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U.S. Parole Commission says no to man who murdered gay sailor in 1992

The commission received at least 110 email messages & over 30 phone calls from members of the community expressing strong opposition to parole

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Graphic via the U.S. Parole Commission

WASHINGTON – A five-member U.S. Parole Commission voted 4-1 on March 7 to deny parole to a former U.S. Navy sailor sentenced to life in prison for the 1992 anti-gay murder of fellow U.S. Navy sailor Allen Schindler while the two were stationed in Japan.

The decision by the Parole Commission, which is an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, came 18 days after a Feb. 17 hearing in which one of its members issued a recommendation that former Navy Airman Apprentice Terry M. Helvey be approved for parole and released from prison Oct. 26, 2022.

Schindler’s surviving mother, sister, and niece, who strongly opposed parole for Helvey, noted that the one commission member’s recommendation for parole marked the first time such a recommendation had been made in the 29 years since Helvey pleaded guilty to the murder in exchange for an offer by military prosecutors not to seek the death penalty.

After becoming alarmed that the commission might approve parole, for which Helvey has applied and for which he has been denied nearly every two years for the past 20 years, the Schindler family members immediately reached out to the LGBTQ community and others asking people to send email messages and letters to the Parole Commission opposing parole for Helvey.

Terry M. Helvey pleaded guilty to the 1992 murder of gay Navy sailor Allen Schindler. (Blade file photo)

Kathy Eickhoff, Schindler’s sister, told the Washington Blade that a Parole Commission staff member informed her that the commission received at least 110 email messages and over 30 phone calls from members of the community expressing strong opposition to parole for Terry Helvey.

A spokesperson for the Parole Commission couldn’t immediately be reached for comment to determine the official reason it decided to deny parole for Helvey.

At the time of the murder, Naval investigators disclosed that Helvey and another one of Schindler’s shipmates, Airman Charles Vins, attacked Schindler on Oct. 27, 1992, in a men’s bathroom at a public park in Sasebo, Japan near where their ship, the U.S.S. Bellow Wood, was docked.

According to a Naval investigative report, a witness saw Helvey repeatedly stomp on Schindler’s head and body inside the bathroom. An autopsy later found Schindler’s head and face were crushed beyond recognition, requiring that his body be identified by a known tattoo on his arm.

The attack and murder took place after Schindler, 22, had been subjected to harassment and threats of violence on board the ship when rumors surfaced on the ship that Schindler was gay, and the ship’s captain ignored Schindler’s request for protection, according to information that surfaced after the murder.

One of the Naval investigators presented evidence that Helvey admitted to disliking Schindler when Helvey was interrogated shortly after his arrest. “He said he hated homosexuals,” the investigator said in a report, quoting Helvey as saying, “I don’t regret it. I would do it again…He deserved it.”

Helvey was sentenced to life in prison after he accepted the offer to plead guilty with prosecutors saying they would not seek the death penalty, which could have been pursued under military law.

Vins, the other sailor implicated in Schindler’s murder, argued through his lawyer that he was an accomplice to the murder but did not physically assault Schindler. He pleaded guilty to three lesser charges, including failure to report a serious crime, as part of a separate plea bargain offered by prosecutors. He was sentenced to one year in prison and was released after serving 78 days.

Eickhoff, Schindler’s sister, said she, her daughter, Cheryl Lagunas, who was 7 years old when her beloved uncle was murdered, and their mother, Dorothy Clausen, have been going through a parole hearing ritual every two years for nearly the past 20 years by submitting testimony and often attending the parole hearings for Helvey to express their opposition to the parole.

The most recent hearing on Feb. 17, in which one of the Parole Commission members recommended parole, was held at the Federal Correctional Institution in Greenville, Ill., where Helvey is currently being held as an inmate.

“I just want to thank everyone who wrote a letter for my Uncle Allen,” Cheryl Lagunas stated in a March 7 Facebook posting. “I am so happy to share that today Terry Helvey was DENIED PAROLE…I am overjoyed and so appreciative of all of you,” she continued.

“Terry Helvey will have another parole hearing in 2 years, 2024. So, I’m hoping to count on you guys again, for this unfortunately [is] never over,” she wrote. “All my love to you guys xoxo – Cheryl.” Next to her name, Cheryl Lagunas added a drawing of a hamburger wrapped inside a bun with cheese on it.

“The cheeseburger after her name is because Allen called her his little cheeseburger,” her mother told the Blade.

Longtime gay activist Michael Petrelis of San Francisco has been credited with leading efforts to pressure the Navy into releasing information about the Schindler murder, the anti-gay threats that Schindler faced on his ship and calls for the Navy to officially confirm that the motive of the killing was anti-gay hatred that activists say the Navy withheld at the time of the murder.

Much of the information that observers believe the Navy withheld from the public was confirmed in a 900-page Naval investigative report that Petrelis released in 2015 after he obtained it through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“The brutal death of Allen Schindler for daring to live authentically as a gay member of the U.S. Navy before the ban on LGBT people was lifted, at the hands of Terry Helvey, who pleaded guilty to the murder, demands that for justice to be served he remain incarcerated,” Petrelis said in a statement.

“It would have been an outrage if the U.S. Parole Commission granted him release around the date 30-years ago when Schindler was killed out of hatred,” Petrelis said. “My thoughts are with Allen’s mother Dorothy, sister Kathy and their family.”

Eickhoff said that during his Feb. 17 parole hearing, Helvey, who is now 50 years old, expressed remorse as he has in previous parole hearings for what he did 29 years ago and claimed he is a different person.

She said the parole commission member who conducted the hearing stated that 30 years of incarceration in a federal prison, which Helvey will have completed on Oct. 26 of this year, when the commission member recommended he be approved for parole, sometimes becomes a threshold for when a prisoner becomes eligible for parole under federal law.

Noting that she and her family will once again go through the process of opposing parole for Helvey in 2024, Eickhoff added, “Twenty-nine years ago, we thought that was it” when Helvey was sentenced to life in prison. “But no, that’s not what happened.”

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Federal Government

Biden Administration proposes expanded LGBTQ+ student protections

The proposal is certain to be challenged by the right-wing and it is expected to lead to new legal fights over the rights of trans students

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U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona (Screenshot/YouTube CBS News)

WASHINGTON – The Biden Administration announced that it is proposing overhauling provisions of rules and guidance expanding Title IX protections for LGBTQ students, a dramatic overhaul of campus sexual assault rules, and bolstering rules governing colleges’ responsibilities in addressing sexual misconduct.

In making the announcement for the proposed changes on Thursday, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said, “As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this landmark law, our proposed changes will allow us to continue that progress and ensure all our nation’s students — no matter where they live, who they are, or whom they love — can learn, grow, and thrive in school.”

In the previous Trump Administration, then U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had issued a controversial new policy in May 2020 that created new rules mandating how schools and universities responded to complaints of sexual misconduct and bolstered the rights of the accused and narrowing the scope of cases colleges are required to investigate.

The Associated Press had reported under the new rules, the definition of sexual harassment is narrowed to include “unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that it denies a person access to a school’s education programs or activity.

The rules received pushback from opponents including the National Women’s Law Center. “We refuse to go back to the days when rape and harassment in schools were ignored and swept under the rug,” Fatima Goss Graves, the group’s president and CEO told the Associated Press. “We won’t let DeVos succeed in requiring schools to be complicit in harassment, turning Title IX from a law that protects all students into a law that protects abusers and harassers.”

The proposed regulations would:

  • Clearly protect students and employees from all forms of sex discrimination.
  • Provide full protection from sex-based harassment.
  • Protect the right of parents and guardians to support their elementary and secondary school children.
  • Require schools to take prompt and effective action to end any sex discrimination in their education programs or activities – and to prevent its recurrence and remedy its effects.
  • Protect students and employees who are pregnant or have pregnancy-related conditions.
  • Require schools to respond promptly to all complaints of sex discrimination with a fair and reliable process that includes trained, unbiased decisionmakers to evaluate the evidence.
  • Require schools to provide supportive measures to students and employees affected by conduct that may constitute sex discrimination, including students who have brought complaints or been accused of sex-based harassment.
  • Protect LGBTQI+ students from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.
  • Clarify and confirm protection from retaliation for students, employees, and others who exercise their Title IX rights.
  • Improve the adaptability of the regulations’ grievance procedure requirements so that all recipients can implement Title IX’s promise of nondiscrimination fully and fairly in their educational environments.
  • Ensure that schools share their nondiscrimination policies with all students, employees, and other participants in their education programs or activities.

A press release from the Education Secretary’s office, spelled out that the proposed regulations will advance Title IX’s goal of ensuring that no person experiences sex discrimination, sex-based harassment, or sexual violence in education.

As the Supreme Court wrote in Bostock v. Clayton County, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020), it is “impossible to discriminate against a person” on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity without “discriminating against that individual based on sex.”

The regulations will require that all students receive appropriate supports in accessing all aspects of education. They will strengthen protections for LGBTQI+ students who face discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And they will require that school procedures for complaints of sex discrimination, including sexual violence and other sex-based harassment, are fair to all involved.

The new rules proposal is almost certain to be challenged by the right-wing and it is expected to lead to new legal fights over the rights of trans students in schools and universities, especially in sports.

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New Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center set to open in 2024

“The opening of the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center is a remarkable moment in the history of Stonewall”

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NYC Pride participants in front of the Stonewall Inn in 2019 (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

NEW YORK –  Pride Live, a social advocacy and community engagement organization for the LGBTQ+ community, announced plans this week to open the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center (SNMVC).

When open, this will be the first LGBTQ+ visitor center within the National Park Service (NPS), system of parks and monuments. According to organisers, the center marks a landmark achievement and leap forward in American history. The SNMVC is scheduled to open in the summer of 2024 and will occupy nearly 3,700 square feet at 51 Christopher Street, between Waverly Place and 7th Avenue South in New York City.

Pride Live also noted that with support from Google, the groundbreaking ceremony will be livestreamed at YouTube.com/c/pridelive at 10:30AM ET on June 24.

When the Stonewall Rebellion took place on June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was made up of two locations – 53 Christopher Street, where the current Stonewall Inn bar is located today, and 51 Christopher Street.

Located at 51 Christopher Street, the future home of the SNMVC will reunite the historic Stonewall Inn and commemorate the events of the Stonewall Rebellion in their authentic locations.

“The opening of the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center is a remarkable moment in the history of Stonewall,” said Ann Marie Gothard, President of the Pride Live Board of Directors. “We honor all those who came before us, most especially the queer people fighting for equality at the Stonewall Rebellion. The designation as a National Monument and the opening of this visitor center will memorialize their important legacy in the gay rights movement, and we hope will inspire future generations to continue fighting for LGBTQ+ equality.”

In a press release, PrideLive noted: “With a mission to preserve, advance and celebrate the legacy of the Stonewall Rebellion and the Stonewall National Monument, the SNMVC will serve as a beacon for generations to come, providing the unique opportunity to visit the very site where history was made and where the fight for LGBTQ+ equality visibly shifted with new waves of activism. The SNMVC will offer an immersive experience welcoming all people to explore and experience LGBTQ+ history and culture through in-person and virtual tours, lecture series, exhibitions and visual arts displays. In addition, the SNMVC will serve as home base for the dedicated National Park Service Rangers, who are responsible for the preservation of the Stonewall National Monument.”

“The designation of Stonewall as a National Monument is an important step in memorializing an invaluable historical landmark that represents courage, hope and triumph for the LGBTQ community,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “As President Biden declared in Title VII, ‘every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear,’ and the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center will serve as a place where the LGBTQ community can safely gather to celebrate and commemorate its hard-fought history.”

“The new Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center will serve as an important memorial for the Stonewall Uprising, an iconic and pivotal moment in the essential effort to fully realize America’s founding ideal that we are all created equal,” said U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer. “I’m proud New York will be home to the first LGBTQ+ visitor center within the National Park Service, honoring the LGBTQ+ community and their history. As a proud parent of a LGBTQ+ person, I won’t stop fighting against the unprecedented and unjust discrimination the LGBTQ+ community continues to face today.”

Founding supporters of the SNMVC include Google – the first corporate partner to sign on, The Kors Le Pere Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., AARP, Target, David Yurman, Amazon, National Football League, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, United Therapeutics, New York Yankees and global activist and ally Josephine Skriver, who made the inaugural donation to the campaign.

“It’s vital to create safe and inclusive spaces for the LGBTQ community, and we are proud to support the opening of the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center, a space that will memorialize the legacy of Stonewall,” said William Floyd, Senior Director of Public Policy at Google. “This groundbreaking is a significant moment in LGBTQ history, and we are thrilled to share this remarkable occasion with a global audience through our YouTube livestream.”

Designated by President Barack Obama on June 24, 2016, the Stonewall National Monument includes the 0.19-acre formerly known as Christopher Park and the surrounding streets including Christopher Street adjacent to the park. The Stonewall National Monument is the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights and history.

The journey in recognizing LGBTQ+ history as American history was aided by entrepreneur, philanthropist and LGBTQ+ activist Tim Gill.

In 2014, the Gill Foundation recognized a glaring omission of historic LGBTQ sites in the nation’s official records, and the organization made a grant to the National Park Service to commission a first-of-its-kind LGBTQ Theme Study, published in 2016. A separate advocacy campaign to designate the Stonewall National Monument was spearheaded by the National Parks Conservation Association, which worked with elected officials, NPS, historians and community stakeholders, culminating in 2016.

“The Stonewall National Monument provides the LGBTQ+ community with a physical representation of the struggle for justice and equal treatment under the law and in our society,” said Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick. “This place allows for interpretation of the long path that our community has been on and is a way to teach all Americans about who we are. I was proud to be part of the effort to create this monument and am elated to see the groundbreaking of the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center, which will truly make LGBTQ+ history a part of what draws people to New York City and give weight to our historical record.”

“I was proud to champion the effort to designate the first-ever national monument to LGBTQ+ history at the historic site of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City,” said Congressman Jerrold Nadler. “The opening of the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center will allow Americans to learn about these critical events in our history. Now more than ever, it is essential that we recognize the events at Stonewall that launched the modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement here and worldwide. Since President Obama designated the monument, millions of Americans have had the chance to learn about these historic events. This new visitor center will honor the legacy of the brave members of the LGBTQ+ community who fought for their civil rights and support those who continue the fight for full equality today.”

The Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center will be funded by donations from the community and allies. To support this historic effort, please visit www.stonewallvisitorcenter.org or text REBEL to 243725.

For more information, visit www.stonewallvisitorcenter.org

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Federal Government

CDC lifts requirement for COVID-19 test for inbound international travelers

“This step is possible because of the progress we’ve made in our fight against COVID-19,” said U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra

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A British Airways jet at London's Heathrow Airport (Photograph of courtesy of British Airways)

ATLANTA – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) announced Friday evening that it was lifting a pandemic government mandate designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The CDC Order requiring persons to show a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the U.S. will be rescinded, effective on June 12, 2022 at 12:01AM Eastern.

According to a statement from the agency, the COVID-19 pandemic has now shifted to a new phase, due to the widespread uptake of highly effective COVID-19 vaccines, the availability of effective therapeutics, and the accrual of high rates of vaccine- and infection-induced immunity at the population level in the United States.

“This step is possible because of the progress we’ve made in our fight against COVID-19,” said U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra.

Each of these measures has contributed to lower risk of severe disease and death across the United States. As a result, this requirement which was needed at an earlier stage in the pandemic may be withdrawn. 

CDC continues to recommend that those travelers boarding a flight to the U.S. get tested for current infection with a viral test as close to the time of departure as possible (no more than 3 days) and not travel if they are sick.

Roger Dow, president of the US Travel Association, called lifting the testing rule “another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States.”

The Associated Press reported that the airlines argued that the rule was put into effect when few Americans were vaccinated — now 71 percent of those 5 and older are fully vaccinated, according to CDC figures. They also complained that people entering the US at land borders are not required to test negative for Covid-19, although they must show proof of vaccination.

While domestic US travel has returned nearly to pre-pandemic levels, international travel — which is very lucrative for the airlines — has continued to lag. In May, US international air travel remained 24 percent below 2019 levels, with declines among both U.S. and foreign citizens, according to trade group Airlines for America.

Many other countries have lifted their testing requirements for fully vaccinated and boosted travelers in a bid to increase tourism.

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