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Resolution to designate Pulse nightclub as a national memorial passes House- again

“Pulse is hallowed ground and what happened on June 12, 2016 must never be forgotten” ~ Brandon J. Wolf

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Brandon J. Wolf, Chasten Buttigieg & Barbara Poma at the Pulse interim memorial in this undated photograph. (Photo courtesy of Brandon J. Wolf)

WASHINGTON – Earlier this week, as the fifth anniversary of the horrific mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub approaches next month, the U.S. House passed House Resolution 49, (H.R. 49) which would designate the Pulse site in Orlando, Florida as a national memorial.

The building that housed the nightclub was the scene of the worst hate filled attacks against the LGBTQ community when at approximately 2:00 AM, on June 12, 2016, 29-year-old Omar Mir Seddique Mateen entered the club and murdered 49 people and wounded 53 more in a mass shooting with a semi-automatic assault rifle inside Pulse.

He was later shot and killed by responding Orlando police officers after a three-hour standoff.

The event shook the nation and united the LGBTQ community in Orlando and beyond in passionate calls for unity and a desire to see what activists termed ‘love over hate.’

In the aftermath of the attack on Pulse there were renewed calls for better enforcement of gun laws and demands that Congress reauthorize the ban on assault weapons. It also led to the creation of the onePULSE Foundation, a nonprofit organization established by Pulse owner Barbara Poma and others, who are currently in pursuit of developing a museum and memorial at the site.

As passed, H.R. 49 would give the site national designation as a federal memorial, but without requiring federal funds be appropriated. A majority of the national memorials are currently owned and administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service. Those that are excluded and privately held such as Pulse are allowed to raise grants and monies through public or private means.

The nonprofit onePULSE Foundation is planning to build the National Pulse Memorial & Museum in Orlando, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The first stage of the memorial, a Survivors Walk, will span over half a mile from the former site of the club on South Orange Avenue to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where the wounded were carried the night of the shooting. At last report, construction on the Survivors Walk is expected to begin this year.

A temporary memorial stands on the grounds of the former nightclub and draws international visitors paying their respects to the survivors and fallen, the Sentinel wrote.

Democratic Representative Val Demings, whose Congressional District includes Pulse, told the Blade in an email Friday;

“From Stonewall to today’s fights over equality for transgender Americas, our LGBTQ+ community has constantly had to fight for their right to exist. The Pulse shooting was an attack not just on a place of love and friendship, but an attack on that feeling of security and belonging. With the passage of this bill, we take an important step to honor and remember the victims of Pulse, to reaffirm our support and love for their families, and to restore a sense of balance to our community. I hope that the Senate will take up our legislation soon, and that we can move forward united to build a safer and fairer country for all.”

For Brandon Wolf, the Development Officer and Media Relations Manager for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, H.R. 49 is deeply personal. Wolf was inside the club at the time of the shooting and lost his two best friends, Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher Andrew (Drew) Leinonen, who were among the 49 murdered during the rampage. Wolf had managed to escape but the event has forever left him scarred.

Since that terrible night Wolf has been a force for advocacy in gun control and LGBTQ equality rights and is a nationally recognized leader in those endeavors to include by President Joe Biden.

Wolf first met with Biden four days after the attack when former President Barack Obama and then Vice-President Joe Biden traveled to Orlando to meet with the survivors, friends and families of those killed.

“Pulse is hallowed ground and what happened on June 12, 2016 must never be forgotten. I’m proud of Representatives Demings, Murphy, and Soto for again getting a resolution passed in the House to designate Pulse as a national memorial site,” Wolf told the Blade.

“Now it’s time for Senators Scott and Rubio to put aside partisan bluster, roll up their sleeves, and get it over the finish line in the Senate. Our commitment has always been to honor the 49 victims not simply with words and sympathies, but with action. Creating and recognizing a space for their legacies is an important step in that work,” he added.

H.R. 49 is co-sponsored by Democratic Representatives Val Demings, Darren Soto, and Stephanie Murphy. The measure is the 117th Congress’s version of H.R. 3094 a similar measure approved in the Spring of 2020 by the House during the 116th Congress. That bill died in the U.S. Senate as neither of Florida’s Senators, Rick Scott, who was Florida’s Republican Governor at the time Pulse occurred, nor Marco Rubio adopted nor introduced a Senate companion version.

This year however, a spokesperson for Sen. Scott said that he intends to introduce a companion Senate bill and push for its passage.

Sara E. Grossman, the Communications Director for The Dru Project, a nonprofit that was launched to honor Pulse victim Drew Leinonen told the Blade;

“I am very happy at the prospect of Pulse being deemed a national memorial and being recognized by the federal government. The work that our organization, The Dru Project, has done over the last five years has been in aid of ensuring nobody forgets our friend Drew Leinonen. To have something official to return to year after year is going to be a beautiful honor to those we lost the night of June 12, 2016.”

The Dru Project provides scholarships, grants, and guides to GSAs and LGBTQ+ scholars so they may continue their activism in college and beyond.

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Texas

High School removes LGBTQ ‘Safe Space’ stickers- students walk out

“These aren’t political stickers, they are merely a signal that a teacher has the confidence to have conversations with LGBTQ+ students”

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Photo Credit: GLSEN

IRVING, Tx. — A sizable number of the student body of a suburban Dallas, Texas high school walked out in protest after faculty members were forced to remove LGBTQ “safe space” stickers from their classroom doors.

Dallas ABC News affiliate WFAA ABC 8 reported that hundreds of students walked out of MacArthur High School on Wednesday after students said they began noticing the stickers were being removed from the classroom doors by the administration.

Carrying rainbow flags, the students walked out protesting what they describe as targeted discrimination against the school’s LGBTQ+ students and teachers.

One teacher reported a Safe Space poster she had printed and laminated was missing from outside her classroom too. “I was freaked. The kids were freaked out,” Rachel Stonecipher, an English teacher and sponsor of the campus’ Gay Straight Alliance told CBS-DFW.

Students, she said, immediately wondered who had removed them and what message their disappearance was sending.

“I was a little scared too because I’m the only openly, very obviously gay teacher, lesbian teacher,” said Stonecipher. She and at least four other teachers signed an e-mail to the principal asking for an explanation.

In a statement released to the media, the Irving Independent School District administration said that district policy does not allow teachers to use classrooms to “transmit personal beliefs regarding political or sectarian issues.

“To ensure that all students feel safe regardless of background or identity, the district has developed guidelines to ensure that posters, banners, and stickers placed in classrooms, hallways, or offices are curriculum-driven and neutral in viewpoint,” the statement added.

“These aren’t political stickers, they are merely a signal that a teacher has the confidence to have conversations with LGBTQ+ students,” Stonecipher told reporters.

Irving police were at the school during the walkout as an added presence.

“We have extra resources deployed at MacArthur HS to maintain a safe environment for all,” Irving police tweeted.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lambda Legal seeks to add two more Trans plaintiffs in West Virginia suit

Federal class-action lawsuit challenging blanket exclusion of health care for Trans people in WVA’s Medicaid & state employee health plan

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Shauntae Anderson and Leanne James (Photo Credit; Lambda Legal)

CHARLESTON, WVa. – Lambda Legal filed a motion seeking leave to add two additional plaintiffs—a Medicaid participant and a public employee—to its federal class-action lawsuit challenging West Virginia’s blanket exclusion of health care coverage for transgender people in West Virginia’s Medicaid and state employee health plans.

If granted, Shauntae Anderson, who is a Medicaid participant, and Leanne James, a public employee and Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) member would be added as additional plaintiffs to Fain v. Crouch.

“My life as a Black transgender woman has not been easy. I suffered years of agony and desperation without appropriate care and treatment for my gender dysphoria. Like other Medicaid participants, I rely on Medicaid for health care coverage and it has been heartbreaking to hear that just because I am transgender, I can’t access coverage for care that is medically necessary. It is not only inhumane but also unjust to be singled out this way,” said plaintiff Shauntae Anderson.  

“It is deeply upsetting that I am deprived of coverage for critical and urgent health care simply because I am transgender. As a public employee and PEIA member, being denied coverage for medically necessary care that cisgender state employees have full access to is an insult to my dignity. The exclusion in the state employee health plans is a reminder to myself and other transgender state employees that we are being denied equal compensation for equal work.” said plaintiff Leanne James.

Filed last November in West Virginia’s Southern District, Fain v. Crouch is a class action lawsuit challenging blanket exclusions of coverage for gender-confirming care in West Virginia state health plans. The blanket exclusions of coverage for care are stated expressly in the health plans offered to Medicaid participants and state employees. West Virginia’s state health plans serve approximately 564,000 Medicaid participants and 15,000 state employees, some of whom are transgender. 

“The state of West Virginia continues to deny medically necessary gender-confirming health care to transgender West Virginians – via explicit and targeted exclusions. West Virginia’s ban on gender-confirming care is unconstitutional and discriminatory; it causes physical, emotional, and financial distress; and it denies transgender West Virginians basic dignity, equality, and respect. Ms. Anderson and Ms. James are just two of many transgender people in West Virginia who are being denied basic health care just because of who they are.” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal and lead attorney on the case.

“We admire Ms. Anderson and Ms. James for stepping forward and joining our original plaintiffs in this lawsuit,” said Nicole Schladt, Associate Attorney at Nichols Kaster, PLLP. “Together, we seek an end to healthcare discrimination in West Virginia.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lawsuits against Ohio State over sexual predator sports doctor tossed

“The judge just threw 300 survivors in a trash can,” Steve Snyder-Hill said then adding, “a trash can with an OSU logo on it”

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Screenshot via WBNS-TV, CBS News 10, Columbus, Ohio

COLUMBUS, Oh. – A Federal judge Wednesday dismissed hundreds of pending lawsuits against Ohio State University, (OSU) in cases related to a former OSU sports team doctor Richard Strauss, who had sexually molested young male athletes and other students for twenty years.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson of the Southern District of Ohio wrote;

It is beyond dispute that Plaintiffs, as well as hundreds of other former students, suffered unspeakable sexual abuse by Strauss. It is also true that many Plaintiffs and other students complained of Strauss’s abuse over the years and yet medical doctors, athletic directors, head and assistant coaches, athletic trainers, and program directors failed to protect these victims from Strauss’s predation.”

According to Judge Watson he dismissed the cases because the statute of limitations for criminal rape cases in Ohio is 20 years to report for criminal prosecution or otherwise have legal proceedings initiated.

“If there is a viable path forward for Plaintiffs on their claim against Ohio State, it starts with the legislature rather than the judiciary,” Watson wrote.

Taking aim at Ohio lawmakers Watson noted; ““At all times since the filing of these cases, the Ohio legislature, has the power, but not the will, to change the statute of limitations.” The legislature can provide a “path forward for Plaintiffs on their claim against Ohio State.”

Strauss preyed on hundreds of young men from the time of his employment at OSU in 1978 until he retired in 1998, and allegations about his misconduct didn’t become public until an ex-wrestler named Mike DiSabato spoke out in 2018, years after Strauss’ death by suicide in 2005.

The former athletes were represented by several legal teams including Washington D.C./Oakland, California-based legal advocacy group Public Justice.

Today’s ruling is not only deeply disappointing,” the legal team said in reaction to the ruling today, “but also sends a disturbing message that the very real challenges sexual abuse survivors often face in understanding what has happened to them – and who enabled the abuse they experienced – is irrelevant when they ultimately ask for the court’s help in holding abusive people and institutions accountable.

OSU spent decades denying, hiding, and evading the truth about its role in concealing the abuse that happened on its watch. Today’s ruling punishes survivors already traumatized by the university’s callous campaign of deception. The court’s decision cannot, and must not, be the final word in the survivors’ journey towards justice.”

The case against OSU brought widespread attention as one of the cases involved Strauss victim Steve Snyder-Hill, a prominent LGBTQ activist and a U.S. Army veteran. Upon hearing of Watson’s ruling, a palpably angered Snyder-Hill told several media outlets; “The judge just threw 300 survivors in a trash can,” he said adding, “a trash can with an OSU logo on it.”

Steve Snyder-Hill (Screen shot via WCMH-TV, NBC 4 Columbus, Ohio)

NBC News had reported on the case and profiled Snyder-Hill in 2019:

[…] In the years following the alleged assault, Snyder-Hill would go on to serve in the Iraq War, publicly fight against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and become an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage. He and his husband, Josh, married in 2011 in Washington, D.C., in front of the tombstone of Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam War veteran who had been discharged by the Air Force for being gay. The couple were involved in a lawsuit filed by Service Members Legal Defense Network that challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevented the military from giving benefits to legally married same-sex couples, and successfully fought in court to have their surnames combined in Ohio.

Snyder-Hill was unexpectedly thrust into the media spotlight in 2011 after submitting a question during the Republican presidential debate about whether the candidates would reverse the 2011 repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Some members of the audience booed Snyder-Hill, who submitted his question by video from his military base in Iraq. That an active-duty soldier in uniform would be booed during a presidential debate shocked and angered many Americans during a time when acceptance for same-sex marriage was mounting. […]

The publicity over the OSU cases also ensnared conservative right-wing Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), renewing questions over his failure to stop Strauss from molesting former wrestlers Jordan had coached more than two decades ago at OSU. Jordan was accused of that neglect in 2018 by those former wrestlers.

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