The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, announced it is launching a nationwide multimedia campaign to promote the approval by Congress of the LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation known as the Equality Act.
In a Feb. 23 statement HRC says the campaign, among other things, will include a series of “powerful” video ads for social media and TV created by Emmy Award-winning director Joey Soloway that tell stories of how individual LGBTQ people are adversely impacted by discrimination.
At the center of the campaign as depicted in the videos is an American flag with 29 of the 50 stars removed to draw attention to the 29 states that do not have comprehensive legal protections for LGBTQ people that HRC is calling the “Reality Flag.”
In its official launch of the campaign on Feb. 23 HRC unveiled an 85-foot-long version of the Reality Flag on the outer wall of its headquarters building in D.C. that HRC points out is located just six blocks from the White House.
“The Reality Flag campaign is designed to point out the inequalities LGBTQ+ individuals face every day – in our own voice,” said Joni Madison, HRC’s interim president. “From housing and educational discrimination to denial of government and health services, LGBTQ+ people are confronted by hurdles to simply exist every day,” Madison said in a statement.
“This needs to change,” she said. “The Reality Flag not only calls out the 29 states where basic freedoms are still missing for millions of people but stands as a symbol of hope that communities can rally behind to enact meaningful change.”
HRC’s Reality Flag campaign comes at a time when most political observers unaffiliated with the Equality Act’s staunch supporters and opponents believe the bill has no chance of passing in the U.S. Senate any time soon, even though it passed in the U.S. House in February 2021 by a vote of 224 to 206. In the House vote, only three Republicans joined all 221 Democrats in voting for the measure.
Observers note that although Democrats have a slim majority in the 50 Democrat-50 Republican Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris set to break a tie vote in favor of Democrats, the Senate’s longstanding filibuster rule that Democrats are unable to change means the Equality Act needs a 60-vote majority to pass.
Forty-nine of the 50 Senate Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors of the Equality Act. Maverick Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia emerged as the sole Senate Democrat saying he cannot support the Equality Act in its current version due, in part, to what Manchin says is its provisions related to transgender nondiscrimination in school sports and school bathroom use.
Sources familiar with the Senate told the Washington Blade last May that even if the filibuster rule is eliminated, other Democratic senators from swing states would likely join Manchin in withholding support for the Equality Act due to efforts by some Republicans to turn transgender rights into an inflammatory wedge issue.
The official congressional website Congress.gov states that the Equality Act calls for prohibiting “discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system.”
The Congress.gov site adds, “The bill prohibits an individual from being denied access to a shared facility, including a restroom, a locker room, and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individual’s gender identity.”
Several moderate GOP senators, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), have said they support the principle of protections against discrimination for LGBTQ people and would be willing to vote for a revised Equality Act that includes what they call religious rights protections and some changes in the transgender provisions.
Some Republican observers have said enough Republicans would likely join Democrats to reach the needed 60 votes to pass the Equality Act in the Senate if Democrats agree to the changes proposed by the moderate Republicans.
Other Republicans, however, including the national LGBTQ GOP group Log Cabin Republicans, have said the Equality Act should be discarded altogether following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2020 known as Bostock v. Clayton County. The decision declares that Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans sex discrimination, also prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Equality Act supporters have argued that the legislation is still needed to ensure that LGBTQ people are fully protected from discrimination in other areas such as housing and public accommodations.
Representatives of both sides have said negotiations have been taking place over possible changes in the Equality Act since at least the beginning of last year, but nothing has emerged from those reported negotiations as of this week.
Many LGBTQ advocacy organizations, including HRC, have said the GOP suggested changes to the Equality Act related to “religious freedom,” which the bill’s supporters say means a right to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on religious grounds in a nonreligious setting such as a private business open to the public, are unacceptable.
Most LGBTQ advocacy groups have also declared as unacceptable GOP proposals to weaken or remove protections for transgender people in the legislation, saying such proposals are being promoted by people who have been misled or are themselves misleading others to believe cisgender women in sports and in public restrooms as well as in school bathrooms and showers would be adversely impacted by the current version of the legislation.
With both sides in what most Capitol Hill observers consider to be a complete deadlock, Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), have not indicated a willingness to bring the Equality Act up for a vote in the Senate this year.
Schumer’s office didn’t reply to an inquiry from the Blade last week asking whether Schumer would consider bringing the Equality Act to the Senate floor for a vote this year or next year if Democrats retain control of the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.
With that as a backdrop, David Stacy, HRC’s Government Affairs Director, told the Blade in a Feb. 25 statement that passage of the Equality Act remains a high priority for HRC and the LGBTQ+ community.
“Getting any legislation through the U.S. Senate is not easy,” Stacy said. “In the meantime, support continues growing for the bill, and we believe the Reality Flag campaign will continue to generate the awareness and education needed to continue growing support and pressure for action,” he said.
“We’ve already seen since our launch people coming out saying they had no idea LGBTQ+ people didn’t already have these protections, and that’s what we aim to do here: educate people and inspire them to take action at the grassroots level across the country – call their senators and make it clear that it’s time we need this done,” Stacy said. “Some people may be ready to give up. We are not,” he said.
In its three-page statement announcing the launch of its Reality Flag campaign, HRC says the campaign is being produced in partnership with a team of advertising and public relations agencies affiliated with the international marketing and communications company giant WPP.
“While the campaign seeks to galvanize public support for the Equality Act and driving audiences to take action at RealityFlag.com, it also underscores the importance of lifting up and showcasing the real stories and lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people impacted by discrimination,” the statement continues.
It says the stories about individual LGTQ people will primarily be featured in “video vignettes” created by TV writer and director Joey Soloway, the Emmy Award-winning creator of “Transparent,” an original Amazon Studios streaming television comedy-drama series about a transgender woman and her family. Soloway identifies as non-binary and gender non-conforming.
“These stories … will be amplified through both an advertising campaign, including partnerships with 20 national media platforms, achieving an anticipated 30 million-plus impressions during launch, including TV, print, display, video, audio, cinema, OOH, social, and search,” the HRC statement says.
Access to some of the video ads slated for the HRC Reality Flag campaign can be found at RealityFlag.com.
In 2023: National LGBTQ Task Force celebrates 50 years
50th Anniversary celebrations begin with Creating Change, including headlining speakers Angelica Ross & activist X Gonzalez
WASHINGTON – The National LGBTQ Task Force – the country’s oldest LGBTQ advocacy group – celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023, honoring 50 years of advancing freedom, justice, and equality for LGBTQ people.
This milestone year will recognize and celebrate the Task Force’s rich history of driving progress within the LGBTQ community, from its early days lobbying the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality as a mental illness and advocating for AIDS funding to longstanding campaigns to Queer the Census, Queer the Vote, work for trans rights, fight for reproductive justice and bringing an intersectional approach to the LGBTQ movement.
Beginning with Creating Change, the Task Force’s flagship conference for training and mobilizing queer organizers, the upcoming year serves as an opportunity to reimagine what queer activism can look like.
“Our anniversary comes at a time when those in power threaten to undo our 50 years of progress– but we’re meeting these threats with more strength, unity, and support than ever before,” said Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. “We take an intersectional, proactive approach to our advocacy, underscoring our fundamental interconnectedness. The Task Force is everywhere because queer people are everywhere. As we look towards the next 50 years, we will evolve and expand our work to positively impact LGBTQ folks’ ability to thrive.”
The primary goal of the Creating Change Conference is to build the LGBTQ movement’s political power from the ground up to secure our overarching goal of full freedom, justice, and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in the U.S.
Since 1988, Creating Change has created opportunities for thousands of committed people to develop and hone their skills, celebrate victories, build community, and to be inspired by visionaries of our LGBTQ movement and allied movements for justice and equality.
50th ANNIVERSARY CALENDAR OF EVENTS
The Task Force 50th anniversary celebrations kickoff with the 2023 Creating Change Conference, the foremost political, leadership, and skills-building conference for the LGBTQ social justice movement. Event details:
- Date: Friday, February 17 – Tuesday, February 21
- Location: Hilton Hotel Union Square, San Francisco, California
- Special Guests:
- Angelica Ross, transgender rights activist and star of FX’s POSE
- Amy Schneider, most successful female contestant in Jeopardy! history
- X González, gun violence prevention activist and LGBTQ rights advocate
- more to be announced….
- Theme: The State of the Movement: Our Past. Our Present. Our Future.
Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force will reflect on the last year and the work ahead. For more information including registration information and full schedule see HERE.
The 50th Anniversary celebration will continue in Miami Beach at the 30th Annual Winter Party Festival – a week-long series of events benefiting the LGBTQ community locally and nationally. Produced by the Task Force, the Festival takes place Wednesday March 1 – Tuesday March 7 in Miami Beach, FL. The 2023 theme is “Live Free. Play Hard. Give Back.”
In October 2023, the Task Force will host its premier annual celebration of South Florida’s LGBTQ community. This year, the gala is an opportunity for queer people and their supporters to celebrate 50 years of community, history, and work advancing equality for all LGBTQ people and their families.
Incoming HRC President Robinson warns: ‘They are coming for us’
“They are launching an intersectional attack against us and trying to divide our power and we are going to fight back together”
WASHINGTON – Kelley Robinson convened a press briefing on Monday with representatives from local and national LGBTQ advocacy groups and gun violence prevention organizations to discuss the deadly shooting over the weekend at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs.
“We are, of course, having this call under the worst of circumstances,” Robinson said, expressing her heartbreak and outrage in personal terms “as a wife, a mother, and a member of the LGBTQ community.”
Around the same time, news outlets reported that hate crime charges were filed against the suspected gunman who killed five people and injured at least 19 others when he opened fire with an assault style rifle in Club Q late Saturday night.
Just a couple of weeks ago, when Robinson sat down for an interview with the Washington Blade, she was smiling for much of the conversation. For one thing, she was looking forward to the official start of her tenure as president of the Human Rights Campaign . On Nov. 28, she will become the first Black queer woman to serve in that role leading the nation’s largest LGBTQ organization.
The interview also came on the heels of a midterm election cycle that had seen record turnout among LGBTQ voters and historic firsts for LGBTQ candidates. Additionally, by then it had become clear that by the year’s end Congress would likely pass the landmark Respect for Marriage Act, which carries significant legal protections for same-sex couples.
Tone and tenor aside, however, there was little daylight between Robinson’s words and actions following the mass shooting and her comments during that Nov. 10 interview, during which she pledged to lead HRC with an intersectional approach to the work, in a manner consistent with her prior leadership as executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and professional background as a community organizer.
On Monday, Robinson – along with the other speakers – urged collective, decisive action to stem the escalating tides of hateful rhetoric, online misinformation and disinformation, and violence and threats of violence directed at LGBTQ people. They focused their comments on how these factors work together to raise the likelihood of violent attacks like that which happened on Saturday.
Likewise, they said solutions must involve a diverse array of stakeholders: lawmakers and social media companies tasked with fighting online hate, misinformation, and disinformation; law enforcement agencies responsible for enforcing existing gun laws; and groups representing vulnerable communities that are disproportionately impacted, like trans women of color and LGBTQ youth.
“What we saw this past year is that our opposition gets intersectionality,” Robinson told the Blade. “They are coming for us, for all of us,” she said, citing as examples the Supreme Court’s decision revoking Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, the hateful rhetoric of Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and recent spate of statewide anti-LGBTQ bills.
“They are launching an intersectional attack against us and trying to divide our power,” she said. “And we are going to fight back together, because ultimately we are stronger together.”
From her vantage point as a queer Black woman, Robinson said intersectionality is not just a theory relegated to academia but rather a fact of life. It also happens to also be exceptionally effective in engendering concrete change through movement building and coalition building, she said.
For these reasons, Robinson said HRC is focused on political advocacy at the federal, state, local, and grassroots levels. And the organization is expanding its programs in other areas that are designed to, for example, make schools more welcoming environments for LGBTQ youth, empower trans people in the workplace, and hold employers as well as municipalities to account for their policies concerning treatment of, respectively, LGBTQ employees, residents, and visitors.
Likewise, with respect to the organization’s impact litigation work, intersectionality is front and center, Robinson said. HRC’s attorneys are working with other legal actors and entities in the movement ecosystem on cases involving everything from protecting the rights of the incarcerated to fighting back against anti-LGBTQ state laws, she said.
Still, Robinson said she is realistic about the challenges that lie ahead. Asked what keeps her up at night, she said it’s how high the stakes are: “This is truly a matter of life and death for so many people,” she said.
“People are hurting right now. We may be in a different phase of the pandemic, but it’s not over for people. The impact that it’s had for people’s work lives, the impact it’s had for our mental health, all of that lingers and is present…I can’t tell you the number of people that have come up to me in tears about their kids, worrying about their kids, worrying about their trans kids who are getting kicked out of sports and told they’re different when they’re five, six, seven, eight years old. They’re worried about their gay kids and if they’ll be able to love the people that they choose to love and still live in the states that they call home.”
However, Robinson said, “there’s a unique opportunity for us to do something about it right now. We’ve built the political power. We have the organization. We’re so close to having the political leadership that we need in office to get some stuff done. So, this is one of those moments where it just feels like there’s so much on the line, there’s such a sense of urgency. But the hope and optimism is coming from the fact that we’re not done.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously proclaimed that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” but “that doesn’t happen by accident,” Robinson said. “We’ve got to pull it and push it and prod it, and I’m proud to be part of that struggle and that legacy fighting for freedom; fighting for change.”
26k trans & nonbinary students filled out largest college app in U.S.
Common App plans to add “X” or “another legal sex” as an option, in addition to “female” and “male” for the 2023-2024 application season
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Using the largest body of data on the gender identities of incoming college students ever available, a report released Thursday found over 26,000 transgender and nonbinary people filled out the Common App – the largest college application in the country.
The Campus Pride report – “The Changing Nature of Gender in the 21st Century: How Trans and Nonbinary Students Applying to College Today Self-Identify” – found that of the more than 1.22 million students who filled out the Common App for the fall 2022 semester, 26,366 identified as transgender or nonbinary, or 2.2% of applicants.
The report comes after the Common App added optional questions on gender and pronouns for the 2022-2023 application season. For gender, applicants could choose “female,” “male,” “nonbinary” or “another gender.” Pronoun options included: “he/him,” “she/her,” “they/them” and “another set of pronouns.”
“The number of students openly identifying as trans and nonbinary has grown dramatically in the last few years,” Dr. Genny Beemyn, the report’s author, said in a statement. “As nonbinary people become more visible and gain greater acceptance in society, the number of trans youth, especially nonbinary young people, will most certainly continue to increase.”
Beemyn, the coordinator of Campus Pride’s Trans Policy Clearinghouse and director of the Stonewall Center at UMass Amherst, was given exclusive access by the Common App to analyze gender identity and pronoun data.
Beemyn identified transgender men as applicants who indicated their legal sex as female and their gender identity as male. Transgender women were individuals who indicated their legal sex as male and their gender identity as female.
“The goal for all colleges should be that no student is misnamed or misgendered by the institution in areas within its control, including mail, email, and in-person communications; course rosters and advisee lists; housing assignments; online directories; ID cards; and diplomas,” said Beemyn.
Though this is the first application cycle where the Common App has asked for gender identity, the report notes that other sources, like the American College Health Association (ACHA), have shown the number of students openly identifying as transgender and nonbinary has been increasing. According to the ACHA, there was a 3% increase – from 1.6% to 4.6% – in students who identified as trans or nonbinary from fall 2016 to fall 2021.
According to a 2022 Gallup poll, 20.8% of Generation Z identifies as LGBTQ – by far the most of any age group and an over 10% increase compared to 2017. Of the Gen Z respondents who identified as queer, 2.1% identified as transgender – with most, 15%, identifying as bisexual.
Shane Windmeyer, founder and CEO of Campus Pride, applauded the Common App for its “evolution to be more equitable and inclusive in college admissions applications.”
“Collecting data around gender identity represents a more holistic, intersectional approach to all students and allows campuses to take responsibility for trans and nonbinary students,” he said. “At a time when trans youth are being targeted across the country in the most inhumane ways, this new report sends a clear message that trans people deserve recognition, respect – and, most importantly, their inclusion and safety matters.”
The Common App plans to add “X” or “another legal sex” as an option, in addition to “female” and “male” for the 2023-2024 application season.
Trevor Project CEO sacked re: ‘workplace well-being’ concerns
There was “staff dissatisfaction, particularly as it relates to the organization’s quick large-scale growth & the burden it put on employees”
WASHINGTON – The board of directors of the Trevor Project has “elected to make a change in leadership” by removing from office it’s chief executive officer and executive director since 2017, Amit Paley, according to a statement released to the Washington Blade.
The Blade reached out to Trevor Project, which describes itself on its website as the world’s largest suicide prevention and mental health organization for LGBTQ young people, for comment after the publication Teen Vogue broke the news about Paley’s dismissal in a Nov. 4 story.
The story cited an unidentified source familiar with the organization as saying the dismissal was brought about following “staff dissatisfaction, particularly as it relates to the organization’s quick large-scale growth and the burden it put on employees.”
In its statement to the Blade, which is identical to the one it sent to Teen Vogue, Trevor Project says in recent years it has struggled to provide its services for LGBTQ youth at risk for suicide in the midst of a hostile political climate in which LGBTQ youth and their families are under attack.
“The Trevor Project is currently facing a period of transition, rethinking how to sustainably grow our 24/7 crisis services to respond to the public health crisis of LGBTQ youth suicide and address the mental health disparities impacting these youth,” the statement says.
“In 2017, the organization averaged less than 200 inbound crisis contacts per day; in 2022, it’s averaging more than 2,000 crisis contacts pers day,” the statement continues.
“This intense climate has led to significant stress on our organization, and many members of our staff have raised concerns about workplace well-being, professional development, prioritization performance metrics and resourcing compensation — particularly as they impact our BIPOC [Black, indigenous and people of color], transgender, nonbinary and disabled team members,” the statement says.
“While a comprehensive, independent review of the Trevor Project is being conducted, the board of directors elected to make a change in leadership,” it says, while making no specific mention that it dismissed Paley.
In response to a request by the Blade for comment, Paley arranged for a communications firm representing him to send the Blade the same statement he released to Teen Vogue.
“It has been the honor of a lifetime to lead the Trevor Project’s life-saving team for over five years,” Paley’s statement says.
It points out that under his tenure, the organization expanded its services by launching a “24/7 digital crisis service, created a ground-breaking research department, expanded the world’s largest campaign to end conversion therapy and grew our team from 50 employees to over 500.”
The statement, which makes no mention of the reported concerns raised by employees, concludes by saying, “the Trevor Project’s vital work is needed now more than ever, and I will always remain deeply committed to the organization’s vision of a world where all LGBTQ young people see a bright future for themselves.”
The Trevor Project’s statement, meanwhile, says until a permanent CEO is identified, Peggy Rajski, one of Trevor Project’s founders and longtime board member, will serve as interim CEO. It says Gina Muñoz, the board’s chair emeritus, will serve as special assistant to the interim CEO.
Teen Vogue reports in its Nov. 4 story that two sources familiar with the Trevor Project said at some point prior to Paley’s removal, more than 200 employees signed a letter to the board expressing dissatisfaction with Paley’s leadership.
An earlier article by Teen Vogue published on July 25 reports that some staff members at that time were calling on Paley to resign after news surfaced that he worked prior to joining the Trevor Project for the corporate consulting firm McKinsey and Co. helping the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma increase its sales of opioid drugs.
With many LGBTQ youth, along with other young people, dying from the overdose of opioid drugs across the country, some of the Trevor Project staffers thought it was hypocritical for Paley to join the Trevor Project as CEO shortly after promoting the sale of opioids, the Teen Vogue article reports.
The article reports Paley sent an email to the staff after news about his links to opioid sales surfaced, stating, “If I knew then what I know now, I would not have agreed to do any consulting work for [Purdue] and I regret that I did.”
At the time Paley became Trevor Project’s CEO in 2017 and during his first few years there, Trevor Project had offices in West Hollywood, Calif., and New York City, with a smaller office in D.C. But according to spokesperson Tali Mackay, currently, “the Trevor Project is fully remote, and we do not have physical offices.”
One former employee who spoke to the Blade on condition of not being identified said most concern raised by staff members about Paley was not because he wanted to expand the Trevor Project’s programs to meet the needs of a growing number of clients.
The main concern, the former staffer said, was his perceived inability or unwillingness to address the needs of the staff, including transgender staff members who felt their specific needs weren’t being met.
“It’s hard to make that kind of growth,” the former staffer said. “And I think he had a vision, but that vision had to turn inward more than outward sometimes.”
Both Paley and the Trevor Project officials declined to comment further than what they said in the statements they released, their respective spokespersons said.
Vice-President Kamala Harris commits to fighting ‘epidemic of hate’
Harris denounced the “vicious attack” on Paul Pelosi saying it “speaks to what HRC stands for- work we will still need to do to fight hate”
WASHINGTON – Vice President Kamala Harris committed to fighting the “powerful forces trying to take our country backwards” in prepared remarks Saturday during the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) National Dinner in Washington, D.C.
“The very existence of LGBTQ+ people is under assault,” Harris said from the stage of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. She decried the “epidemic of hate” that has gripped this country while celebrating the intersectional work that has been undertaken by HRC and the Biden-Harris administration.
“This next chapter of HRC is going to center liberty and equality for all, with no exceptions,” incoming HRC President Kelley Robinson said. Speaking just before the vice president’s address, she rejected incrementalism and highlighted the importance of strengthening the movement with coalition building and grassroots organizing.
Robison – who after taking the helm on November 28 will be the first Black queer woman to lead America’s largest LGBTQ+ organization – previously served as executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She was introduced on stage by Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson.
Other speakers from HRC rounded out the program along with the evening’s honorees, who included Abbi Jacobson, Chanté Adams, and George Takei.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was slated to headline the national dinner together with the vice president, but a spokesperson confirmed to the Washington Blade on Friday that she would not be able to attend.
Early that morning, an intruder violently assaulted Pelosi’s husband after breaking into the couple’s San Francisco home. The Speaker was in Washington at the time. Mr. Pelosi, 82, was hospitalized with a skull fracture but is expected to make a full recovery.
On Saturday, the Speaker’s office published a “Dear colleague” letter thanking fellow members for their support and expressing gratitude for the “quick response” of law enforcement and emergency services personnel.
Harris began her comments by denouncing the “vicious attack” on Paul Pelosi. It “speaks to what HRC stands for, which is the work that we will still need to do to fight hate” while sending the message that there is no place for political violence in America, she said.
“Our HRC family is thinking of Speaker Pelosi, her husband and her family – and sending love and support their way,” HRC Interim President Joni Madison tweeted on Friday. Robinson shared the message on Twitter, adding her own words of encouragement and well-wishes.
The National Dinner is HRC’s largest annual fundraiser. The organization has hosted the event each year since 1997, apart from a two-year hiatus from 2020 to 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous speakers have included Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Maya Angelou, John Lewis, Rosie O’Donnell, and Sally Field.
Madison has led HRC since the termination of former president Alphonso David last year over his alleged involvement in helping to cover up sexual harassment allegations against former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during his tenure as Cuomo’s chief counsel.
Remembering Matthew Shepard; His Gen Z legacy & spirit lives on
Spirit of Matthew Award, is given to “one truly inspiring young person, whose courage, commitment, & outspoken leadership reminds us of Matt”
DENVER – This past weekend the Matthew Shepard Foundation held its annual gala to uphold and honor the forever 21-year-old gay University of Wyoming freshman who was brutally murdered twenty-four years ago.
Wednesday’s date, today, marks the day Shepard died in a hospital ICU five days after he had been pistol-whipped, beaten and then left for dead tied to a fence on the prairie outside of Laramie, Wyoming, becoming the victim of one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in American history.
Matthew Shepard’s passion to foster a more caring and just world became the mission of his parents Judy and Dennis, who founded the non-profit months after their son’s death, to carry that hope filled message forward to the generations of LGBTQ+ youth who would follow.
The Shepard family’s tireless advocacy including their mission of erasing hate for people from all walks of life, young and old, and the passage of a federal hate crimes law named for Matthew, has also extended into ensuring that LGBTQ+ youth will have safe spaces and find acceptance.
One of the honors that the Matthew Shepard Foundation bestows annually at its gala, the Spirit of Matthew Award, is given to “one truly inspiring young person, whose courage, commitment, and outspoken leadership reminds us of Matt,” and this year’s honoree has an impressive track record in fighting for LGBTQ+ rights in his home state of Florida.
Eighteen-year-old LGBTQ+ activist, Zander Moricz, made national headlines when his high school administrators forbade him from mentioning his sexuality in a graduation speech. After significant news coverage when he cleverly worked his curly hair into the speech implying by not directly referencing his being gay, Moricz was invited to Washington, DC by U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to deliver his speech in its original form.
Moricz also joined a lawsuit as one of its youngest plaintiffs challenging the Florida law known as ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ which has been targeted by a coalition of legal and LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, high-powered law firms, and 16 state attorneys general. The lawsuit was dismissed last week by a federal court on a technicality but the judge left the option open for a revised version to be filed again.
He has also partnered with another LGBTQ+ teen activist, Syracuse, New York teen Tyler Johnson, who also made headlines when Johnson’s high school principal Mike O’Brien called a meeting with him to inform him that he could not write about his experiences growing up gay, per a districtwide policy governing communication about sexuality, illicit drugs, and other subjects.
The two teens are using their social media platforms to bring attention to discrimination and injustice, maximizing their reach by connecting with influential activists and government officials, and then pursuing litigation in hopes of winning legal protections for their peers and future generations of LGBTQ+ youth.
In his acceptance speech from 2022 Spirit of Matthew Award Saturday evening, Moricz said in part:
“Our community only exists because of our tireless pursuit of visibility, and because of that, because we have never been able to take our togetherness for granted, our community is strong. We channel this strength into our resistance for existence; day after day, generation after generation, we have forever had to strive to survive. We have forever had to embrace radical optimism, believing tomorrow will be better than today, even if today was worse than yesterday.
We’ve learned to transform tragedy into trajectory–refusing to allow those we’ve lost to become lost to history. When beautiful people like Matthew are stolen from us, beautiful people like Judy and Dennis position a purpose within their pain. We mobilize as we mourn, and we grow as we grieve. When thunder cracks its whips and lightning licks its lips, we rise to meet ugliness with beauty and we form rainbows so that those who are hiding from the storm know it is safe to come out. Today, right now, we are carving a rainbow through some of the grayest days we’ve seen in years.
It is my promise that we will bring the Spirit of Matthew into our work, creating leadership and preventing suffering like his. It is my promise that we will not further but finish his fight, so that the legacy we carry on behalf of his family is the one it always should have been, which is not Matthew’s tragedy but his vision, his practice: unconditional, inclusive love.”
24/7 crisis services for LGBTQ+ youth in Mexico launches
“Emphasis is on cultural competency and understanding of the life experiences for the LGBTQ+ community and youth in Mexico”
TIZAYUCA, Hidalgo, Mexico – Mateo seems to be an average adolescent guy, at least in outward appearances and love of football as soccer is known here. But he keeps a deeply personal part of himself, “mi verdadero yo” (my real self) away from even his closest friends and family instead only divesting himself of his protective cloak on his weekend forays into the Zona Rosa of Mexico City, a neighborhood that is center of LGBTQ+ life in the Mexican capital city about an hour and a half away.
Mateo is gay and his family is homophobic as are many of his local friends and acquaintances in Tizayuca where he lives.
The stress and strain of being gay at times can be overwhelming he says although he can escape surreptitiously when he’s at home by binge watching LGBTQ content on Netflix and other platforms. Still Mateo says, there are those moments when he felt nothing but despair, helpless, and no one to talk to.
It was his journeys into the Zona Rosa neighborhood and his online LGBTQ+ friends on Instagram that saved him more than once in those bleak intervals. Still he says a way to connect with counselors is badly needed especially in places in his country that don’t have access for LGBTQ+ youth to a gayborhood and a support system of community.
For Mateo and countless other LGBTQ+ youth in the 32 states that make-up Mexico not having a central safe space and people who understand changed as today, on National Coming Out Day, The Trevor Project announced the official launch of its free, confidential, 24/7 digital crisis services for LGBTQ young people in the country.
For the first time in its 25 year history of service to LGBTQ+ youth, Trevor has expanded its crisis intervention services for LGBTQ youth outside of the United States. According to official figures from the National Survey on Sexual and Gender Diversity (ENDISEG), 28.7% of the LGBTQ population in Mexico has thought about or attempted suicide in their lifetime, and as is the case in the U.S., suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people in Mexico.
The Los Angeles Blade had an opportunity to speak with Jess Leslie, Head of International Digital Crisis Services for the Trevor Project. Leslie told the Blade that groundwork to build out the new Mexico City-based Trevor Project Mexico placed emphasis on cultural competency, recognition of the need for a integrated enterprise structure employed via SMS text messaging, WhatsApp, and online chat.
The approach to engagement with LGBTQ+ youth in the country Leslie said was a “whole of Mexico” team comprised of crisis counselors “coming from a cultural humble place.”
Leslie acknowledged that there are shortcomings in Internet communications access throughout Mexico as according to a 2021 study by Stanford University found that there were more than 90 million internet users, that is, approximately 71 percent of its inhabitants, yet access points were limited in the more rural states. But she pointed out that by setting up through the three primary means of communication, SMS text messaging, WhatsApp, and the online ‘Trevor chat” LGBTQ+ youth will have the means to communicate with counselors.
Offering a safe space and with a staff entirely of LGBTQ+ Mexicans led by Edurne Balmori, Executive Director of The Trevor Project Mexico, whose career resume noted numerous accolades and has a powerful track record in business, the 55 member in-country team which includes 35 experienced crisis counselors will be able to have positive impact Leslie noted.
She added The Trevor Project Mexico will rely on a volunteer-based model in which counselors will undergo extensive training and implement an evidence-based crisis support model.
“Emphasis is on cultural competency and understanding of the life experiences for the LGBTQ+ community and youth in Mexico,” Leslie added.
In a press release announcing the project on Tuesday, Balmori said;”Today we celebrate the activation of our services in Mexico, kicking off what we hope will be a global social movement around suicide prevention. For many LGBTQ youth in the country, expressing themselves and simply being who they are can put their physical safety and mental wellness at risk. At The Trevor Project Mexico, we will strive to end the stigma around the issue of mental health, provide LGBTQ youth with a safe and trusted space, and ultimately save lives.”
“It’s incredibly inspiring to see our vision of providing life-affirming crisis services to LGBTQ young people beyond the U.S. being realized today with our launch in Mexico. This is a major milestone in our goal to end the global public health crisis of LGBTQ youth suicide,” said Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director of The Trevor Project. “The Trevor Project is committed to building a world where every single LGBTQ young person has access to resources that affirm who they are, and we couldn’t be more optimistic about the impact we’ll have on this journey to support more LGBTQ young people around the world.”
Leslie tells the Blade, the most important thing is that LGBTQ+ youth are afforded the opportunity to have access to all the services that The Trevor Project has.
In the press release, Trevor noted that it is leveraging its relationships with several of its existing corporate and technology partners to enable and support this international work.
Of note, Google.org announced a renewed grant of $2 million this week, designed specifically to help scale The Trevor Project’s life-saving work to new international geographies. This grant will make Google.org a lead funder of the organization’s international work.
In addition, The Trevor Project was able to build and customize its crisis services platform for Mexico using Twilio Flex.
In an interview last Spring with NBC News when Trevor executives first announced the expansion into Mexico, Cristian González Cabrera, who researches LGBTQ rights in Latin America for Human Rights Watch, told NBC there’s still “a lot to be done” and that The Trevor Project’s expansion in Mexico will be “very welcome.”
“Legal advances don’t always translate to social or lived progress for LGBTQ people in the region,” Cabrera said referring to the fact that same-sex marriage has been legalized in at least a dozen of Mexico’s 32 states. “Mexico remains a conservative country in certain aspects and regions, and LGBTQ people continue to experience all sorts of discrimination in all sectors of life, whether that’s education, health care, in the job market, et cetera.”
Rainbow Youth Project ‘walks the walk’
“It has been really hard to see the progress LGBTQ people made, just to watch Republicans try to rip that out from under us”
INDIANAPOLIS – As students across Virginia staged a mass walkout on Sept. 27, protesting Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s new restrictive guidelines on transgender students, Rainbow Youth Project sent a tweet showing “unwavering support and appreciation” to the young people taking a stand for the LGBTQ community.
But the group was doing much more than social media work that day. In Norfolk, Va., the organization’s legislative liaison, Rebecca W., had her rainbow Chuck Taylor Converse on the ground, standing side-by-side with the students.
During her time in the coastal city, Rebecca – who requested her last name not be printed due to privacy concerns – spoke with a 15-year-old transgender student who would see the direct effects of Youngkin’s rewrite of the state’s model policies. The guidelines would ban transgender students from using facilities that align with their gender identity and prohibit them from changing their names and pronouns at school without a parent’s permission.
Rebecca recalled asking the student what her biggest concern with the policy was. The student looked at her and said: “I don’t think people understand. The boys don’t want me in their areas. The girls don’t want me in their areas. I have no space.”
“That actually got me just now,” she told the Los Angeles Blade.
The Rainbow Youth Project, in seven months, has deployed its small but dedicated group across the country to “build and foster accepting and welcoming communities for our young LGBTQIA+ siblings and their families,” according to its website. The organization, which is based in Indianapolis, says it’s dedicated to “walking the walk” as it pursues its goal to inspire and support the LGBTQ community.
“It’s not phone calls and emails,” Rebecca said. “It’s, let’s put boots to pavement; let’s walk the walk; let’s do what we can to make a difference.”
Most of the small staff also have one thing in common: They attempted suicide as teens because of difficulty accepting their queer identities.
“We know what those hardships are like; we’ve come through them. We’re all, for lack of a better term, extremely successful in our private lives and our professional lives,” Christopher Cooper, Rainbow Youth Project’s director of legal and legislative initiatives, told the Blade. “We know that it’s possible to come out of that and actually do something with your life. To help others to do that is something that we take to heart.”
One of the organization’s functions is suicide prevention, including emergency counselors. Rainbow Youth Project also has a legal and legislative side – where Rebecca and Cooper work – in addition to other mental health services and transgender health care assistance.
“We take it on a personal level,” Rebecca said. “It’s not just another case. It’s not just another situation. Everyone truly cares.”
As legislative liaison, Rebecca is in charge of tracking the hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills in statehouses across the country. The legislation overwhelmingly targets transgender youth, from blocking participation in sports to baring access to gender-affirming care. Lawmakers have also attempted, and in some cases passed, legislation limiting how LGBTQ+ issues can be taught in schools and keeping transgender kids from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
“It’s basically addressing the legislative part and how we can make a positive impact and try to challenge [the legislation] as best possible,” she said.
Rebecca’s job also involves a lot of travel. After Virginia, for example, she took a plane to Oklahoma City and met with one of the teens in the group’s mental health program. He and his immediate family were experiencing hardship at a local hospital.
“One of the things that makes this job probably the most delightful is every day is different,” she said. “It’s spontaneous; It’s constantly evolving; and it truly depends on what’s going on in the world.”
Cooper, on the other hand, focuses on legal initiatives, mainly claims of discrimination. His services extend to LGBTQ adults, as well as youth.
“I analyze those situations and determine if we should take legal action on behalf of that client,” he said. “Quite frankly, most of the time, a simple letter will work. But, other times we have to get involved.”
Earlier this year, Cooper began helping a transgender man from Dallas, Chris Sederberg, who was a trucker for a company headquartered in Alabama.
In May, Sederberg crossed paths with a former boss, who mistakenly took his load earlier in the day. “This was the first time I actually had to even step within five feet of him in about two years because we avoided each other,” Sederberg told the Blade.
While speaking with the foreman, Sederberg alleges his former boss used she/her pronouns when referring to him. It was “right there in the middle of the yard where everybody was,” Sederberg said.
Sederberg said he gave the man a “you need to stop” look, but he kept going. The situation continued to escalate until Sederberg’s former boss yelled, “What do you want me to call you a guy?” The man, according to Sederberg, wanted to physically fight him on the yard.
After being outed, Sederberg said he faced harassment at work, so he took to TikTok, pleading for help. That’s how he got in contact with Rainbow Youth Project’s founder, Lance, who connected Sederberg with Cooper – who is still working on the case. Sederberg, meanwhile, has landed with a new employer that he says is very accepting.
“The company was actually very excited to have a transgender person working for them,” Cooper said. “It was absolutely amazing. They were literally celebrating this, which was incredible.”
According to Lance, the group wants to expand its legal initiatives. “Litigation is far too often the only substantive recourse for claims of discrimination and the process can be both time-consuming and costly,” he said, adding: “As financial resources become available, we hope to expand this program in an effort to make a larger and more positive impact on the lives of LGBTQIA+ young people and adults.”
Cooper and Rebecca have extensive experience in their respective fields. Cooper has been practicing law for nearly three decades, starting his career with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and then shifting to private practice. Rebecca has built her career in advocacy.
Both said Rainbow Youth Project’s mission was not something they could pass up – even though, when they joined, the group had no track record. Rebecca recalls Lance telling her: “This is what I want to do. This is how I’m going to do it. We’re going to be small, you’re not gonna have million dollar budgets. But you’re gonna have a chance to make a difference.”
Rebecca told him she would give the organization 90 days. “That was in April, and I have no plans of going anywhere,” she said.
“Working from a cubicle somewhere, you don’t actually get to see that impact up close and personal,” Rebecca said. “You can see it on paper; you can see it in reports; and you can see it in statistics. But here you are right face to face with that impact. And that makes a difference that is just immeasurable.”
Rebecca said it has been really hard to see the progress LGBTQ people made, just to watch “Republicans try to rip that out from under us after we had it for a few years.”
From bills targeting transgender youth to record bans of LGBTQ-themed books, activists have warned the U.S. is taking a step backward. Over the summer, those fears increased dramatically after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Constitutional right to an abortion. In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the high court “should reconsider” its rulings on same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships.
“It took a long 20, 30 year fight to attain those rights,” Rebecca said. “Now to see that rug pulled out from under us – not only the young people who are viciously under attack, but that attack is towards the whole community. To see that is terrifying.”
At a recent staff meeting, Rebecca asked Rainbow Youth Project’s principal team: “Do you guys see a light at the end of this tunnel?”
Lance, the group’s founder, responded: “Do we care?”
“I just kind of thought, what does he mean?” Rebecca said. “Then it made perfect sense to me. Whether there’s a silver lining or not, there’s kids’ lives at stake. And we just keep fighting for those kids – period – whether we actually can see the silver lining or not. We hope for it. But we don’t have to expect it in order to fight and stand up for these kids.”
Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman, named president of HRC
Human Rights Campaign announces its next president after a year-long search after the board of directors terminated its former president
WASHINGTON – Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman and veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, is to become the next president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBTQ group announced on Tuesday.
Robinson is set to become the ninth president of the Human Rights Campaign after having served as executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and more than 12 years of experience as a leader in the progressive movement. She’ll be the first Black, queer woman to serve in that role.
“I’m honored and ready to lead HRC — and our more than three million member-advocates — as we continue working to achieve equality and liberation for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people,” Robinson said. “This is a pivotal moment in our movement for equality for LGBTQ+ people. We, particularly our trans and BIPOC communities, are quite literally in the fight for our lives and facing unprecedented threats that seek to destroy us.”
The next Human Rights Campaign president is named as Democrats are performing well in polls in the mid-term elections after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving an opening for the LGBTQ group to play a key role amid fears LGBTQ rights are next on the chopping block.
“The overturning of Roe v. Wade reminds us we are just one Supreme Court decision away from losing fundamental freedoms including the freedom to marry, voting rights, and privacy,” Robinson said. “We are facing a generational opportunity to rise to these challenges and create real, sustainable change. I believe that working together this change is possible right now. This next chapter of the Human Rights Campaign is about getting to freedom and liberation without any exceptions — and today I am making a promise and commitment to carry this work forward.”
The Human Rights Campaign announces its next president after a nearly year-long search process after the board of directors terminated its former president Alphonso David when he was ensnared in the sexual misconduct scandal that led former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign. David has denied wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against the LGBTQ group alleging racial discrimination.
“Kelley is widely respected for her work and leadership creating diverse winning coalitions, building political power with a focus on underserved and the most marginalized communities, and creating programs that change culture,” HRC Board Chairs Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson said Tuesday in a joint statement.
ONE Archives Foundation names Tony Valenzuela as its new head
Will be the first Latinx person to lead ONE Archives Foundation as it readies to mark its 70th anniversary in November 2022
LOS ANGELES – The LA-based ONE Archives Foundation, the oldest active LGBTQ+ organization in the United States announced Tuesday that the organization had selected a new executive director to succeed outgoing long-time Executive Director Jennifer C. Gregg.
Tony Valenzuela has been named as its new Executive Director. Valenzuela, a longtime LGBTQ+ activist and nonprofit leader is the first Latinx person to lead ONE Archives Foundation as it readies to mark its 70th anniversary in November 2022. Valenzuela succeeds Gregg, who had been the organization’s head since 2016.
“Tony is admired and loved by the LGBTQ+ nonprofit community,” said Chiedu Egbuniwe, Board Chair of ONE Archives Foundation. “With unparalleled leadership experience, strong relationships, and boundless enthusiasm, Tony is the ideal leader for the organization. We are excited to work with him in our mission to keep queer history visible and to advance our vision of a safe future for all LGBTQ+ people.”
Valenzuela was most recently the Executive Director of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit the Foundation for The AIDS Monument (FAM), which is dedicated to installing a world-class monument in West Hollywood Park to memorialize lost loved ones and educating the public about the historical achievements of HIV/AIDS activist communities. Prior to FAM, he served as the Executive Director of Lambda Literary, the nation’s premier queer literary arts nonprofit, leading the organization for nearly a decade of sustained growth. While at Lambda Literary, Valenzuela founded the LGBTQ+ Writers in Schools program, the first ever queer educational initiative in the K-12 New York City public schools system.
“I’m thrilled to step into the role of Executive Director at ONE Archives Foundation as this storied organization prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary,” said Valenzuela. “Although our work for social justice is never done, understanding our LGBTQ+ history provides us with inspiration and a roadmap to combat the prejudice and discrimination we continue to face today.”
Founded in 1952, ONE Archives Foundation is the oldest active LGBTQ+ organization in the United States and is dedicated to telling the accurate stories and history of all LGBTQ+ people and their culture. As an independent nonprofit, ONE Archives Foundation promotes ONE Archives at the USC Libraries — the largest repository of LGBTQ+ materials in the world — and provides innovative educational initiatives, public exhibitions, and community programs.
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