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Blade contributor receives GLAAD Media Award nomination

Yariel Valdés González wrote about time in ICE custody

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Yariel Valdés González (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles Blade contributor who wrote about his time in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody has been nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.

GLAAD on Wednesday announced it nominated Yariel Valdés González in the Outstanding Print Article category for his “Diary of an ICE Detainee” series the Blade published last July.

Valdés, 31, on March 27, 2019, asked for asylum in the U.S. because of the persecution he suffered as a journalist in Cuba.

Judge Timothy Cole in September 2019 granted Valdés asylum, but ICE appealed his decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals. Valdés remained in ICE custody until March 4, 2020.

Valdés currently lives in Wilton Manors, Fla., with his boyfriend.

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HRC’s Black LGBTQ+ Youth Report finds intersectional challenges

HRC appended its report with guidance on how to support Black LGBTQ youth for parents and caregivers, educators & professionals

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Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Most Black LGBTQ young people have experienced racism within the LGBTQ community and feel they are unable to trust white LGBTQ people, according to findings from a forthcoming report by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

The group shared a copy of its 21-page Black LGBTQ+ Youth Report with the Washington Blade on Monday, two days before it will be published. Answers from roughly 1,200 Black LGBTQ respondents between 13-17 from all 50 states and D.C. were included.

“Black LGBTQ+ youth face compounding challenges and have unique experiences because they exist at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities,” HRC wrote in the executive summary of its report.

Also among the key takeaways were that 80.9 percent of Black LGBTQ youth and 83.5 percent of Black transgender/gender-expansive youth experienced homophobia or transphobia in the Black community, while more than 50 percent do not feel accepted by other Black people.

HRC’s report details experiences by respondents at home and in school, along with answers to questions about matters concerning religion and spirituality, mental health and plans for the future.

“Black LGBTQ+ Americans have seen strides toward equality and acceptance,” the group wrote. “More Americans, both youth and adults, are proudly and openly identifying as LGBTQ+ than ever before and public acceptance for marriage equality and non-discrimination protections are the highest it has ever been.”

At the same time, however, HRC noted “anti-blackness, racism and anti-LGBTQ+ hate can create a compounding number of challenges for Black LGBTQ+ youth as bias, stigma and discrimination can be directed at their multiple identities.”

Findings from the report offer a comprehensive look at the day-to-day challenges encountered by Black LGBTQ youth — from the extent to which they feel safe informing teachers when they are bullied at school to whether they have access to mental health care from providers who are LGBTQ competent.

The same topic is often approached from multiple different angles. For example, with respect to experiences with white LGBTQ people, respondents were asked not just to report whether they had experienced racism or could trust their white counterparts, but also whether they feel misunderstood by or are expected to educate white LGBTQ people.

Additionally, the survey found that approximately half of Black LGBTQ youth (48.9 percent) and Black trans and gender-expansive youth (51.8 percent) “say they felt like the token LGBTQ person of color in groups or organizations.”

HRC appended its report with guidance on how to support Black LGBTQ youth for parents and caregivers, educators and youth-serving professionals and for other youth.

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HRC awards grants to 25 LGBTQ+ rights groups around the world

Organizations to receive up to $5,000 through Global Small Grants program

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Human Rights Campaign headquarters in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — The Human Rights Campaign on Wednesday announced it has awarded grants to 25 LGBTQ+ rights organizations around the world.

An HRC press release notes the organizations in 24 countries will receive Global Innovation Small Grants of up to $5,000 through the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Global Partnerships Program. Queer Youth Uganda, Icebreakers Uganda, Transgender Equality Hong Kong, Equal Namibia, PFLAG Panama, CamASEAN Youth’s Future in Cambodia, the Estonian Trans Alliance, Right Side Human Rights Defender NGO in Armenia and the Mediators Foundation in Ghana are among this year’s grant recipients.

“This is what community solidarity looks like,” said Queer Youth Uganda Chief Legal Strategist Quin Mbabazi in the HRC press release. “It enables us to continue breaking barriers during such harsh and challenging moments in the Ugandan movement.”

HRC Global Partnerships Director Jean Freedberg noted the Global Small Grants program “is an opportunity for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation to partner with LGBTQ+ advocates around the world to advance our common goal of equality for all.”

“By combining our knowledge, resources, and passion, we are so much stronger together,” said Freedberg. “These amazing advocates and organizations are making a difference and saving lives in each of their countries, and we are honored to be able to support their work.” 

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HRC, GLAAD presidents attend World Economic Forum

Annual meeting takes place in Swiss resort town of Davos

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Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 18, 2024. (Screen capture via GLAAD YouTube)

DAVOS, Switzerland — The presidents of GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign attended the World Economic Forum that took place last week in the Swiss resort town of Davos.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis and HRC President Kelley Robinson were among those who participated in the “Corporate Allyship in a Fractured World” panel that Axios Chief Technology Editor Ina Fried moderated. Open for Business CEO Dominic Arnall, Gilead Sciences Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Alex Kalomparis and Accenture Senior Managing Director Marco Ziegler were the other panelists.

HRC, GLAAD, Accenture, Deutsche Bank, Edelman, Open for Business and the Partnership for Global LGBTIQ+ Equality hosted the panel.

Ellis in her opening remarks noted more than 20 venues and corporations participated in the “Pride on the Promenade” in Davos that took place the night before the panel. 

She pointed out “Pride on the Promenade” coincided with the introduction of a bill in Florida that would ban Pride flags on public buildings. Ellis also noted an activist from Uganda was among those who attended the World Economic Forum.

“Allyship is not just about values; it’s about growing the bottom line,” said Ellis. “We know inclusion is a business-forward idea and need in order to grow your business.”

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 18, 2024. (Screen capture via GLAAD YouTube)

“We are living in an extremely fractured world right now, but it’s also a world that demands us to answer the challenge in front of us right now,” said Robinson. 

“As I’ve talked to business leaders from all across the world this week and in the work that we do at the Human Rights Campaign, it’s clear that they’re not backing down from this challenge,” she added. “Instead, they’re actually stepping up.”

Robinson before the panel also noted there are 800 million LGBTQ+ people in the world and they have $5 trillion in purchasing power. Robinson also said a quarter Gen Zers identify as LGBTQ+. 

“This is an important and critical moment for businesses to continue stepping up,” she said.

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Annise Parker: Protecting democracy is ‘LGBTQ+ rights issue’

Victory Fund’s annual DC conference began Thursday

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LGBTQ+ Victory Fund President Annise Parker speaks at her organization's International LGBTQ+ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Nov. 30, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — LGBTQ+ Victory Fund Annise Parker on Friday said the protection of democracy is an LGBTQ+ rights issue.

“Protecting democracy is fundamentally an LGBTQ+ rights issue,” she said in her keynote speech at the organization’s International LGBTQ+ Leaders Conference that took place in Washington.

Parker in her remarks specifically highlighted former President Donald Trump, former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Argentine President-elect Javier Milei. Parker said the three men “are all focused on the same thing: Holding on to power by creating a demonized minority they can attack.” 

Parker in her speech also noted lawmakers in Montana and Oklahoma “singled out” and censured two of their colleagues — Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr and Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner — because “they are Trans themselves.”

Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert has proposed to reduce Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Shawn Skelley’s annual salary to $1 “because she is Trans,” according to Parker. She also noted U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has sought to do the same thing to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine “only because of their sexual orientation or gender identities.”

“We are a community of LGBTQ+ people committed to defending and advancing democracy to insure it works equitably for everyone, not just for us,” said Parker. “Here in the United States and around the world people are losing their faith in democracy.” 

“We’re seeing opponents of democracy scapegoat the communities most marginalized and blame them as the source of all social ills: Immigrants, indigenous communities, people of color and yes, LGBTQ+ people,” she added. “They do this because they believe inclusion is a zero-sum game that gains for those most marginalized take away something from those who have always held power.”

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HRC report: ‘Epidemic of violence’ against transgender community

For the first time in its 40+ year history, the Human Rights Campaign declared a National State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans

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Human Rights Campaign/Los Angeles Blade graphic

WASHINGTON – In marking the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Human Rights Campaign released its 2023 annual report documenting the epidemic of violence taking the lives of trans and gender non-conforming people. 

According to HRC’s report, at least 33 transgender and gender-nonconforming people were killed in the last 12 months, an overwhelming majority who were young people of color, with Black transgender women disproportionately impacted.

“In the 12 months since Transgender Day of Remembrance 2022 (November 20, 2022), we’ve reported on at least 33 transgender and gender non-conforming people killed in an epidemic of violence threatening our community. These victims had families and friends, hopes and dreams. None of them deserved to have their lives stolen by horrific violence,” said Tori Cooper, Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative, Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

“Almost two-thirds of the victims were Black trans women, a tragedy that reflects an appalling trend of violence fueled by racism, toxic masculinity, misogyny and transphobia and the politicization of our lives. We need everyone to join us in empowering transgender leaders, building safer, stronger communities and reducing stigma. We cannot rest until all transgender and gender non-conforming people can live our lives safely as our full selves,” she added.

“The epidemic of violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people is a national tragedy and a national embarrassment,” HRC President Kelly Robinson said Monday in a statement. “Each of the lives taken is the result of a society that demeans and devalues anyone who dares challenge the gender binary.” 

The report also noted that the actual tally of deaths may be much higher because “data collection is often incomplete or unreliable when it comes to violent and fatal crimes against trans and gender-nonconforming people.” 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recorded just 21 fatal hate crimes committed against transgender and gender-nonconforming people over the same time period. 

This report comes amidst a tidal wave of anti-transgender legislation. In 2023, for the first time in its 40+ year history, the Human Rights Campaign declared a National State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans, in response to the over 550 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced into state houses across the country, more than 80 of which were passed into law.

This is a record high for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced and enacted in a single state legislative session since HRC began tracking—beating out 2022, which, with 25 anti-LGBTQ+ bills enacted, previously held the record for most anti-LGBTQ+ bills enacted in a single year.

The report noted that the vast majority of the bills introduced in 2023— over 220—specifically targeted transgender people in an attempt to: limit access to school sports, school restrooms and locker rooms; ban access to safe, effective, age-appropriate gender-affirming medical care; and remove inclusive books and references to LGBTQ+ identities and experiences from school curricula (a la “don’t Say LGBTQ”). Coordinated efforts led by well-funded right-wing extremist organizations such as the Family Research Council, Heritage Action, and the Alliance Defending Freedom have led to similar efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives, including attempts to pass nationwide trans sports bans and bans on gender affirming care, as well as attempting to enact anti-LGBTQ+ legislation through attaching extraneous riders to appropriation bills.

Against this backdrop of discriminatory legislation, attacks on the transgender and gender non-conforming community, as well as the LGBTQ+ community and its allies writ large, are on the rise. Proponents of anti-trans legislation in state houses and Congress, have often relied on hate-filled rhetoric that demonizes transgender people and their allies, perpetuates misinformation, and legitimizes anti-trans stigma, violence, and hate.

Such rhetoric has, unfortunately, begun to translate to real world violence: 2022 saw the highest number of anti-LGB and anti-trans and gender non-conforming hate crimes reported by the FBI to date, with the number of hate crimes based on gender identity increasing by over 32% from 2021 to 2022.

Almost 500 gender identity-motivated hate crimes were recorded in 2022, accounting for 4% of all hate crimes recorded in that year; anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes overall accounted for more than one in five (20.8%) hate crimes. And this number is an undercount, given that FBI data reporting does not capture all hate crimes, as not all jurisdictions track anti-trans hate crimes, nor do all jurisdictions report hate crimes to FBI databases.

In addition to the FBI-reported hate crime incidents , between the beginning of 2022 and late April 2023 GLAAD recorded 161 different attacks against drag events, including bomb threats, vandalization, armed and violent protests, and in one instance the firebombing of venues that hosted Drag Story Hour and other all-age drag events.

These attacks were part of the more than 350 anti-LGBTQ+ incidents across 46 states, recorded by GLAAD and the ADL over the same period. June 2023 saw 145 additional anti-LGBTQ+ extremism incidents recorded at Pride events across the country. Transphobic violence and hate has even taken the lives of several cisgender allies this year, such as in the case of Colin Michael Smith, a White cisgender man in Oregon who was stabbed and killed while defending a non-binary friend from an assailant “hurling anti-LGBTQ+ slurs,” and Laura Ann Carlton, a White cisgender woman in California, who was shot and killed for refusing to stop flying a pride flag over her store.

These attacks are occurring against a community which is already vulnerable and marginalized. As detailed in HRC’s report “Dismantling a Culture of Violence,” transgender and gender non-conforming people face multiple forms of sigma, which result in lower access to status, power, and resources, and higher risk of discrimination, including in employment, healthcare, and housing. Together, this contributes to higher risk of poverty and homelessness/housing insecurity, social isolation, and worse physical and mental health outcomes, which in turn results in increased risk for violence.

Such stigma, bias and discrimination compounds for transgender and gender non-conforming people who hold multiple marginalized identities. Transgender women and transgender people of color are at elevated risk of fatal violence, and the risk is compounded for Black transgender women, who comprise the vast majority of victims of fatal violence against trans and gender non-conforming people.

“We must imagine a better future for transgender and gender-nonconforming people,” Robinson said Monday. “Not just surviving, but truly living as free and equal members of our society.” 

Read the report

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32 activists participate in annual HRC global summit in D.C.

Special US envoy for LGBTQ+, intersex rights among speakers

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Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination Executive Director Essy Adhiambo. (Courtesy photo)

WASHINGTON — Thirty-two activists from around the world attended the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Global Innovative Advocacy Summit that took place last week in D.C.

Activists from Algeria, Bolivia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Congo, the Dominican Republic, Fiji, Ghana, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Peru, Serbia, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe took part in workshops and attended a variety of events throughout the week.

HRC President Kelley Robinson and Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights, are among those who spoke to the activists. HRC during the summit also honored Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the now former independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues whose 6-year mandate ended on Oct. 31. (The U.N. Human Rights Council has named Graeme Reid, a South African activist who directed Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Rights Program, to succeed Madrigal-Borloz.)

The summit took place against the backdrop of the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations in Mauritius, Antigua and Barbuda, Singapore and several other former British colonies around the world.

The Japanese Supreme Court on Oct. 25 struck down a law that requires Transgender people to undergo sterilization surgery in order to legally change their gender. The Indian Supreme Court on Oct. 17 ruled against marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” Lawmakers in Kenya and neighboring countries have signaled they plan to introduce similar measures in their respective parliaments.

HRC in June declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. in response to the hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills that state lawmakers have introduced and governors have signed. 

Stern in a speech she delivered at an LGBTQ+ Victory Institute co-organized conference in Mexico City in July cited HRC statistics when she noted more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in U.S. state legislatures this year. Stern pointed out nearly half of these measures specifically targeted Trans and nonbinary people, and state lawmakers approved 70 of them. She noted 15 of these measures banned gender-affirming care for minors, four “censor” school curricula and two “target drag performances.”  

“What an absolute tragedy,” said Stern.

‘It’s an absolute honor to be here’

Transgender Equality Hong Kong Director Henry Tse is one of the summit participants with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Nov. 2.

Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal in February ruled in favor of Tse and two other Trans men who challenged the requirement that Trans people must undergo sex-reassignment surgery in order to change the gender marker on their IDs. Hong Kong’s government has yet to implement the decision, but Tse told the Blade that he has “learned a lot” from his fellow summit participants.

“It’s an absolute honor to be here,” he said.  

Transgender Equality Hong Kong Director Henry Tse (Courtesy photo)

LGBT Center Mongolia Executive Director Enkhmaa Enkhbold echoed Tse.

“It’s just heaven for me,” Enkhbold told the Blade.

LGBT Center Mongolia Executive Director Enkhmaa Enkhbold (Courtesy photo)

Abdul Mufeez Shaheed, chair of the Rainbow Pride Foundation, a Fijian advocacy group, welcomed the diversity of the summit’s participants and applauded the work they have done in their respective countries. Essy Adhiambo, executive director of the Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination in Kenya, agreed.

“As someone who’s been in the movement for a while, I’m realizing there’s a very different way people are doing things,” she told the Blade. “We (who) do all the activities actually need to sit back and say, actually, these younger folks actually have an idea of what we can do better, so bring us together.”

Rainbow Pride Foundation Chair Abdul Mufeez Shaheed (Courtesy photo)
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Lambda Legal marks 50th anniversary

Kevin Jennings says litigation is ‘crucial tool’ to advance LGBTQ rights

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Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings speaks at a reception in D.C. celebrating Lambda Legal's 50th anniversary on Sept. 28, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings in conjunction with his organization’s 50th anniversary said the courts remain crucial to the protection of LGBTQ+ rights in the country.

“Litigation has been the crucial tool for advancing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community,” Jennings told the Washington Blade during a Sept. 25 interview. “Lambda Legal has been at the forefront of that litigation for 50 years.”

The New York Court of Appeals in 1973 overruled a decision that denied Lambda Legal’s application to incorporate because its mission was “neither benevolent nor charitable” and “there was no demonstrated need for its existence.”

“We have to be our own first client,” said Jennings.

Lambda Legal represented a group of gay students at the University of New Hampshire who sued after then-Gov. Mel Thomson threatened to defund the entire UNH system if they continued their “socially abhorrent activities.” The U.S. Supreme Court in 1974 ruled in favor of the students in Gay Students Organization v. Bonner.  

Lambda Legal in 1983 represented Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, an AIDS researcher who opened a clinic for people with HIV in New York’s Greenwich Village. His neighbors tried to evict him, but Lambda Legal and the New York attorney general’s office were able to stop the eviction in People v. West 12 Tenants Corps. 

Police in Harris County, Texas, in 1998 arrested John Geddes Lawrence, Jr., and Tyron Garner, while they were having sex in Lawrence’s apartment and charged them with violating the state’s sodomy law. Lambda Legal represented the two men and the Supreme Court in 2003 struck down the Texas statute in Lawrence v. Texas.

Lambda Legal was co-counsel in Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the U.S. Lambda Legal also represented Dana Zzyym, an intersex person who sued the State Department in 2015 after it denied them a passport because they do not identify as male or female. (Zzyym in October 2021 received a passport with an “X” gender marker, and the State Department now issues gender-neutral passports.)

Jennings on Sept. 28 spoke at an event at Paul Hastings LLP in D.C. after Jennifer Eller, a former English teacher in Prince George’s County, Md., who successfully sued the county’s Board of Education after she suffered harassment and discrimination because of her gender identity, introduced him. Lambda Legal on Wednesday held similar events in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas and Chicago.

“The courts have been a central battleground for 50 years,” Jennings told the Blade. “I predict they are going to remain one for the next 50 years.”

Opponents using ‘shock and awe against us’

Jennings, who was born in Florida and grew up in North Carolina, was a teacher in Massachusetts when he founded what became known as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and later GLSEN in 1990. He left the organization in 2008.

Then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan in 2009 appointed Jennings as Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Jennings was the CEO of Be the Change, executive director of the Arcus Foundation and president of the Tenement Museum in New York before Lambda Legal in 2019 named him as its CEO.

Jennings noted to the Blade that nearly 600 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in 47 states. 

“We are facing the most concerted effort to rollback LGBTQ+ rights in my lifetime,” he said.

“Our opponents are using shock and awe against us right now,” added Jennings. “They are trying to overwhelm us and drown us in the number of anti-LGBT bills nationwide. That’s their own strategy.”

Jennings said Lambda Legal currently has nearly 80 active lawsuits across the country.

He noted Lambda Legal for the last two years has represented Becky Pepper-Jackson, an 11-year-old Transgender girl who challenged a West Virginia law that bans Trans students from school sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The Supreme Court in April ruled in her favor.

“Becky is on her middle school cross country team,” said Jennings.

Lambda Legal is among the organizations that challenged a Florida law that prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for gender-affirming health care. A federal judge in June struck down the statute.

“Our opponents are trying to demoralize our community, and make us feel like we are going to be defeated,” said Jennings.

He added the “battle” for LGBTQ+ rights in many states is “moving from the State House to the courthouse.”

“It comes down to Lambda Legal to get them struck down in court,” said Jennings. “We are the community’s last line of defense.”

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Jill Biden condemns anti-LGBTQ book bans at PFLAG convention

She credited PFLAG’s work “fighting unjust laws and school board policies that censor history” as it celebrates its 50th anniversary

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First Lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

ARLINGTON, VA. – First lady Jill Biden spoke out against anti-LGBTQ book bans and discussed the potential for small acts of protest to spark transformative social change in prepared remarks on Friday for the opening plenary session of the PFLAG National Convention in Arlington, Va.

The organization’s work has a profound impact, she said, from “the trans person who feels seen when we use the right pronouns” to “the bisexual student who wants to see herself reflected in the books she can borrow from her school library.”

“America, my friends, we do not ban books,” the first lady said, earning a round of applause. Later, she credited PFLAG’s work “fighting unjust laws and school board policies that censor history.”

She told the audience, “Know that my husband President Biden is a partner in your work. He’s doing everything in his power to protect LGBTQ kids and support families. He’s working to combat the dangerous and cruel practice of conversion therapy.”

The Biden-Harris administration, the first lady noted, “launched a crisis hotline for young people” and “committed more resources to address youth homelessness,” while “just a few months ago we hosted the largest Pride celebration ever held at the White House.”

She began her remarks, though, by recounting the story of how PFLAG — which, with this year’s four-day “Learning with Love” conference, celebrates its 50th anniversary — was founded.

Elementary school teacher Jeanne Manford had turned a small act of protest, writing to the New York Post in 1972 over police inaction after the beating of her gay son, into a movement that “changed our culture along with the course of history,” the first lady said.

“Remember what Jean showed us — that change starts with one small step,” she said. “Worldwide movements can begin with the smallest of actions.”

Last week, as the featured speakers for the Human Rights Campaign’s annual National Dinner in D.C., the first lady and the president discussed the administration’s commitment to LGBTQ people amid the escalating attacks against the community across the country and around the world.

The first lady, who holds a PhD in education, has been an English professor at the Northern Virginia Community College since 2009, having previously worked as a high school teacher for 13 years, has a long relationship with PFLAG and its executive director, Brian Bond.

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GLSEN to honor gay country musician Orville Peck at LA gala

The star-studded lineup of presenters at Rise Up LA will include Wayne Brady, Fortune Feimster and Sherry Cola

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Courtesy of Orville Peck

By Rob Salerno | LOS ANGELES – The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the nationwide organization that helps educators to create a positive school environment for LGBTQ+ students in K-12 schools, will honor gay country musician Orville Peck with its Champion Award at its annual Rise Up LA fundraising gala Oct 28 at Neuehouse Hollywood in Los Angeles.

Peck has made a splash around the world with his critically acclaimed hit albums Pony and Bronco, as well as his appearances on Trixie Motel, RuPaul’s Drag Race and Reese Witherspoon’s My Kind of Country on Apple TV+.

“Orville Peck’s authentic advocacy and commitment to championing a world where LGBTQ+ youth can feel safe and embraced reflects GLSEN’s mission,” says GLSEN Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers.

Peck says he’s “honored and humbled” to be recognized by GLSEN.

“GLSEN plays such an important role in providing safety, encouragement, and shaping the future of our youth. In our current political environment, protecting LGBTQIA+ students is more important than ever and GLSEN has long been at the forefront of this fight,” Peck says. “We invite you to join me and GLSEN on October 28th to show your support.”

The star-studded lineup of presenters at Rise Up LA will include Wayne Brady (Who’s Line Is It Anyway?, Kinky Boots), Fortune Feimster (Last Comic Standing), and Sherry Cola (Joyride), among others, whom Willingham-Jaggers says are being recognized “stage for using their voices, talents, and platforms to create positive change in the world.”

The fundraiser program will also include students who have benefited from the work that GLSEN does.

“It’s an opportunity to meet the students who are impacted by our work,” GLSEN Board co-chair Wilson Cruz says.

In addition to the star-studded main program of live performances, Rise Up LA will feature a rooftop afterparty.

GLSEN raises a significant portion of its operating revenue from its annual fundraising events, and its work has grown more vital as a new wave of moral panic across the United States has had a detrimental impact on queer kids.

“This is a four-alarm fire at the moment,” Cruz says. “We see these book bans happening all across the country, and we responded by creating the Rainbow Library. It happened very quickly during the pandemic when all these book bans started. We delivered almost 5,000,000 books in 20,000 school districts across the country.”

While the backlash against queer students seems to be strongest in states controlled by Republicans, it’s an issue that hits close to home for Cruz, who grew up in southern California. 

“One specific school district quite close to where I went to school in Chino Hills, they outlawed the display of the LGBTQ+ flag,” he says. “To me that just feels like trolling. How is that helping anyone’s education? How is that helping anyone feel appreciated and seen and like a valued part of the community? It was enraging to me.”

Cruz says he believes it’s important that GLSEN’s work extends to educating parents and elected officials about the importance of LGBTQ-inclusive school policies and curricula. 

“Part of what I think is the problem in these school board meetings is a lack of education on the part of people on those boards and some parents, who are unaware of the history made by people in this community and how dehumanizing it is for us to be left out of the telling of the story of the history of the United States and civil rights,” he says. “I think of lot of this is solved by educating people, including parents and school boards.

”Tickets for Rise Up LA are available now.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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National LGBTQ Task Force executive director mourns Israeli, Palestinian war victims

Kierra Johnson led moment of silence at organization’s Miami Beach gala

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National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson speaks at her organization's 50th anniversary gala in Miami Beach, Fla., on Oct. 14, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — The executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force on Saturday paid tribute to the civilians killed during the war between Israel and Hamas.

“Witnessing reports of Israel and Palestine are weighing on my soul,” said Kierra Johnson during her speech at the Task Force’s 50th anniversary gala that took place at the Miami Beach Convention Center. “My heart is with communities in the region who have suffered the pain of terrorism and violence and may continue to do so.”

Johnson added that while she does “not have many answers about the conflict, I do know many people I love, many members of the Task Force family and many in this room are deeply impacted.” 

“The Task Force condemns terrorism, violence and harm against civilians,” she said.

Johnson also led a moment of silence for the “lives shattered and lost in the terror attack by Hamas in Israel and for all those impacted who continue to suffer.”

Hamas, which the U.S. and Israel have designated a terrorist organization, on Oct. 6 launched a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.

More than 1,300 Israelis have been killed since the war began. This figure includes at least 260 people who Hamas militants murdered at an all-night music festival in Re’im, a kibbutz that is near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces on its website also says more than 3,200 Israelis have been injured and Hamas militants kidnapped at least 150 others. 

Hamas rockets have reached Beersheba, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ben Gurion Airport and other locations throughout central and southern Israel.

Palestinian officials say Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 2,000 people in Gaza and injured thousands of others in the enclave.

The Israeli government’s decision to cut electricity, water and food and fuel shipments to Gaza has made the humanitarian crisis in the territory even worse. (National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Sunday said Israeli officials have told him they have restored water to southern Gaza.) The IDF has also told the 1.1 million people who live in northern Gaza to evacuate to the southern part of the enclave ahead of an expected ground incursion.

A Wider Bridge — a U.S.-based organization that seeks to build “a movement of LGBTQ people and allies with a strong interest in and commitment to supporting Israel and its LGBTQ communities” — in 2016 organized a reception at the Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference with two Israeli activists who worked for Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance. Hundreds of protesters with signs that expressed opposition to “pinkwashing,” which they described as the promotion of Israel’s LGBTQ rights record in an attempt to deflect attention away from its policies toward the Palestinians, and “no pride in apartheid” disrupted the event and forced its cancellation.

“I want to make this crystal clear: The National LGBTQ Task Force wholeheartedly condemns anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic statements made at any Task Force event, including our Creating Change Conference,” said then-Executive Director Rea Carey in a statement after the protest. “It is unacceptable.”

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