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Florida middle schoolers post racist photo using N-word to social media

School district officials confirmed the photo was authentic. They said it was taken by students at Hidden Oaks Middle School

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Screenshot/WPBF ABC News 25

STUART, FL. – A picture of six Martin County School District middle school students, each holding up at letter that spells out the highly offensive epithet N-word is circulating on social media and has prompted an investigation by officials.

Dr. John D. Millay, Superintendent of Schools for the Martin County School District in Florida notified the district’s community Tuesday evening after a board meeting regarding actions officials are taking in a statement:

Last night, the Martin County School District launched a comprehensive investigation into the origin and authenticity of an inappropriate and disturbing photo circulating on social media. We are moving with all deliberate speed to interview all those who may have been involved in this shameful incident, and, unfortunately, can confirm that the photo is authentic. We expect to have our investigation finalized within the next 48 hours,” Millay wrote.

(Editor’s note; WARNING: The following image is graphic and is offensive in nature, racial slur.)

Screen capture from a mobile phone posted to Twitter

Students who were involved in this disgraceful incident will be provided the due process afforded under federal and state law, and our investigation will not compromise those rights.

“The District is, however, appalled, and saddened by this incident which is contrary to our values, and the ideals that are instilled in our students.

Upon the completion of its investigation, the District will mete out appropriate disciplinary consequences to any students who participated in this behavior, pursuant to the District’s Code of Student Conduct. Federal law precludes us from identifying specific students and the specific disciplinary actions taken.

The Martin County School District reaffirms, without reservation, to all our students, our families, our employees and this community that the Martin County School District is committed to promoting and maintaining a learning environment free of hateful, racist and discriminatory actions or conduct. We will not condone or allow any conduct that may harass any student or class of students, has the effect of substantially interfering with any student’s educational performance, or has the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of any school.

We have and will continue to enforce a zero-tolerance policy in this regard. I will work towards partnering with the leaders in our community to reinforce our values in this regard and will continue to strive towards fostering a learning environment free of bigotry and racism,” Millay said.

WPBF ABC News 25 reported Tuesday afternoon, school district officials confirmed the photo was authentic. They said it was taken by students at Hidden Oaks Middle School in Palm City.

Officials said the students made the letters in an art class.

“It’s disgusting,” said district spokesperson Jennifer Deshazo. “And it’s against everything that the Martin County School District stands for.”

The president of the Martin County chapter of the NAACP, Jimmy Smith, told 25 News it’s about so much more than just a photo.

“I was very heartbroken,” said Smith. “We all have made mistakes,” Smith said. “But when you get to that degree and that depth to come up with an idea like that, there’s something else going on.”

The incident with the Hidden Oaks Middle School students comes on the heels of racially motivated violence in Buffalo, New York after a gunman radicalized by online hate groups opened fire in a predominately Black Buffalo neighborhood Tops Supermarket killing 10 people.

WPBF ABC News 25:

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Florida

CDC: Meningococcal Disease outbreak investigation in Florida, 7 deaths

Gay & bisexual men urged to get vaccinated if living in Florida, or talk to their healthcare provider about vaccination if traveling to state

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CDC Headquarters, Atlanta (Photo Credit: U.S. Government/GSA)

ATLANTA – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday that the agency is continuing its collaboration with the Florida Department of Health to investigate one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in U.S. history.

At least 24 cases and 7 deaths among gay and bisexual men have been reported so far a CDC spokesperson noted.

In response to this outbreak, CDC is recommending gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men get a meningococcal vaccine if they live in Florida, or talk with their healthcare provider about getting vaccinated if they are traveling to Florida. CDC is also emphasizing the importance of routine vaccination for people with HIV.  

“Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious illness, which can quickly become deadly,” said José R. Romero, M.D., Director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Because of the outbreak in Florida, and the number of Pride events being held across the state in coming weeks, it’s important that gay and bisexual men who live in Florida get vaccinated, and those traveling to Florida talk to their healthcare provider about getting a MenACWY vaccine.” 

People can find a meningococcal vaccine by contacting their doctor’s office, pharmacy, community health center, or local health department. Insurance providers should pay for meningococcal vaccination for those whom it is recommended for during an outbreak. In Florida, anyone can get a MenACWY vaccine at no cost at any county health department during the outbreak.  

Seek medical attention right away if you have symptoms of meningococcal disease. Symptoms can appear suddenly and include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea/vomiting, or a dark purple rash. Symptoms can first appear as a flu-like illness, but typically worsen very quickly. People spread meningococcal bacteria to others by sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit). Generally, it takes close or lengthy contact, such as kissing or being near someone coughing, to spread these bacteria.   

Meningococcal disease can affect anyone and can be deadly and includes infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream. Keeping up to date with recommended vaccines is the best protection against meningococcal disease. 

More information about the outbreak and vaccine is available at Meningococcal Disease in Florida, 2022 | CDC.  

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Florida

Florida proposes eliminating Medicaid coverage for gender affirming care

Should Florida’s Health Care Administration enact the rule, approximately 9,000 trans Floridians insured with Medicaid could be impacted

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Screenshot/WCJB ABC 20 Gainesville

TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) released its Notice for a Proposed Rule to eliminate Medicaid coverage for gender affirming care for transgender Floridians.

AHCA’s rule proposes that Florida Medicaid coverage “does not cover the following services for the treatment of gender dysphoria: puberty blockers, hormones, sex reassignment surgeries, and any other procedures that alter primary or secondary sexual characteristics.” 

If enacted, approximately 9,000 transgender Floridians insured with Medicaid could be impacted.

 “Access to healthcare is a right every human being deserves,” said Equality Florida Director of Transgender Equality Nikole Parker. “Transgender individuals are humans just like everyone else. Just because our experience isn’t widely understood, does not mean we don’t deserve respect and access to life-saving healthcare.  The country’s major medical and mental health associations recognize the critical importance of gender affirming care.  Health care should be driven by scientific consensus, not political pandering or an election cycle.” 

Public comment on the proposed rule is being accepted through July 8, 2022, and can be submitted at the “make comment” link on this page.

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Florida

Anti-LGBTQ laws making Florida less welcoming for businesses

The state LGBTQ+ Business Climate Index is issued annually to help business leaders make equitable decisions about where to operate

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OUT Leadership/Facebook

TALLAHASSEE – In a new report by OUT Leadership, the global network for LGBTQ+ business leaders and companies, the state of Florida’s ranking has decreased at a higher rate than most states making it less suitable for companies who value LGTBQ+ inclusion in the workplace.

The report is called the State LGBTQ+ Business Climate Index for 2022 and is issued annually to help business leaders make equitable decisions about where to operate.

“At a time when our state is recovering from the pandemic and unprecedented employment challenges, this report shows that the current decisions from the state’s leadership about prioritizing culture wars over cultural diversity is harming our reputation as a welcoming and inclusive state to LGBTQ talent, and with companies who truly value equality for their workplace cultures,” said Nadine Smith, Equality Florida Executive Director.

“Our coalition called Equality Means Business was developed to highlight companies in our state that walk the walk when it comes to LGBTQ protections in their places of business,” said Rene Cantu, Equality Florida Business Outreach Manager. “It would be a shame if our corporate partners and their team members start considering moving out of Florida because of the current climate, but there are some who are doing so.”

The report measures such factors as legal/nondiscrimination protections, youth and family support, political and religious attitudes, health access and safety, and workplace culture through the lens of the LGBTQ+ community in each state.

According to this report, Florida’s score for 2022 is 53.43, a drop of 3.40 points from 2021. This score also lies 11 points below the national average of 64.61, and places Florida at a ranking of 31 out of 50. The report further states that the dramatic drop in score is a direct result of the anti-LGBTQ legislation being passed, including the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Though the law does not take effect until July 1, its chilling effects are already being felt across the state. Graduation speeches and yearbook photos have faced censorship in the law’s wake while books with LGBTQ characters and Black authors are being challenged and banned, COEXIST flags and rainbow “Safe Space” stickers are being peeled from classroom windows, and teachers are considering leaving the profession for fear of the law’s implications. 

“The message is clear: LGBTQ kids and kids with same-sex parents are not welcome in Florida schools or our state. That reality is making it harder for pro-equality businesses to operate in the state,” Equality Florida noted in a press release Thursday.

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