ protections than it did before its passage. It’s no surprise that conservatives have at least rethought their approach on such blatantly discriminatory bills given the massive net loss.

Secondly, Trump’s election helped ease the pressure conservatives likely felt to push for discriminatory policies at the state level by reversing all the federal protections introduced by the Obama administration. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reversed the Title IX guidance protecting trans students, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed the Title VII guidance protecting trans workers, HUD Secretary Ben Carson reversed the guidance protecting trans people seeking shelter, and Trump tweeted out a ban on trans military service — to name just the most prominent examples. There was no longer a “threat” to conservatives that the whole nation was going to be obligated by the federal government to abide by these LGBTQ protections.

Thirdly, ADF and similar conservative legal groups were losing a lot of their bathroom cases in court. ADF has a two-pronged approach; it helps draft, lobby for, and defend discriminatory bills, but it also challenges the laws that do protect LGBTQ people in court and defends schools and employers that want to keep discriminating. But there was a big wave of victories in federal courts for transgender students seeking or trying to maintain equal access to facilities in their schools, including in WisconsinIllinoisOhio, and Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court notably refused to hear ADF’s case in Pennsylvania after it lost its push for discrimination in the Third Circuit.

But the Supreme Court did hear a trio of cases about employment discrimination, including one about a trans woman, and delivered a massive defeat to ADF in Bostock v. Clayton County. Federal law officially now protects trans people from discrimination.

It’s no surprise we now see a new raft of bills with a new strategy, one that capitalizes on a case ADF found that follows a rather different narrative.

Introducing Race To The Race

There’s a lawsuit ADF filed in 2016 that never went anywhere, but that I’ve never forgotten.

Targeting a high school in the small city of Virginia, Minnesota, the lawsuit was ostensibly one of ADF’s many attempts to reverse a school’s inclusive policies for transgender students. It made all the usual false claims about “safety and privacy” for cis girls, but it also directly attacked “Student X,” a real trans student enrolled at the school.

You can go back and read my full reporting on the suit, but I want to draw your attention to this specific paragraph from the complaint:

Student X began dancing in the locker room while Girl Plaintiff A and others prepared for track practice. Student X would dance in a sexually explicit manner — “twerking,” “grinding” or dancing like he [sic]was on a “stripper pole” to songs with explicit lyrics, including “Milkshake” by Kelis. On at least one occasion, Girl Plaintiff A saw Student X lift his [sic] dress to reveal his [sic] underwear while “grinding” to the music.

A Sense Of Fairness

Before we get to the Connecticut case, let’s talk broadly about sports for a minute.

Objectively, sports aren’t fair.

We go to a lot of trouble to convince ourselves that they are, but they never truly are. Each person’s biology is different, so on a fundamental level, we can only approximate fairness.

We do that in a lot of ways. Gender is obviously one way we divide up sports in an attempt to make the competition more fair. Age is another factor, where we have everything from junior varsity to senior citizen leagues — to say nothing of sports like gymnastics where competitiveness is by default limited to a very narrow age range. Some sports like wrestling and boxing specifically consider physical attributes like weight. Through rules about steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, we set limits about what exactly a person can do to their body to achieve a competitive advantage. And in college sports we even separate athletes into divisions with the primary difference being whether students can receive athletic scholarships, which —though we don’t generally think about it — inherently introduces all kinds of factors like career goals and finances into determining the fairness of athletic competition.

In short, a lot of thought has gone into how to approximate fairness in athletics. But we also acknowledge that we can only make things so fair. For example, we can’t really do anything about Michael Phelps. From his torso-to-leg height ratio to his massive wingspan to his double-jointed ankles and elbows to his reduced lactic acid creation, Phelps’ body naturally excels at swimming, and he capitalized on that with discipline and drive. When he swims, we all just stand in awe of what this cis white guy with a ton of biological advantages is capable of; he’s the best and hooray for what the human body can achieve! Of course he’s allowed to compete; his advantages don’t fit any of the disqualifying criteria we’ve established.

But not everyone just gets to be the best when they excel in athletics. In a lot of other cases, when someone does well, it raises suspicion instead of applause. Sports do not exist in a bubble and are not exempt from societal forces. The question “Why did that person win?” quickly leads to the question ‘“Did they have an ‘unfair’ advantage?” and attempts to identify what sets them apart. When trans people excel, just like when women excel and when people of color excel, such suspicion around their success very easily and inevitably turns into a proxy for discrimination against them. It’s one thing if someone is allowed to compete; it’s quite another if they’re able to win.

Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood were able to win. Both Black and both trans young women, they won a combined 15 track championships in Connecticut from 2017 to 2019. And ADF turned them into the symbol of the alleged unfairness of transgender inclusion in sports because of the opportunities they were supposedly taking away from cis white girls.

The Exception Does Not Prove The Rule

It’s no surprise that the question of whether it’s fair for trans people to compete has been asked. But it’s also been answered — for some time now. The International Olympic Committee, the NCAA, and K-12 athletic leagues across the country have long had policies allowing trans people to compete according to their gender identity with simple caveats regarding how far along they must be in their transitions.

That’s because studies have repeatedly found that the changes trans people make to their bodies set them up for fair competition with their cis peers. Trans women, the most common concern, lose most of the advantages often associated with male bodies. I really appreciate how Joanna Harper, author of some of these studies, framed the debate in a recent interview with OutSports (emphasis added):

For those who suggest trans women have advantages: We allow advantages in sport, but what we don’t allow is overwhelming advantages… Trans women also have disadvantages in sport. Our larger bodies are being powered by reduced muscle mass and reduced aerobic capacity, and can lead to disadvantages in quickness, recovery, and a number of other factors.

The bottom line is, we can have meaningful competition between trans women and cis women. From my point of the view, the data looks favorable toward trans women being allowed to compete in women’s sports.

To the extent that any sports are “fair,” allowing trans people to compete is fair enough. And there are trans people competing all over at varying levels of competition that we never hear anything about. There’s nothing to hear, and there are no complaints about their participation, because they aren’t winning.

But Miller and Yearwood’s ability to win — as both trans and Black in the very white state (75%) of Connecticut — drew attention. Then all ADF had to do was find a couple of cis girls who didn’t like losing to them to file a lawsuit attempting to overturn the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s entire inclusive policy for all trans athletes in the state. The message was clear: If inclusion means these two trans athletes can win, then no trans athlete should be allowed to compete.

At this point, I want to send you on a detour to read a recent piece by the brilliant Derrick Clifton. In it, he connects the way Miller and Yearwood have been targeted for their bodies to the long history of cis Black women being policed in the same way, such as Serena Williams, as well as Black women who are intersex or have other conditions like hyperandrogenism, including the saga of Caster Semenya. As he writes, “Black women in sports — whether they are cis, trans, or intersex — constantly encounter shifting rules and expectations as a reprimand for their successes.”

One of the things I didn’t even know until I read Derrick’s piece is that Chelsea Mitchell, one of the cis white girls who joined ADF’s suit, actually beat Miller in their last two races and had earned her own state championships. So the portrayal that these Black trans athletes were always superior and depriving the cis white girls of victories and scholarships wasn’t even true; Miller and Yearwood were merely competitive. It’s not a detail that has come up often.

The Biden administration had already withdrawn the support for the suit offered by the Trump administration, and about a week ago, a federal judge tossed ADF’s suit entirely. It was moot, he ruled, because Miller and Yearwood aren’t even students anymore and there were no other winning trans athletes to substitute into the case. Trans inclusion in Connecticut’s school sports appears to be safe for now.

But even if the case ends there, the damage has been done. Literally every time this issue is now discussed or written about, photos of these two Black trans girls become the symbol of unfairness in athletics. They are likewise the scapegoats for all of this new legislation — and it’s literally because there are no other examples.

A Cause With No Célèbre

In state after state, the lawmakers advancing these anti-trans sports bills have been asked if they can identify a single example of a trans student athlete in their state who could even be accused of benefiting from an unfair advantage. As this CNN report from this week highlights, they repeatedly answer “no” then pivot to highlighting the Connecticut case.

In an interview with the conservative site CNSNews this past week, ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb claimed, “We have seen increasing examples across the country of males [sic] dominating girls’ athletic competitions when competing as females, capturing championships and shattering long-standing female track records.” It’s telling that she specified track (as opposed to any other sport) but provided no “increasing examples” as to who or where these trans athletes are, and it’s no coincidence that the article featured a photo and two different videos of Miller and Yearwood.

Shortly after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) signed his state’s anti-trans sports bill into law this week, MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle asked him the same question about why this was no necessary. He had no answer, and Ruhle proceeded to read him for filth about all of the other concerns he could be prioritizing in West Virginia instead of this purely discriminatory bill. It’s worth clicking through to watch the clip:

The pure cruelty of these bills is obvious. But the question remains: Why do conservatives feel less risk advancing them — and why have more of them prevailed — compared to follow-up bathroom bills? I have a theory.

Part of it, as I said at the top, is that the stakes feel lower. Thus, conservatives can try to sell the message that the discrimination is somehow less cruel or less consequential than, say, the outright banishment from public spaces dictated by bathroom bills. This is just about specific participation in sports, they can claim, and it’s only about fairness in competition, not about discriminating against trans people. It’s a false narrative, to be clear, but it’s one they can market differently than trying to paint all trans women as predators while erasing trans men from existence altogether.

But I also think there’s something a bit more insidious at work than just a less-discriminatory-sounding message, and it speaks to why these sports bills are the new vanguard for anti-trans legislation and the way they open the door for even worse bills.

The premise of all anti-trans prejudice is to convince people to reject the legitimacy of transition: Ignore the decades of research and 95+% success rate of affirmative treatment and surgeries; ignore the mental health benefits of transitioning and mental health consequences of not transitioning; and ignore the very reality of the lives transgender people live and instead regard them only as the sex they were assigned at birth. Any skepticism of transitioning is a victory for transphobia.

In the context of sports, conservatives can carve out this diabolical little niche that convinces people that even if transgender people transition, they’re still going to have these physical differences that they can’t change. Those differences — those so-called “advantages” — are an essential part of their existence, and no matter what gender defines how they’re living their lives, it’s unfair to let them compete as such because of those relic differences. It’s an emphasis on the imperfections of transition, a tether that ties trans people to their sex assigned at birth without overtly rejecting the legitimacy of their transition.

Like everything else in transphobia, it doesn’t even have to be true; it only has to be believable by people who don’t have any foundation for understanding trans people’s experiences. Competitive advantages based on race aren’t true either, but a lot of people still believe in such myths as well, which compounds the believability that these Black trans girls are somehow undeserving of their success and a barrier to cis white girls’ apparently more deserving success.

What this results in is that many people who might otherwise be supportive of protecting trans people from discrimination can be convinced to make a small exception for sports under the guise of “unfairness” that’s no fault of the trans athletes themselves. A perfect example is Caitlyn Trump-would-be-good-for-trans-people Jenner — whose contributions to the trans community have largely been in spite of herself — saying this weekend that she doesn’t think trans inclusion in sports is fair. Again: It’s a false narrative, but a sellable one.

These anti-trans sports bills thus achieve the goal of instituting transphobia and rejecting the full legitimacy of trans identities in our laws while simultaneously appearing not to engage in overt transphobic discrimination.

But hey, now that conservatives already have folks thinking about trans kids and already signing onto one form of discrimination, they have a receptive audience for selling their other false narratives about what health care should look like for trans kids. And from there, they can continue to escalate back toward the ultimate goal of bathroom bills. It’s exactly what happened in Arkansas over the past couple months:

By lowering the stakes from safety to fairness, conservatives found an easier entry point to get more people on board with anti-trans regulations. Their goals haven’t changed, but they found a new approach to get their foot in the door for mandated discrimination. These anti-trans sports bills are clearly a gateway to additional transgender discrimination, and they should be subjected to the exact same level of backlash as the worst discriminatory bills we can imagine.

In other words, the stakes aren’t lower. They’re as high as they’ve ever been for trans people’s right to exist as themselves in this society of ours. “Fairness in sports” is just a façade for justifying a form of transphobia.

And a final thought: We have to own that true inclusion includes an equal opportunity to win. Any trans athlete who has the bravery to compete and the discipline to succeed deserves any championship title that they earn — fair and square.

I’ll be revisiting the legislation that’s been targeting health care for trans youth in a future newsletter. Stay tuned.

Zack Ford is the former LGBTQ editor at ThinkProgress.org and currently serves as press secretary at Alliance for Justice. His views are his own.

The preceding piece was originally published at Fording the River Styx and is republished by permission.

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Commentary

Death of Nex Benedict hits close to home for New Jersey therapist

Their death is a manifestation of a larger issue that involves hostile rhetoric, misinformation re: gender-diverse youth & anti-LGBTQ culture

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The life of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student was brutally cut short after an altercation in a bathroom at Owasso High School in Owasso Oklahoma. (Family photo)

By Laura Hoge | UPPER MONTCLAIR, NJ. – The life of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, was brutally cut short after an altercation in a bathroom at Owasso High School.

Their untimely death should prompt a critical dialogue about the circumstances leading to such a horrifying incident. And we should not fool ourselves by thinking New Jersey is immune to the dangers that transgender and nonbinary youth face in schools and public spaces nationwide.

As many grapple with the aftermath of this terrifying hate crime, we all — Oklahoma to New Jersey to Florida — must address the systemic issues that contribute to the vulnerability of marginalized students, in particular transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming youth.

The New Jersey Safe Schools Coalition with Columbia High School Spectrum Club will hold a candlelight vigil in Nex’s memory on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. at Maplewood Town Hall, 574 Valley St.

In my role as a gender specialist and trauma therapist, addressing the aftermath of violent incidents such as these demands a process of “zooming out” from the hate crime itself and examining the unsettling realities of what other journalists have already referred to as stochastic terrorism, a term used to describe the use of mass communication, such as social media or online platforms, to incite or inspire individuals to carry out acts of terrorism without directly organizing, directing, or participating in the violent acts themselves.

The term “stochastic terrorism” carries significant weight, and grasping its meaning requires clarifying its key component: implicit communication. Implicit communication operates beneath the surface of explicit words and actions. It plays a significant role in shaping perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors while at the same time maintaining “plausible deniability.” We all have people in our lives whose attitudes toward groups of people are widely known, even if they aren’t explicitly spoken and would likely be denied. We all have felt implicit messages from our bosses, spiritual leaders, teachers, or politicians, reminding us of what is and is not acceptable in our work, faith practice, classrooms, and communities.

As we process the death of Nex Benedict, we must look at the culture in which they were living, one with a history of hostile discourse toward transgender people and influenced by social media outlets that are known purveyors of anti-trans sentiments. In the aftermath of Nex’s death, it is unsurprising that they are being misgendered and deadnamed in the community where they lived. Even amid tributes to their life, implicit messages are being sent that offer absolution to those who might be harboring guilt about their participation in a culture that could have caused something so horrific and a clear message that transgender and gender-diverse youth have no place in Owasso High, alive or dead.

While many of us would like to believe that our communities are immune to this type of violence, it is naive to think that similar acts of hate would never happen in our own schools. Anti-trans rhetoric is ubiquitous in New Jersey. It can easily be found in our Statehouse, family gatherings, and most recently in our school board meetings, where attitudes similar to the ones in Owasso were amplified in heated debates over school policy 5756 — a policy that supports transgender and nonbinary students seeking to be referred to by a different name or pronoun, and which has sparked discussions about whether schools should be obligated to inform parents of these changes.

While journalists share information about the role of Libs of TikTok and its influence on the community of Owasso, New Jersey residents need to understand that we have similar influences acting in our own backyard, like the Center for Garden State Families, Moms for Liberty, Parents Defending Education, and others, with many of them misleading the public with deceptive and legitimate sounding names while spouting anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, calling for book bans, and/or forced outing of gender diverse students. These groups explicitly advocate for parental rights and child safety, while concurrently employing implicit messaging that creates an atmosphere where transgender youth, as well as their supporters, are made to feel unsafe.

Implicit intolerance is pervasive and, if it continues to proliferate without challenge, will erode the protections that this state currently offers. To counteract this, allies must remain vigilant and take explicit actions that endorse and celebrate gender-diverse experiences within our communities. This could include speaking out in favor of trans-affirmative policies at school board meetings, spreading trans-affirming messages and stories online, teaching cisgender children about gender diversity and how to be an upstander in their friend circles, and/or advocating for trans-affirming rights and recognition in government. Neglecting to engage in these actions sends its own implicit message, and tacitly sanctions the proliferation of harmful attitudes and biases.

I believe that residents in New Jersey are uniquely positioned to disrupt the transphobia that exists here. We are backed by our brand: a progressive state with laws that support inclusion. Sharing accurate information about gender diversity, as well as the experiences and challenges that transgender and nonbinary students face, can demystify misconceptions and foster life-saving empathy and understanding.

We must acknowledge that Nex’s death did not exist in a vacuum and is not an isolated incident. Their death is a manifestation of a larger issue that involves hostile rhetoric, a targeted misinformation campaign against transgender and gender-diverse youth, and a culture that permits anti-LGBTQ toxicity to proliferate.

Nex’s death is a poignant reminder of the landscape in which gender-diverse children are asked to live and grow, and which, in the case of Nex, can be deadly.

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Laura Hoge is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New Jersey. Laura is also an educator and an activist. She has worked as an adjunct at Rutgers and Montclair State, training individuals who are studying to become drug and alcohol counselors, and social workers. In addition to organizing, Laura participates in efforts throughout the state of NJ that champion equity in education and medicine for transgender children.

The preceding article was previously published by the New Jersey Monitor and is republished with permission.

New Jersey Monitor provides fair and tough reporting on the issues affecting New Jersey, from political corruption to education to criminal and social justice. We strive to hold powerful people accountable and explain how their actions affect New Jerseyans from Montague to Cape May.

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Commentary

Libs of TikTok appointed to “make schools safer,” but trans kid dies

Nex, a trans teen, dies after a year of transphobic bullying in a school targeted by the biggest anti-trans influencer. When will it end?

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Nex, (Photo from the family’s gofundme)

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – The stories of transgender children being killed are among the hardest I am tasked with writing. I refer to them as stories because, regrettably, there have been multiple incidents over the past two years. Eden KnightBrianna GheyAriyanna Mitchell—names that will forever resonate with me—all young, tragically stripped of their lives in a world where individuals like them face relentless dehumanization and maltreatment by those holding power.

This week, we have yet another name to add to a list already unbearably long from the first addition… Nex, a gender-fluid transgender high school student, was brutally attacked in an Oklahoma bathroom and lost their life, only a month after Chaya Raichik of Libs Of TikTok was appointed as part of a plan to “make schools safer” in Oklahoma.

The news emerged over the weekend through a post highlighting a student allegedly assaulted by three peers in a high school bathroom at Owasso High School West Campus. This post revealed that a student named Nex had been killed, criticized the media for deadnaming them (using their old name), and noted that their transgender status was being ignored.

Now, following widespread attention drawn to Nex and their transgender status, their mother has provided more information to The Independent.

Though details about the specific incident remain sparse, we learned that Nex had been repeatedly bullied at school for being transgender and that the bullying erupted into violence toward them. In what has been described as a “physical altercation,” Nex suffered a severe head injury in a high school bathroom at the hands of three girls.

Allegedly, No ambulance was called, though Nex was taken to the hospital by their mother and was discharged. They succumbed to their head injury the next morning.

Twenty-five years ago, another LGBTQ+ student had their life taken from them too soon. Matthew Shepherd, who was horrifically beaten and left to die, also succumbed to his own severe head injuries.

His death sparked a wave of awareness about how the demonization of gay people in the 1990s led to the killing of gay youth and the fear that so many LGBTQ+ people felt during the gay panics of the 1990s and early 2000s. His death changed things forever and eventually was cited in the passing of hate crime legislation.

Many look at Nex’s death and wonder if their legacy may also shine a light on the horrific consequences of the anti-trans panic sweeping the world today, fueled by a handful of hate accounts and influencers.

According to an investigation by The Independent, Raichik targeted a teacher Nex had greatly admired through her anti-trans account, Libs of TikTok – the school was among the earliest targeted by the account. The account has since become infamous for making posts that are often followed by bomb threats and violence.

Concurrently, the state schools superintendent Ryan Walters put out a horrific video the following year calling transgender youth in bathrooms “an assault on truth” and dangerous to other kids.

He has been a fierce opponent towards LGBTQ+ people in schools, even going as far as to demand a principal be fired for being a drag queen in his time off. He has also prevented students from changing their gender markers in school records, saying that he “did not want [transgender people] thrust on our kids.”

Just last month, Walters decided to appoint Raichik of Libs of TikTok to the Department of Education’s library media panel. In the letter appointing her, Walters stated that Libs of TikTok was part of his plan to “make schools safer for kids.”

Transgender children in Oklahoma and their family members, however, watched in horror as they have now learned what “safety” really means: the violent and brutal suppression of transgender people in the state, and the death of transgender children.

How could it ever gone differently? We know that bomb threats follow Libs of TikTok posts. We know that Kiel, Wisconsin schools were shut down for a month with bomb threats after she targeted that school district over a trans kid. We know violent threats have followed posts targeting the University of South Dakota, a library in North Carolina, and even a librarian in Oklahoma’s Union Public Schools district. She posed proudly with a paper that pointed out the way violent threats follow her targets.

We are in a mass rainbow panic, and conservatives continue to turn up the temperature. Michael Knowles calls for transgender “eradication” while Matt Walsh advocates for an end to legal recognition.

Conservative legislators dehumanize transgender people and their families. Oklahoma Senator Shane Jett, just one year ago, compared the parents of transgender youth to parents who kill their children.

There is a child who was killed – Nex was their name. Embraced and cherished by an affirming family, Nex will rest beneath a tombstone etched with the name that those legislators and hate influencers sought to erase.

A name that, in a just world, would bring about change.

You can find the family’s gofundme > (here)

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

The preceding post was previously published at Erin in the Morning and is republished with permission.

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Letters to the Editor

Real Agency for Community Development helps LGBTQ+ Ugandans who have fled country

Yoweri Museveni signed Anti-Homosexuality Act in May 2023

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Ugandan flag (Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Real Agency for Community Development was established by a proactive group of people who have fled persecution due to their sexual orientation in their respective districts of origin (Isingiro, Mbarara and Ntungamo) and now live in the Nakivale refugee camp where they hoped to find greater safety and freedom.

Homosexuality, however, is illegal in Uganda and they face new challenges: Arbitrary arrests, discrimination, corrective rape, kidnapping, robbery, stigma, homophobia, harassment and bullying. RACD has identified more than 123 LGBTQ Ugandans and other refugees living in the Nakivale and Oruchinga refugee camps. The organization provides them with services depending on their unique situations.

The legal and social marginalization experienced by these people results in many violations of LGBTQ persons’ liberty and threats to their safety. 

Since the beginning of this year, we have already seen three people arbitrarily arrested for being LGBTQ. Another two LGBTQ community members were brutally attacked by a gang of 10 homophobic neighbors in Kampala. One of them had his jaw shattered and had to get a surgery to insert a metal to his jaw. HIV prevention drugs and equipment are always a necessary part of the work with LGBTQ people and female sex workers. The general economic situation in Uganda is decreasing rapidly, and LGBTQ persons suffer the most. Many members reported that they pass many days without being able to obtain any food.

Please email [email protected] for more information about RACD. Donations can also be made to RACD through this GoFundMe link.

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Commentary

Readers deserve better than misinformation about trans care

In a recent response to articles criticizing misinformation in Pamela Paul’s article on detransitioners, Paul dismisses author’s reporting

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Pamela Paul appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher in December, 2023 along with transphobic Texas GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, & transphobic Jordan Peterson, Canadian psychologist, author, and media commentator. (Screenshot/YouTube HBO Real Time with Bill Maher)

Author’s note (Erin Reed): A copy of this article was submitted to the New York Times for publication in response to Pamela Paul. It was rejected, citing an internal policy on opinion pieces responding to New York Times columnists. Journalist Evan Urquhart and I have thus decided to make it freely available on our own platforms.

By Erin Reed & Evan Urquhart | WASHINGTON – On Saturday, opinion columnist Pamela Paul published a deeply misleading 4,500-word article on gender-affirming care and detransitioners in the New York Times.

While readers may be excused for taking her article as a fair representation of the science surrounding that care, transgender journalists like us immediately recognized the hallmarks of misinformation we routinely hear from right-wing groups whose mission is to oppose care for transgender people.

Within hours of the publication of Paul’s story on detransitioners, we published responses that quickly went viral, appearing on academic listservs, professional networks, and Twitter threads discussing the issue. Now, Paul has responded to our journalistic criticism directly by dismissing us as “activists,” a label that does not accurately describe the work she is responding to.

While activism in a just cause is a noble pursuit, and one of us, Erin Reed, has proudly worn that hat at times, another of us, Evan Urquhart, is a professional journalist with a decade-long career in the industry who has never participated in organizing or activism of any kind. Regardless, the word “activist” was used by Paul to create doubt about the professionalism and reliability of our journalistic work, and as such is equally misapplied for both of us.

Paul claims that “we don’t know” how many transgender people detransition. Although she is correct that studies on detransition have limitations, as virtually all studies do, Cornell University reports that transgender regret ranges from 0.3% to 3.8% in a review of over 72 studies.

Criticizing Paul for portraying regret as high is not “activism,” especially when she misleadingly states in her original article that “Studies show that around eight in 10 cases of childhood gender dysphoria resolve themselves by puberty” – numbers derived from decades-old data using outdated diagnostic guidelines that conflated effeminate gay minors with transgender youth, among other issues.

Notably, these numbers originally stem from Ken Zucker, whose clinic was shut down after an independent review determined his practices were akin to “reparative” (conversion) therapy.

It also is not “activism” to point out that it is misleading to use citations that do not back up key arguments. For instance, in both the original article and her response to us, she claims there is data to support that “detransition rates are higher than transgender advocacy groups suggest,” suggesting first that the scientific data on this topic was produced by advocacy groups when it was not, then citing a study of military prescriptions which did not examine detransition at all.

Instead, this study looked at the use of Tricare, the military insurance plan, for hormone therapy prescriptions. Because there are dozens of reasons why one would not fill hormones through Tricare, such as Trump’s trans military ban (which occurred during the study) or the desire for privacy and the use of Planned Parenthood clinics, it does not support “higher rates” of detransition at all, nor does it purport to do so. She likewise neglects to mention that the authors themselves state that “our findings are likely an underestimate of continuation rates.”

If we are accused of activism in our published responses to Pamela Paul, it is only fair to apply that label to her and some of the sources she uses as well.

For instance, Pamela Paul claims that “The Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine” is “one of the most reliable nonpartisan organizations dedicated to the field.” She relies on non-reviewed journal letters to the editor from this group in her original essay and response to us on multiple occasions as evidence of her claims.

However, what she does not reveal is that according to the Southern Policy Law Center, SEGM has received significant funding from the same sources that support the partisan Alliance Defending Freedom and the Heritage Foundation, organizations known for drafting anti-trans legislation. SEGM is closely linked with anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ extremist groups, a connection mapped out by the SPLC’s analysis. Its founder, William Malone, was part of an anti-trans working group in 2019 where members asserted that “god’s will” is being enacted through passing trans bans. In this group, he stated, “It might take years, but we’re going to get them.” If that is not activism, what is?

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Paul seeks to dismiss our criticisms of her misinformation about trans care as activism, but readers deserve better. They should be aware that every major medical organization in the United States supports gender-affirming care due to the evidence behind it.

It’s important for them to know that multiple judges have determined the evidence supporting trans care is comparable to that of most pediatric care, overturning bans on care in the United States.

Readers also deserve to understand that the narrative Paul presents about high detransition rates and stories of regret does not stem from careful journalism, but rather, anti-trans activist groups. Lastly, they should be aware that these erroneous narratives are now being used to justify legislation aimed at banning transgender “for everyone.”

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

Evan Urquhart, an experienced journalist, is the Founder of Assigned Media, and a Community Manager at Slate. Assigned Media is a news site dedicated to daily coverage of anti-trans propaganda and its effects.

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Misleading NYT anti-trans article relies on pseudoscience

The opinion piece by Pamela Paul relies on routinely debunked disinformation and gets factual information wrong about transgender care

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By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – In an article published in the opinion section of The New York Times, opinion columnist Pamela Paul wrote a 4,500-word article filled with factual errors and unfounded assumptions about transgender care and the lived experiences of transgender people.

Although the article is presented as a piece on detransitioners, the interviews serve as vehicles through which Paul packages inaccuracies and disinformation with faulty citations and claims that are not supported by the evidence she presents.

The article is the latest in a series published by The New York Times to do so, and a simple fact check of the claims presented easily debunks the article’s central premises as highly misleading.

It is notable that this is not the first time Paul has waded into LGBTQ+ issues with the seeming goal of covering for anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Previously, she wrote an article criticizing LGBTQ+ organizations for the use of the word “queer,” a word that many LGBTQ+ people use to describe themselves.

She has written articles accusing transgender people of “erasing women.” However, this article is certainly her longest and most in depth attempt to tackle transgender issues; in doing so, she misses the mark.

Claim: Rapid onset gender dysphoria and transgender social contagion is making people trans.

Fact: Rapid onset gender dysphoria and transgender social contagion is not a validated theory, has been widely debunked as pseudoscience by major medical organizations.

“Most of her patients now, she said, have no history of childhood gender dysphoria. Others refer to this phenomenon, with some controversy, as rapid onset gender dysphoria, in which adolescents, particularly tween and teenage girls, express gender dysphoria despite never having done so when they were younger. Frequently, they have mental health issues unrelated to gender. While professional associations say there is a lack of quality research on rapid onset gender dysphoria, several researchers have documented the phenomenon, and many health care providers have seen evidence of it in their practices.”

At the beginning of the article, Paul discusses “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” and “social contagion” as potential reasons for the apparent increase in transgender individuals in recent years, raising concerns that these individuals will detransition.

However, her sources clearly contradict her premise. Her first source, used to support “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria,” is an article that has been retracted. Then she turns to Lisa Littman, who’s original paper on the topic was immediately withdrawn with an apology by the journal for correction after the data collection methods were revealed, with the republication stating that the research “does not validate the phenomenon” of transgender social contagion. Littman is notably one of the only researchers to argue for the theory, which has been repeatedly dismissed for lacking factual support and for recruiting subjects from anti-trans websites.

Recently, unable to validate the theory, she collaborated with Leor Sapir, who lacks a background in transgender mental health care and works at the anti-trans Manhattan Institute, to broaden the definition of “Rapid” so that even a period of two to four years could be considered rapid. She then published it in a journal run by Ken Zucker, an anti-trans “expert” whose clinic was closed following accusations of conversion therapy.

The second set of links, claiming to show “several researchers” documenting the phenomenon, actually refers to only three researchers, not “several.” These “researchers” include Lisa Littman’s personal website, a retracted article by Michael Bailey (Lisa Littman’s treasurer), and another article by Lisa Littman herself. The data sources used for the “documented phenomenon” are the anti-trans website Transgender Trend and a SurveyMonkey poll distributed on Reddit and Twitter.

The only source that correctly represents the consensus is the source showing that professional organizations oppose ROGD as pseudoscientific. In a letter from over 60 psychological organizations, the coalition for the Advancement & Application of Psychological Science calls for the elimination of the term, stating, “There are no sound empirical studies of ROGD” and “there is no evidence that ROGD aligns with the lived experiences of transgender children and adolescents.” Paul, however, simply and misleadingly presents this letter as the organization stating “there is not enough quality research.”

study in the prestigious journal Pediatrics entirely debunked the concept of ROGD, determining that most transgender people know their gender identity for years before they come out and seek treatment for gender dysphoria. When transgender people finally do come out, many are overjoyed to finally reveal their true self to the world around them – to others, however, the process may seem “rapid.”

To ascertain whether transgender identification occurs “rapidly,” researchers directly asked transgender teenagers: “How long have you known you were transgender?” They discovered that on average, transgender people know their gender identity for four years before first coming out and presenting for treatment.

Claim: Stephanie Winn, a “licensed marriage and family therapist,” spoke out in favor of “approach gender dysphoria in a more considered way” but then was “investigated” for conversion therapy.

Fact: Stephanie Winn suggested the treatment of transgender youth with acupuncture to “see if they like having needles put in them” and stating it could “help spark desistance.” She also pushed the idea that transgender men should be estrogen to make them feel more feminine.

“They have good reasons to be wary. Stephanie Winn, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Oregon, was trained in gender-affirming care and treated multiple transgender patients. But in 2020, after coming across detransition videos online, she began to doubt the gender-affirming model. In 2021 she spoke out in favor of approaching gender dysphoria in a more considered way, urging others in the field to pay attention to detransitioners, people who no longer consider themselves transgender after undergoing medical or surgical interventions. She has since been attacked by transgender activists. Some threatened to send complaints to her licensing board saying that she was trying to make trans kids change their minds through conversion therapy.

In April 2022, the Oregon Board of Licensed Professional Counselors and Therapists told Winn that she was under investigation. Her case was ultimately dismissed, but Winn no longer treats minors and practices only online, where many of her patients are worried parents of trans-identifying children.”

Paul then attempts to take readers through to other researchers who are, presumably, being “unfairly treated” for their “unorthodox” views on transgender people. One of those people is Stephanie Winn, who she presents as a “licensed marriage and family therapist” in Oregon. She claims that Winn simply spoke out “in favor of approaching gender dysphoria in a more considered way” and was attacked for this. A simple click on Paul’s link, however, shows how this is a highly misleading claim and misrepresents the brutality of what Winn was proposing.

In the thread linked by Paul, Winn muses that transgender men have a “sense of being less feminine” and could be made to feel more feminine by giving them estrogen. There is absolutely no research behind this claim, and in fact, giving transgender people the hormone of their assigned sex at birth has been tried in the past with disastrous effects.

In a paper published in 1967 by Harry Benjamin, one of the first major researchers into transgender care, he stated: “I have heard rather frequently in the patient’s history that androgen had been used in the past in an attempt to cure the transsexualism by masculinization. It is the wrong treatment. It aggravates the condition by increasing libido without changing its character or direction. Androgen is contraindicated.”

Winn has also advocated for the treatment of transgender youth with acupuncture, stating, “they can see how they like having needles put in them.”

Stephanie Winn has not been investigated or attacked simply for “approaching gender dysphoria in a more considered way.” Rather, attacks on Winn are linked to extremely cruel suggestions and musings around how transgender youth should be dealt using cruel, coercive, and painful conversion therapy techniques.

Claim: Transgender people may actually just be gay, and transitioning is a form of “conversion therapy.”

Fact: Gender and sexuality are different, many transgender people identify as gay or bisexual after transition, and gay acceptance is higher than trans acceptance.

Gay men and women often told me they fear that same-sex-attracted kids, especially effeminate boys and tomboy girls who are gender nonconforming, will be transitioned during a normal phase of childhood and before sexual maturation — and that gender ideology can mask and even abet homophobia.

“I transitioned because I didn’t want to be gay,” Kasey Emerick, a 23-year-old woman and detransitioner from Pennsylvania, told me. Raised in a conservative Christian church, she said, “I believed homosexuality was a sin.”

The claim that transgender people are “actually just gay” is one that has been made repeatedly by those opposed to gender affirming care, and one that has been repeatedly debunked. Paul wades into this claim by featuring Kasey Emerick, who claims that “believing homosexuality was a sin” played into her transition.

Factually, though, attitudes towards transgender people tend to be “significantly more negative” according to an article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. This contributes to a much higher rate of violence and discrimination. Many transgender people, such as celebrity Laverne Cox, report that the most common response to coming out is, “couldn’t you have just been gay?”

According to the 2012 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, most transgender people identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer after transition. If transition was being used to “cure” being gay, it is a startlingly ineffective cure.

Claim: 80% of transgender individuals desist from being transgender if they go through puberty without intervention, and another study suggests that 30% of individuals stop taking hormone therapy medication.

Fact: Detransition rates are estimated to be between 1-4%. The study citing an 80% detransition rate is based on faulty outdated data, using criteria no longer in use. Furthermore, the study indicating a 30% discontinuation rate is based on military families not refilling their prescriptions through Tricare, rather than actual discontinuation of hormone therapy.

Studies show that around eight in 10 cases of childhood gender dysphoria resolve themselves by puberty and 30 percent of people on hormone therapy discontinue its use within four years, though the effects, including infertility, are often irreversible.

The claim that 80% of transgender youth detransition has been widely debunked and is contradicted by modern research, which indicates regret and detransition rates of 1-4%, according to a review of newer peer-reviewed studies by Cornell University. Recent studies reveal that 97.5% of transgender youth maintain a stable gender identity after five years.

The older article Paul references is a journal article in a publication with a very low impact factor; this article does not provide new data, and instead discusses the same two outdated sources commonly associated with the exaggerated “80% detransition rate” claim: Kenneth Zucker’s research from the 1990s on detransition, which uses outdated diagnostic criteria for “gender identity disorder” that misclassified feminine gay men as “disordered,” and Steensma’s studies from 2011/2013, known for similar methodological shortcomings.

Both of these studies share a similar problem that explains why the numbers are so different when compared to modern studies around transgender care: they utilize outdated criteria for “gender identity disorder,” which misclassified tomboys, masculine lesbians, and effeminate gay men as “disordered.” Notably, Zucker advocated for conversion therapy, arguing that “a homosexual lifestyle in a fundamentally unaccepting culture simply creates unnecessary social difficulties.” He also employed techniques aimed at coercing trans kids to conform to their assigned sex at birth, such as withholding cross-gender toys and advising parents “not to give in” to their trans youth’s desires to wear clothing that aligns with their gender identity.

The old criteria noted that to be diagnosed with “gender identity disorder,” you did not need to desire to be “the other sex.” Instead, the disorder was about gendered behavior that was deemed “too masculine” or “too feminine” by society, and purposefully included gay people who didn’t “act man or woman enough.” The new criteria, however, require the transgender youth to desire or insist to be the other sex.

Steensma’s 2011 and 2013 studies had similar issues in his research, which in some ways had even worse methodological flaws. Steensma used the old criteria, which is not the way that gender dysphoria is diagnosed today. Worse, the two studies classified every youth who did not return to the clinic as having “desisted” or “detransitioned” with no long term follow-up. Half of the participants in the studies did not return and all were classified as having “desisted.”

The sample sizes were tiny at the getgo – only 53 people were in the first study and 127 in the second study. Given the fact that a large portion if not the majority of Steensma’s patients were classified under decades old criteria and assumed permanently detransitioned simply for refusing to follow up, these studies cannot be used to make any reasonable claim of high desistance rates.

The last study that Paul refers to is a study released two years ago on military continuance of care. That study looked at all hormone therapy distributed under the military Tricare health insurance plan and determined that 30% of people stopped receiving their hormones through Tricare. What the study does not do, as Paul claims, is support the idea that “30% of people discontinued hormone therapy.” In fact, there are many reasons why people would no longer fill their hormone therapy through a military Tricare plan, especially towards the end of the study in 2017-2018:

  • The Trump administration began targeting transgender servicemembers, and many transgender servicemembers likely stopped filling their hormone prescriptions through Tricare for themselves or their family members, fearing being targeted.
  • Tricare has notoriously poor transgender care coverage, as evidenced by many military members responding to a thread discussing the results of this study, and many transgender servicemembers may opt to get their medication through a low cost alternative such as Planned Parenthood
  • Hormone therapy can be discontinued for surgery, fertility and pregnancy planning, and many other purposes.
  • Some nonbinary patients may obtain all the results they wish from hormone therapy before discontinuing, desiring no future results.
  • Transgender people may simply have not filled the medication through insurance and instead utilized online pharmacies, which have grown increasingly popular.
  • Transgender patients can easily fill prescriptions through GoodRX plans, which would allow them more privacy.
  • Transgender people may have been forced off care by military decisions

Even the authors of the article themselves state that they likely overestimate discontinuation:

“We only collected information on medication refills obtained using a single insurance plan. If patients elected to pay out of pocket for hormones, accessed hormones through nonmedical channels, or used a different insurance plan to pay for treatment before and/or after obtaining gender-affirming hormones using TRICARE insurance, we did not capture this information. This means that our findings are likely an underestimate continuation rates among transgender patients.”

There are many more factual errors contained within Paul’s article; it is 4,500 words long and covers virtually every anti-trans claim made in legislative hearings across the United States. Many advocates for transgender people, medical experts, and journalists have weighed in to cover other aspects of Paul’s piece. You can find those here:

Editor’s Note: Originally, the article read that Paul relied on a study by Lisa Littman that was retracted. This is corrected to read that Paul cited a separate study, which was itself retracted. Littman’s study was removed and republished with a correction noting that her research “does not validate the phenomenon” of social contagion with an apology from the journal.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

Follow her on Twitter (Link)

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

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

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Epic smear of Royal LGBTQ+ ally Amar Singh is dangerous

Why Graydon Carter’s fact-checking failure matters- Apparently, Air Mail doesn’t care. They’ve let inaccuracies stand to bring down a royal

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(Photo courtesy Amar Singh)

By Karen Ocamb | LONDON, UK – The rich, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in a 1925 essay, “are different from you and me.” That gap creates a persistent itch of snarky curiosity about how the other half lives. But often embedded in that perception is a belief that One Percenters need to be taken down a peg. 

In my opinion, that’s what is happening to LGBTQ+ ally Amar Singh, his family and his former girlfriend after an 12,799-word hit piece was posted in the digital magazine Air Mail, run by former Vanity Fair guru Graydon Carter. (I am not linking to the Air Mail story to avoid spreading misinformation.) 

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Amar Singh in his London gallery for 2017 LA Blade story. (Photo courtesy Amar Singh)

I met Amar Singh, then-28, in 2017 at SoHo House in West Hollywood and profiled him for the Los Angeles Blade, focused on the straight Indian royal’s LGBTQ+ activism.  “There are three tiers of suppression: female, LGBT, and caste—which is actually meant to be illegal but prevails very heavily in India,” said Singh, a member of the erstwhile Kapurthala Royal Family. He used his art gallery in London to showcase women, minority, and LGBTQ artists. 

“I’m a passionate individual who truly despises that there are human rights atrocities which are carried on a daily basis,” Amar said. “I’ve lost my cool in the past when meeting individuals who’ve said to me — and there have been many — ‘gay people deserve to die. Gay people must be locked up.’ Same thing for women.” 

It’s the immature flip side of that passion that launched the Air Mail screed. 

During the summer of 2023, Amar dated Liza, a 24-year-old Swedish woman he’d met online. It was a big deal. As happens with many rich, famous, and important people, he guarded his heart, wondering if lovers cared about him for who he was — or for his money and title. 

When Amar discovered his girlfriend had gaslit him and cheated, he wanted payback. He was encouraged by an acquaintance whose wife worked for Air Mail. Thus began a month of exaggerations and attacks by both Amar and his girlfriend — an emotional version of the film “The War of the Roses.”   

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Coming to his senses, Amar felt humiliated and ashamed by his behavior — having at one point blasted his ex over the phone as fat and inexcusably using the “C” word. He apologized to her, she apologized to him, and they recognized they still cared for each other. They tried to retract all the exaggerations, with Amar offering to compensate the writer for the time wasted and the paycheck she presumably would forfeit by dropping the story. She later called that a “bribe.” 

But the writers seemed intent on doing the story as if bringing down a royal activist would please Air Mail’s audience of “affluent intelligentsia.” 

Amar and Liza panicked, saying the story they gave the writers was for a film, “Thirst for Fiction.”

“When the journalists hounded my family, friends and Liza’s family with calls,” Amar says, “we panicked and just told them everything was for a movie. That was not true, foolish and due to extreme mental duress of our families calling us in tears.” 

On Oct. 19, 2023, Air Mail posted the story, which takes 47 minutes to read. What started out as “a cautionary tale of online dating among the 0.1 percent became something else,” Hannah Ghorashi writes beginning a story that features her and editor George Pendle as victims. 

There are only two mentions of online dating. There is no cautionary tale. Five minutes in, the reader asks: “who are these people and why should I care about them?”

But then they attempt to ruin Amar’s reputation. The story of broken-hearted ex-lovers using the media to get back at each other evolved into a mean girl frame that apparently incited threats of violence. 

“This 12,000-word smear campaign against me in an attempt to affect my human rights work which questions my family, my heritage, my education, my life’s work is completely unjustified,” says Amar. “Yes, I messed up in my personal life. But I still care about my ex-girlfriend and these personal mistakes do not warrant attacks against my family and human rights work which positively impacts thousands of LGBT+ individuals, women and children.”

On Jan. 8, 2024, Singh posted a long response on Instagram, with checkable refutations of the inaccuracies and allegations in the Air Mail story:  

–“One of the reasons I am publishing this statement now is that Air Mail’s article has been and is being actively used to cause harm to my family and me. Due to the article I have been threatened, blackmailed three times, experienced racism, threatened with violence, people have visited our properties, my 60-year-old mother has been threatened with violence and yesterday on January 7th, 2024 my parents home was defaced with red paint by one of the individuals black mailing me and stating they will make up stories to Air Mail unless I pay them. The police have been notified.” —

What prompted these actions now? One possibility is that the story was among google searches after the recent release of court documents regarding pedophile Jeffrey Epstein and his sex-trafficking accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell. A Jan. 5 New York Post headline shouted: “Jeffrey Epstein went to Vanity Fair’s office to suppress truth about his crimes — not Bill Clinton.” A search reveals numerous conflicting articles about whether Graydon Carter edited out stories from two Epstein survivors in an article by Vanity Fair writer Vicky Ward. A 2022 deep dive by Isaac Chotiner in The New Yorker concludes that Ward was lying. However, a July 10, 2019 detailed report by Kim Masters in the Hollywood Reporter says Carter “nipped and tucked and altered” Masters’ own pieces when she worked at Vanity Fair. 

Carter’s response to Masters is pertinent here: “Anyone who is familiar with the editing process of a big magazine like Vanity Fair would know that the story the writer turns in goes through numerous layers of editing, fact-checking, and legal review….[the Epstein aspect] did not meet our legal and editorial standards” of having three on-the-record sources for each allegation. 

But the story about Amar and his ex-girlfriend in Carter’s Air Mail fails to provide three independent, on-the-record sources for each allegation and apparently ignored evidence and receipts provided before publication. 

Instead, Pendle disparages other media coverage of Amar, including 3 stories in Vanity Fair, the New York Times (“The Indian Prince Who Supports Gay Rights and the Arts”), Elle, ArtNet, and 2 stories in Forbes including 30 Under 30/ Europe 2019, which noted that the gallery “made more than $3 million in 2018.” 

“I almost felt sorry for Amar. Magazines and newspapers had written about him in the past without challenging anything he had told them. He had said he was donating millions of dollars to this organization or using his massive funds to help with that museum, and it was published as the truth,” Pendle writes. “Here was a progressive Indian royal who could speak the language of L.G.B.T.Q.+ and women’s rights while promising huge donations to photogenic charities. It was the sort of exotic philanthro-porn that no one—not even AIR MAIL—could resist.”

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Portrait by eminent Black artist Renee Cox of Amar Singh wearing a Pride flag to celebrate LGBTQ+ allyship (Photo courtesy Renee Cox)

“Exotic philanthro-porn”? I’ve seen each link and checked each receipt from charities and museums for contributions and art work (including nonbinary Indigenous Chamorro artist Gisela McDaniel, Mosie Romney, Renee Cox to LACMA, a Lina Iris Viktor to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and another to the Crocker in Sacramento). It looks like Amar donated more than $3 million worth of art (to date) by LGBTQ, women and minority artists to numerous museums. 

The Air Mail authors also seemed to fudge quotes. For example, they write: “But to the critic and artist Kenny Schachter, Amar was a ‘fake aristocrat’ who frequently boasted about and overinflated his accomplishments in the art world. Others, who wished to remain anonymous, were similarly skeptical, claiming Amar’s work with the L.G.B.T.Q.+ movement was simply a way for him to ingratiate himself further into the art world.”

On Oct. 28, 2023, Schacter wrote Amar a horrified email:

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(Screenshot email from artist Kenny Schachter)

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Royal Amar Singh with Ravi Kant, Advocate in the Supreme Court of India
(Photo courtesy Amar Singh)

The story mentions “crusading Indian lawyer Ravi Kant” – who is actually an Advocate in the Supreme Court of India fighting LGBTQ “conversion therapy.” Kant also validated his work with Amar:  

“I was very impressed with the passion you brought in to the issue of conversion therapy happening on children and the need to work to stop this inhuman practice,” Kant wrote to Amar on Oct. 29, 2023. “Amar you have been very considerate for standing by and supporting this legal research work on this very important area.” 

And then there’s Liza. “The way she was portrayed by Air Mail following us correcting their story is utterly untrue,” says Amar.  

“In my relationship with Amar, we both messed up,” Liza says. “I made some bad choices like cheating and gaslighting, and I deeply believe that his words to me were merely a response to my behavior. All good that he has done and the kind person he is should not be overpowered by a few minutes of responsiveness to my actions. There is no one on this earth who can, with their hand on the heart, say that they have never said things they don’t mean when angry and hurt.”

Apparently, Air Mail doesn’t care. They’ve let inaccuracies stand to bring down a royal. So much for “intelligentsia.” 

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Karen Ocamb is the former news editor of the Los Angeles Blade. She is an award-winning journalist who, upon graduating from Skidmore College, started her professional career at CBS News in New York.

Ocamb started in LGBTQ+ media in the late 1980s after more than 100 friends died from AIDS. She covered the spectrum of the LGBTQ+ movement for equality until June 2020, including pressing for LGBTQ+ data collection during the COVID pandemic.

Since leaving the LA Blade Ocamb continues to advocate for civil rights and social, economic, and racial justice issues.

She lives in West Hollywood, California with her rescue dog Pepper.

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2024 Trans Girl Scouts to order cookies from!

LA Blade Readers! This year, consider ordering your Girl Scout cookies from a trans girl scout to make their day!

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Caramel deLites® | Samoas® Crisp cookies with caramel, coconut, and chocolaty stripes  (Photo Credit: Brian/GSA)

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – Did you know that for a long time, Girl Scouts has openly included transgender and nonbinary individuals in its membership? I first learned of this three years ago while searching for a source for my annual Girl Scout cookie purchase.

At that time, a wave of anti-trans sentiment was intensifying, prompting me to seek out transgender Girl Scouts from whom to order. One major benefit of their online ordering system is that it allows for trans girl scouts to sell their cookies with relative privacy and no contact between the scout and the purchaser when it comes to online orders.

My initial effort was a success, meeting the goals of every single scout featured on the page. The achievement felt wonderful during what seemed like one of the most severe legislative attacks on transgender children in recent memory. Unbeknownst to us, each subsequent year would bring greater such attacks. Since then, every year I’ve repeated this initiative, we’ve surpassed our previous sales, leading to coverage in multiple news stories.

It is that time of year again. I have reached out to the families on my list to gather girl scouts to purchase cookies from. Please consider choosing a trans girl scout to get your cookies from this year – the kids are under attack this year more than ever, so lets give them some joy.

Note: When purchasing from one of these trans girl scouts, please choose the “ship the cookies” option and not the “deliver the cookies” by hand option.

With no further adieu, here are the scouts! Please check back as many more often request to be added after publication, and I will keep this post updated with any that join in:

Dotty: Dotty is a trans Girl Scout who is a born entrepreneur and cares a lot about helping aquatic animals. You can buy cookies from her here!

Ryan: Ryan is a trans Girl Scout who is part of an inclusive troop that has helped create a safe space for all kids. You can buy cookies from her here!

Candor: Candor is a nonbinary Girl Scout participating in their 10th cookie season to raise funds for their Gold Award. You can get cookies from Candor here!

Joshua: Joshua is a trans Girl Scout thriving with her troop and who really appreciated all of the orders last year and hopes the internet wants more cookies in 2024. You can get cookies from her here!

Em: Em is a nonbinary girl scout who is looking to fund a trip to Savannah, GA as well as planning activities with their community nursing home. You can get cookies from Em here!

Lily: Lily is a trans girl scout. She and her LGBTQ+ friendly troop are hoping to earn enough money to go on an overnight adventure at SeaWorld! They will also use the troop funds to pay for yearly dues so our low income families won’t have to worry about that additional fund with Girl Scouting. You can get cookies from her here!

Logan: Logan, who sometimes goes by Rapunzel, is a trans girl scout looking to earn money for craft supplies and to replace camping supplies that burned in a fire. You can buy cookies from her here!

If you have a trans girl scout member, please feel free to email me at my contact form at www.ErinReedWrites.com! I will add more to the bottom of this list as people submit their own.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

Follow her on Twitter (Link)

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

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Ohio GOP laments “Trans Suffering” & cast votes to cause more

During debate on HB68, a gender affirming care ban for trans youth- Ohio Republicans lamented on trans suffering & passed the bill anyway

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Ohio Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio. (Photo Credit: State of Ohio)

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, Ohio Senate Republicans debated a gender-affirming care ban for transgender youth, as well as a trans athletics ban for trans youth and adults.

The bill, which could have significant negative mental and physical health consequences for transgender individuals in the state, passed along party lines. During the debate on the bill, Republicans stood up and lamented the suffering of transgender people, purportedly expressing sadness about the fear and pain they feel.

In a glaring contradiction with their words, they proceeded to cast the votes that cause the suffering they professed to care about.

It is not hard to understand why Ohio Republicans felt the need to lament the pain transgender people feel. Many testified in the hearings that they would be forced to leave the state should such a bill pass. Local activist Cam Ogden, for instance, reported on Twitter that, as the bill was being heard, she held a crying 9-year-old who would not be protected by the last-minute addition of the grandfather clause to the bill.

During the bill hearings, over 500 pieces of testimony were submitted against the bill, mostly from people in the state, expressing the tremendous pain being barred from care and participation would bring them. Despite outnumbering the mostly out-of-state opponents 10:1, the legislature passed the bill anyway.

What is harder to understand. however, is how human beings faced with that pain could cast a vote to cause more of it.

For example, one Senator, Senator Terry Johnson, stood and stated that when he was a doctor treating substance abuse, he saw more trans people than any of his previous medical specialties. Research confirms that this is true: transgender people, like all LGBTQ+ people, are more likely to have substance use disorders.

In a meta study published in the journal Brain Sciences, researchers determined that the “stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and harassment these individuals receive regularly from society” likely plays a role in such substance use. In a later study, researchers determined that external factors such as discrimination directly led to drug abuse in transgender people. Despite Senator Johnson’s purported sadness at the mental health of transgender people, he cast a vote that would directly increase the problems he claimed to care about.

Senator Brenner testified the vote was a “heartwrenching” vote and that he “could understand why” trans youth would be allowed to transition. He then erroneously claimed that there was no scientific evidence that gender affirming care reduces depression or saves lives.

This is despite copious scientific evidence showing likewise that was submitted to him, including:

  • study showing a 73% decrease in suicidality and similar decreases in depression and anxiety for gender affirming care published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association.
  • A study showing a 40% decrease in 1-year suicide attempts in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
  • comment in Lancet showing that trans care is so powerful, it should be considered preventative healthcare.
  • collection of over 50 studies analyzed by Cornell showing the powerful lifesaving effects of trans care.
  • A review by leading researchers at Yale School of Medicine showing the scientific evidence that gender affirming care bans, specifically Florida’s ban, causes more harm.

Senator Roegner, who introduced the bill, acknowledged that “transgender people are real… and they do suffer, they deserve dignity, compassion, and community.” However, she subsequently referred to trans care as a “fad.”

In the committee hearing, which she chaired, numerous individuals testified about the history and evidence supporting such care, including top medical professionals and representatives from the state’s leading hospitals. Nevertheless, supporters of the bill proposed an alternative and more harmful approach: family rejection of a transgender child’s identity and conversion therapy, despite the suffering that causes.

Contrary to her professed concern for the suffering of transgender youth, Senator Roegner voted in favor of more suffering, even going as far as defending a provision that doctors can’t even “aid or abet” gender transition by telling patients what their out of state care options are.

Democrats in the Senate attempted to put forward amendments that would make the bill less harmful to transgender youth. These amendments included creating a committee to research care and direct the right course of action off of that research as well as removing the aiding and abetting clause.

None of the amendments passed. Democratic Senator DeMora, sensing the clear pending outcome of the bill, turned and instead spoke to the trans people in the audience themselves and said, “My democratic colleagues and I will continue to fight for you, and I personally will not stop until Ohio is a safe place for you to live. I am sorry that this state is not safe for you to live now, and I apologize to all of you personally.”

The bill has one final step before it becomes law – it must be signed by Governor DeWine. Should he veto it, Republicans in the state have enough votes to overturn the veto, but it is not immediately clear they would do so given the immense influence on politics the governor has in the state. Kaleidoscope Youth Center in Ohio and other local organizations have provided the following information in order to advocate that he veto the bill:

HELP STOP HOUSE BILL 68 FROM BECOMING LAW: Contact Governor Mike DeWine (614-466-3555, [email protected]) and tell him to veto H.B. 68.

As of this morning, DeWine’s voice mail is full but calls are still being taken directly by staff.

Update: The email may no longer be working. Instead, you can go to this form: https://governor.ohio.gov/contact

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

Follow her on Twitter (Link)

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

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

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Ukrainian government leaving LGBTQ community behind

“It’s not the right time.” This is the most frequent response received when advocating for the LGBTQI+ community

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Viktor P., an openly gay soldier who has served in the Ukrainian army since the beginning of the Russian invasion, still doesn't have equal rights. (Photo by Alim Yakubov)

By Bogdan Globa | NEW YORK – “It’s not the right time.” This is the most frequent response received when advocating for the LGBTQI+ community, but the truth is it is never a suitable time for changes or progress, or even for a discussion about human rights for minorities such as LGBTQI+ people.

Since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the Ukrainian Republic regained independence, a lot of progress was made. For example, Ukraine was the first country out of the post-USSR ones that decriminalized punishment for homosexuality (the Soviet Union criminalized homosexuality with seven years of imprisonment or labor camp detention.) 

In addition, following the Revolution of Dignity, when the Ukraine’s Parliament passed progressive anti-discrimination bills, later they passed the amendment to the labor code that protects from discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).

An important note: The new amendment to the labor code is still the most advanced in Europe, as many countries have adopted legislation protecting discrimination based on sexual orientation without including gender identity. Even the judicial branch made some contributions.

Ukraine’s constitution in Article 24 bans discrimination in general; at the same time, it doesn’t have SOGI in the list, but instead has an open list. In May 2014, after two decades, the Supreme Specialized Court of Ukraine wound down legislative debates and published a constitutional review that interpreted the constitution as banning any form of discrimination, including based on SOGI. 

Unfortunately, since 2016, Ukraine’s Parliament has stopped making any legislative progress towards equality for LGBTQI+ people, and all changes have moved to the government executive level. But, even though Ukraine has changed a lot culturally and politically, among the biggest and most crucial puzzles remains unsolved — same-sex marriages or, a bare minimum for the gay community, civil partnership.

Mission impossible (or not) 

The biggest roadblock to same-sex marriage in Ukraine is the constitution. 

Back in 1996, when the first version of the constitution was written, Ukrainian MPs limited the institution of marriage only to men and women, preventing any marriage debates for generations. The mission to change the constitution means the LGBTQI+ movement needs to elect a supermajority in the Verkhovna Rada (300 MPs out of 450) three times, the Constitutional Court needs to approve changes, and the president needs to sign the bill. 

Other examples of stalled progress make the situation look even more bleak.  

Bill 5488 was introduced in May 2021 as part of a long-term affiliation process with the European Union, and part of an Action plan for National Human Rights Strategy and many U.N. resolutions, including recommendations from the U.N. Human Rights Council. This bill would change the Criminal Code to clarify language in Article 161 to add hate crimes protections for LGBTQI+ persons and other marginalized groups.

Unfortunately, the bill was dead on arrival and never voted on in the Parliament, even though it would provide protection from hate crimes not only based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but also based on race, religion, color, language, gender and disability and many more. Broadening protections against hate crimes has broad support overall. Following threats on KyivPride’s march in 2016, even the Orthodox Church of Ukraine made a statement declaring the physical attack unacceptable.                               

Until now, the Ukrainian Parliament held down the “last fort” of traditional family values and didn’t move forward with legislation that included SOGI. Meanwhile, LGBTQI+ Ukrainians continue to lose trust in their government’s ability or desire to protect them.

Only this year, the Human Rights Ombudsman reported 17 cases of hate crimes based on SOGI and only one verdict in the court. Human rights organizations may report hundreds more hate crime cases every year (Ukraine human rights organization Nash Mir Center reported 186 documented hate crimes based on SOGI in 2020), but still, without adopting Bill 5488 or similar legislation, there won’t be an effective system preventing these hate crimes and providing justice for minorities and marginalized groups.

Another existential challenge for the LGBTQI+ community will be adopting a civil partnership bill (as same-sex marriage is realistically not possible in the coming decades). “Preserving the institution of marriage” only for straight families, but letting same-sex couples have civil recognition, could let Ukraine join the ranks of other democratic and progressive countries, while appeasing some of the conservative sector’s demands.

In most European countries, a civil partnership law was the middle step before same-sex marriages were fully recognized. That institution is long overdue and most needed in Ukraine right now, while thousands of LGBTQI+ are serving in the army with a civilian partner back at home. For straight couples, if something happens with a military partner (wounded or killed), a civilian partner will obtain a variety of government benefits, from cash support to housing. In the case of same-sex couples, they are invisible to the government and have no help or recognition. A civilian person has no right to even bury their partner’s body. 

The Ukrainian government demonstrates insufficient desire to fix LGBTQI+ inequality 

LGBTQI+ Ukrainians are equal enough to serve your country but not equal enough to get the same benefits of straight couples, or to receive adequate protections against hate crimes. The Union of the LGBT Military in Ukraine (a non-government organization) already includes a few hundred openly LGBTQI+ members and a thousand queer military who follow their activities. While they actively fight to protect the republic, they sincerely hope politicians and government have their back. And as many politicians repeat kumbaya about all Ukrainian soldiers being heroes, it does look like they believe LGBTQI+ heroes don’t need the same benefits or support as their colleague’s heterosexual ones.

Left behind 

Historically, the most significant and quickest progress for the LGBTQI+ community in Ukraine has happened (2014-2016) in combination with a few factors: The process of joining a visa-free regime with the Schengen zone and integration into the European Union, the cultural revolution when Ukrainian start to watching more Netflix and Western media than Russian channel, and U.S. government investment of great resources to promoting democratic values, including many cultural and exchange programs which help to bolster civil society and the LGBTQI+ human rights movement in Ukraine.

Unfortunately, with the changing power in the White House in 2016, the U.S. government’s priority shifted dramatically, and the Ukrainian LGBTQI+ community was left with markedly less support in the fight for their civil rights with the Ukrainian government, at the same time fighting back against Russian anti-LGBTQ propaganda, the Russian orthodox church’s lobby, and rising right-wing organizations.

To add insult to injury, a few representatives from the U.S. Congress came down to Kyiv to participate in a prayer breakfast and lobby for traditional family values, including banning “gay propaganda.” In fact, a group of U.S. congressmen who came to Ukraine’s parliament to lobby for a ban on “LGBTQI+ propaganda” was led by U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.). The same Vargas, who is a member of the Congressional Equality Caucus, has a 100 percent score LGBTQI+ friendly rating by the organization Human Rights Campaign and is a member of the Democratic party (which by many press releases in favor of protection of the LGBTQI+ community abroad) who represents the greatest state of California.

Until now, it was only a delegation representing the U.S. Congress and including member of Congressional Equality Caucus, which made a trip to Ukraine to talk about LGBTQI+ issues, but just sadly, they talk about the need to criminalize the queer community, not share experiences of how the U.S. navigated many discussions and made gay marriage possible in the U.S.      

At the same time, the European Union is losing the opportunities to stand for the human rights for LGBTQI+ in Ukraine even though the European Commission and other institutions have a lot of tools in the box to be more actively advocating for equality. Unfortunately, integration into the EU does not require recognition of same-sex marriages, as the EU doesn’t regulate marriage standards for members, and after Ukraine passed anti-discrimination legislation and banned the bare minimum of protecting the LGBTQI+ community from discrimination in the workplace, European bureaucrats checked all boxes and lost political interest in any advocacy for the queer community. 

The greatest example was a few weeks window in 2022 when the EU was considering Ukrainian application to become a candidate for a member of the European Union, and the Eurocommision passed to the Ukrainian government must to do list which included the ratification Istanbul Convention but failed to mention hate crime bill there, what was already in Parliament and ready to vote, even more — less sensitive and controversial then Istanbul Convention (religion organization was massively oppose ratification on affair “gender ideology” and actively pushing back in parliaments many years.) 

The last miles of the equality marathon

Ukraine did make enormous progress toward equality for the LGBTQI+ community in the past. More than that; the newish Ukrainian society is much more tolerant, welcoming and friendly. In 2015, Kyiv Pride had a few hundred activists — more than 10,000 people participated in the last one. Surprisingly, most of them were straight people.

Ukraine has the biggest movement of LGBTQI+ soldiers in Europe, the larger parents of queer children movement and many more. The picture becomes even brighter if you look at the map and realize all regional countries are going backward on LGBTQI+ issues. Belarus and Russia criminalized homosexuality back in their wish to relive the Soviet Union. Still, even Poland has a free LGBTQI+ zone movement where some regional counties declare themself free from the LGBTQI+ community.

On that background, Ukraine looks like the most promising and leading country in the region. Only the Ukrainian government took a nap on the last miles of a marathon.  

How can we shake the Ukrainian government and help them stop lingering on the most essential legislation for the LGBTQI+ community, and end the inequality battle in Ukraine? We can start actively using our diplomacy again.

For example, Congress can send a delegation to exchange experiences on how they pass the Marriage Equality Act. The White House and State Department can be more proactive in working groups for the implementation of the U.S.-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership, which includes the Ukraine government’s obligation to pass the hate crime bill, The Department of Justice can organize education program for its Ukrainian counterpart and help them to learn from the U.S. experience on preventing hate crimes. And as we are a country with the largest number of LGBTQI+ envoys in the government per square foot, can we use them at least once for the greatest good?

First Ukrainian column in Capital Pride, which included Ukrainian diplomats who walked with a Ukrainian queer group, for the first time ever in D.C. in June 2022. (Photo by Harmilee Cousin III)

LGBTQI+ as national security for the US 

The important nuance that many experts miss is the LGBTQI+ issue in Ukraine and Eastern Europe (and even broader) is a more complicated issue than we think. One of the self-declared reasons Russia justifies its war and invasion of Ukraine is “traditional family values” and their preventing Slavic people from biting the forbidden fruit of GayEurope. When the Russian army took over Mariupol, the biggest TV story on the Russian government channels was a video of how they found the “US strategic center of gays and lesbians in Mariupol.” The fact is that was an office of the local non-government organization that works with USAID on humanitarian projects and happens to have some posters from Kyiv Pride.

But even this Russian crusade against liberal values in Europe is not so damaging as their professional disinformation, work, and influences on American society with a false narrative. Right at this moment, thousands of Russians somewhere in a troll farm in the Crimea are making sure for the millions of U.S. citizens in the coming election, the most important issue will be what restroom to choose instead of social security reform. 

An LGBTQI+ rights protest in front of the Stonewall Inn and the queer Ukrainian community in New York in March 2022. (Photo by Bogdan Globa)

Nina Jankowich, an expert on government strategic communication, in her book How to Lose the Information War gave a few examples of Russian misinformation campaigns that started in Ukraine but had real consequences on the US presidential election in 2020. She asks a question in her book: “The U.S. and the Western world have finally begun to wake up to the threat of attack from Russia … what can the West do about it?”

From my perspective as a Ukrainian by birth, American by choice, and gay by nature, the answer is simple: What if we start not talking about values but implementing them? What if, bit by bit, we will all be together to fight for democratic values and principles? And maybe Russians will never choose another matrix, but our matrix will be stronger and more resilient to the “Evil Empire.”          

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Bogdan Globa is the president and co-founder of QUA – LGBTQ Ukrainians in America, a former assistant to the Human Rights Committee chair in the Verkhovna Rada (2014-2016) co-founder and CEO of Fulcrum (2012-2016), an LGBTQI+ organization.  

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Why LGBTQs Must Fight to Save Democracy 

This is essential for LGBTQ folks: We are still considered an “issue,” not an intersectional minority that deserves equality

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The great Maya Angelou once said: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

So why do so many people shrug off Donald Trump’s dangerous proclamations of near divinity and absolute immunity from the rule of law? 

Recently, in response to an avalanche of reports about his “authoritarian bent” and dire warnings of an “increasingly inevitable” Trump dictatorship in a second term, Trump – who’s already been convicted of fraud in a New York civil lawsuit and faces up to 91 charges in four significant criminal cases –  told Fox’s Sean Hannity that he won’t be a dictator, except on Day One. 

“I love this guy,” Trump said. “He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I said: ‘No, no, no, other than Day One. We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator.’”

After that? Does anyone believe Trump hasn’t already developed a taste for dictatorship, having long boasted: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

The twice impeached Trump is doubling down on Watergate-disgraced former President Richard Nixon’s assertion: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

And Trump has friends in high places. Democracy Docket’s Marc Elias notes that newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson “was a ringleader” in the coup attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. “He used his position as a lawyer and member of Congress to legitimize the fringe legal theory underpinning the ‘Big Lie.’ Other than former President Donald Trump, he is arguably the most culpable federal elected official in what transpired on Jan. 6, 2021.”

The Brennan Center for Justice notes: “Johnson has ties to a movement that incorporates election denial into evangelical Christianity. Members of the movement held prayer sessions in which they asked for divine intervention to reverse the 2020 result….In 2024, Mike Johnson will hold the gavel. That should scare us all.”

Johnson is now doctoring footage of the January 6th riot against the Capitol to prevent the Department of Justice from identifying and investigating the insurrectionists. Trump has already promised to pardon “a large portion” of Jan. 6 rioters convicted and jailed on federal offenses. Those rioters include Proud Boy whose members have shown up at drag readings and school board meetings, sometimes prompting anti-LGBTQ violence

LGBTQ people should be seriously concerned. For nearly a decade, Johnson worked at Alliance Defending Freedom, “the far-right Christian group that has recently sought to ban the abortion medication mifepristone and public drag performances,” according to The New Republic.   

Additionally, one of Johnson’s clients was anti-gay activist and former radical Christian preacher Grant Storms. Johnson “helped convince New Orleans officials to grant Storms a permit for a protest against an annual Pride celebration. Storms’s protest ended up getting national attention when an anti-gay protester attempted to murder a man with a steak knife. Storms said the attacker was not part of his organization, but the assailant later told police he went to Storms’s event because he wanted to ‘kill a gay man.’”

LGBTQ people have long been targets for cruelty and hate. But the Trumpification of America has made it worse. 

Last June, the New York Times reported: “There were more than 350 incidents of anti-L.G.B.T.Q. harassment, vandalism or assault in the United States from June 2022 through April 2023, according to a new report [by the Anti-Defamation League and GLAAD], reflecting a climate in which bias against gay and especially transgender people has become widespread.”

Another report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino “shows a 52 percent increase in anti-L.G.B.T.Q. hate crimes around the country in 2022 and a 28 percent increase in the narrower anti-transgender category,” and “a 47 percent increase in hate crimes against gender-nonconforming people, which the report defines as including drag performers.”

When out progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviewed former Rep. Liz Cheney, the staunchly conservative Republican who co-chaired the House Jan. 6 Committee, they both were adamant about setting aside their serious political disagreements to join forces to stop Trump and prevent a Republican House majority in the 2024 election. 

Cheney described it as “the cause of our time.”

This is essential for LGBTQ folks, especially as we continue to be ignored unless we somehow make news. We are still considered an “issue,” not an intersectional minority that deserves equality. Even the Supreme Court ruled against us based on a hypothetical possibility where the key document turned out to be fake

We need to take a lesson from Stonewall and ACT UP and FIGHT BACK however we can. 

And that includes me. 

Last year Max Huskins – a straight Millennial friend of mine – and I decided to produce the YouTube series “Race to the Midterms,” in partnership with the Los Angeles Blade. This fall, I realized we needed to do another series for the 2024 elections. 

But the scope is too large to do as a cause/hobby to my full-time job. So I talked with my friend Steve Ralls (formerly with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Immigration Equality) – the VP of External Affairs who recruited me to Public Justice – and we worked out an arrangement where I will step away from my full-time staff position there and instead, be under contract to work exclusively on the Public Justice Emeritus Legacy Project, allowing me to devote the majority of my time to this new initiative.

This is our fight. Parental rights? These are our LGBTQ kids who’ve already suffered too much trauma, assaults and death by suicide.  As Harvey Milk said: “We must give them hope.”

We need to not only re-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris – but determined candidates for elective and public office who see us as a people deserving of equality, decency and the fundamental right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

See you in the trenches next year as we Race to Save Democracy!

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Karen Ocamb is the former news editor of the Los Angeles Blade. She is an award-winning journalist who, upon graduating from Skidmore College, started her professional career at CBS News in New York.

Ocamb started in LGBTQ media in the late 1980s after more than 100 friends died from AIDS. She covered the spectrum of the LGBTQ movement for equality until June 2020, including pressing for LGBTQ data collection during the COVID pandemic.

Since leaving the LA Blade Ocamb continues to advocate for civil rights and social, economic, and racial justice issues.

She lives in West Hollywood, California with her rescue dog Pepper.

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