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Seminole artist brings queer indigenous lives into focus

“Sometimes that visual existence as a queer person in our community is enough,” Battiest said. “Sometimes it just starts with you”

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NBC journalist Jay Valle with his partner of seven years, Spencer Battiest. (Photo Credit: Spencer Battiest/Facebook)

By John McDonald | FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – There was no big announcement or meeting called in Spencer Battiest’s coming out story. 

“They all just kind of knew,” said Battiest, who at the age of 21, came out to his immediate family. “I did it on my own time. I’m not one to make anyone feel uncomfortable, I don’t like to say: ‘Come sit down family, I have something to say to you.’ That’s not how we as Native people are. We don’t have those moments.” 

Instead, the award-winning singer/songwriter/actor sensed acceptance as he brought his boyfriend to tribal functions on the Seminole reservation. There, he gradually introduced family members to his truth.

“Sometimes that visual existence as a queer person in our community is enough,” Battiest said. “Sometimes it just starts with you.”

On March 9, Battiest will receive the Harvey Milk Medal at the eighth annual Diversity Honors at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Initially, Battiest said he felt unworthy of such recognition, but his partner of seven years, NBC journalist Jay Valle, pointed to the impact their relationship was having among Native Americans. 

“He had some really good words for me,” Battiest said. “He reminded me that I’ve taken him to every tribal function since we’ve been together. Fully and authentically being myself and sharing with my community and family the person that I love and share my life with — sometimes just being that can be inspiring to others.” 

Battiest started performing publicly as a 4-year-old in Broken Bow, Okla., singing at his grandfather’s church. By age 11 he was belting out the National Anthem before large crowds, an honor that continues today. 

In 2011, Battiest collaborated with his brother Doc to produce The Storm, a passion project that was critically acclaimed in the Native American music industry.

“I’ll forever sing that song no matter where I go in our career because that’s the history as taught to us by our grandparents, chairmens and family.”

Although he is half Choctaw from his father, Battiest is a member of the Seminole tribe — the Indigenous people of Florida who escaped European colonization and remain unconquered to this day. 

It is on his ancestral land that a shiny new Guitar Hotel was built and inside is a display dedicated to Spencer and Doc’s award-winning work.

“I wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for allies like Susan Renneisen [Hard Rock VP of Community Affairs & Special Events] who has watched me progress in my career since I was 14,” said Battiest. 

As a songwriter, Battiest doesn’t shy away from heartbreak, as evidenced in his album “Stupid In Love”, and prefers to keep lyrics gender-neutral for more universal appeal. 

“I write from a place of truth and honesty,” he said.  “As queer indigenous people, we’ve lived in a space where it hasn’t always been great.” 

Expressing vulnerability is part of the authenticity Harvey Milk proclaimed when he famously declared, “Hope will never be silent.” For Battiest that means striking the right balance. 

“I try to find harmony and peace in the life that I’ve lived and to be an example for anyone who sees me and that includes the struggle, insecurity and negative responses that come with being a queer person especially living out here in this state,” he said. “You have to find the harmony and peace that’s within yourself and for me that’s my family, tribe and partner.” 

Diversity Honors is scheduled for Saturday, March 9 at 7 p.m. and includes a cocktail reception, seated dinner and after party at the Guitar Hotel.

For tickets or more information, call (954) 463-9005, ext. 105 or visit www.diversityhonors.org.

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John McDonald is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Oregon. He has written for many publications over the course of a 29-year career that started as a high school football writer in Troy, Alabama. His memoir, Slice of Good Ol Boy Life, is available on Amazon. 

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Florida

Settlement & clarification reached in Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law

The settlement restores ability of students, teachers, & others to speak & write freely about sexual orientation & gender identity

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Cameron Driggers (left) next to Jack Petocz (with bullhorn) led the statewide student protest against Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' law in March, 2022. (Photo by Alysa Vidal)

ORLANDO, Fla. — A settlement reached with the Florida State Board of Education, Florida Department of Education, and various school districts, and the attorneys and plaintiff’s clarifies what is allowed in Florida classrooms under the state’s notoriously controversial “Parental Rights in Education” law colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The Plaintiffs’ lawyers at Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed the agreement with the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit earlier today.  The agreement effectively nullifies the most dangerous and discriminatory impacts of the law,” and makes clear that the law must be applied neutrally and is no license to discriminate against or erase LGBTQ+ families.

Cameron Driggers and Jack Petocz, who led the statewide student protest against the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law in March, 2022, reacted in a text message to the Blade saying:

“LGBTQ+ students and allies are breathing a sigh of relief today in response to the news that litigation has successfully mediated some of the most extreme aspects of Governor DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. Just about two years ago, we led a state-wide school walkout all across the state of Florida in response to that bill. We knew then that it infringed on the basic civil liberties of students and teachers, and we look forward to future challenges to other pieces of authoritarian legislation.”

“The settlement restores the ability of students, teachers, and others in Florida schools to speak and write freely about sexual orientation and gender identity in class participation and schoolwork,” the legal teams noted in a statement. “It also restores safeguards against bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and reinstates Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs). Critically, the settlement also requires the State Board of Education to send today’s agreement to every school district, and to make clear that the settlement reflects the considered position of the State of Florida on the scope and meaning of this law.” the statement continued.

Specifically, the historic settlement agreement clarifies the following:

  • Classroom references. The law does not prohibit references to LGBTQ+ persons, couples, families, or issues, including: in literature, in classroom discussion (such as student-to-student speech or teachers responding to students’ questions), in students’ academic work product or teachers’ review of the same, in teachers identifying same-sex or transgender spouses or partners, or in any other context in which a teacher is not “instructing” on the subject of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Non-discrimination. The law does not target LGBTQ+ persons, couples, families, or issues.  Rather, it requires neutrality and prohibits “classroom instruction” on the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity, whether the subject addresses heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, cisgender identities, transgender identities, or otherwise. It would violate the law, then, to instruct that heterosexuality is superior to other sexualities, or that cisgender identities are superior to transgender identities.
  • Anti-bullying and acceptance. The law does not prohibit instruction or intervention against bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, nor does it require the removal of safe space stickers or elimination of safe space areas for the benefit of LGBTQ+ persons.
  • Extracurricular activities. The law does not prohibit Gay-Straight Alliances, including student attendance or participation by teachers or other faculty members.  The law also does not prohibit book fairs that include LGBTQ+ focused books, musicals or plays with LGBTQ+ references or characters, participation and expression by LGBTQ+ persons in other extracurricular events like school dances, or the wearing of clothing that is affiliated with LGBTQ+ persons or issues or that does not conform with one’s perceived gender identity.
  • Library books. The law does not apply to library books, so long as those books are not being used in the classroom to instruct on the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity. 
  • Third parties. The law does not apply to non-school-personnel, including parents, other family members, and guest lecturers, so long as the school is not delegating to such third party the role of providing classroom instruction on the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity.

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“We made a promise to LGBTQ+ families, students, and educators across the state to ensure that they received equal dignity under the law, and to protect our schools from a censorship agenda that harms the education system as a whole,” said Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith.  “Florida has already endured nearly two years of book banning, educators leaving the profession, and safe space stickers being ripped off of classroom windows in the wake of this law cynically targeting the LGBTQ+ community. This settlement is a giant step toward repairing the immense damage these laws and the dangerous political rhetoric has inflicted on our families, our schools, and our state. The message to school districts, superintendents, and teachers alike is clear: Protect every student and respect every family.”

In early 2022, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 1557, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The Plaintiffs sued the next day, alleging that the law was impermissibly vague, was obviously motivated by hostility to LGBTQ+ persons and families, and created an enforcement system that enabled discrimination and discouraged efforts to fight it. The Plaintiffs claimed that the law violated their rights to equal protection, due process, and free speech.  The Plaintiffs litigated aggressively, and engaged in months of negotiations with the State’s lawyers to forge today’s historic settlement.

“This settlement is a huge victory for our community, both in Florida and nationally. It not only reverses the censorship and intimidation created by Florida’s “don’t say gay or trans” law, it codifies important new protections that were not previously clearly established, such as the right of teachers and staff to talk about LGBTQ people, to put safe space stickers in their classrooms, and to be open about their own LGBTQ identities or same-sex partners, just as straight teachers are able to be,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter in a phone statement to the Blade.  “I am thrilled to be part of this historic moment, which is a strong sign that the tide of anti-LGBTQ hatred and persecution is turning, thanks to the hard work of so many.” 

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf issued the following statement:

“This is more evidence: the tide is turning on the anti-LGBTQ+ agenda. In state legislatures and courtrooms in Florida and beyond, discriminatory policies are starting to collapse. The DeSantis administration was forced to acknowledge that their vague, broad law was having sweeping consequences. And this settlement makes clear that every student deserves a safe, welcoming school environment where their families are treated with the respect that they deserve – and that what applies to LGBTQ+ people must apply to others equally. Thank you to the legal team and courageous plaintiffs for challenging this discriminatory law.”

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Prosecutors: Hate crime charges in death of gay Tampa man

Following a thorough investigation, the evidence shows defendant was the aggressor & was motivated by the fact that the victim was a gay man

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John Walter Lay was shot to death Feb. 2 at the West Dog Park in Tampa by a shooter who had been harassing him for months, hurling homophobic slurs and threatening him. (Photo Credit: Equality Florida)

TAMPA, Fla. — The State Attorney’s Office announced Friday that it has filed second-degree murder charges against Gerald Declan Radford in the shooting death of a 52-year-old gay man at the West Dog Park in Tampa.

The defendant alleged self-defense, but following a thorough investigation, the evidence shows Radford was the aggressor and was motivated by the fact that the victim was a gay man. In addition, the state will be seeking an enhancement as a hate crime under Florida Statutes.

According to a statement released by Hillsborough County Florida State Attorney Suzy Lopez, Radford called 9-1-1 on the morning of February 2, 2024, and told dispatchers he shot a man in the dog park. When investigators arrived, Radford told them he and the victim were in a “scuffle” when he pulled his gun and shot the victim. There were no other eyewitnesses to the incident, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office continued its investigation.

Multiple community members came forward in the days and weeks following the shooting to report hearing Radford use bigoted slurs toward the victim, even talking about wanting to harm him while at the dog park. Detectives also learned the victim created a cell phone video 24 hours prior to the shooting warning his friends that Radford told him, “You’re gonna die.”

“We should all be able to enjoy a day at the dog park without the fear of gunfire. This victim also deserved to live free from fear and discrimination based on his sexual orientation. The evidence shows the defendant’s actions were motivated by hate, and he will be held accountable. My heart is with the victim’s family and large group of friends as we fight for justice together,” said Lopez.

The State Attorney also noted:

“Members of the community have actively shared concerns with our office regarding the length of time it has taken to reach a charging decision. It is important to note how difficult it can be to refute a Stand Your Ground claim in some cases because the only other witness to the incident is deceased. Throughout the course of this investigation, community members stepped forward with important information about ongoing tensions that helped add context to the incident. Combined with video recordings created by the victim before he was killed, investigators were able to build a strong case to bring to our office for prosecution.”

Lay’s sister, Sabrena Hughes, told the local Fox affiliate13 that the shooting followed two years of harassment and homophobic slurs directed at her brother by Radford.

Authorities also found a video on Lay’s phone. The video was taken like a selfie of the victim as he detailed a threat that was made to him by Radford, according to deputies. Lay claimed in the video that Radford told him, “You’re going to die.”

Reacting to the news of the arrest and the State Attorney’s comments, Equality Florida released a statement which read in part:

“With the arrest of Gerald Declan Radford, the question of guilt moves to the courts, but the verdict is already in on Florida’s notorious Stand Your Ground law: This law doesn’t just fail to protect; it actively endangers, turning what should be last-resort measures into first instincts, with tragic outcomes. The absence of a duty to retreat to safety is too often exploited to justify murder without consequence. […]

Equality Florida continues to advocate for an end to the state’s Stand Your Ground laws. When Florida set the precedent in 2005, warnings were loud and clear: These laws could lead to unjustified killings with little to no accountability. […]

At a time of great polarization, with gun violence proliferating and hate-motivated attacks escalating, we need laws that protect the public and prevent violence, not ones that encourage lethal escalation. In honoring Walt and the vibrant, diverse community he was a part of, we recommit to fighting for a future where no one fears being themselves and where laws promote safety, accountability, and justice for every Floridian.

Today, as we reflect on Walt’s life and the tragedy of his untimely death, we are reminded of the urgency of our mission and the importance of unity in our community. We stand together, demanding change and a return to values that protect and preserve life, not endanger it.”

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Florida

“The Tide Is Turning”: Dozens of anti-LGBTQ bills die in Florida

Over 20 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have died after the legislature adjourned leaving some wondering if energy is waning over anti-LGBTQ legislation

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Florida's Capitol Complex includes a 22-story executive tower with domed House and Senate chambers. The Historic Capitol is directly in front of the tower (to the east) with the House and Senate chambers to its north and south. (Photo Credit: State of Florida)

By Erin Reed | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – At 2:27 p.m. on Friday, March 8, the Florida Legislature adjourned sine die. With this adjournment, 21 of 22 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were effectively killed, leaving an anti-diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in education bill as the lone piece of legislation to pass this session.

This session featured some of the most severe bills ever proposed against transgender individuals, all of which are now officially dead. LGBTQ+ activists in the state now have the rest of 2024 to regroup, with hopes that the November general election will yield results against a legislature that has spent two years targeting transgender individuals in every aspect of life.

The bills that have failed include H599, a bill that would have expanded “Don’t Say Gay” policies to the workplace. It proposed banning government employees and any business with government contracts from sharing pronouns. Furthermore, it aimed to prohibit all nonprofits in the state from requiring education and training on LGBTQ+ issues—a significant issue for LGBTQ+ nonprofits, which would have been unable to operate within the state. That bill is now dead.

Another bill that died is H1639, a measure that would have mandated transgender individuals to have driver’s license sex markers matching their sex assigned at birth. It also aimed to penalize insurance providers offering gender-affirming care coverage and would have required health insurance plans to cover conversion therapy for transgender individuals. Although this bill did not pass, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has reinterpreted certain provisions that already exist, effectively banning changes to driver’s license gender markers in the state and threatening individuals with accurate markers with charges of criminal fraud. However, challenging an administrative action is simpler than challenging a law enacted by the legislature, and such actions can also be reversed by future administrations.

Further bills that made headlines which died include:

In a press release from the Human Rights Campaign, Geoff Wetrosky stated, “Despite years of relentless attacks and dehumanizing rhetoric, LGBTQ+ people and our allies have never given up the fight for Florida. And we are shifting the momentum. People across the state showed up by the thousands to speak out and push back against anti-LGBTQ+ bills; and they are to thank for pushing back the tide of hateful and discriminatory policy. The fight to free Florida from the grip of Governor DeSantis’ devastating and extreme agenda of government censorship and intrusion into people’s lives is far from over. And the devastation he and his allies have caused will last long after these politicians are gone. But the tide is turning. Perhaps the anti-LGBTQ+ fever in Tallahassee is beginning to break. The people will prevail.”

Not every bill was defeated in the state, which still has some of the harshest anti-transgender laws in the nation. The one bill that did pass, House Bill 1291, prohibits educating teachers on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) topics and bars “teaching identity politics.” Additionally, transgender drivers still face the potential revocation of driver’s licenses by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), and many transgender adults have lost access to gender-affirming care. The state also enforces a criminal bathroom ban that could jail transgender individuals for up to a year.

However, this is the first time in three years where the bills targeting LGBTQ+ people, and trans people in particular, seem to be losing steam, according to local organizers.

“The momentum is undeniably shifting against extremism,” Nadine Smith of Equality Florida said in a press release, “Extremist groups are collapsing amidst multiple scandals. Parents are mobilizing on behalf of their kids and to stop the dismantling of public education. We will build on this momentum and redouble our commitment to the fight. Together, we can put power back in the hands of the people.”

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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19-year-old arrested for vandalizing Rainbow Crosswalk in his truck

Witnesses say they saw a vehicle doing multiple burnouts over the crosswalk at the intersection of NE 1st St. & NE 2nd Ave. in Delray Beach

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Mugshot of Dylan Brewer via Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. Video capture of vandalism via Delray Beach Police Department.

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – A 19-year-old man from Clearwater has been charged after Delray Beach police say he intentionally did burnouts in his truck vandalizing the city’s LGBTQ Pride crosswalk.

Dylan Brewer was charged with felony criminal mischief over $1,000 and reckless driving.

Fox 13 Tampa reported that on the night of Sunday, Feb. 4, witnesses say they saw Brewer doing multiple burnouts with his vehicle over the LGBTQ pride crosswalk at the intersection of NE 1st Street and NE 2nd Avenue in Delray Beach. On Monday morning, Brewer turned himself in at the Delray Beach Police Department and was taken to the Palm Beach County Jail.

WPLG News 10 reported surveillance video released by the Delray Beach Police Department shows the driver of a pickup truck, with a large flag on the back, performing burnouts in the intersection, located at Northeast First Street and Second Avenue.

Delray Beach police said in a news release that the “reckless action caused significant damage to the streetscape painting, which serves as a symbol of unity and inclusivity for the LGBTQ community.”

The February 4 incident is the second time the crosswalk was vandalized since its installation in June of 2021, at a cost of $16,000, to commemorate Pride month in solidarity with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community according to Rand Hoch, the president of the Palm Beach Human Rights Council.

Alexander Jerrich who was 20-years-old at the time of his arrest, damaged the crosswalk mural while he was part of a truck caravan to celebrate former President Trump’s 75th birthday that year.

He was charged with criminal mischief, reckless driving, and evidence of prejudice with a felony enhancement. Later Jerrich was sentenced to two years of probation, community service, and mental health treatment.

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Fla. teens stage ‘die-in’ protesting anti-trans drivers license policy

Speaking with the Washington Blade on Friday afternoon, Cameron Driggers and Jack Petocz relayed how they led the demonstrations

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Cameron Driggers (back row, far left) and other demonstrators protest outside the Gainesville, Fla. Department of Motor Vehicles (Photo credit: Youth Action Fund)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – On Friday, just days after the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles issued a policy prohibiting transgender residents from updating the gender markers on their drivers licenses, a group of teens coordinated “die-in” protests at DMVs across the state.

Speaking with the Washington Blade on Friday afternoon, Cameron Driggers and Jack Petocz relayed how they led demonstrations in Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and Gainesville that featured more than 200 participants including representatives from more than eight LGBTQ groups.

The 18 and 19-year-old college students serve as, respectively, executive director and deputy director of Youth Action Fund, “a collective of Gen-Z activists fighting against the far-right culture war raging throughout Florida.”

This latest front on the war against trans people in the state, Driggers said, represents “one of the scariest, most authoritarian developments in Florida in a long time.”

The state agency’s policy preempts legislation in the Florida House of Representatives that would implement the same restrictions, permitting Floridians to list only their sex assigned at birth on state-issued IDs.

In response, Driggers recognized that “we need to have an Act Up-style direct action where we put our bodies on the line,” a reference to the AIDS activist organization’s practice of staging “die-ins” to demand that the federal government and Reagan White House stop ignoring an epidemic that was ravaging gay communities in the 1980s.

Driggers said Friday’s demonstrations were each 37 minutes long, a nod to data from the U.S. Transgender Survey that 37 percent of respondents have experienced discrimination because their IDs have inaccurate gender markers.

“We really wanted the protests to tell a story,” Petocz said. “We had the individuals actually lying down and committing the die-in where they had mock gravestones with messaging like ‘RIP: Killed by the DMV’ or ‘killed by the DeSantis administration'” along with “general messages about trans resistance.”

At each site these demonstrators were joined by a narrator to “tell the story of why we are out there today to passersby, what we are fighting for in this moment, [and] what the DMV just committed.”

Asked whether their decision to emulate the protest methods of Act Up was grounded in the relationship between Florida’s anti-trans crusade and increased incidence of death by suicide in communities already beset with high suicide rates and mental health challenges, Petocz said yes — but added that it’s “multifaceted.”

“I also think that you have to look at it from the perspective of enabling hate — of enabling the kind of sentiment that contributes to widespread transphobia,” he said. “And when the state goes ahead and they amplify that sentiment and they actually endorse it, it definitely leaves way for additional hate and hate crimes.”

“Our trans brothers and sisters are most susceptible to hate crimes in this country,” Petocz added.

Driggers said that next up for the coalition that participated in Friday’s demonstrations is bringing their protest to the Florida House. He noted that the copycat legislation, which was filed by Rep. Douglas Michael Bankson, R-Apopka, and Rep. Dean Black, R-Jacksonville, is headed to committee for markup next week.

Meanwhile, they’re working with the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Florida on a letter writing campaign to urge the Biden administration’s Justice Department to investigate the policy, which appears both unconstitutional and authoritarian, Driggers said. They have 1,167 letters so far.

Driggers also noted that Simone Chriss, director of the Southern Legal Counsel’s Transgender Rights Initiative, is “getting testimony from people who experienced problems” following the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ issuance of the new policy a couple of weeks ago.

A new wave of youth activism

Friday was hardly the first time Driggers and Petocz have led a protest against anti-LGBTQ and other harmful policies in Florida.

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“Jack and I obviously been involved in activism for a very long time,” Driggers said. Their organization, which was just founded in November, awards $500 and $1,000 stipends for youth-led campaigns and individual advocates — while also lending their expertise in organizing to others through advisory services.

“We’ve worked through a variety of more institutional established organizations,” Driggers said. “And through that we’ve kind of identified a lot of shortcomings in the nonprofit industrial complex, if you will.”

“First among those, we think that there’s a structural lack of resources, and we’re often put on a pedestal and [told] ‘you’re gonna save us,’ but really, all that really means is they want us to be free labor, they want to knock on doors, they want to, you know, co-opt labor for the benefit of other organizations,” he said.

By contrast, with the Youth Action Fund, Driggers said, he and his friends have pioneered a new organizing model where “we tell people to come to us with their ideas, and then we work with them to make those ideas happen.”

For instance, Driggers said, when they were approached by students from Brevard County public High schools who objected to the district’s practice of banning books, Youth Action Fund was able to provide resources for them to acquire “speaking equipment, tables, literature” along with guidance on matters like how to “negotiate with their school board on how to get permits to protest.”

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School district adds clothing to illustrations in children’s books

Pressed by Moms for Liberty, Indian River County Florida school district adds clothing to illustrations in classic children’s books

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Judd Legum & Tesnim Zekeria | VERO BEACH, Fla. – Since its initial publication in 1970, millions of children have read In The Night Kitchen, the classic picture book by celebrated author Maurice Sendak.

The book is about a young boy who has a surreal dream about baking a cake that needs to be finished by morning. It was named a Caldecott Honor Book, one of the most prestigious awards in children’s literature. 

At least two copies of In The Night Kitchen are available in elementary school libraries in Indian River County, Florida. This concerned Jennifer Pippin, the chair of the local Moms for Liberty chapter, because the main character, Mickey, is sometimes depicted without clothes.

In an interview, Pippin told Popular Information that she believes the book may be “harmful to minors.” She was worried that if a “5-year-old picks up this book and has never seen a picture of a penis… [t]he parent wouldn’t be able to discuss this with the child.” This is an example of one of the offending images:

Pippin submitted formal challenges to the Indian River County School District seeking the removal of In The Night Kitchen, which she calls “pornographic.” Pippin challenged other books with drawings of figures without clothes, including Unicorns Are The Worst, a book about a goblin complaining about how much people like unicorns. The concern about Unicorns Are The Worst is this picture of a goblin’s butt:

Following Pippin’s challenges, which occurred in November and December of 2023, the books were removed from the library shelves. 

Pippin told Popular Information that, after filing the challenges, she had a meeting with Indian River County Superintendent David Moore and other school officials concerning the books. At the meeting, one of the officials suggested the school district “draw clothes on them to cover the nudity.” Pippin said that she “would be absolutely fine with that” because she challenged the books “for nudity.” Now, in the copies of In The Night Kitchen in Indian River County schools, Mickey is wearing “little shorts.” 

Pippin provided Popular Information with a photo of the altered image from In The Night Kitchen. Popular Information obtained a photo of the altered image from Unicorns Are The Worst from a source at a Indian River County elementary school. These are the censored versions of the two images:

In other cases, the Indian River County librarians were more creative. Another book Pippin sought to remove was Draw Me A Star by Eric Carle, who is best known for The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Pippin was concerned about this image of “two adults that were naked.” She said that her concerns were addressed when the district librarians drew “board shorts on the man” and “put the girl in a bikini.” 

Also targeted was the book No, David! because it included this image.

Once these images were altered, the books were returned to the shelves in the second week of January 2024.

Pippin said she challenged these books, in part, because she believed the unaltered books violated two Florida statutes. The first is Florida’s obscenity law, which prohibits distributing to minors “any picture…which depicts nudity or sexual conduct, sexual excitement, sexual battery, bestiality, or sadomasochistic abuse and which is harmful to minors.” Pippin claims the law prohibits all nudity in school library books. But the law actually only prohibits nudity, which is also “harmful to minors.” The term “harmful to minors” has a specific legal meaning. It only applies to content that appeals primarily to “prurient, shameful, or morbid interests,” is “patently offensive,” and is without “serious literary [or] artistic…merit” for minors. It’s hard to argue In The Night Kitchen or the other books challenged by Pippin meet this standard. 

Pippin claims the unaltered version of In The Night Kitchen also violates a new law, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis (R) in 2023, HB 1069. That law gives residents the right to demand the removal of any library book that “depicts or describes sexual conduct,” as defined under Florida law, whether or not the book is pornographic. In The Night Kitchen and the other books challenged by Pippin do not depict or describe sexual conduct. 

The alterations of the books in Indian River County were first flagged by the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which confirmed the school district’s actions through a public records request. 

David Flynt, the father of students in Indian River County schools, told Popular Information that he objected to Moms for Liberty’s efforts. Flynt questioned why Moms for Liberty was “sexualizing” an image “of a goblin’s bare backside.” The image “was not [included] to cause arousal, and was of a fictional character,” Flynt noted. He said that it was part of a pattern of censorship that was ultimately harmful to students. Flynt cited Pippin’s recent challenge of Sofia Valdez, Future Prez, the story of a young girl who seeks to improve her neighborhood. The basis of the challenge was that the main character’s grandfather is depicted wearing a pin in support of LGBTQ rights. This is the image that prompted the objection, with the pin circled in red:

That book has now been removed from the shelves of Indian River County schools pending review. In her challenge form, Pippin indicated that she had not read the book. 

Stephana Ferrell of the Florida Freedom to Read Project said that Moms for Liberty pushed the district to “deface an illustrator’s work to suit their sensibilities.” She said the group “regularly misrepresents the literary works of award-winning authors as pornography, and now silly, naked goblin butts.”

“[C]overing up an image, erasing a line, or pulling out a page is still suppression and robs the reader of the author’s full literary expressions,” Kasey Meehan, Program Director with the non-profit PEN America, said.

Pippin rejected these criticisms, saying that “covering up genitalia” was legally required and was not “defying the author’s work.”

Moms for Liberty’s other work in Indian River County

In August 2023, Indian River County’s Moms for Liberty succeeded in removing 35 books from school libraries after nearly 50 members read aloud explicit passages at a school board meeting. Many of these speakers were cut off by School Board Vice Chair Peggy Jones. In some cases, Jones requested that the speaker provide a content warning, citing concerns that there may be young children watching the meeting remotely with their parents. 

According to Pippin, this move was a deliberate attempt to circumvent the district’s book review policies. Previously, in 2022, only “five of the 156 books challenged by the Moms for Liberty chapter were removed by the School Board.” But, in July 2023, a new law went into effect that required books to be removed if a school board member stopped a parent from reading it aloud at a public meeting. As a result, the School Board unanimously voted to remove the books that Jones had interrupted while they were read aloud. Titles removed included Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

“It’s just the quickest, fastest way to get these books out of the hands of children,” Pippin told TC Palm. The review process, she said, was time-consuming.

Jones, however, said that she received death threats “every 10-15 minutes” after a clip of the board meeting went viral. She wasn’t alone: another School Board member was also receiving threats. Meanwhile, school district staff said they were flooded with “highly volatile and emotional emails” and calls following the meeting. In September 2023, the district announced that an additional 128 titles were removed for review. All of these books have been challenged by Moms for Liberty, TC Palm reports. Pippin has threatened to host “additional staged events if the books remained on the shelves.”

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The preceding article was previously published by Popular Info and is republished with permission.

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Florida

Florida DMV: “Misrepresenting” gender on drivers licenses is fraud

The policy appears to be the latest attempt at putting trans “eradication,” championed at CPAC, into action within the borders of Florida

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Florida Highway Patrol Trooper (Photo Credit: Florida Highway Patrol/Facebook)

By Erin Reed | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – According to a letter submitted by an anonymous source on Monday, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has rescinded the policy that allowed transgender individuals to update the gender marker on their driver’s licenses.

The letter, written by Deputy Executive Director Dave Kerner, states that gender will be interpreted as “biological sex.” Furthermore, the letter declares that any person “misrepresenting” their gender marker would be guilty of fraud, facing civil and criminal penalties, and revocation of licensure.

The letter, apparently sent out on Jan. 26, asserts that “gender” is synonymous with “biological sex,” and argues that gender identity is “neither immutable nor objectively verifiable.” It suggests that permitting transgender individuals to update their gender markers on their driver’s licenses would “prevent the state from enforcing its laws.” These laws include bans on transgender individuals using the bathroom of their gender identity and laws targeting adult medical care.

You can view the full copy of the letter here:

The move marks a significant escalation and seems to have been initiated unilaterally by the department. This action is in line with other unilateral measures taken by the executive branch in Florida and other states. These include the Florida Board of Medicine’s ban on transgender care, Governor Glenn Youngkin’s directive through the Board of Education to ban transgender bathroom usage in schools, and Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s efforts to target adult transgender care via the rule-making process. However, none of these examples previously involved driver’s licenses. If upheld, Florida would become the first state to prohibit driver’s license changes under criminal penalty for transgender individuals.

The ramifications of this rule could be far-reaching. All transgender individuals in the state with Florida driver’s licenses not aligning with their “biological sex” might immediately be in possession of a fraudulent license. The state could seek to suspend or revoke the licenses of transgender individuals under this policy. Moreover, during traffic stops involving transgender individuals, they could face legal challenges with police officers if the officers believe the driver’s license “misrepresents” their “biological sex.”

Representative Eskamani appeared to confirm that computer systems were no longer accepting gender changes at FLHSMV offices:

This development coincides with the consideration of two bills in Florida that aim to prohibit driver’s license changes through the legislative process: House Bills 1233 and 1639. These bills could require all Floridians to sign “biological sex affidavits” when renewing or updating their driver’s licenses. The policy could be a strategy to deter transgender Floridians, aware of the bills, from quickly updating the gender marker on their driver’s licenses before their passage. Notably, Florida driver’s licenses typically have long expiration periods, often lasting eight years post-issuance.

Under this policy, transgender individuals in Florida could face considerable challenges in daily life. Many have already left the state, and of those remaining, 80% reportedly wish to leave. This policy could instantly criminalize transgender individuals who drive in the state with updated gender markers. It would compel transgender people to disclose their identity in any situation requiring a driver’s license. Additionally, it would provide Florida a means to enforce its bathroom laws, which criminalize transgender individuals for using bathrooms that align with their gender identity in many public spaces.

Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida, issued the following statement:

“The DeSantis administration’s obsession with scapegoating transgender Floridians has escalated into an outrageous attack that further erodes freedom and liberty in our state. This cruel policy threatens transgender Floridians with civil and criminal penalties and blocks them from obtaining the critical government-issued identification necessary to continue their daily lives. Transgender people have always existed in every culture on every continent and always will. In Florida, tens of thousands of people have legally updated their gender marker on their driver’s license or ID. They carefully followed the rules to ensure their identification accurately reflects who they are, and they trusted this process. Now, an abrupt policy reversal has thrown their lives into chaos. The cruelty of this kind of government overreach and intrusion should alarm every Floridian. These reckless and hateful policies are intended to make the transgender community feel unsafe and unwelcome in Florida and to bully them out of public life entirely. 

We know this is a devastating development, and we are working with our coalition partners, our grassroots volunteers, and our legal groups to figure out what options are available to fight back.” 

The Human Rights Campaign reacted to this latest attack on the rights of trans Floridians in an emailed statement by Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson:

“For years, transgender people have warned of radical anti-LGBTQ+ forces’ true aim: to abuse governmental power to take away our freedoms and drive trans people out of public society,” said Robinson. “From AG Paxton hunting for private medical information of transgender children, to Florida’s assault on identification documents, to Midwest lawmakers saying the quiet part out loud, these right wing extremists are no longer hiding the ball. They want to humiliate, harass, and use policy to eliminate transgender people from public life. But you cannot legislate away the community. Transgender people are powerful. They are our friends, neighbors, and family members. And we will stand arm-in-arm with them to fight back against this sinister agenda.”

Florida currently occupies the most dangerous level on the Transgender Legislative Risk Assessment Map, “Do Not Travel.” The state’s oppressive laws have drawn similar travel advisories from the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Florida. Should this policy be enforced, the state’s transgender population will find it even harder to move freely and could come into conflict with law enforcement and criminal penalties just for having documents that match their gender identity. The policy appears to be the latest attempt at putting transgender “eradication,” championed at CPAC, into action within the borders of Florida.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

Follow her on Twitter (Link)

Website here: https://www.erininthemorning.com/

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Florida

Local Florida GOP party plans staging protest against “woke” flag

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Black Lives Matter, they’re also promoting LGBTQ to our students-schools need to stay the hell out of parenting”

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The Lee County Republicans flyer with the announcement to organize protest against a flag hanging in a Fort Myers, Florida classroom. (Screenshot/Lee County GOP Social Media)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – A ‘Hate Has No Home Here’ flag hanging in a Riverdale High School classroom has angered the local Lee County Republican Party Chair Michael Thompson who tells local media outlets that the flag violates Florida’s Individual Freedom Act, commonly known as the Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act also referred to as the Stop Woke Act.

The law was signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on April 22, 2022, and entered into effect July 1 the same year, although portions of the law have been blocked by a Federal District Court, which the state has filed an appeal to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Despite the suit and court challenge, the law remains enforceable in the state’s K-12 public schools.

Thompson and other members of the Lee County GOP plan on protesting the flag on Feb. 6, at the regular Lee County School District’s board meeting. “The issue at hand is that the district needs to get out of having any type of political influence on our children,” Thompson told the Fort Myers News-Press.

The school district and the teacher’s association are aware of the situation, with the latter working to ensure that the teacher’s rights are not violated the News-Press reported.

Thompson wants to see the flag in its entirety taken down as he believes it promotes Black Lives Matter, and transgender and LGBTQ+ issues.

“It’s being influenced upon that child, whether they’re talking about it from a textbook, or if it’s being blatantly just put right in front of their face,” Thompson said. “The Stop Woke Act was put into law to stop the indoctrination of our children.”

Advert for the flag as available at Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers

   

In a Facebook post announcing the planned protest, the Lee County GOP wrote:

The Lee County School District are continuing to indoctrinate our children in anti-American radical ideologies!

We are asking your voices to be heard at a peaceful assembly before the February 6th School Board Meeting. The protest will begin at 4:30 P.M. at the Lee County Public Education Center at 2855 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers, FL.

The Lee County GOP is NOT condemning or attacking School Board members over these posters. We simply want to make them aware that this is happening in violation of the law and on the issues they campaigned on, so they can take the appropriate action to stop the woke indoctrination of our children.

Thompson told the News-Press: “The principal met with the teacher, and the teacher agreed to cover up the Black Lives Matter portion of it.”

However, the LGBTQ and transgender portions of the flag were not covered up.

Thompson said covering the Black Lives Matter portion wasn’t what he asked for and he wants the flag brought down in its entirety.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Black Lives Matter, they’re also promoting transgender and LGBT to our students,” Thompson said. “The school districts need to stay the hell out of parenting.”

Thompson said there may be a loophole in the act as the flag is not part of the school’s curriculum or activities.

“Now the school district has basically come back and pushed back on me and said, ‘Well, it’s okay because we’re not teaching it from curriculum,'” he said.

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Florida

Florida’s Board of Governors abolish DEI programs at universities

The Board noted that its decision “will ensure that taxpayer funds can no longer be used to promote DEI in universities”

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Students on the campus of the University of North Florida. a public research university in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo Credit: UNF, The Office of Media Relations)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Board of Governors in a voice vote passed rules Wednesday banning use of state or federal dollars for diversity programs or activities.

The board that oversees the state’s 12 public universities targeted any programs that promote “differential or preferential treatment of individuals, or classifies such individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

Another change the board signed off on prohibits tax money from being used to fund “political or social activism,” although student fees can pay for that.

The Board vice chair, Alan Levine, told media outlets: “It was said we were banning student organizations, and that’s not a fair statement.” 

In previous actions regarding DEI programs, on January 18, the Florida State Board of Education implemented strict regulations to limit the use of public funds for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs, activities, and policies in the Florida College System (FCS).

In a statement the Board noted that its decision “will ensure that taxpayer funds can no longer be used to promote DEI on Florida’s 28 state college campuses.”

The rule adopted by the Board of Education defined, for the first time, DEI and affirmatively prohibits FCS institutions from using state or federal funds to administer programs that categorize individuals based on race or sex for the purpose of differential or preferential treatment.

Carlos Guillermo Smith, Equality Florida’s Senior Policy Advisor, issued the following statement reacting to the Board of Governors vote:

“It should be no surprise that today the Florida Board of Governors, a rubber stamp for Ron DeSantis’s agenda of censorship and surveillance, approved unprecedented rules that effectively abolish diversity and inclusion programs in our State University System intended to support LGBTQ and minority students. The Board’s rules go well beyond its authority granted by the legislature and instead impose broad censorship on a vast array of campus activities and speech and seriously threaten student and faculty participation in public life across the political, social, and religious spectrum. The shockingly broad and vague language will inevitably lead to self-censorship and a chilling effect that will end academic freedom as we know it on university campuses. 

The sweeping away of academic freedom combined with the elimination of sociology as a core course option, a reckless and unresearched decision made with little review of potential impacts, has diminished the prestige and reputation of Florida’s public universities. The Board of Governors had the opportunity to hit the brakes, but instead, shamefully followed their censorship agenda off a cliff in service to DeSantis’s failed political ambitions.”

The Board’s actions is aligning with a law signed last spring by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

related

CBS Miami reported DeSantis, who signed the DEI law before embarking on his suspended run for president, said last May that DEI programs promote a liberal “orthodoxy” on campus.

“This has basically been used as a veneer to impose an ideological agenda, and that is wrong,” the governor said.

On Thursday, the University of North Florida has announced the phase-out of all four diversity centers, including the LGBTQ+, Women’s, Interfaith, and Intercultural Centers due to new regulations on Prohibited Expenditures focusing on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion approved by the Florida Board of Governors.

UNF President Dr. Moex Limayem released a statement that said:

“Dear Osprey Community,

I am writing this evening to share with you that Regulation 9.016 on Prohibited Expenditures was approved by the Florida Board of Governors today.

The regulation relates to the new state law passed during last year’s legislative session (Senate Bill 266), prohibiting expenditures for programs and activities at state universities and colleges that advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion or that promote or engage in political or social activism.

As stated in previous messages, state universities have been awaiting this regulation from the BOG that provides key definitions and guidance on implementation.

In accordance with the new law and the approval of this regulation, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and its centers (the Intercultural Center, Interfaith Center, LGBTQ Center and Women’s Center) will now begin to be phased out. No staff members will lose their employment at UNF as a result of the closures of these centers.

We are working with affected employees to establish new work assignments within the University at their current salary or above. Student clubs making up the Student Alliance for Inclusion and Diversity will remain active registered student organizations at UNF. We recognize there will be other questions that may arise related to the new law, and we will continue to keep you updated.

Please know that as we implement these new changes, the University remains committed to ensuring that every member of our campus community is cared for and has the resources needed to be successful. Programs and a list of resources are offered through the Dean of Students’ Care Services.

Also, the Counseling Center and Victim Advocacy Program are among other services available to students, while our Employee Assistance Program is available for faculty and staff. As always, the University community is encouraged to contact the Office of Equal Opportunity and Inclusion at [email protected] with any concerns regarding discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Accountability. Integrity. Excellence. Civility and Culture of Care. These are UNF’s values and included in our Strategic Plan that was also approved by the BOG today.

The plan reflects our priorities as a University and will guide our direction as we seek to become a destination of choice for students, faculty and staff. The values included in the plan bind us together and reflect how we treat one another. We want UNF to be a place where all people feel safe and welcome, and where there is no place for hate.

This semester, we will begin seeking ways to reinforce UNF’s values in everything we do, and we will review and expand resources as necessary to ensure success for all members of our campus community.

As we work to improve the UNF experience for all students, faculty and staff, we will seek your input. Together, we will shape an even stronger future for UNF.”

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Florida

Florida bans all DEI programs at state colleges & universities

The rule prohibits FCS institutions from using state or federal funds to administer programs that categorize individuals based on race or sex

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Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, Jr. (Screenshot/YouTube WFLA NBC News 8)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On Wednesday the Florida State Board of Education implemented strict regulations to limit the use of public funds for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs, activities, and policies in the Florida College System (FCS).

The rule adopted by the Board defined, for the first time, DEI and affirmatively prohibits FCS institutions from using state or federal funds to administer programs that categorize individuals based on race or sex for the purpose of differential or preferential treatment.

In a statement the Board noted that its decision “will ensure that taxpayer funds can no longer be used to promote DEI on Florida’s 28 state college campuses.”

“The State Board of Education also replaced the course “Principles of Sociology” with a comprehensive general education core course in American History. The aim is to provide students with an accurate and factual account of the nation’s past, rather than exposing them to radical woke ideologies, which had become commonplace in the now replaced course,” the statement continued.

“Higher education must return to its essential foundations of academic integrity and the pursuit of knowledge instead of being corrupted by destructive ideologies,” said Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, Jr. “These actions today ensure that we will not spend taxpayers’ money supporting DEI and radical indoctrination that promotes division in our society.”

Joe Saunders, Senior Political Director for Equality Florida responded:

“There’s no surprise today that the State Board of Education, a board that has been a rubber stamp for Governor Ron DeSantis’s agenda of censorship and surveillance, moved forward with another sweepingly broad rule that abolishes diversity and inclusion programs in the Florida College System,” Saunders said.

“The Board’s rules go well beyond what’s required by Governor DeSantis’s already extreme SB 266, handcuffing state colleges from using any state-funded resources on diversity programs that help recruit talented faculty, support students with unique needs, and help Florida’s colleges compete for national research and funding. This is a brazenly political attack on Florida’s colleges, and all minorities in Florida, and is one more way state agencies have been weaponized to support Governor DeSantis’s failing political ambitions. Shame on the State Board of Education for passing rules that weaken and threaten Florida’s colleges in service to one more manufactured culture war,” Saunders added.

The Human Rights Campaign reacted to the news noting:

“The State Board of Education’s rule is the latest in right wing attacks on programs that make college campuses inclusive, welcoming, and ensure all students and faculty have the chance to thrive. In his quest for power, Governor DeSantis has weaponized state agencies, wielding them against the people they are there to serve, and used education as his political punching bag. This is a shameful assault on Florida’s college students and staff of all backgrounds,” Brandon Wolf, National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, said in an emailed statement.

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