The Boston Globe – April 9, 2021
Mass Audubon turns nature (and spring vacation week) inside out

In a virtual April school vacation week program, Mass Audubon instructors will ask kids to gather an eclectic assortment of household objects: chopsticks, pliers, scissors, a straw, and a cup of juice. They’ll then use these items as scientific instruments in an experiment to learn how different bird species use their beaks.

The organization’s April school vacation week itinerary has mammals on Monday, trees on Tuesday, birds on Wednesday, climate on Thursday, and “Herps and Fish” (or cold-blooded vertebrates) on Friday. The virtual morning program is geared to 5- to 8-year-olds, who can attend the whole week or choose specific days.

Camp Education Programs manager Cheryl Oliveira said she designed the event, which she will lead with fellow Mass Audubon educator Matt Jones, “to make learning fun for kids.”

To keep the three-hour online sessions friendly for elementary school-size attention spans, Oliveira said she and Jones will shift between activities frequently each day. Children will make crafts, sing nature songs, get up and move around, have (virtual) encounters with live animals, and conduct at-home science experiments. Families will receive materials for crafts and experiments in advance, as well as activities kids can do on their own after the camp session.

Science experiments will come in two forms. In one, Oliveira will perform the experiment herself and engage campers with questions: “What do you think’s going to happen? Why do you think that? And what will happen if I do this? Or what won’t happen?” she said.

More often, however, campers will investigate questions themselves. For example, to learn how leaves breathe, they’ll be asked to bring in a leaf from outside to use as a specimen.

To the families of kids fascinated with nature, Olivera recommends letting them spend time outside and get dirty. She suggests exploring the “Get Outdoors” tab on massaudubon.org for resources, programs, and wildlife sanctuary locations.

“Nature Inside Out — Virtual Spring Vacation Week” runs April 19 to April 23, 9 a.m. to noon, and costs $45 a day for members and $54 for nonmembers. The deadline to register is April 16. Mass Audubon is also holding in-person camps this spring and summer at limited capacities. To register and for more information, go to massaudubon.org or e-mail [email protected].


The Boston Globe Magazine – Web: April 8, 2021, Print: April 11, 2021
In a pandemic economy, the high costs of college are even higher

Zachary Steward sees himself building a career in law, public policy, politics, or social work, fields where he could support marginalized communities. “So often I’ve seen that those who either look like me, or other racial and ethnic minorities, or minorities in general, they just aren’t seen,” says Steward, who is Black. “And if they are seen, they aren’t listened to enough, and it’s disheartening. And it’s sad. And it’s maddening.”

If it weren’t for the pandemic, Steward would be a junior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, double majoring in African-American studies and legal studies with a minor in psychology. But family financial difficulties, plus the loss of his on-campus job, left him unable to afford tuition for fall 2020. He says the university gave him two options: a payment plan of $900 per month or private loans. Neither seemed feasible.

Steward is now living in Belmont and working two jobs, trying to save up the money needed to clear his student account balance so that he can re-enroll in school. In February, he created a GoFundMe campaign seeking $30,000 (at press time, he was about $2,500 away from his goal).

COVID’s financial fallout is causing widespread disruption in students’ college plans. According to a Gallup survey, one-third of students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs in the United States considered leaving college last year; one-third of those said cost was a driving factor. Reports show that statewide, fewer high school seniors, especially those who are Black, Hispanic, or Latino, are filling out financial aid forms for the fall 2021 semester.

Korinne Peterson considers the drop in financial aid applications ominous. She leads the financial office at UMass Dartmouth and is an executive council member of the Massachusetts Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “We’re seeing families with a lot of changed circumstances,” Peterson says.

Pandemic pressures are butting up against ever-increasing college costs, with an uncertain job market on the horizon. From 2008 to 2019, the price of an undergraduate degree jumped 28 percent at US public colleges and 19 percent at private nonprofit institutions, after adjusting for inflation, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Meanwhile, Black college graduates have $25,000 more in student loan debt than white graduates and are more likely to struggle financially while paying it back, according to educationdata.org.

Tuition isn’t the only financial barrier that can keep students from finishing college. Some have turned to the nonprofit Alray Scholars Program, which helps Boston public school graduates who’ve had to put their college studies on pause to return and finish their degrees. During the pandemic, the organization has been helping with groceries and laptops for remote learning, too. “We found that some of our students were using their phones for their schoolwork,” says Janet Altman, Alray’s executive director. “Try doing a 30-page paper on a phone.” (Alray was founded by Neil Swidey, the Globe Magazine’s editor at large.)

Though Alray participants experienced major disruptions in their lives because of COVID, far fewer had to leave school than Altman had originally feared. “These students are resilient,” she says. “They have the determination and the tenacity to go back to school and earn a degree, and hopefully boost their earning power. They get it. And they put in the hard work for it.” Alray received around 40 applications in October, almost double the typical number for that time of year.

Peterson says college financial aid offices need students to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine their eligibility for financial help. She worries that this year, families will assume the process won’t help them because the form asks about the applicant’s financial situation from two years ago — before COVID devastated many families and obliterated jobs and industries. But, she points out, filling out the FAFSA makes families eligible to submit a financial aid appeal, and financial aid offices will work with students to update aid packages if changes are significant enough.

As for Zachary Steward, he remains involved with the Racial Justice Coalition, an on-campus initiative. He would’ve stayed at UMass if he could have. “I had fostered a pretty good community at UMass,” he says, “and the work that I’ve been doing has definitely shaped, and it continues to shape, what I eventually want to do.”


The Boston Globe – March 3, 2021
A JP resident and her punk rock aerobics star in Green Day’s new music video

Earlier this year, Hilken Mancini learned that the band Green Day liked her approach to aerobic workouts. Mancini, who found brief fame in the 1990s as a singer-guitarist for the Boston-based indie pop band Fuzzy, has been offering her Punk Rock Aerobics via Zoom since the pandemic started. She describes the workouts as “created for the misfit.” They are set to punk rock music and moves include “skank,” “whack jacks,” and “Iggy’s punch.”

Mancini, who lives in Jamaica Plain, said a Green Day representative called and asked if she would record a workout for the band’s new music video. When Mancini submitted the final cut, she wasn’t sure her clip, which she filmed at home in what she calls her jam room, would make it past post-production. On Feb. 20, Green Day uploaded “Here Comes The Shock” to YouTube. In pigtails, mismatched socks over ripped tights, and a tank top that reads “Punk Rock Aerobics,” Mancini is the star of all 2 minutes, 34 seconds.

The 51-year-old Mancini describes herself as “an artist person, like a weirdo.” She owns 40 South Street, a vintage clothing store in JP, and in addition to Fuzzy she’s played in other bands over the years, including Shepherdess and the Monsieurs.

Mancini cofounded Punk Rock Aerobics with Maura Jasper in 2000. The classes took place in rock clubs, offering a dimly lit, mirror-free space where, Mancini said, “you could show up in your Chuck Taylors and a T-shirt and let your freak flag fly.” They decided the workouts would have a three-moves-per-song structure to mirror three-chord punk rock songs.

Early on, the concept met with a flurry of excitement. When Mancini cofounded the nonprofit organization Girls Rock Campaign Boston in 2010, though, she put Punk Rock Aerobics on pause. In March 2020, she was in the process of reviving it when COVID hit, hence the switch to remote classes.

While she hopes to host workouts again in person, Mancini says the virtual format has helped her reach more participants. Live Punk Rock Aerobics classes are held Tuesdays at 6 p.m. via Zoom. Each one-hour session costs $12, but Mancini said she wouldn’t turn anyone away for inability to pay. Find the class at www.punkrockaerobics.com.

The Emory Wheel – September 28, 2018
Wild Rivers Flow with Energy at Eddie’s Attic

Toronto folk band Wild Rivers filled a small space with big sounds Sept. 20 at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Ga. The intimate Eddie’s Attic is a tight space with the stage only inches off the ground. The four musicians — Khalid Yassein, Devan Glover, Andrew Oliver and Julien Laferriere — made no grand entrance. They simply got on-stage, set up their equipment and jumped into their first song without an introduction. The moment they hit the first chords, they captured the room’s undivided attention.

The first song they played, “A Week Ago,” started the show on a high note. From the moment Devan opened her mouth, I was captivated. Just as I found a word to describe her sound, the dynamic would change, proving the range of her talent. At some points, her voice was soaring and gliding with the clean, sharp movements of a hawk. At others, it rippled and swelled like the path of a rolling stream. Her texture provided a beautiful contrast to Yassein’s rich and smooth vocals. The chemistry in their harmonies was like peanut butter and jelly; it just worked.

“I feel like it’s going OK so far,” Yassein said after a few songs. The room agreed with him. Khalid decided, after a few upbeat songs, that it was time to play a sequence of breakup songs.

One breakup song the band played, “Mayday,” was inspired by situations in which your friend won’t stop texting you with all the personal details of their recently ended relationship. Yassein said he wrote the song about his friend Kevin. Apparently, Kevin sent Yassein a rather comprehensive picture of a relationship, partially characterized by a shared love for the Canadian T.V. show “Mayday,” a documentary series about plane crashes. The metaphor is pretty obvious.

Yassein admitted to copying and pasting the text messages directly into the lyrics, which include lines like: “I’ve been setting fire to my bedsheets. / Don’t twist your tongue just to protect me. / Just scream ‘Mayday, we’re going down.’ ”

The next song, “Speak Too Soon,” was more upbeat and funky. I was almost tricked into thinking the concert had reached its climax but then Glover suddenly pulled out a tambourine, and what’s better than a tambourine? Very, very little.

Perhaps one reason that the songs resonated so well was because the band was singing about themes relevant to college students. They sang about leaving and returning home, relationships that begin one way and turn out another and growing into a better person. One song went, “I love this city but I’m not really from here” and “I’ve got bones to break and miles to go alone.”

That song was titled “Paul Simon,” one of many references to other artists embedded in Wild Rivers’s music. In “Paul Simon,” the band borrows the line “I am a rock, I am an isle” and mentions that “one day I’ll start writing like I’m Leonard Cohen.” The song “Do Right” shouts out band Death Cab for Cutie and incorporates the title of the Postal Service song, “Such Great Heights.”

Toward the end of the show, Yassein said, “We’re going to do ‘The Thing’ if you’re all on board.” I assumed “The Thing” was an encore, and I was right. They went through the motions of leaving the room for about five seconds before coming back. “Thank you for indulging us,” Yassein said, adding, “I love ‘The Thing.’ ”

Their encore song was called “Wandering Child,” named for the lyrics “May my body and heart remain wild / For I’m a wandering child.”

When the song ended, the energy levels remained high. Glover promised that the next was really going to be the last song — the band broke into “I Won’t be Back.” It began like a traditional folk song, but exploded at the refrain. Then the tambourine returned and my heart was flying.

The Georgia Voice – February 3, 2019
Trump Administration Grants Waver to Allow LGBTQ Discrimination in Adoption Agencies

From a May 2018 executive order creating the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, to a Department of Labor directive making it easier for government contractors to use religious freedom to counter discrimination charges, the Trump administration has expanded the power of organizations with and without official religious affiliations to use faith, and taxpayer dollars, to discriminate against others. In many cases, LGBTQ people are the targets.

While to some, access to wedding cakes may seem superficial, these measures are impacting LGBTQ people’s access to other aspects of a normal life. Among them: the ability to adopt a child.

In February 2018, South Carolina governor Henry McMaster requested a waiver from the Department of Health and Human Services that would allow an adoption agency to refuse to allow LGBTQ and non-Christian households to take in children. The Trump administration granted the waiver last month – a move civil rights organizations saw as an ominous precedent.

In response, Shelbi Day, Senior Policy council of Family Equality Council commented, “Allowing child placing agencies to turn away qualified adoptive and foster parents reduces the number of loving families available to the over 4,000 children in South Carolina’s foster care system, and further demonstrates that the Trump administration values a narrow set of religious beliefs over the need to find loving, stable homes for children currently in state care.”

Across the country, similar alliances of religious groups and conservative politicians are working to ensure uphill battles for LGBTQ families trying to adopt. In May, Kansas governor Jeff Colyer signed a bill that legalized faith-based adoption discrimination in the state. The Catholic Church backed the bill, as it has with anti-LGBTQ adoption measures across the country. The bishop of the Diocese of Wichita, Carl Kemme, spoke at the bill’s signing. He cited the church’s history of providing adoption services and suggested that if Catholic organizations were required to serve LGBTQ people, they would no longer be able to help place children in homes.

The founder of FosterAdopt Connect, Lori Ross, commented on the Kansas law with concern that it would place LGBTQ children in households where their identities would be discouraged, an effect scientifically shown to have long-term consequences on mental health.

In Michigan, the state is in a court battle with the American Civil Liberties Union, though the Attorney General Dana Nessel, who is openly gay, is seeking to settle the case.

The legal conflict in the case centers around a 2015 law that allows religiously affiliated adoption agencies to refuse to place children with certain families if it violates their beliefs. The ACLU is arguing that the law does not allow agencies to deny services based on religious convictions and further points to contracts between the state and the agencies that forbid discrimination against same-sex couples in the adoption process. The ACLU claims these provisions are being ignored.

In a taping on WKAR-TV, Michigan Republican Lee Chatfield said the ACLU is advocating for what he calls “reverse discrimination.”

“You’ve seen these laws passed in other states where what happens, in my opinion, is a reverse discrimination against those who have religious beliefs,” Chatfield said.

Georgia has experienced a brush with a like-minded anti-LGBTQ bill that was later stripped of its more controversial discriminatory terms. Entertainment companies invested in Georgia reportedly watched the bill, adding a looming economic threat if the bill passed. This also occurred in the midst of Amazon’s HQ2 decision, another dissuading factor for the state legislature.


The Georgia Voice – January 27, 2019
LGBTQ People in Chechnya Tortured, Raped with “Electric Shock Sticks” 

A new crackdown on LGBTQ people of Chechnya, an autonomous republic subject to the Russian Federation, has led to arrests, detainments, torture, and killings, according to the Russian LGBT Network,

Survivors have detailed increasingly horrific forms of torture. They recall prisoners raped with “electric shock sticks” and men forced to wear women’s clothing and respond to female names.  Authorities starve and dehydrate the people in their custody, only providing clean water for prayer, as one survivor said.

The Russian LGBT Network has been reporting on the “gay purges” in Chechnya since April of 2017 when reports claimed that LGBTQ people were being held. The government, headed by President Ramzan Kadyrov, denies the allegations. Furthermore, in a 2017 interview with HBO reporter David Scott, Kadyrov said, “We don’t have those kinds of people here. We don’t have any gays. If there are any, take them to Canada.”

He added, “Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.”

Kadyrov became president of Chechnya in 2007 with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s approval as an effort to stabilize the region following two wars for Chechen independence. Putin has been known to give Kadyrov significant freedom to rule as he wants despite Chechnya’s receiving frequent condemnations from the international community.

According to Novaya Gazeta, a Russian opposition newspaper and the first to report on the anti-gay crackdown in Chechnya, the purge began after the organization GayRussia sought permits for pride parades in four cities in the North Caucasus. GayRussia did not plan for a parade in Chechnya, but another Muslim province, Kabardino-Balkaria. Still, in Chechnya authorities gave the command for a “prophylactic sweep” of gays in the region.

Few gay men in Chechnya are open about their identities in their everyday lives. “This is equal to a death sentence,” Novaya Gazeta has explained. Therefore, authorities used internet sites to find their victims. A New York Times article tells the story of a man who gives his name as Maksim who was met at his friend’s apartment by agents who bound him to a chair and tortured him to give the names of other gay men he knew.

The new purge began in December 2018. Though reports from the previous waves demonstrated a focus on gay men, it’s clear that women are being targeted as well. In a more recent Times article, the Russian LGBT Network’s director, Igor V. Kochetkov, said that, although the network still has limited information, what they know from survivors shows that “the main difference between the current campaign and the campaign of 2017 is the torture became harsher.”

The Russian LGBT Network is working to evacuate LGBT people from Chechnya and find them safety in European countries and Canada. Of the 140 that had been relocated by January 14th, none were taken in by the United States.

Link: https://thegavoice.com/news/lgbtq-people-in-chechnya-tortured-raped-with-electric-shock-sticks/

The Georgia Voice – January 21, 2019
Trans Youth Know Their Identities

A study in its sixth year by Dr. Kristina Olson, a professor at the University of Washington, has found that gender-nonconforming youth who go on to transition identify as strongly with their desired gender as cisgender youth.

Expensive medical procedures, though sometimes associated with the term “transgender,” do not define transitioning or what it means to identify as trans. Furthermore, children as young as those Olson studied often don’t have medical changes as an option, making such a marker even more inaccurate for a study that looks at young people. Therefore, Olson’s study used pronouns as the indicator that a person has transitioned.

Olson says the study should encourage parents and professionals to believe and affirm children who identify with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.

“There’s a lot of public writing focused on the idea that we have no idea which of these gender nonconforming kids will or will not eventually identify as trans,” Olson told the Atlantic. “And if only small proportions do, as some studies have suggested, the argument goes that ‘they shouldn’t be transitioning’…Our study suggests that it’s not random.”

The implications of the study thus far – Olson plans to collect data on the participants for a total of twenty years – contrast those of another 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. This study, conducted by Thomas Steensma of the University Medical Center in Amsterdam, suggests that most adolescents that experience gender dysphoria, the medical term for the condition of not identifying with one’s assigned gender, do not grow to identify as trans.

Results like those reflect some people’s concerns that as a society, in our growing collective support for trans people, we have become too quick in classifying children as transgender. An opinion headline from the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail embodies this anxiety as it reads, “Transgender kids: Have we gone too far?”

The author, Margaret Wente, quotes a doctor who advises parents to enforce their child’s birth gender as part of a “watch and wait approach,” and another who argues that, in many cases, a child’s gender dysphoria is just an indication of family dysfunction. Though Wente admits that sometimes transitioning can be lifesaving, she writes at the end of her article, “Maybe we’re manufacturing more problems than we’re solving.”

To parents of transgender children, however, that doubt, especially coming from family and community members, can make it more difficult to support their child.

Olson has shown in past research that transgender youth who receive the right support have the same levels of mental health as cisgender children of the same age.

Among the around 300 children participating in her current study is Ellie Ford, who turned 4 in 2015.  When Ellie was treated as a boy, she was often unhappy. She identified with female superheroes and princesses. In a New York Times article, her mother, Vanessa, remembers Ellie telling her while wearing a Princess Elsa dress at her birthday party, “Mom, I’m not a boy; I’m a girl in my heart and my brain.”

After she started school as a girl, her parents legally changed her name to her chosen “Ellie” (after her favorite stuffed elephant) and celebrated “Ellie’s Forever Name Day.”

Evidence consistently shows that rejection and discrimination of LGBTQ youth – including the rejection of their identity by family – can have grave long-term consequences. This effect is even more potent among trans youth. A 2018 study from the American Academy of Pediatrics showed rates of attempted suicide to be around 50.8 percent for trans boys and 29.9 percent for trans girls.

Link: https://thegavoice.com/news/trans-youth-know-their-identities/

The Georgia Voice – November 12, 2018
Colleges Ask Betsy DeVos to Advocate for Transgender Students

Colleges plead to Betsy DeVos to “strongly advocate” for transgender students that would be affected by administration’s considered redefinition of gender, reported the Hill.

In response to the Trump Administration’s move to consider defining gender as an unchangeable state assigned at birth, university leaders from Princeton, Rutgers, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote a letter to Department of Education head Betsy DeVos, urging her to protect the transgender students who would be effectively erased if the policy were to be implemented.

The letter includes a passage which asks DeVos to, “strongly advocate for an interpretation of Title IX (and other federal laws) that fully protects the rights of transgender people — an interpretation grounded in the law, medical judgment, compassion, and a firm commitment to respect the dignity of all Americans.”

However, if DeVos’s history on civil rights issues under her department’s jurisdiction serve as an indication, it seems unlikely that she will be receptive to letter’s plea. In her time as Secretary of Education, DeVos has closed over 1,200 civil rights probes opened under the Obama administration.

She has also decreased the number of investigations conducted by the Department. Revisions to the agency’s manual allow the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights to throw out cases that indicate, as the Department’s spokesperson Liz Hill said, “a pattern of complaints previously filed with O.C.R. by an individual or a group against multiple recipients.” Cases might also be dismissed if they might pose an “unreasonable burden” on the office’s resources.

Since her nomination, DeVos has sent mixed signals on whether she believes in protections for LGBTQ students. In an infamous exchange with Massachusetts Representative Katherine Clark, DeVos was asked if state dollars would go to fund vouchers for schools like the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Indiana, which openly discriminates against LGBTQ students and families. DeVos evaded the question, at first trying to redirect to another topic and then stating, “For states that have programs that allow for parents to make choices, they set up the rules around that.”

When pressed further on her response, DeVos refused to say whether her department would allow states to disperse federal dollars to schools with discriminatory policies. Instead, she chose to talk vaguely about parents being the best equipped to make education choices for their children.

“I am shocked that you can’t come up with one example of discrimination where you would stand up for students,” Clark said as the gavel tapped to remind her that her time was over.

Later, sources told news outlets that DeVos opposed Trump on his move to rescind Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools. Yet when the decision was issued, DeVos appeared supportive, though she said, “We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment.

DeVos has supported voucher programs that allow parents to use state dollars to choose where their child goes to school. Under these programs, parents could send their children to private schools, often with religious affiliations, that have policies that openly discriminate against LGBTQ students.

These policies have human consequences. In 2017, Alex Howe, a transgender student recently graduated from high school, filed a complaint with the Department of Education for the problems he faced. Howe had to walk far out of the way of his classrooms to use the school’s only unisex bathrooms. On sports trips, he was not allowed to share hotel rooms with his male teammates.

His mother told Politico, “He would see his therapist and they would increase his antidepressants…He would say it’s schoolwork and debate, but I thought it was more. He was stressed all the time. He was upset, he was depressed, he was anxious. He would get angry at home.”

The Department of Education dismissed Howe’s case.

Link: https://thegavoice.com/news/colleges-ask-betsy-devos-to-advocate-for-transgender-students/

The Georgia Voice – November 2, 2018
Polish Students Respond to Prohibition of LGBTQ Event with Rainbows

“Rainbow Friday,” an event organized by the Polish Campaign Against Homophobia Network, was set to take place on Oct. 26th. The celebration of LGBTQ identity would have promoted cultural acceptance in a conservative political climate, encouraging students in Polish schools to show their support for the LGBTQ community and bringing LGBTQ groups into schools to spread education and discussion. 

However, facing pressure and intimidation from government officials, many schools in Poland were forced to cancel the event. The country’s education minister, Anna Zalewska, told school administrators ahead of the date that principals who allowed the event to proceed would face negative repercussions. The Associated Press reported that Zalewska also tasked parents with alerting the authorities of any schools that failed to comply.

In spite of the warnings, some students still dressed for the occasion. Gay Star News published a story tweets from students who participated, marked with the hashtag #teczowypiatek (aka #rainbowfriday). 

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Poland, a country currently led by a member of the conservative Law and Justice Party, Andrzej Duda. His election in 2015 marked a shift in Poland reverting back to nationalism and cultural traditionalism. Part of this movement stresses the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church, to which 95% of Poles belong.

Despite resistance from the church and state, in 2017, LGBTQ advocates in Poland celebrated a landmark victory when the Supreme Court ruled against a print shop that refused service to an LGBTQ group that asked for a printed banner. However, the court faced considerable backlash over the decision and the ruling heightened tensions between the government and the court. The government attempted to reform the court so that a third of the judges would be forced to retire early. The highest court of the European Union compelled Poland to reverse the law on October 19th. 

Poland’s failure to embrace equality for its LGBTQ citizens reflects the rift between the cultural atmosphere of the country and the values promoted by the E.U.. Some have observed the link between homophobia and nationalism in Poland, noting that the radicals that practice anti-gay violence and intimidation tend to be white heterosexual men, often with ties to neo-Nazi groups.

However, some Poles are working for change. One man who has become a prominent voice for a new status-quo is Robert Biedron, the openly gay mayor of the Polish city Slupsk. Biedron has faced verbal and physical abuse over the years of working in the government, but he told the BBC that people who would once use slurs against him now greet him with “Good morning, Mr. Mayor,” which he sees as a positive indication of change.

Biedron has lived with his partner for years, but even though he performs many marriages in his capacity as mayor, he cannot marry the man he loves. In his interview with the BBC, he said, “I’m extremely jealous because I see their happiness. I’m 15 years with my partner and it’s still a dream. It’s not fair that in 2018 two adults cannot get married if they love each other and are committed to each other.”

Link: https://thegavoice.com/news/polish-students-respond-to-prohibition-of-lgbtq-event-with-rainbows/

The Georgia Voice – October 29, 2018
D.C. Legislation Could Introduce a Bill of Rights for LGBTQ Senior Citizens

District of Columbia Councilmember Mary Cheh has introduced a piece of legislation that would protect the rights and interests of LGBTQ senior citizens and elderly people living with HIV. If passed, the bill – created after similar bills in Massachusetts and California – would enact a bill of rights for LGBTQ seniors and mandate “cultural competency” training for healthcare providers tasked with the medical welfare of these citizens.

The Care for LGBTQ Seniors and Seniors with HIV Amendment Act of 2018 would add LGBTQ elders to the population classified as vulnerable under the Older Americans Act. Advocacy groups like SageUSA, an organization focused on elderly LGBTQ people, believe this is a positive step towards protecting people who’ve experienced discrimination in many areas throughout their lives.

In a press release, Sage CEO Michael Adams stated, “LGBT older people as well as older people with HIV— including many Washingtonians — face numerous barriers to successful aging and access to aging services and supports.”

“By designating LGBT older people and older people living with HIV greatest social needs populations,” he continued, “Councilmember Cheh’s legislation would ensure that they get the services and support they need under Older Americans Act-funded programs like Meals on Wheels and meals at senior centers.”

In a report, the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging details the various issues that LGBTQ seniors face in care facilities. Their key findings include that members of this population fear the vulnerability of coming out, abuse from other residents and staff, and the possibility of being denied the care they need.

The report builds on another work, Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults, which showed LGBTQ elders to be less likely to have family support systems because they are childless,  single, or estranged from other living family members. 

Though many problems arise from treatment within care facilities, some struggle to find appropriate housing options at all. According to the AARP, LGBTQ seniors often find themselves unable to afford housing in welcoming areas, with older gay men suffering the most.

Professor of Public Health at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Jesus Ramirez-Valles, told the AARP, “They typically have no children, no relatives or partners, younger gay men don’t want them around and they are priced out of neighborhoods.”

It’s legal to deny someone the ability to buy or rent because of their sexuality or gender identity in 29 states.

The treatment of LGBTQ youth in schools has been a cause for national debate. There has been wide circulation of statistics detailing the mental and physical health risks disproportionately affecting LGBTQ youth. In contrast, the needs of older queer people have figured less as a signature issue of the LGBTQ community.

The “It Gets Better” project works to assure youth that, whatever the hardships they face from living in unwelcoming homes to losing friends, their futures as LGBTQ adults are up to their determination.

While younger people can look forward to growing up in a society more accepting than ever, for the older generation, “it gets better” doesn’t necessarily ring true. They grew up in a time when being LGBTQ was deeply taboo and even dangerous. Now, as the Sage motto says, they must still “refuse to be invisible.”

Link: https://thegavoice.com/news/d-c-legislation-could-introduce-a-bill-of-rights-for-lgbtq-senior-citizens/

The Georgia Voice – October 27, 2018
LGBTQ Workers Fear Coming Out at Work Despite Business Incentives Towards Inclusion

Pink News reported a poll conducted by YouGov that found 72% of LGBTQ people have experienced some problem as a result of their sexual or gender identity. In April, Stonewall, a British charity working for LGBTQ equality, published an online press release for the report with a focus on the research’s findings on coming out at work. The results of the survey are especially relevant in light of increasing evidence that LGBTQ inclusion is lucrative for companies.

Stonewall’s “LGBT in Britain Work Report” shows that 35% of LGBTQ people have remained closeted at work out of fear of the discrimination they may face. The consequences for those who do can range from psychological damage to physical assault. 18% of LGBTQ employees have experienced derogatory comments or behavior from co-workers. 10% of LGBTQ people who are also ethnic minorities have been physically assaulted by customers or co-workers. Among trans workers, that number is 12%.

One testimony given in the report is from 22-year-old Scottish worker Jacob. He states, “I work in a shop that sells beauty products and I have been yelled at from outside the store, being called ‘gay or faggot.’ One guy walked past the store and laughed and called me gay. Nothing physical but it did make me feel unsafe.”

For some, being LGBTQ in the workplace requires constant awareness. Another statistic from the YouGov survey shows that 31% of non-binary people and 18% of trans people do not feel comfortable wearing clothes that express their gender identity at work. Making incidents more difficult to identify, 12 % of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and 21% of trans people would not be confident enough to report LGBTQ discrimination to their employer.

Inclusive workplace policies, beyond making LGBTQ workers more productive, also tend to support a company’s bottom line. In 2017, Oglivy produced a survey that showed about half of Americans are more willing to buy from brands that are LGBTQ-supportive. However, many in the LGBTQ community have called for more substantive alliance from corporations.

LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace feeds into the larger issue of mental health among members of the LGBTQ community.  LGBTQ individuals are more likely to experience mental illnesses like anxiety and depression that are exacerbated by discrimination in day-to-day life. A testimony by Milo of Wales deals with this problem in human terms.

“I still feel pressure to keep quiet about my sexuality,” Milo said. “I was working part-time over Christmas, and at least two colleagues made homophobic and transphobic remarks. I was too anxious and fearful of rejection to reprimand them or tell them that I was gay. I know from first-hand experience how much stress and anxiety are caused through discrimination, and even just due to the fear of discrimination.”

Link: https://thegavoice.com/news/lgbtq-workers-fear-coming-out-at-work-despite-business-incentives-towards-inclusion/

The Georgia Voice – October 10, 2018
Singapore Diplomat Tommy Koh Calls for Nullification of Colonial Law

On September 6, the Indian Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex, a move marking an advance in the direction of equality and a rejection of the legal legacy of British colonialism. The ruling, which came after 24 years of legal challenges, was a great cause for celebration among LGBTQ Indians and their allies.

The dean of a law school in Singapore, Simon Chesterman, posted a New York Times article regarding this landmark victory. Veteran diplomat Tommy Koh commented on the article, saying, “I would encourage our gay community to bring a class action to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377A.”

Section 377A, which is part of the British imperial penal code, prohibits “any male person” from engaging in sexual acts or “gross indecency” with another man regardless of whether the encounter occurs in public or private. In the United Kingdom, the law – which made gay sex punishable by a ten-year sentence – was repealed in 1967.

Sex between two women is not considered a crime under this law.

The government of Singapore claims it does not actively enforce 377A. In a 2007 address to congress on the issue, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that gay individuals “have a lot of space in Singapore.”

“Gay groups hold public discussions.  They publish websites. I have visited some of them. There are films and plays on gay themes,” he continued.

However, in 2010 Singapore man Tan Eng Hong was arrested for committing a sexual act with another man in a public restroom. Hong appealed with a constitutional challenge that he brought before the courts with Kenneth Lim and Gary Chee, a couple who also challenged the law.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Lim asked, “Why are we singled out to be punished? It’s legal for straight people to have anal sex and oral sex, so why are we seen as criminals?”

“This law is now always hanging over our heads,” he continued.

Hong’s case failed and the constitutionality of 377A was upheld.

Gay marriage is not legal in Singapore, and public opinion remains a towering obstacle.

In a 2014 survey of about 4,000 people in Singapore conducted by the Institute of Policy studies, 78.2 percent of participants said that gay relationships were wrong. More recently, a much smaller survey by Ipsos Public Affairs found that 55 percent of people polled supported the criminalization of gay sex.

Same-sex couples are also prohibited from adopting children. There are no protections against employment, housing discrimination, or conversion therapy. Even if the country makes legal progress on these issues, activists say the culture must change for LGBTQ people in Singapore to be able to live open lives.

As Jean Chong, co-founder of the lesbian organization Sayoni, said in response to Prime Minister Loong’s statement, “Gay marriage is not the yardstick for equality. Equality is being treated as full citizen rights in our everyday lives.”

Link: https://thegavoice.com/news/world/singapore-diplomat-tommy-koh-calls-for-nullification-of-colonial-law/

The Georgia Voice – September 14, 2018
Chinese HIV-Testing Study Finds Crowdsourced Promotion Effective

On August 28th, PLOS Medicine published the findings of a study testing the effectiveness of crowdsourcing campaigns in promoting HIV testing among men who are sexually active with other men in eight Chinese cities.

In June, the Chinese social media platform Weibo was pressured to stop classifying LGBTQ content as “undesirable” and likening it to violence and pornography, after cries of protest from users. The incident reflected the atmosphere surrounding LGBTQ issues in China and represented a rare case of censorship reversal. Foreignpolicy.com explained the reason for Weibo’s quick revision writing, “The government doesn’t particularly care about the issue, and the public does.”

Still, the study describes that despite rising HIV infection among Chinese men, the rate at which they receive testing are disproportionately low because of the cultural stigma surrounding homosexuality. During the outrage that followed the Weibo “cleanup” effort, the hashtag #Iamgaynotapervert circled on Chinese social media.

In 2017, the German housing website Nestpick ranked the best and worst cities for people who identify as LGBTQ. Shanghai and Beijing were at the bottom of the list. While China’s culture is not steeped in conservative Christianity, conversion therapy still prevails in China. The “treatment” often depends on techniques like electroshock treatment and hypnosis. According to a global survey in 2013, 32 percent of people in China under thirty believe homosexuality is acceptable, in contrast to only 15 percent of those over 50.

On May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Chinese college students stood up for the LGBTQ community by taking to the streets and wearing rainbow pins. However, their activism was not without resistance, as many were stopped and two women were even beaten by security guards. Academic advisers at Wuhan University told students that the movement was “held by an illegal organization that may collude with the Western powers.”

In light of this opposition, pro-LGBTQ groups in China must be careful about how they present themselves. Rather than openly support the rights of LGBTQ people, these organizations focus on public health issues including HIV/AIDS.

The PLOS study found participants both through Internet-based recruitment, and in person, at venues known as meeting places for gay men. Participants then came to a CDC office to complete a questionnaire and have a blood draw. The survey asked for demographic information then assessed the participant’s HIV awareness. The study’s results contrasted with the Chinese government’s efforts to expand HIV testing and discovered that the government has not been effective in getting gay and bisexual Chinese men to receive testing possibly explaining the frequency of late diagnosis across the population. The scientists’ use of the Internet and community engagement resulted in a higher rate of diagnosed cases than among men not involved in the study.

After he was told by school officials that the LGBTQ movement was Western-manipulation and therefore unpatriotic, a gay Chinese student named Kun (he withheld his full name) told The Diplomat, “It sounds ridiculous. I start to think maybe I should move to other countries, some places that are more friendly to us. I love my country, but I don’t know how should I react to this.”

Link: https://thegavoice.com/health/chinese-hiv-testing-study-finds-crowdsourced-promotion-effective/

The Georgia Voice – September 6, 2018
Dejanay Stanton, a transgender woman, killed in Chicago

Dejanay Stanton, a 24 year old transgender woman, was killed on August 30. She was not the only trans person murdered that day.

Last Thursday, Stanton was found dead in an alley in Chicago, Illinois. Her death was reported as the 17th murder of a transgender woman in 2018. Hours later, in Shreveport, Louisiana, Vontashia Bell, 18, was shot to death, becoming the 18th.

The next day, friends of Stanton held a balloon-releasing ceremony at the location of her murder. On social media, her death prompted outrage and support, reinvigorating the hashtags #saytheirnames and #blacktranslivesmatter which aim to spread awareness about violence against trans people, particularly trans people of color.

On Facebook, a friend and activist, LaSaia Wade wrote, “So we lost another sister here in Chicago. Sending her family and loved ones peace and justice! Rest in power, Dejanay Stanton.” Wade went on to say, “She was so sweet. Every time you saw her she had a smile on her face. She was just trying to live her best life as a young girl.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2017, 28 trans people were killed by acts of violence. In July, the Daily Beast ran a story with the headline “2018 Is Shaping Up to Be a Another Terrible Year for Trans Murders.” The article referenced three killings of trans women in the Jacksonville, Florida area between January and June. The rapid succession of the murders has led some to speculate that the three are linked, though there is no evidence to suggest the work of a serial killer.

It’s important to note that even among the 18 killings this year, some were almost not identified as violence against trans people. In a trend repeated in the case of Vontashia Bell, victims are often misgendered in the initial coverage of their deaths, making it difficult to track every incident that falls under this larger issue.

On September 3rd, the New York Times posted an article discussing the Justice Department’s attempts to redefine the civil rights issue and shift priority to groups like churches and police officers and away from commonly oppressed minorities like people of color and the LGBTQ community.

Though the disturbing rate of violence against trans people would suggest an urgent problem, the piece cites the opinions of people like Derrick Max, the executive director of the Cornerstone Schools Christian Academy, who argue that LGBTQ progress has been so fast as to undermine the voices of Christian Americans.

“The move from same-sex attraction issues to transgender issues literally exploded so fast everyone’s head was spinning a little bit,” he said.

In 2014, a study by the Inter-American Commision on Human Rights found that the life expectancy for trans women in the Americas was 35. This led to the creation of a hashtag #ThriveOver35, which according to its creator, a black trans woman named Ashlee Marie Preston, is, “an opportunity for black trans women to express gratitude for every year we survive the multi-tier marginalization we have to navigate on a daily basis.”

Several organizations expressed hurt over Stanton’s murder. On Twitter, the Howard Brown Health Center, which promotes and provides healthcare for LGBTQ people, wrote, “We send our sincerest condolences go to Dejanay’s family, friends and all in our community who are impacted by hate crimes, violence and discrimination motivated by transphobia. We will continue forging space for the experiences of trans women of color and resisting violence.”

Another user, @Jessica_Kursman, tweeted, “Dejanay was more than transgender, as the news will only report.”

On the day before her death, Stanton posted to Facebook, “ain’t close to nobody no more, may kick s__t with a few but im in this s__t alone..”

Link: https://thegavoice.com/news/national/dejanay-stanton-a-transgender-woman-killed-in-chicago/

The Georgia Voice – September 5, 2018
Analysis: Why Did Mass. Legislature Fail to Outlaw Conversion Therapy?

LGBTQ advocates were hopeful when, in June, the Massachusetts House passed a bill to ban conversion therapy by an overwhelming majority of 137 to 14. Later, in July, Delaware became the fifteenth state to instate such a ban. USA Today reports that 2018 has been a record year for the effort to end conversion therapy, with nearly 50 bills to that effect introduced in 24 states.

Conversion therapy, which has been disavowed by many medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatricians, is the practice of using largely unsound techniques to attempt to change a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression. Critics say that young people subjected to these so-called therapies are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, drug addiction and homelessness and are at an increased risk of suicide.

Yet to the frustration of the bill’s supporters, and despite passing the Massachusetts House and Senate, the bill died after senators failed to make the version they passed by a voice vote concordant with that passed earlier by the house. The change that compromised the bill reflected a key dispute over whether “mandated reporters” like teachers and doctors would be obligated to report families to social services when they learned of a case, as in instances of child abuse. Opponents argued that this would lead to children being separated from their parents.

On June 27, the Massachusetts state legislature passed a weaker version of the bill that omitted the mandated reporters section. State Senator Mark Montigny spoke on the floor after midnight and argued in favor of classifying conversion therapy as child abuse. “When you tell a person, who is a whole person, they are evil for an important part of their life, and when the people they love the most bring them — remember, this is children under 18 – when the people they love the most bring them to someone who tells them they’re simply wrong, evil, and it ought to change, it is not free speech. It is child abuse,” he said.

Critics on the right called the revoked section a victory for free speech. However, some believe that a ban on conversion therapy is inherently unconstitutional. One group, the Massachusetts Family Institute tweeted, “#CounselingBan passed in the MA House. The good news is that the section of the bill that labeled Biblical counseling on issues of human sexuality as “child abuse” was dropped at the last minute.”

Though the bill passed before the deadline, there was no time left for the bill to be officially enacted.

Many medical organizations hold that conversion therapy is based in societal prejudice and has no bearing in scientific reality. In their Position Statement on Psychiatric Treatment and Sexual Orientation, the American Psychiatric Association said, “Many patients who have undergone “reparative therapy” relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian are not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed.”

Link: https://thegavoice.com/news/national/analysis-why-did-mass-legislature-fail-to-outlaw-conversion-therapy/

The Georgia Voice – August 27, 2018
ACLU Wins Lawsuit for LGBTQ Inmates in San Bernardino County

In 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s department on behalf of prisoners in San Bernardino county jails. The lawsuit accused the Sheriff’s department of unfair treatment of LGBTQ inmates. According to the ACLU, prisoners were placed in an isolated unit known as the “Alternative Lifestyles Tank.” Unlike other inmates, residents housed there could not access programs like job-training and religious services.

The man who first brought the lawsuit against the Sheriff’s department, Dan McKibben, described being confined to a cell for up to 23 hours a day and witnessing officers using homophobic slurs including “sissies” and “freak shows” on multiple occasions. He told the Los Angeles Times, “The one thing I keep getting stuck on is the uniform, the badge. These are the people that have the control, that are responsible for our safety.”

It was announced on Aug. 15 that the ACLU and the Sheriff’s department reached a settlement. A million dollars is to be split amongst the people held in the “Alternative Lifestyles Tank” between 2012 and 2018. It’s a victory that represents a growing awareness of the conditions LGBTQ people face in prison. Unfortunately, the man who pushed for justice in this case did not live to see the result. Dan McKibben died in 2016.

The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. Organizations like the ACLU believe that the staggering statistics, including those that show one in every three African-American males can expect to go to prison in their lifetimes, represent a broken system ineffective at preventing crime and very precise in its targeting of minorities.

A study taking data from the 2011-2012 National Inmate Survey found that LGBTQ people are imprisoned at higher rates than people who identify as heterosexual. While overall, 612 out of 10000 Americans face incarceration, that number is 1882 out of 10000 for LGBTQ Americans. The same study cites past data analysis of the survey that found LGBTQ prisoners more likely to experience abuse in prison. In that survey, 12 percent of LGBTQ prisoners reported abuse by other inmates and 5 percent reported abuse by staff. In contrast, out of the general population, 1.2 percent reported fellow inmate abuse and 2.1 percent reported abuse by staff.

In the San Bernardino case, the Sheriff’s department argued that the prisoners were kept in isolation for their own safety. In response to these claims, ACLU southern California attorney Brenda Hamme told the San Bernardino Sun, “Jails have an obligation to keep everyone safe while providing equal access to opportunities in jail. No one should be led to choose between their safety and their equal rights.”

This case comes in wake of several cases in which courts ruled in favor of transgender inmates seeking transition-related care. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, despite the disheartening news of the conditions LGBTQ people experience in prison, change may be possible in the not-too-distant future, if the LGBTQ community dontinues to take up the issue.

In their pamphlet “Standing with LGBT Prisoners: an advocate’s guide to ending abuse and combating imprisonment,” The National Center for Transgender Equality states, “Finally, because there is more of this advocacy work going on around the country, jails and prisons are more receptive to our message. LGBT advocates are increasingly taking this on as an important issue that affects particularly vulnerable members of our communities.”

Link: https://thegavoice.com/news/national/aclu-wins-lawsuit-for-lgbtq-inmates-in-san-bernardino-county/

The Georgia Voice – August 23, 2018
Australian Police Official Apologizes to Victims of Infamous Police Assault 

On June 24, 1978 in Sydney, Australia, a crowd formed in Taylor Square. The people there would later gain recognition as the “78ers,” and their presence that night sparked an unanticipated chain of events that would eventually lead to the 2017 postal vote legalizing same-sex marriage in Australia.

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Organization considers 1978 to be the first Mardi Gras celebration in the city. However, the night’s festivities turned to bitter injustice when the New South Wales (NSW) Police disrupted the march around King’s Cross. The NSW scattered the crowd and arrested 53 people despite the fact that earlier, they had given the group a permit allowing the march to take place.

This month, the NSW Police Commissioner, Mick Fuller formally apologized to the 78ers. “You get one chance to try and heal the wounds of forty years and it’s tough,” he said, before saying that he wanted the apology to begin and end with his personal regret as the commissioner of police. Then he attempted to give that statement context.

In 2016, the NSW Police Superintendent Tony Crandell apologized on behalf of the Police Force saying he had the then commissioner Andrew Scipione’s full support. Yet some weren’t convinced and expressed disappointment that Scipione didn’t make the statement in person.

Mick Fuller, who replaced Scipione in March 2017, mentioned the previous year’s apology in his speech. “Since that time, I have personally met with a small number of the 78ers. I’ve read and I’ve listened and I’ve listened more today to their stories and those of others. Particularly gay men during the 70s, 80s, and 90s who were shamed, embarrassed, abused,” he said.

The history between Sydney law enforcement and the LGBTQ community contains many horrific told and untold stories of direct abuse, cover-ups, botched investigations, and fear. In May of this year the LGBTQ health advocacy group ACON published a report documenting hate-motivating killings in New South Wales over the course of the late 20th century. ACON reviewed 88 deaths, 23 of which have been placed back with the unsolved homicide unit.

The report exposes the terrifying reality faced by LGBTQ Australians for decades. Gangs attacked and killed LGBTQ people for sport, in what was called “poofter bashing.”

Ted Pickering, a former commissioner for the NSW Police, said in an article in the New York Times, “We can now see that predators were attacking gay men. And they were doing it with the almost-certain knowledge that the police would not have gone after them.”

One case undergoing review is that of American mathematician, Scott Johnson, whose body was found at the bottom of a cliff in Sydney Harbor. Authorities ruled his death a suicide, but his brother, Steve Johnson, doubted their conclusion. He told the New York Times, “He would have been a first-round draft pick for any university in any part of the world. He had no reason to be stressed or unhappy.”

Steve Johnson spent years asking that the NSW Police revisit his brother’s death. He even hired an investigative journalist to dig up records. In 2012, a new inquest decided that his death could not be assumed a suicide. In late 2017, his death was ruled an anti-gay hate crime.

Though now the NSW Police force is there to ensure safety at Sydney’s Mardi Gras celebration and most Australians support same-sex marriage, opponents still voice their resistance to the cultural change.

This was made very clear in the time leading up to the postal vote in which tensions led to several incidents including one in which an airline executive was hit with a lemon meringue pie by a religious anti-gay protester and another in which Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who did not support same-sex marriage, was headbutted by a man wearing a pro-marriage equality pin.

Those in favor of voting no for marriage equality complained that their views weren’t accepted and that they felt pressured by the support for the “Yes” vote. Karina Okotel told the BBC,“A culture has developed whereby it is acceptable to vilify, mock, abuse and shame anyone who stands in the way, or even raises questions, about whether we should legalise same-sex marriage. I’ve been called a homophobe, a bigot and been told that my views are disgusting.”

Perhaps owing to the hardships endured by LGBTQ people, progress in Australia has occurred at a rapid rate. As late as 1949 Australian law applied the death penalty as a punishment for sodomy.

Link: https://thegavoice.com/news/world/australian-police-official-apologizes-to-victims-of-infamous-police-assault/

The Georgia Voice – August 22, 2018
LGBTQ Texans suspect firework-throwing motivated by hate

Around 2 AM on June 28, an unidentified person threw a firework from a moving vehicle onto the patio of a gay bar in Austin, Texas. On Aug. 9, also very early in the morning, it happened again.

Patrons of the Iron Bear reportedly heard a window-shaking bang as the firework flared green and erupted into smoke. When a nearly identical incident occurred in June, the bar’s co-owners Benny Beshear and Roger Rozell didn’t jump to the conclusion that the establishment was targeted for being a gay bar. There were no slurs from the thrower and the car drove off before anyone got a picture or video. The Austin Police Department was called, but never showed.

At the time, Beshear took to the bar’s Facebook page to diffuse the growing assumption that the incident was motivated by hate. “We do not feel this was a targeted incident more of someone being an asshole.” He wrote.

The Iron Bear has never faced any threats or attacks before and the general manager, Jason Grodzinsky, still believes it is a safe place.

However, members of Austin’s LGBTQ community were shaken by the events. One customer who witnessed the scene, Steve Rivas, described the patrons’ reaction to the local Statesman. “I don’t think people were afraid as much as in shock,” he said.

Rivas went on to say, “When a firework is thrown, it is loud. When a firework is thrown on a sidewalk full of people at a gay bar, it is scary.”

After their lack of response to the June call, the APD is now investigating what happened. The report is particularly alarming for its proximity to the Austin Pride Parade which began on Aug. 11. The bar took additional security measures to ensure patrons’ safety during the festivities.

This year is the fifteenth anniversary of the case that reversed the Texas law which made “homosexual conduct” illegal in the state. The case, Lawrence v. Texas, was sparked after John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested for allegedly engaging in a consensual homosexual act in Lawrence’s home.

Still, further gains for the LGBTQ community in Texas have been slow. Though the Supreme Court ruled that Texas cannot enforce the 1974 law criminalizing same-sex relations, the Republican-leaning state legislature still has not removed the law from the books. In Texas, LGBTQ citizens still face the possibility of being fired, evicted, or refused services for their identity.

While in 2015, the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges ruled that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, in 2017 the Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled that same-sex couples do not have a right to spousal benefits in employee insurance plans. The decision was submitted to the Supreme Court and allowed to hold without any comments.

Though some in Texas resist progress, others work for legal change and cultural acceptance. According to the Austin Pride website, over 400,000 people attended the festival and parade in 2017. The theme this year was Revolution with the letters E, V, O, and L presented backwards to reveal the word “love” in the theme’s title. In their letter printed at the front of the event guide, the Austin Pride board wrote that they meant to recognize the revolution that began with the riots at the Stonewall Inn.

Link: https://thegavoice.com/news/national/lgbtq-texans-suspect-firework-throwing-motivated-by-hate/

The Georgia Voice – August 18, 2018
Labor Dept. Uses “Religious Liberty” to Discriminate, LGBTQ Advocates Say

As part of an ongoing Trump Administration campaign stressing religious freedom, on August 10, 2018 the Department of Justice implemented Directive 2018-03, an addition to Executive Order 11246 that critics call a “license to discriminate.”

The new directive follows after a series of executive orders and court rulings in favor of religious individuals and corporations arguing that the government cannot require them to comply with policies that are contrary to sincerely held religious beliefs. The directive cites cases including Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc which held that religious objections to gay marriage are sometimes protected forms of expression and that for-profit corporations have rights to free expression respectively.

Executive order 11246 was signed in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson. Since then it has been amended to forbid federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, and veteran status.

In a press release, the Department of Labor stated that it “is implementing a comprehensive compliance initiative, which seeks to ensure compliance with equal employment opportunity and anti-discrimination regulations in all of its protected groups.”

That said, the new directive instructs the Office of Federal Contract Compliance programs to “take into account” the recent developments via Supreme Court decisions and executive orders to ensure that the office’s activities protect religious freedom.

On May 3, 2018, President Trump issued the Executive Order on the Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.

This order established the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative headed by an adviser who, among other responsibilities, will make recommendations to the president on domestic policy and notify the Attorney General of the concerns of faith-based organizations.

Civil rights groups see these measures as giving a “blank check” to religious groups to discriminate without consequence. The language of the documents uses terms and phrases commonly associated with the evangelical call for family values that often veils hostile, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.

Trump’s May 3rd order referred to his support of religious groups engaged in “strengthening marriage and family.” More recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the formation of a “Religious Liberty Task Force” citing the growth of an insidious movement “eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.”

The Human Rights Campaign warned that this directive may permit Social Security Employees to deny spousal and survivors benefits, federal contractors to withhold services to LGBTQ people, organizations to discriminate with benefits and hiring, and federally-funded agencies to refuse to assist LGBT youth in crisis and locate children with LGBTQ foster parents.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement on the Creation of the Faith and Opportunity Initiative.

In May, Daniel Mach, the director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief said, “Freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental and cherished rights. But that freedom does not give any of us the right to harm other people, to impose our beliefs on others, or to discriminate. The ACLU will be watching this initiative closely to ensure that it does not promote policies that violate these core principles.”

Link: https://thegavoice.com/news/national/labor-dept-uses-religious-liberty-to-discriminate-lgbtq-advocates-say/