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Ukrainian family accused of anti-gay hate crime: “Accusations are false”

Initially the victim told police he was drunk & fell down changing his story 6 months later when he said that he was attacked by the family

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Yevhen Makarenko and son Oleh Makarenko speak with CBS Miami after release from jail. (Screenshot/YouTube CBS Miami)

POMPANO BEACH, Fl. – A family of Ukrainian refugees accused of a vicious hate crime against a gay man have bonded out of jail and are speaking to media outlets in South Florida telling their side of the story, denying that the victim is being truthful.

Inna Makarenko, her husband Yevhen and their youngest son Oleh, who goes by Alex, were accused of a brutal hate crime by the 31-year-old victim who has invoked Marsy’s Law rights and is declining to be named publicly, of attacking him in his apartment in Pompano Beach on or about August 6, 2021.

The victim says he has been left permanently blinded by the assault. The Makarenko’s oldest son Vladyslav, was arrested while in Alabama when the family was taken into custody last Spring, but charges were dropped a few months later when Broward County Sheriff’s Office investigators determined he was out of state at the time of the alleged assault.

CBS Miami reporter Karli Barnett spoke with the Markarenko family, first with Inna who was released from an immigration detention facility on a $10,000 bond. “We were very happy in this country,” she told Barnett. “But our happiness was broken March 10.” That was the date the family was arrested in the alleged assault which prosecutors added a hate crime enhancement because of the victim’s sexual orientation.

According to the arrest documents, 19-year-old Oleh [Alex] Makarenko and the victim had been romantically involved for about nine months, but the victim said Alex told him his father was not accepting him as gay.

Screenshot/YouTube CBS Miami

“I never heard about this person,” Inna told CBS Miami. “Maybe if it was some communication, maybe it was for some reason. I don’t know. I want so much to see my son to hug him and to give him some questions, because I don’t understand.”

Inna explained her son has a fiancée. She also said her family has no malice toward gay people.

“God loves everyone,” she said. She added that they have witnesses that can vouch they were not at the alleged victim’s residence the night of the alleged assault because they were celebrating her daughter’s birthday party. 

“The rule is not working here. Be good, do good, and you will be fine. No,” she said. “One day, someone can just point a finger on you and police can catch you, even without evidence or anything.”

Barnett reported that initially the victim told police he was drunk and fell down changing his story the following February six months later when he said that he was attacked by the Markarenko family.

“He was really a victim from August until February,” said Inna. “But in February, when he came to the police and said it was me and my family who beat him, he became a liar, not victim.”

The Makarenko’s came to the U.S. from Ukraine seeking asylum in 2016. Their next hearing was Friday, August 5th to determine their status. The outcome currently is unknown.

Accused of hate crime against gay man, Pompano Beach family claims “accusations false:”

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Warning label slapped on LGBTQ+ related books by Florida school district

Books receiving these warnings disproportionately include stories featuring LGBTQ+ and titles about communities of color

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Courtesy Stephana Ferrell/Florida Freedom to Read Project

NAPLES – The Collier County Public Schools District in Southwestern Florida which includes the city of Naples, has placed labels that read “Advisory notice to parents” in capital letters on books available to students dealing with race-related and LGBTQ+ themes.

New York City-based PEN America, a nonprofit organization that works to defend and celebrate free expression in the U.S. and worldwide through the advancement of literature, noted that Collier Schools had attached a warning to the description label on over 100 books listed on the district’s online library catalog and physical labels were affixed to hard copies of the same books.

This Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students,” the label states. “This book will also be identified in the Destiny [online access] system with the same notation. The decision as to whether this book is suitable or unsuitable shall be the decision of the parent(s) who has the right to oversee his/her child’s education consistent with state law.”

The books receiving these warnings disproportionately include stories featuring LGBTQ+ characters and plot lines and titles about communities of color.

NBC News Out reported the district began adding the labels in February, after the district’s legal representative spoke with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group that last year issued a “Porn in Schools Report.” 

Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, said in response: “This alarming development is just the latest in an onslaught of attacks against students’ freedom to read in Florida. Even if access to these books is not technically restricted, the labeling of these books risks attaching a stigma to the topics they cover and the books themselves. Under the guise of ‘parental rights,’ interest groups have been empowered by opportunistic elected officials and are now hijacking public schools. Every child deserves the right to learn from a diverse set of voices and perspectives, and to freely access the books they wish to read.”

Children’s books such as Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers and Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love were among titles labeled with a warning. In addition, authors targeted include Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, George Johnson, Ibram Kendi, Ellen Hopkins, Ashley Hope Pérez, Jodi Picoult, Jason Reynolds, Arundhati Roy, and John Updike–among many others. 

PEN America found that a warning to parents was inserted alongside a total of at least 110 titles in the school’s online catalog, saying, “this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students.”

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Florida’s Board of Medicine accepts petition to ban gender affirming care

“The governor’s cynical assault on that care is cruel, unconscionable, and threatens the lives of transgender people across the state”

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Trans advocates rally at Ft. Lauderdale Airport Marriott ahead of FL Board of Medicine vote on affirming healthcare (Photo Credit: Equality Florida)

DANIA BEACH, Fl. – The Florida Board of Medicine on Friday voted to accept a request by Florida’s State Surgeon General for the Board to promulgate a rule prohibiting medical professionals from providing gender-affirming medical care for trans youth.

Hundreds of advocates rallied as the Board voted to initiate the rule-making process and consider a new “standard of care” that may threaten gender-affirming care for transgender minors and could restrict that care for adults.

After an hours-long public hearing, the Board voted 13-1 in favor of accepting the DeSantis Administration’s petition for the rule-making process to begin.

The full board meeting at the Fort Lauderdale Airport Marriott was held in a conference room which saw a packed audience of members of both those in favour of trans-affirming healthcare for minors and those opposed.

“It is as basic as social transition,” said John Harris Maurer of Equality Florida. “Things like names, haircuts, the clothing that people wear, or things like puberty blockers that are about delaying the onset of puberty so that folks have more time to consider these kinds of decisions.”

Also speaking to reporters was the mother of Trans social media influencer Jazz Jennings who said her daughter wouldn’t be alive today without gender-affirming care.

“She knew with her heart and soul that she was a girl. Transgender children are at risk — 40 to 50 percent will attempt suicide. When you say to them, ‘You can’t wear this, you can’t wear that, there (are) no doctors that will treat you,’ they become suicidal.”

Anthony Verdugo, founder and executive director of the Christian Family Coalition (CFC) of Florida disagreed.

“Once they are adults they can do what they want. But minors simply do not have the mental capacity to make these life-altering decisions. Parents cannot allow a child to smoke or drink or drive a car at the age of three.”

Equality Florida’s Brandon J. Wolf noted in a tweet:

Lambda Legal, the Southern Legal Counsel, Florida Health Justice Project, and National Health Law Program issued a statement in advance of the meeting, which said that the State Surgeon General’s proposal is unconstitutional and unlawful.

LGBTQ legal advocacy group Lambda Legal noted that Florida’s State Surgeon General Joseph A. Ladapo’s “biased and politically-motivated petition, however, runs counter to well-established medical guidelines for the treatment of gender dysphoria, such as those published by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) and the Endocrine Society, and the overwhelming medical consensus in the United States and internationally, and would in effect deny essential, medically necessary, and often life-saving care to transgender people, including transgender youth.”

After hours of public testimony, including powerful personal stories from transgender people and their families and pleas to support gender-affirming care, the Board abruptly cut public comment short by one hour without explanation.

After having a mother of a trans child ushered from the room by security, they hastily voted to accept the DeSantis Administration’s petition and officially initiate the rule-making process, with what trans advocates see as bending to the will of the governor and Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo.

“Transgender Floridians and our allies showed up today with a clear message: hands off our health care,” said Nikole Parker, Equality Florida Director of Transgender Equality. “The Board of Medicine has become the latest state agency taken hostage by Governor Ron DeSantis’ runaway political agenda. They are being weaponized against transgender Floridians in this administration’s war on LGBTQ people and in service to DeSantis’ presidential ambitions. Gender-affirming care is lifesaving care. The governor’s cynical assault on that care is cruel, unconscionable, and threatens the lives of transgender people across the state.”

The Board of Medicine is just the latest in a string of state agencies that have been weaponized by Governor Ron DeSantis against LGBTQ Floridians. The Agency for Health Care Administration is currently undergoing a similar rule-making process that would strip Medicaid funding for gender-affirming care.

And in recent weeks, Department of Education Commissioner Manny Diaz issued a memo telling Florida school districts to ignore federal guidance extending Title IX protections to LGBTQ students and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation is threatening the liquor license of a Miami small business in an attempt to target drag shows in the state.

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Youth activists organize ‘Recall Flagler County School Board’ & campaign

Their goal? To oust and replace two far-right members, including Jill Woolbright, who is backed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

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Recall Flagler County School Board members out campaigning July 2022 (Photo Credit: Cameron Driggers)

FLAGLER, Fl – Following a series of incidents in which they had clashed with anti-LGBTQ+ and extremist right-wing members of the school board in east central Florida’s Flagler County, rising high school senior Cameron Driggers and his friends decided to organize for change. 

Driggers told The Los Angeles Blade that his group, Recall Flagler County School Board (Recall FCSB), having targeted thousands of voters and launched two digital ads, is now partnering with the Florida Democratic Party on “a massive door-knocking campaign” to begin August 6. 

Their goal? To oust and replace two far-right members, including Jill Woolbright, who is backed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and made headlines last year for calling the police on a school librarian for the supposed crime of offering books with LGBTQ+ themes. 

Earlier this week, Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz accused Gov. DeSantis, who looms large over education policy in the state, of turning school board elections into “new political battlegrounds” and “playing politics with our children.”

Cameron Driggers (Photo by Alysa Vidal)

Over the past few years, the governor has shepherded through multiple policies and laws forbidding discussion of systemic racism, sexual orientation, and gender equality in Florida schools. 

Driggers said the five members of the Flagler County School Board are comprised of “two lunatics” (Woolbright and Janet McDonald), “two members who are pro-student,” and one who is “in the middle.” 

Should any of them fail to earn 80% of the vote during the August 23 primary election, they will face off against challengers in runoff elections held in November. Early voting begins August 13, and the races in three districts – 1, 2, and 4 – are nonpartisan, meaning all registered voters may participate. 

“Our prerogative is to replace [the extremist members] with champions,” Driggers said, by “galvanizing young people” and getting students involved, knocking on doors to change hearts and minds. 

Challenging Woolbright in the race for the District 1 seat is Sally Hunt, an experienced educator and businessperson who is endorsed by Recall FCSB. The group is also supporting Courtney VandeBunte, an experienced teacher in her race for the open seat in District 2, where she will face off against two men who Driggers said are “very conservative,” one of whom is backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Driggers said he and his Gen Z friends, including Jack Petocz – whose activism over Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law also made headlines this year – are “picking up the torch, showing up to say, ‘we have space in the world and the right to make our voices heard.’”

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