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Queer residential safe space at Bucknell University attacked by frat boys

We can commit to addressing it in a way that protects LGBTQ Bucknellians and better ensures their safety in the future

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Fran's House Bucknell University LGBTQ student housing Photo via Facebook

LEWISBURG, PA. – LGBTQ students at the gender-neutral student residence Fran’s House were studying and relaxing last Thursday evening as finals week approached for Bucknell University. The peaceful evening was shattered when a group of about 20 former Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity members attempted to break in to the house.

Fran’s House is an LGBTQ affinity residential space for the LGBTQ students at the school, which is located in a small Central Pennsylvania township about 60 miles North of Harrisburg the state capital.

University officials have now opened an investigation after Tyler Luong, the Fran’s House residential adviser, (RA) wrote a letter to Bucknell University’s president, John Bravman describing what took place;

“[…] the residents of Fran’s House were locking our windows and securing our doors from nearly 20 former Tau Kappa Epsilon members from breaking into our home, he wrote.

As the residential advisor of the affinity house and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I want you to imagine what it felt like to be studying one minute, and then locking down all possible entrances the next. […]”

In the letter Luong says that the nearly 20 former Tau Kappa Epsilon members banged against the windows and doors, “swinging a metal bar at our flag pole that displays our pride flag, and urinating on our front porch. They FLASHED one of my residents.” All the while he says shouting “Let us in!”, “This isn’t your home!”, “This is our home!”

The Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity was suspended and later revoked by the university for ritual hazing incidents and under age consumption of alcohol. The hazing incidents were described as brutal and in 2019, charges were filed unrelated to the fraternity’s suspension, in a rape case that occurred at the fraternity.

Adding to the controversy, in his letter Luong says that the campus Public Safety officers did not respond to the scene in a timely manner. According to Luong the tardiness of the officers was then exacerbated by what appeared to be studied indifference to the severity of the situation and what appeared to be sympathy for the fraternity members involved.

“When Public Safety arrived, they laughed at the situation. President Bravman, the officers bonded with our offenders, reminiscing their college days and calling them handsome young men. President Bravman, the two officers didn’t even speak to me. Neither of the two officers came up to us Fran’s House residents to ask if we were okay. AND THEN THEY PROMISED TO TALK TO THE CHIEF OF PUBLIC SAFETY TO GET THEM ACCESS TO OUR HOUSE WHEN FINALS WEEK WAS OVER, SHAKING EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEIR HANDS,” Luong wrote.

“President Bravman, the officer offered them their business card. I had to ask TWICE to get one because the officer was too busy laughing with our offenders. Is it within the policy for Public Safety to completely ignore the ones who reported the crime?” He added.

Last Friday the University responded issuing a public statement from the University’s President John Bravman, its Provost Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak and Nikki Young, the Associate Provost for Equity & Inclusive Excellence.

“We write to acknowledge and condemn a horrific incident that occurred last night at Tower House, the Fran’s House affinity residence and center of student life for our LGBTQ student community, and to state our unequivocal support for all LGBTQ Bucknellians. We are both outraged and sorrowful that the residents endured this violation of the space that is so critically important to them as a community. These actions will not be tolerated,” the officials wrote.

Addressing Luong anger over the actions of the campus security officers, the statement read: “Additionally, we will implement additional educational and professional development for Public Safety officers to foster a better sense of safety and belonging for all members of the Bucknell community.”

The University promised to make appropriate changes writing, “We cannot erase the ugliness and subsequent trauma of last night’s transgression against the students of Fran’s House and, implicitly, many others, but we can commit to addressing it in a way that protects LGBTQ Bucknellians and better ensures their safety in the future. Please join us in supporting them now, and please look for announcements of community events and educational opportunities when we reconvene on campus this fall.”

Bill McCoy the Director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources and awareness at Bucknell University also issued a statement in support of Fran’s House residents,

While it should never have been tested in this way, the Fran’s House community has and continues to show courage and support for one another. Past, present and future, they are a source of PRIDE for our campus. Thank you to all who have and will reach out. Knowing the breadth of support, I hope, will hasten the return of safety for the residents of Fran’s House – but time to heal and feel safe in their home will be needed.

The students of Fran’s House in an open letter published on social media and other platforms thanked the community at large for the support.

First and foremost, thank you to those who have been showing their support to the Fran’s House and LGBTQ+ community at large. When this incident first occurred, our residents simply wanted to spread awareness of the incident. We are astounded by the amount of advocacy and kindness we have received as a result of this from the LGBTQ+ individuals and allies in the Bucknell student body, faculty, staff, alumni network, parents, and more.

The statement also added, “Furthermore, the Public Safety officers and the individuals involved in the incident need to be held accountable for their actions. What happened to this house is abhorrent. Appropriate actions must be taken by the Bucknell Administration to ensure nothing like this will ever happen again. Fran’s House residents will provide full compliance to the independent investigation occurring, and hope we will be adequately represented when the university makes decisions based on this outcome. As students, we must also recognize the importance of holding each other accountable and the unequal opportunities that exist for affinity houses to influence Bucknell’s social culture, so that feelings of discrimination and hate are not enabled within our student body.

For those looking for ways to support our community at this time, we ask that you share this statement and previous statements of house residents to those affiliated with Bucknell and beyond.

Three years ago a study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that three-fourths (77%) of the total reported on-campus hate crimes in 2017 were motivated by race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Race was the motivating bias in 43% of reported hate crimes (413 incidents); religion was the motivating bias in 18% of reported hate crimes (172 incidents); and sexual orientation was the motivating bias in 16% of reported hate crimes (154 incidents) in 2017.

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Anti-LGBTQ religious extremist celebrates death at Wilton Manors Pride

Mehta points out this type of rhetoric is quite likely to inspire violence against the LGBTQ community by one of Shelley’s followers

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Screenshot vis Twitter

HURST, Tx. – The pastor of a fundamentalist Baptist Church in this suburban Fort Worth, Texas city took to his pulpit to celebrate the death of an attendee at the Wilton Manors, Florida Pride parade this past weekend.

Pastor Jonathan Shelley, whose church is affiliated with infamous “death to gays” Pastor Steven Anderson in Phoenix, Arizona is quoted by Patheos writer and progressive blogger Hemant Mehta saying; […]”I hope they all die! I would love it if every fag would die right now.” […]

Mehta, who runs the heavily trafficked The Friendly Atheist, also noted that Shelley told his congregants; “And, you know, it’s great when trucks accidentally go through those, you know, parades. I think only one person died. So hopefully we can hope for more in the future.”

Mehta noted that the video of Shelley’s hate-filled remarks on this and other anti-LGBTQ vitriol is still accessible on Shelley’s YouTube Channel. He also points out this type of rhetoric is quite likely to inspire violence against the LGBTQ community by one of Shelley’s followers.

The Blade has reached out to YouTube Tuesday for comment but has yet to receive a response.

Editor’s note; The language used in the video in the embedded tweet below is uncensored hate speech:

In a related update from the Daily Beast, Fred Johnson Jr., who was named by Wilton Manors police as the driver of the vehicle that veered out of control killing one person and injuring two others at Saturday’s Stonewall Pride Parade has offered his “sincere regrets to all those who were impacted by this tragic event.”

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Vigil held after Wilton Manors Pride parade accident

Fort Lauderdale mayor expressed ‘regret’ over initial terrorism claim

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A vigil in the wake of the accident at the Stonewall Pride Parade took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — More than 100 people on Sunday attended a prayer vigil in the wake of an accident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

The vigil took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.

Clergy joined activists and local officials at a vigil at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

A 77-year-old man who was driving a pickup truck struck two men near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday. One of the victims died a short time later at a Fort Lauderdale hospital.

The pickup truck narrowly missed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade, and Florida Congressman Ted Deutch.

The driver of the pickup truck and the two men he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday described the incident as a “fatal traffic crash” and not a terrorism incident as Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially claimed.

“As we were about to begin the parade, this pickup truck, this jacked up white pickup truck, dashed across, breaking through the line, hitting people, all of us that were there could not believe our eyes,” said Trantalis as he spoke at the vigil.

Trantalis noted the pickup truck nearly hit Wasserman Schultz. He also referenced the arrest of a 20-year-old supporter of former President Trump earlier in the week after he allegedly vandalized a Pride flag mural that had been painted in an intersection in Delray Beach, which is roughly 30 miles north of Fort Lauderdale.

“I immediately knew that something terrible was happening,” said Trantalis, referring to the Stonewall Pride Parade accident. “My visceral reaction was that we were being attacked. Why not? Why not feel that way?”

“I guess I should watch to make sure there are no reporters standing by when I have those feelings, but that was my first reaction and I regret the fact that I said it was a terrorist attack because we found out that it was not, but I don’t regret my feelings,” he added. “But I don’t regret that I felt terrorized by someone who plowed through the crowd inches away from the congresswoman and the congressman, myself and others.”

Trantalis also told vigil attendees that “I guess we forgive” the pickup truck driver.

“But I regret that his consequences resulted in the death of an individual who was innocent and who was there to have a good time, like the rest of us, and I regret there is a man who is in serious condition … fighting for his life and there,” added Trantalis.

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Veterans Affairs to provide gender-confirmation surgery reversing 2013 ban

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and expand access to care for transgender veterans

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The new Orlando VA Medical Center at Lake Nona (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs )

ORLANDO – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced his Department is moving to provide gender-confirmation surgery through its health care coverage reversing a 2013 ban on those surgical procedures.

Speaking at a Pride Month event at the Orlando VA Healthcare System Saturday, McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

The process to roll-back the restrictions may take upwards of two years. The federal rulemaking process, expected to begin this summer, will include a period for public comment, spokesman Terrence Hayes told The Washington Post on Saturday.

“This time will allow VA to develop capacity to meet the surgical needs that transgender veterans have called for and deserved for a long time,” McDonough said in his remarks. “and I am proud to begin the process of delivering it,” he added.

On February 8, 2013, the VA issued a directive that stated that the VA Healthcare System does not provide sex reassignment surgery. This directive sought to clarify a previous VA directive issued June 9, 2011, “Providing Healthcare for Transgender and Intersex Veterans,” which established the provision of hormone therapy, gender-related mental health counseling, and other transition-related services through the VA, as well as a mandate that the VA health system provides care “without discrimination and in a manner … consistent with the Veteran’s self-identified gender.”

“This directive, however, does not include coverage of surgical procedures although the VA does provide transgender veterans with pre- and postoperative care.”

The outcome was that the directive(s) effectively prevented transgender veterans from a surgery considered medically necessary by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

38 CFR § 17.38 Medical benefits package, is the specific federal code that makes provisions for veterans healthcare, which Section (b) clearly defines as; “Care referred to in the “medical benefits package” will be provided to individuals only if it is determined by appropriate health care professionals that the care is needed to promote, preserve, or restore the health of the individual and is in accord with generally accepted standards of medical practice.”

However, 38 CFR § 17.38 does limit care for transgender veteran’s stating: “(c) In addition to the care specifically excluded from the “medical benefits package” under paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section, the “medical benefits package” does not include the following: […] ‘(4) Gender alterations.'”

McDonough noted that changes “will require changing VA’s regulations and establishing policy that will ensure the equitable treatment and safety” of all transgender veterans.

“There are several steps to take, which will take time. But we are moving ahead, methodically, because we want this important change in policy to be implemented in a manner that has been thoroughly considered to ensure that the services made available to veterans meet VA’s rigorous standards for quality health care.”

In a study related to the 2011 and 2013 directives, the VA noted that research showed that the transgender population in general experiences severe physical and mental health disparities, compared to the cisgender population, including high rates of HIV, suicidality, depression, anxiety, and mental health-related hospitalization.

Studies have found that these disparities are even more glaring among transgender veterans. In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

U. S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-CA, who is openly gay, issued a statement applauding McDonough’s actions.

“Veterans in need of gender confirmation surgery should not have to seek healthcare outside of the VA health system or navigate complicated processes to get the care they need,” Takano said. “VA must be inclusive of all veterans who have served, regardless of their identity.”

The Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Jon Tester, D-MT also approved of the expansion of health care offerings for trans veterans.

“Every service member and veteran deserves equal access to quality care from VA, and this includes our LGBTQ+ veterans,” Tester said in a statement. “We must reaffirm our commitment to making VA a more welcoming place for everyone who fought to protect our freedoms.”

Gina Duncan, director of transgender equality for the statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization Equality Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel that her agency was “thrilled to have allies at the highest level of government” and noted the contrast with recent moves by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis to limit transgender youth participation in school sports.

“In a moment of fierce state and local backlash against the transgender community, this move by the Biden Administration is a reminder that elections matter,” Duncan said. “Support for transgender veterans and the lifesaving healthcare they need to live authentically is a critical component to fulfilling our nation’s promise of caring for those who’ve served.”

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)
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