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President Biden appoints LGBTQ members to U.S. AbilityOne Commission

The AbilityOne Program, is one of the nation’s largest sources of employment for people who are blind or have significant disabilities.



President Joe Biden (Blade file photo)

WASHINGTON – The White House announced Friday that President Joe Biden had selected four people to be appointed to the U.S. AbilityOne Commission, which administers the AbilityOne Program, one of the nation’s largest sources of employment for people who are blind or have significant disabilities.

Two of the President’s picks, Gabe Cazares and Chai R. Feldblum, are longtime LGBTQ advocates and have extensive experience in governmental interface for persons with disabilities.

Gabe Cazares currently serves as the Director of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Office for People with Disabilities in the City of Houston, Texas. In this capacity, Gabe oversees the accessible and timely delivery of city services, programs, and activities for over 215,000 Houstonians with disabilities.

Prior to his appointment, he served as the Manager of Government Affairs at the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland. There he managed the organization’s education, technology, immigrants’ rights, LGBTQ, and blind entrepreneur small business policy portfolio. Gabe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a Spanish minor from Texas State University.

He and his partner, Derin Dacey, live in Houston with their 4-year-old rescue dog, Sam.

Gabe Cazares, Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) for the City of Houston, Texas (Photo Credit: City of Houston)

Upon learning of the appointment, the Office of the Mayor of the City of Houston released the following statements;

“I am grateful to President Biden and his administration for recognizing our strong talent and commitment in the City of Houston. Gabe Cazares is a passionate advocate on issues related to the disability community, and is always willing to roll up his sleeves to create, plan and execute successful programs for the community,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “I know in my heart that he will work effectively for President Biden while maintaining a strong presence locally for over 215,000 Houstonians with disabilities.”

Cazares, a Houston native, has described himself as a “Gay disabled policy wonk” and is Latinx and blind commented on the President’s appointment;

“I am deeply honored to be appointed by President Biden to serve on the U.S. AbilityOne Commission,” said Cazares. “My professional career has focused on advancing the full integration of blind and other people with disabilities in every aspect of community life, including education, employment, and civic engagement. Government contracting can and must incentivize the recruitment, retention, and promotion of workers with significant disabilities in integrated environments across all industries. I am privileged to work towards these goals daily under Mayor Turner’s leadership, and I look forward to sharing my expertise at the national level while continuing to serve our local disability community.”

Chai Feldblum (Photo Credit: U.S. Commerce Department)

Chai Feldblum is a national expert in disability law and employment. She led the drafting and negotiating of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.

As a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, she and her students represented non-profit organizations, including disability rights organizations, in advocating for legislation and administrative regulations to support social justice goals. Chai served as a Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Obama-Biden Administration, where she spearheaded the issuance of regulations under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Those regulations established a goal of 12% representation in the federal workforce of people with all disabilities and a 2% representation of people with significant disabilities. The latter group includes people with the type of disabilities hired under the AbilityOne program.

In the first year of the Trump administration in 2017, the former president had forwarded his nomination of Feldblum to the U.S. Senate for reappointment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), for a five-year term that would not have expired until 2023.

Her nomination was bitterly opposed by the Southern Poverty Law Center listed extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group, the Family Research Council who claimed her positions on sexual orientation and gender identity were dangerous to maintaining religious liberty exemptions.

In November 2020, Feldblum was named a volunteer member of Biden’s presidential transition Agency Review Team to support transition efforts related to the U.S. Department of Justice

Chai, a lesbian, lives and works in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area and has a psychiatric disability of anxiety disorder.

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The White House

President Biden delivers remarks on the omicron variant of Covid-19

Omicron Variant Is ‘Cause For Concern, Not A Cause For Panic’



Screenshot via NBC News Youtube

WASHINGTON – President Biden delivers remarks on the omicron variant of Covid-19 after meeting with his response team.

FULL TEXT of the President’s remarks.

 Good morning, folks.  I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving -– able to get together with your family and friends.  And it was great to see so many families getting together this Thanksgiving after being apart last year.  And we have much to be grateful for as a nation.
When I was elected, I said I would always be honest with you.  So today, I want to take a few moments to talk about the new COVID variant first identified last week in Southern Africa.  It’s called the Omicron. 
It is –- and to their credit, the scientific community in South Africa quickly notified the world of the emergence of this new variant.  This kind of transparency is to be encouraged and applauded because it increases our ability to respond quickly to any new threats.  And that’s exactly what we did. 
The very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took immediate steps to restrict travel from countries in Southern Africa.  But while we have — that travel restrictions can slow the speed of Omicron, it cannot prevent it. 
But here’s what it does: It gives us time.  It gives us time to take more actions, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get your vaccine. You have to get the shot.  You have to get the — get the booster if you’re -–
Sooner or later, we’re going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States.  We’ll have to face this new threat just as we have faced those that have come before it.
Today, there are three messages about the new variant that I want the American people to hear. 
First, this variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.  We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists.  And we’re learning more every single day. 
And we’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions, and speed — not chaos and confusion.  And we have more tools today to fight the variant than we’ve ever had before — from vaccines to boosters, to vaccines for children five years and older, and much more.
A year ago, America was floundering against the first variant of COVID.  We beat that variant significantly, and then we got hit by a far more powerful threat: the Delta variant.  But we took action, and now we’re seeing deaths from Delta come down.  We’ll fight the –- you know, and –- look, we’re going to fight and beat this new variant as well. 
We’re learning more about this new variant every single day.  And as we learn more, we’re going to share that information with the American people candidly and promptly. 
Second, the best protection –- I know you’re tired of hearing me say this — the best protection against this new variant or any of the –- of the variants out there -– the ones we’ve been dealing with already — is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot.  Most Americans are fully vaccinated but not yet boosted.
If you’re 18 years or over and got fully vaccinated before June the 1st, go get the booster shot today.  They’re free, and they’re available at 80,000 locations coast to coast.  A fully vaccinated boosted person is the most protected against COVID. 
Do not wait.  Go get your booster if it’s time for you to do so. 
And if you are not vaccinated, now is the time to get vaccinated and take your children to be vaccinated.  Every child age five or older can get safe, effective vaccines now. 
While it will be a few weeks before we know everything we need to know about how strongly the existing vaccines protect against the new variant — Dr. Fauci, who is with me today — of our medical team, and — believe that the vaccines will continue to provide a degree of protection against severe disease. 
And as an additional protections, please wear your masks when you’re indoors in public settings, around other people.  It protects you; it protects those around you. 
Third, in the event — hopefully unlikely — that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to this new variant, we will accelerate their development and deployment with every available tool.
I want to reiterate: Dr. Fauci believes that the current vaccines provide at least some protection against the new variant and the boosters strengthen that protection significantly. 
We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed.  But so that we are prepared if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters if needed.
And I will also direct the FDA and the CDC to use the fastest process available — without cutting any corners for safety — to get such vaccines approved and on the market if needed. 
And we will do that the same way if — any modifications are needed or current treatments need — used to help those with — who get ill with the COVID virus. 
Look, I’m — I’m sparing no effort and removing all roadblocks to keep the American people safe.  All of this is confusing to a lot of people.  But if it’s confusing to you, let me close with this simple message: If you are vaccinated but still worried about the new variant, get your booster.  If you aren’t vaccinated, get that shot.  Go get that first shot.
My team at the White House will provide me with daily updates this week.  And on Thursday, I’ll be putting forward a detailed strategy outlining how we’re going to fight COVID this winter — not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more. 
I promised every American that there will be — always be the latest vaccines available and the booster shots available to them and for free and — everywhere available.  Every single American, free of charge — and I will keep that commitment. 
But we need to do more than vaccinate Americans.  To beat the pandemic, we have to vaccinate the world as well.  And America is leading that effort.  We’ve shipped — for free — more vaccines to other countries than all other countries in the world combined: over 275 million vaccines to 110 countries. 
Now we need the rest of the world to step up as well.  Let me be clear: Not a single vaccine shot Americans ever send to the rest of the world will ever come at the expense of any American.  I will always make sure that our people are protected first. 
But vaccinating the world is just one more tool in how we need to meet our moral obligation as Americans and how to best protect Americans as well.
The Delta variants and now the Omicron variant all emerged elsewhere in the world.  So we can’t let up until the world is vaccinated.  We’re protecting Americans by doing that as well.
As we continue this effort, let’s remember where we stand.  We’re in a very different place as we enter the month of December this month compared to where we were last — last Sept- — last Christmas. 
Last Christmas, fewer than 1 percent of American adults were vaccinated.  This Christmas, the number will be over 71 percent, including more than 86 percent of seniors. 
Last Christmas, our children were at risk without a vaccine.  This Christmas, we have safe and effective vaccines for children ages five and older, with more than 19 million children and counting now vaccinated. 
Last year, a majority of schools were closed.  This year, 99 percent of our schools are open.  And let me reiterate once more: We also now have booster shots that provide extra protection.  They are free and convenient.  There is still time to get your first two shots or your booster shot or get your children vaccinated before Christmas.  All three are available and can be done before Christmas.
If you and your family are fully vaccinated, you can celebrate the holidays much more safely.  And given where we were last year, that’s a blessing that none of us should take for granted.
We’re throwing everything we can at this virus, tracking it from every angle.  And that’s what we have to keep doing.  That’s how we reopened our country.  That’s how we reopened our businesses.  That’s how we reopened our schools.  That’s how, even with a pandemic, we’ve generated a record job creation, a record economic growth in this country. 
We’ve moved forward in the face of COVID-19.  We have moved forward in the face of the Delta variant.  And we will move forward now in the face of the Omicron variant as well.
So thank you.  May God bless our troops.  And I hope you all have — I’ll be speaking before then, but — a Merry Christmas, as we approach it.

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Jury selection in trial of Out actor Jussie Smollett begins

Smollett is facing six counts of disorderly conduct, a class 4 felony which carries a potential sentence of up to three years in prison



Jussie Smollett
Jussie Smollett (Blade file screenshot)

CHICAGO – Selection of jurors to hear the case against actor Jussie Smollett commenced Monday in Cook County circuit court as prosecutors and defence attorneys questioned potential jury members over their exposure to the highly publicized case.

The Chicago Tribune reported that as of about 2:30 p.m.(Central), six people — four men and two women — had been selected for the jury. Judge James Linn then questioned 16 more, and attorneys were huddling in sidebar, discussing which of the most recent group to keep.

Smollett is facing six counts of disorderly conduct, a class 4 felony in Illinois which carries a potential sentence of up to three years in prison. Legal experts have told multiple media outlets that the 39-year-old actor will likely be placed on probation.

The case has stretched out over the past three years. The six counts are related to his alleged staging of a racist and homophobic attack hate crime on himself in 2019.

The former “Empire” star was previously indicted by Cook County prosecutors in February 2019 after law enforcement authorities alleged he had conspired with two black friends to stage the attack because he was dissatisfied with his salary from the Fox series and wanted to generate publicity to boost his career. In March, the charges against him were dropped, with little explanation from prosecutors – though at the time, presiding Judge Michael Toomin suggested that he could be charged again.

The second indictment comes from special prosecutor Dan Webb, who was appointed to the case by Toomin after the initial charges were dropped. In a statement, Webb said that Smollett was charged with six felony counts of disorderly conduct, connected to four separate false reports that he gave to police in which he claimed to be a victim of a hate crime “knowing that he was not the victim of a crime.”

The openly gay, black actor was originally charged with disorderly conduct after evidence emerged he had paid two acquaintances $3500 to help him stage an attack he reported to police on January 29, 2019. Smollett claimed he had been walking home when he was approached by two masked men making racist and homophobic insults, who beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing. He also claimed that at least one of his attackers was white, and that they had told him he was in “MAGA country.”

Smollett arrived at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse around 9 a.m. Monday, walking past a phalanx of news cameras with his mother, Janet, sister Jurnee and brothers Jocqui and Jake, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The paper also reported that Judge Linn limited the presence of media in the courtroom during the jury selection process, which the judge said should wind up later today. Linn also said jurors would stay as late as 7 p.m. during the trial, which he added should end this week or early next.

Linn also said he expected he would be able to seat a jury from the pool of 50 prospective jurors despite the international publicity surrounding a case that has been the subject of countless news stories and late-night comedy punchlines.

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Michigan teacher walks off job & resigns after told to remove Pride flag

“To me, the flag represents love and inclusion for everybody, not just whoever is of the LGBTQIA+ community”



Three Rivers Community Schools administrative offices (Photo Credit: TRCS Facebook)

THREE RIVERS, Mi. – A middle school health teacher walked off the job Nov. 22, then resigned after the school district’s administration ordered LGBTQ+ Pride flags removed from classrooms.

Russell Ball, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, told local media outlets that “The rumors kind of floating around is that one or two parents that complained about the flags being in the classroom.” 

“To me, the flag represents love and inclusion for everybody, not just whoever is of the LGBTQIA+ community,” Ball said during an interview last week with NBC News affiliate WOOD TV 8 on Grand Rapids. “I felt very disheartened and saddened. The students losing that representation throughout the classrooms really hurt, losing my own representation in the classroom really hurt. It was just something I was not prepared to do.”

He told NBC 8 that, combined with burnout, caused him to resign from his position as a health teacher.

“It all comes down to having some open communication and building understanding that we’re not out to vilify anybody, but we are here and we do exist,” he said.

In a statement posted on its website, the school district’s Interim Superintendent Nikki Nash said officials were notified by what he referred to as an “an external party,” Nov. 18. According to Nash, the person questioned information shared within the school day, which also included an inquiry of the Gay Straight Alliance after-school club and pride flags within Three Rivers Middle School classrooms.

“We continue to work with the district’s legal firm and board of education to ensure we are providing a safe learning environment for all students,” the statement continued. “There is a board meeting on December 6th.”

Attorneys representing the district did not reply Tuesday to multiple requests for comment.

Comments on the school district’s Facebook page reflected anger over its decision, with one person writing; “It is disappointing Three Rivers Community Schools has decided to kick protections and support for LGBTQ+ students to the curb for some undisclosed reason. The district claims protection for all students but somehow figured LGBTQ+ students don’t fit in that category for all students and are now willing to show the students and their support network of teachers to the door.”

Michigan Teacher Resigns over Pride Flag

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