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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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Ohio

Ohio school superintendent orders LGBTQ+ mural painted over

Debate over discussions about race, inclusion, & LGBTQ+ issues in Forest Hills Schools was reignited by the decision to paint over the mural

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The student created LGBTQ+ affirming mural inside Nagel Middle School before it was painted over. ( Photo Credit: Forest Hills Schools board member Leslie Rasmussen)

Cincinnati, Ohio – The Forest Hills Schools Board of Education meeting erupted in controversy Wednesday night as parents and community members reacted to the decision to paint over a student-created LGBTQ+ affirming mural at the start of the school year.

Superintendent Larry Hook, who was targeted by audience members during the public comments session, remained silent and did not respond to the criticism directly.

Cincinnati Public Radio station WVXU 91.7 FM reported that debate over discussions about race, inclusion, and LGBTQ+ issues in Forest Hills Schools was reignited by Hook’s decision to paint over the student-created mural, which depicted the hands of people of different races signaling love and solidarity surrounded by symbols of equality and acceptance of various sexual orientations.

According to WVXU 91.7 FM, dozens showed up to Wednesday’s meeting holding signs of the mural. Forest Hills parent Jeff Nye addressed Hook directly, calling his response to the initial backlash childish.

“A 7th or 8th grade kid — 12- or 13-years-old — damaged that banner and that’s unacceptable and should be punished,” Nye said. “But before that happened, you had an opportunity to reflect and take action, value the feedback you received, to lead by example, to lead with humility, and say ‘I made a mistake, I shouldn’t have put it there,’ but you didn’t. You doubled down. You didn’t act like leader. You acted like a kid. You took your ball and you went home and I’m incredibly disappointed.”

High school student Norah Zellen also had strong words for Hook, saying that permanently covering the mural will have a more negative impact on students than district leaders thought.

“The mural exhibited a safe and inclusive learning environment, yet it was painted over. This action shows thoughtlessness, a lack of authenticity, and calls into question if the school board and superintendent want some students erased,” Zellen told Hook.

The Superintendent defended his decision remarking:

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who were very upset that it was there,” he said. “So, it’s kind of created this battle that shouldn’t even be in schools. We need to focus on our education. We need to focus on what’s important. That doesn’t mean we marginalize anybody.”

WVXU 91.7 FM also reported that a small number of adults spoke out during public comment defending Hook’s decision. One attendee, who took offense to parents and students supporting the mural, was removed by law enforcement after getting into a physical interaction with another audience member.

Forest Hills School District Board of Education Meeting 9-20-23:

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The White House

White House announces Office of Gun Violence Prevention

The first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris

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The first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention is to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris shown here in September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

WASHINGTON – The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

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Congress

House GOP sinks spending bill, Dems object to anti-LGBTQ riders

Speaker McCarthy: “Frustrating in the sense that I don’t understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate”

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a speaking engagement. (Photo Credit: Office of Speaker Kevin McCarthy)

WASHINGTON – A group of four hardline House Republicans on Thursday joined Democratic colleagues to sink their own spending bill, a $886 billion military appropriations package full of riders from GOP members that include anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ provisions.

The 216-212 vote raised the likelihood of a government shutdown if lawmakers are unable to forge a path forward before the end of September.

“Instead of decreasing the chance of a shutdown, Speaker McCarthy is actually increasing it by wasting time on extremist proposals that cannot become law in the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

His counterpart in the House, Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) expressed frustration with his own caucus, characterizing the impasse he has reached with colleagues as “frustrating in the sense that I don’t understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate.”

“And then you got all the amendments if you don’t like the bill,” he continued. “This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down — it doesn’t work.”

A group of 155 House Democrats on Thursday issued a letter objecting to anti-LGBTQ provisions in the bill, the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, addressing the message to U.S. Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chair and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The effort was led by Congressional Equality Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and the co-chairs of the Caucus’s Transgender Equality Task Force, U.S. Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Specifically, the letter argues several anti-equality amendments would “actively target LGBTQ+ service members and LGBTQ+ dependents and threaten the recruitment, retention, and readiness of our Armed Forces.”

Among these are riders prohibiting coverage of gender affirming healthcare interventions for service members and their dependents; banning LGBTQ Pride flags, drag shows and other events; and restricting funding for certain books in schools operated by the Department of Defense Education Activity.

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Federal Government

Census Bureau asks to test questions on LGBTQ+ issues

Census Bureau plans to test questions on sexual orientation and gender identity for respondents aged 15 and older

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U.S. Census Bureau Headquarters – Suitland, Maryland (Photo Credit: GSA)

SUITLAND, Md. – The U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday asked the Biden administration to sign off on plans to test questions on sexual orientation and gender identity for respondents aged 15 and older on the agency’s annual American Community Survey.

Data on these metrics will help inform civil rights and equal employment enforcement, the Census Bureau said in a notice published on the Federal Register.

Testing will help the agency determine wording, response categories and placement of the questions on the survey — its most comprehensive, covering 3.5 million households each year.

A key unknown will be how answers will be provided by proxies such as parents, spouses or others in a household who isn’t the person about whom the question is asked.

“Younger LGBT people might not yet be out to their parents or others who are answering these questions as a proxy reporter, so the quality of the data might not be as good for younger people,” M. V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told PBS News.

Currently, the Census Bureau and its annual American Community Survey only ask questions about same-sex couples who are married or cohabitating.

“We anticipate having much more info about the LGBT people than is currently available — including about the demographic and socioeconomic status of LGBT people who aren’t in same-sex couple households, including occupational status, industry and wages, and about LGBT people who were born outside the U.S. and LGBT people with disabilities, and their families,” Kerith Conron, research director of the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, told the Associated Press.

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National

LeVar Burton will lead this year’s Banned Books Week

Burton is the first actor to serve as honorary chair of Banned Books Week which takes place October 1–7, 2023

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First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and reading advocate, actor, writer LeVar Burton on Wednesday, October 5, 2022. (Photo Credit: LeVar Burton/Facebook)

NEW YORK – Beloved reading advocate, writer, and television and film star LeVar Burton will lead this year’s Banned Books Week, which takes place October 1–7, 2023. Burton is the first actor to serve as honorary chair of Banned Books Week, an annual weeklong event that highlights the value of free and open access to information and brings together the entire book community in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas.

Recognizable for his groundbreaking roles in the landmark television series Roots and the Star Trek franchise, Burton’s work as a literacy advocate has inspired generations. Many in the book community can trace their love of reading and advocacy for the right to read to Burton’s treasured PBS children’s series Reading Rainbow. Burton has continued to inspire readers with the enormously popular LeVar Burton Reads podcast. A long-time champion for reading and access to books, Burton executive produced The Right to Read, an award-winning 2023 documentary film that positions the literacy crisis in America as a civil rights issue. 

“Books bring us together. They teach us about the world and each other. The ability to read and access books is a fundamental right, and a necessity for life-long success,” says Burton. “But books are under attack. They’re being removed from libraries and schools. Shelves have been emptied because of a small number of people and their misguided efforts toward censorship. Public advocacy campaigns like Banned Books Week are essential to helping people understand the scope of book censorship and what they can do to fight it. I’m honored to lead Banned Books Week 2023.”

GLAAD is a Banned Books Week Coalition contributor. The majority of recent book bans and challenges have targeted books by and about LGBTQ people, and all people of color. This morning the American Library Association reported a 20% increase in attempts to censor library materials from the previous year, with nearly 700 challenges in the first eight months of 2023.

“LeVar Burton’s longstanding commitment to literacy and to elevating all readers make him a fantastic choice to lead Banned Books Week,” says GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis. “As LGBTQ books and people come under unprecedented attack, who better than the host of the beloved Reading Rainbow to remind us how books strengthen us, connect us, and make the world a more expansive and beautiful place. We need every voice to speak up for all parents, youth and families and the fundamental freedom to read and belong.”

Burton will headline a live virtual conversation with Banned Books Week Youth Honorary Chair Da’Taeveyon Daniels about censorship and advocacy at 8:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, October 4. The event will stream live on Instagram (@banned_books_week).

Visit BannedBooksWeek.org for more details.

The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom documented an unparalleled increase in attempts to remove books and other materials from libraries and schools in 2022: 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling censorship data more than 20 years ago. These demands targeted 2,571 unique titles, a 38% increase over the previous year.

Since it was founded in 1982, Banned Books Week has drawn attention to the attempts to remove books and other materials from libraries, schools, and bookstores. The 2023 Banned Books Week theme “Let Freedom Read” is a call to action about the urgent need to defend the right to read and to support the community of readers, library staff, educators, authors, publishers, and booksellers. 

Saturday, October 7, will mark Let Freedom Read Day, a day of action against censorship. From calling decision-makers to checking out or buying banned books, to writing letters and more, everyone is encouraged to do at least one thing to defend the right to read and to speak on behalf of those who ensure access to information.

For information about ways to participate and resources, visit bannedbooksweek.org/let-freedom-read-day/.

Visit BannedBooksWeek.org for information about Burton’s event and other programs, ways to participate, and promotional materials. Follow Banned Books Week on social media (@BannedBooksWeek on X and Facebook, @banned_books_week on Instagram) for the latest updates.

About LeVar Burton

LeVar Burton is an actor, director, producer, and podcaster whose decades-long work includes RootsStar Trek: The Next Generation, and Reading Rainbow. He is the honored recipient of seven NAACP Awards, a Peabody, a Grammy, and 15 Emmys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Inaugural Children’s & Family Emmys. 

As a lifelong literacy advocate, Burton has dedicated decades to encouraging children to read. In 2023, Burton premiered his first documentary, The Right to Read, a film that positions the literacy crisis in America as a civil rights issue. The Right to Read was officially selected at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and SXSW Edu. 

Burton continues to exercise his passion for storytelling as the award-winning author of AftermathThe Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, and A Kids Book About Imagination. He launched his first book club with Fable, a digital book club community, and partnered with Masterclass to share the power of storytelling. 

His production company, LeVar Burton Entertainment (LBE), develops projects in the film, television, podcasting, and publishing space  to share stories that foster empathy, champion diversity, and build community. 

Now in its 12th season, the enormously popular LeVar Burton Reads podcast has over 175 episodes in its catalog, boasting 25 million downloads.  LBE’s first Kids & Family podcast, Sound Detectives, will debut on Stitcher in November 2023. 

As a pop culture icon, Burton has the unique ability to reach all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic groups, communicating to a large fan base that is highly engaged and motivated to embrace his message. 

About the Banned Books Week Coalition

The Banned Books Week Coalition is an international alliance of diverse organizations joined by a commitment to increase awareness of the annual celebration of the freedom to read. The Coalition seeks to engage various communities and inspire participation in Banned Books Week through education, advocacy, and the creation of programming about the problem of book censorship. 

The Banned Books Week Coalition includes American Booksellers for Free ExpressionAmerican Library AssociationAmnesty International USAAssociation of University PressesBanned Books Week Sweden (a collaboration between Sweden PEN and the Dawit Isaak Library), Children’s Book CouncilComic Book Legal Defense FundFoundation for Individual Rights and ExpressionFreedom to Read FoundationLittle Free LibraryNational Book FoundationNational Coalition Against CensorshipNational Council of Teachers of EnglishPEN AmericaPeople for the American Way Foundation, and PFLAG. Contributors include American Society of Journalists and AuthorsAuthors GuildIndex on CensorshipGLAAD, and Project Censored. Banned Books Week is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and receives generous support from HarperCollins and Penguin Random House.

GLAAD
For more information, please visit www.glaad.org or connect with GLAAD on Facebook and Twitter.

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Congress

Senate confirms Rita Lin as Federal Judge for Northern California

She will be the first Chinese-American woman to serve. Lin previously fought for marriage equality as a lawyer in private practice

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Judge Rita Lin (Photo credit: University of California, San Francisco School of Law)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted 52-45 to confirm Rita Lin’s nomination by President Joe Biden to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The first Chinese American woman to serve in the role, Lin previously fought for marriage equality as an attorney in private practice with the multinational firm Morrison and Foerster.

As co-counsel in a 2012 case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, she secured the first ruling striking down the law, which proscribed marriage as exclusively heterosexual unions, since President Obama announced his administration would no longer defend it.

The Senate’s vote to confirm Lin was supported by all present Democratic members and three Republicans: U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Last year, during hearings for her nomination in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) objected to an article she wrote in 1998 while a junior at Harvard University calling members of the Christian Coalition “bigots.”

The Christian Coalition was founded by the late Christian media mogul Pat Robertson, who attracted controversy throughout his life and career for making sexist, homophobic and racist remarks.

Lin was appointed as a judge in the San Francisco Superior Court in 2018, and she currently presides over felony and misdemeanor criminal trials. She previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney in San Francisco.

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

Pentagon to restore honor to vets kicked out over sexual orientation

This follows a lawsuit filed last month by LGBTQ veterans against the Pentagon for allegedly failing to remedy “ongoing discrimination”

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (Screen capture/YouTube/CNN)

ARLINGTON, Va. – The U.S. Department of Defense announced plans to restore honor to service members who were kicked out of the military over their sexual orientation, the agency announced on Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Over the past decade, we’ve tried to make it easier for service members discharged based on their sexual orientation to obtain corrective relief,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

“While this process can be difficult to navigate, we are working to make it more accessible and efficient,” he said, adding, “in the coming weeks, we will be initiating new outreach campaigns to encourage all service members and veterans who believe they have suffered an error or injustice to seek correction to their military records.”

The move follows a class action lawsuit filed last month by LGBTQ veterans against the Pentagon for allegedly failing to remedy “ongoing discrimination,” including biased language in the discharge papers of LGBTQ veterans.

CBS News has investigated the Pentagon’s handling of service records of veterans who were kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation, revealing the broad scope of discrimination experienced by these LGBTQ veterans — finding, for instance, that more than 29,000 were denied honorable discharges.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), along with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) re-introduced a bill that would establish “a commission to investigate the historic and ongoing impacts of discriminatory military policies on LGBTQ service members and veterans.”

“This commission would study the impact of these bigoted rules” barring LGBTQ troops from serving “and forge a more welcoming future in the military and at the VA,” said Takano, who serves as ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“Our country has never made amends for official discriminatory policies like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the transgender military ban – and that failure still haunts today’s service members and veterans,” said Jacobs.

“That’s why I’m so proud to co-lead this bicameral legislation that will right these historic wrongs, investigate the past and present impact of anti-LGBTQ+ policies, and help us move forward to build and sustain a diverse, inclusive, strong, and welcoming military.”  

“This commission would be an important step to understand the full scope of the harms caused by policies like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to ensure a more equitable future for all who serve our country in uniform,” Blumenthal said.

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Federal Government

Older Americans Act updates targets LGBTQ seniors living with HIV

These populations experience “higher rates of social isolation” & “higher rates of poverty” & are “less likely to be partnered

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SAGE/Los Angeles Blade photo & graphic

BALTIMORE – Ahead of Monday’s National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, the Washington Blade spoke with Aaron Tax, director of federal government relations for SAGE, to discuss what proposed updates to the Older Americans Act might mean for LGBTQ elders and older adults living with HIV.

The conversation followed the conclusion of the public comment period for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking filed by the Administration for Community Living, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agency that is responsible for administering the statute.

An HHS spokesperson told the Blade a final rule is expected “early next year.”

“We’ve looked at the many challenges facing LGBT older people and older people living with HIV,” said Tax, whose organization, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, is the country’s largest group focused on the needs of LGBTQ seniors.

These populations experience “higher rates of social isolation” and “higher rates of poverty” and are “less likely to be partnered, less likely to have children, [and are] more culturally and socially isolated from mainstream institutions,” he said.

Therefore, they “seem to fit the definition of greatest social need quite well,” Tax said, referring to a distinction in the legislation that SAGE has sought to effectuate for LGBTQ elders and older adults with HIV, coming “quite close” in the law’s 2020 reauthorization.

Tax explained, “what we got at the end of the day is some language that requires every state unit on aging in the country and every area agency on aging in the country — which are basically state departments of aging and local departments of aging — to do three things.

“One,” he said, “engage in outreach to LGBT older people; two, to collect data on their needs; and three, to collect data on whether they are meeting their needs.”

SAGE is now working with these state and local entities to ensure “they’re, in fact, carrying out these requirements” Tax said.

Next year, the Older Americans Act will be up for reauthorization again, so “we will once again be fighting for an explicit greatest social need designation again for LGBT older people and older people living with HIV,” he said, adding, “And we recently introduced legislation with [U.S. Rep.] Suzanne Bonamici [D-Ore.] that would try to accomplish that goal in 2024.”

The legislation, Tax explained, originally “came about in 1965 under Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society as a counterpart to Medicare and Social Security,” which respectively addressed the medical and financial needs of older Americans.

“The Older Americans Act is everything else that should enable you to age in place in your community,” Tax said — and, as such, the statute covers, among other programs, “home and congregate meals and meals at senior centers, Meals on Wheels, transportation assistance, legal assistance, caregiver support, respite, all the things that have enabled people to age in place in their community.”

SAGE’s legislative efforts are coupled with advocacy around the administration and enforcement of the statute by ACL, which prior to the forthcoming rulemaking has not issued new regulations on the Older Americans Act since 1988, Tax said.

“Part of that,” he said, “is because there have been so many legislative changes since the law came about in 1988, so, their goal now is to modernize those regs and recognize the changes to the OAA and also maybe put some additional information in there or some additional guidance in there that might not be captured in the statute.”

SAGE wants the ACL “to be as explicit as possible, as proscriptive as possible, about ensuring that the aging network is meeting the needs of both LGBT older people and older people living with HIV,” Tax said, which informed the organization’s public comment to the agency.

This work is important because there are state-by-state differences in how older LGBTQ adults and seniors with HIV are treated, Tax said.

For instance, the “New York State Office for the Aging is extremely aware of the needs of LGBT older people and older people living with HIV,” he said. “They acknowledge that in the work that they do; they’re very intentional in the work that they do to meet the needs of LGBT folks and older people living with HIV.”

Tax said, “we are working hard at SAGE to make sure that other states first acknowledge that this population, or these populations, even exist, and secondly, [that they] are doing more to make sure that LGBT older people and older people living with HIV have access to the same aging services and supports other older people have access to.”

Politics, unfortunately, can play a role, Tax told the Blade.

“When anti equality forces are in control in the White House, of course, that does have an impact on the types of rules and regulations you see coming out of the administration and its agencies” he said.

By contrast, “it’s pretty clear now with the Biden administration’s focus on equity and its interest in making sure that LGBT folks are treated like everybody else, that we’re seeing regulations or proposed regulations that incorporate those important themes.”

“There are good people in state agencies across the country who want to do the right thing,” Tax said, but “Sometimes they bump up against the political realities of their states.”

“We are working hard at SAGE to make sure people who want to do the right thing regardless of what state they live in have the resources and the information and the tools that they need to take care of all of the older people in their states,” Tax said.

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National

Star Trek’s queer stars & fans joined forces on picket lines

SAG/AFTRA leaders are accusing the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers of “behaving like petty tyrants”

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Wilson Cruz, Ethan Peck, Melissa Navia and Jesse James Keitel in New York City. (Photo Credit: Dawn Ennis)

NEW YORK — It’s been a full week since Paramount headquarters in Times Square and its studios in Los Angeles were targeted by hundreds of Trekkies, as well as the stars, producers and writers at the center of their Star Trek universe, all in support of striking actors and writers. 

What most reports about that day failed to note was that the “United We Trek” demonstrations on both coasts were organized by LGBTQ+ union members. 

Queer actors Wilson Cruz and Melissa Navia and out trans actor Jesse James Keitel joined actor Ethan Peck and showrunner Akiva Goldsman on the picket line in New York City.

Out gay actors George Takei and Jonathan Del Arco joined LeVar Burton, Robert Picardo and others in Los Angeles. They marched and chanted alongside fans, many wearing Star Trek costumes, who showed up in support of the strike. 

George Takei and LeVar Burton. (Photo by Jonathan Del Arco)

What brought these fans, actors and writers together was that Sept. 8 was the day that Paramount celebrated the 57th anniversary of the premiere of Star Trek on NBC in 1966.

And the man who brought them all together was Del Arco, who created the “United We Trek” demonstration in coordination with actors John Billingsley, SAG/AFTRA Vice President Michelle Hurd and Natalia Castellanos.

It was Del Arco’s idea to ask fans to join the picket line, and with help from queer members of the Writers Guild of America, East, fans showed up in droves in Manhattan as well, many of them LGBTQ+. 

Photo by Dawn Ennis

“The fans are amazing,” said Melissa Navia, who plays Lt. Erica Ortegas on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it probably forever, but these fans are the best,” Navia told the Blade. 

It has been close to a month since the Hollywood studios held negotiations with the Writers Guild of America, and according to Variety, both sides are scheduled to resume talks next week for the first time since Aug. 18.

Deadline reports SAG/AFTRA leaders, who haven’t met with studio heads since July, are accusing the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers of “behaving like petty tyrants,” “would-be feudal lords” and “land barons in feudal times.”

But the chants outside Paramount on Sept. 8 had a more sci-fi vibe: “Live Long and Prosper, We Want a Fair Offer,” and “Paramount, let’s engage! We demand a fair wage!”

“Being here with my fellow writers, my fellow actors and our fans who are reminding us why we do what we do and why the stories that we tell matter so much is everything,” said Navia.

Courtesy Writers Guild of America, East

The strike by the Writers Guild is now in its 136th day, and SAG/AFTRA members started walking picket lines 63 days ago. That has added up to almost five months without a paycheck for writers, and more than two months for actors. 

“This strike has been hard for a lot of people and our spirits can get low,” actor Wilson Cruz told the Blade. “But I come here to the picket line as many times I can, because this is where you see why we’re fighting and who we’re fighting for. So, yes, this is incredible to be here with all of these Trek people, actors, writers and fans. This is what it’s all about.”

Actors Bob Odenkirk of Better Call Saul and Michael Emerson of Evil, Person of Interest and Lost also joined the “United We Trek” picket in New York, as did members of IATSE, a woman dressed as Princess Leia of Star Wars, and a trio of Star Trek novelists, Keith R.A. DeCandido, David Mack and Michael Jan Friedman. 

Although it’s been a long strike, writer, director and TV producer Charles Randolph Wright told the Blade he hasn’t given up.

“We keep hoping, that’s all we can do,” he said. “What’s so great about this, this is all the unions helping each other. That’s the only way we will win.” 

Editor’s Note: Dawn Ennis is a member of the Writers Guild of America, East and a retired member of SAG/AFTRA.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge blocks policy stopping outing of queer kids to parents

“Disclosing that a student is transgender without the student’s permission may violate California’s anti-discrimination law”

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Photo Credit: Escondido Union School District

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – A federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California issued a ruling a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of a Escondido Union School District  policy that bars teachers from discussing students’ gender identities with their parents.

The suit was brought by Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West, two teachers at Escondido’s Rincon Middle School and both self-labeled Christians who alleged that the policy violates their religious beliefs.

The lawsuit, filed by the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, which is representing the two women, also names the California State Board of Education as a defendant.

The Thomas More Society is a conservative Roman Catholic public-interest law firm based in Chicago. The group has been engaged in many “culture war” issues, promoting its anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage beliefs through litigation.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, wrote in his ruling Thursday that a parent’s right to make decisions concerning the care, custody control, and medical care of their children “one of the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests that Americans enjoy.”

He noted: “If a school student expresses words or actions during class that may be the first visible sign that the child is dealing with gender incongruity or possibly gender dysphoria, conditions that may (or may not) progress into significant, adverse, life-long social-emotional health consequences, would it be lawful for the school to require teachers to hide the event from the parents?”

“The school’s policy is a trifecta of harm: it harms the child who needs parental guidance and possibly mental health intervention to determine if the incongruence is organic or whether it is the result of bullying, peer pressure, or a fleeting impulse,” he added.

The California Department of Education’s policies state:

“Revealing a student’s gender identity or expression to others may compromise the student’s safety. Thus, preserving a student’s privacy is of the utmost importance. The right of transgender students to keep their transgender status private is grounded in California’s anti-discrimination laws as well as federal and state laws.”

[…] “Disclosing that a student is transgender without the student’s permission may violate California’s anti-discrimination law by increasing the student’s vulnerability to harassment and may violate the student’s right to privacy.”

In a statement released Thursday evening, the Thomas More Society said:

“A federal judge has blocked California’s Escondido Union School District from forcing teachers Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West to comply with a dangerous district policy that requires teachers to lie to parents about their own children’s gender identity. Thomas More Society attorneys today successfully won a preliminary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of EUSD’s offensive policy while the case is under court consideration.

“This is an untenable situation to put teachers in,” explained Paul Jonna, Thomas More Society Special Counsel and Partner.

A spokesperson for the Escondido Union School District, Michelle Breier, said, “Our leadership team is currently reviewing the decision.” A lawyer for the EUSD, which has around 16,000 students, did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta has been pursuing legal and other means across the state to protect LGBTQ+ students as some school boards have sought to enact policies that would involuntarily out trans and queer students to their parents.

  • Last week, Attorney General Bonta issued a statement condemning the Rocklin Unified School District Board’s decision to implement a mandatory gender identity disclosure policy targeting transgender and gender-nonconforming students.
  • Earlier this month, he issued a statement commending the San Bernardino Superior Court’s ruling to issue a temporary restraining order against Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education’s (CVUSD) mandatory gender identity disclosure policy, immediately halting its enforcement.
  • Last month, the Attorney General announced a lawsuit challenging the enforcement of CVUSD’s forced outing policy. Prior to filing a lawsuit, Bonta announced opening a civil rights investigation into the legality of CVUSD’s adoption of its mandatory gender identity disclosure policy. Prior to opening the investigation, the Attorney General in July sent a letter to Superintendent Norman Enfield and the Board of Education cautioning them of the dangers of adopting its forced outing policy, emphasizing the potential infringements on students’ privacy rights and educational opportunities.
  • Recently, he issued a statement following Anderson Union High School District, and Temecula Valley and Murrieta Valley Unified School District Boards’ decisions to implement copy-cat mandatory gender identity disclosure policy targeting transgender and gender-nonconforming students.
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