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Anti-gay violence, domestic abuse on the rise: report

New study, presented to White House, outlines challenges for LGBT victims

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Anti-gay violence is increasing by staggering percentages each year, domestic violence among same-sex couples is as pervasive as it is among opposite-sex couples and mainstream service providers for victims of violence are woefully undertrained in how to effectively treat LGBT victims who turn to them for help, according to a new study conducted last year and released in late March.

“Why it Matters: Rethinking Victim Assistance for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Victims of Hate Violence & Intimate Partner Violence” is a joint policy report by the National Center for Victims of Crime and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. The Coalition focuses on LGBT and HIV-affected communities. The Center isn’t LGBT specific but bills itself as the country’s leading resource and advocacy organization dedicated to helping victims of crime rebuild their lives. The groups collaborated to identify and raise awareness about the gaps in LGBT victims’ rights (find the report online at ncvc.org or avp.org).

“The collaboration was very deliberate,” says Sharon Stapel, a lesbian and executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, the group that coordinates the Coalition. “The NCVC membership had access to our LGBT expertise and the Coalition membership had access to the Center’s resources. It really began because we knew a lot of this information anecdotally but we didn’t have numbers or know why.”

The study, in which 648 responders from across the country in a variety of victim assistance programs participated voluntarily, found that their agencies lacked outreach to LGBT victims, lacked staff LGBT-specific cultural competency training, did not implement LGBT-specific victim services policies and practices and did not collaborate with those who had, and were under-resourced to correct the barriers to LGBT-specific services.

But how pressing is the need? According to Coalition numbers for 2008, the most recent year for which numbers are available, hate violence against LGBT people is continually on the rise having increased 26 percent from 2006 to 2008 with a 36 percent climb in crimes committed by strangers, a 48 percent increase in bias-related sexual assault and an all-time high rate of hate violence resulting in murder. Anti-LGBT bias-related physical abuse at the hands of law enforcement personnel increased a whopping 150 percent from 2007 to 2008, the Coalition reports.

It also cites several studies from the ’00s that show intimate partner violence affects LGBT couples at the same rate it occurs in straight relationships — between 25 and 33 percent of all relationships. About 11 percent of women reported being raped by their lesbian partners while another study found 39 percent of gay men reported some form of battery from their same-sex partners over a five-year period.

So even though the rates are about the same gay and straight, heterosexual victims tend to have many more resources at their disposal. Gay men who flee abusive partners often find shelters only admit women. Lesbians who turn to shelters are sometimes harassed by the straight women there or worse, discover there’s no barrier in place to prevent their abusive female partners from joining them at the shelter.

Kelcie Cooke is bi and provides trauma counseling at Boston’s Fenway Community Health Center, one of only 36 LGBT-specific victim assistance providers in the U.S. She says fundamental shifts need to happen before mainstream providers are equipped to help LGBT victims.

“The definition of domestic violence is really rooted in the feminist movement,” Cooke says, “which understood it to be about men’s oppression over women. That doesn’t make sense for an LGBT program and under that paradigm, we don’t even see LGBT examples when it’s all about men and women.”

Many other factors often prevent LGBT domestic violence victims from finding help or even reporting their crimes, the report says. Some fear being outed and perhaps losing their jobs if they’re in the military for instance. Others fear being excluded from their circle of friends if a restraining order is granted. Transgender victims face even further obstacles.

Jeff Dion, executive director for the National Center for Victims of Crime, remembers one case he worked on in Miami that illustrated the problem.

“Sometimes law enforcement and the courts don’t take these issues seriously,” Dion, who’s gay, says. “Miami even has its own special domestic violence court but I remember one lawyer advocate who said, ‘You’re going to have a hard time getting justice if a man goes to court dressed as a woman.’ So there are still major barriers to overcome just to treat people like people.”

Morgan Lynn, a local lesbian attorney who founded an LGBT-specific program at Women Empowered Against Violence, says there are further complications she sees daily in her work.

“The people I see are just going to have different issues,” she says. “We have custody issues that affect us differently, marriage and divorce, outing is a whole issue that’s unique to our community. These are just the kinds of questions that straight folks, straight women, just don’t have to be aware of. Like with divorce. There’s no residency requirement to get married in Massachusetts but there is for divorce. So what are you going to do? Move there with an abusive partner just so you can get divorced?”

Homophobia and heterosexism are also challenges, the study says.

“There’s a lot of heterosexism in domestic violence work in general,” Lynn says. “You think about the images you see. A straight woman, she’s probably white, cowering in the corner. Advocates like us try to work through those cultural stereotypes because we know not all abusers are men, or not all abusers are the more masculine person. People think the butch in a lesbian relationship is the abuser but that’s not always the case. I’ve even had some women leave abusive heterosexual relationships thinking there was no domestic violence among lesbians only to find their girlfriend is abusive.”

But there is good news. Many of the mainstream providers who responded said they’d welcome LGBT-specific training.

“We weren’t surprised to hear that but it was gratifying to see the numbers of mainstream service providers who were so vocal about really wanting to do this work but really needing the technical assistance to do it properly,” Stapel says.

Cooke, though, says it requires more than an afternoon training session.

“We’ve done a lot of training here in the Boston area with many front-line workers,” she says. “They’re very well intentioned, but they often don’t have the institutional buy in to really make the changes necessary to do the work correctly. There’s a lot to it. Forms need to be changed for gender variance, they don’t screen at shelters to keep same-sex perpetrators from finding their victims there … there really has to be structural change. It’s not just about sensitivity training.”

So what’s the answer? The study’s authors included several recommendations based on their findings. They advocate collaborations between LGBT-specific and mainstream victim assistance providers, advocacy for state and federal protections to ensure LGBT victims have equal access to protections, an increase of public awareness of the extent and impact of victimization in the LGBT community and increases of funding to see these objectives through.

The two organizations that performed the study are off to a good start — just last week they presented the report at the White House to several of President Obama’s advisers.

“It might take a year or so for this to get into the next round of grant solicitations and to develop grant programs but there’s an awful lot of buzz about this and people are interested and excited to see the report, particularly in this administration,” Dion says. “It’s really helped us quantify the anecdotal evidence. We can now offer the report to validate that and give us a platform to move forward.”

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Florida

Miami hotel liquor license may be revoked over a drag show

State’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco targets business

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Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami. (Photo by dennizn/Bigstock)

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is in the process of revoking the Hyatt Regency Miami’s alcohol license after the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation determined that the hotel’s affiliated James L. Knight Center had hosted “A Drag Queen Christmas” performed Dec. 27 with minors present in the audience.

The Knight Center is a major South Florida venue and has previously hosted the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. The venue’s main room can seat 4,600 people.

This is the third time the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, which operates under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, has targeted a business that hosted a drag show.

A popular restaurant and pub in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is also under threat of losing its liquor license. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches.”

The July 2022 complaint filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation asks for a final order that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun and expression & freedom.”

In late December “A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the Orlando non-profit Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation on Dec. 28, filing a complaint alleging that children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic alleged the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old.

In this latest targeting of the show, which is a holiday-themed drag show that tours in 36 different cities and features stars from the reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Insider webzine journalist Kimberly Leonard reported that the DeSantis administration officials accused the Knight Center of several violations, including a prohibition of “lascivious exhibition” before people younger than 16, mirroring the December complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic.

The department’s complaint said performers engaged in “acts of simulated sexual activity, and lewd, vulgar, and indecent displays” that included:

  • Performers forcibly penetrating or rubbing exposed prosthetic female breasts against faces of audience members
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ prosthetic female breasts and genitalia to the audience
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ buttocks to the audience
  • Simulating masturbation through performers’ digitally penetrating prosthetic female genital
  • Graphic depictions of childbirth and/or abortion

Hyatt Regency Miami is allowed to keep selling alcohol until the department makes a final decision. The business has 21 days to request a hearing, Beth Pannell, spokeswoman for the department, told Insider.

Regulators had warned the facility to change how it marketed the show before it went live, according to a copy of the letter included in the complaint. The letter accused the marketers of putting on a performance that constitutes “public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct” when minors are present.

News of this latest action was first reported by far-right conservative internet based outlet Florida’s Voice.

As more and more Republican states target drag shows, in just the past few weeks, Tennessee became the first to ban adult performances, including drag, from public spaces such as parks and schools. 

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

New VA mission statement recognizes commitment to all veterans

‘To fulfill [Lincoln’s] promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military & for their families, caregivers, & survivors’

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VA Secretary Denis McDonough. (Screenshot/YouTube)

In a speech delivered Thursday at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA), located at the main entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in suburban Virginia, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued an updated version of its 1959 mission statement.

The new mission statement is: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

As the VA secretary commenced his remarks, he honored several notable women in the audience including Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton, the assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs.

Fulton, is a 1980 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., which was the Academy’s first class to admit women. She is an out lesbian and served as a founding board member of Knights Out, the organization of LGBTQ West Point graduates, and later worked with OutServe, the association of actively-serving LGBTQ military members and SPARTA, an LGBTQ military group advocating for transgender military service.

“Whenever any veteran, family member, caregiver, or survivor walks by a VA facility, we want them to see themselves in the mission statement on the outside of the building,” said Secretary McDonough. “We are here to serve all veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors — and now, our mission statement reflects exactly that.”

In crafting the new mission statement, VA surveyed roughly 30,000 Veterans. Among veterans surveyed, the new version of VA’s mission statement was chosen over the current version by every age group; by men and by women; by LGBTQ+ veterans; and by white, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and American Indian/Alaska Native Veterans.

In addition to two rounds of surveys, VA conducted dozens of small-group engagements with veterans to understand what was most important to them in a VA mission statement, then incorporated that feedback into quantitative research. The new mission statement reflects that VA serves all of the heroes who have served our country, regardless of their race, gender, background, sexual orientation, religion, zip code or identity.

The previous mission statement was: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.” The previous mission statement is posted in roughly 50 percent of VA’s facilities. Over the coming months, VA’s new mission statement will replace the previous version.

VA announces new mission statement, recognizing sacred commitment to serve all who served:

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Michigan

Mich. governor signs statewide LGBTQ rights law

‘Bigotry is bad for business’

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 16, 2023, signed an LGBTQ rights bill into law. (Photo courtesy of Whitmer's office)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act on Thursday, which expands basic protections for the LGBTQ community.

The measure, Senate Bill 4, was sponsored by openly gay state Sen. Jeremy Moss who less than a year previously had been shot down by the Republican majority as he attempted to have a non-binding resolution to recognize “Pride Month” adopted by the Senate.

In her signing remarks, Whitmer noted: “In the words of Detroit native Lizzo, it’s about damn time! Bigotry is bad for business. Come to Michigan, you will be respected and protected under the law.”

“As Equality Michigan celebrates this historic step forward, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Generations of activists have inspired us to fight for justice and equality for all LGBTQ+ Michiganders, and our community has been working to update our state’s civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in every single legislative session since Elliott-Larsen was first adopted,” Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott said in a statement. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer for signing this bill into law, and are humbled by this pro-equality legislature that made amending ELCRA a top priority. Senator Jeremy Moss and Rep. Jason Hoskins introduced this legislation and championed it all the way through to the finish line.” 

“The victory we have today in Michigan is a great one, but it’s also one we don’t take lightly at this moment. Let it not be lost on us that this privilege, however hard-earned, is a unique one that exists amid a nationwide political assault on LGBTQ+ people, especially trans and non-binary youth, and their families,” added Knott. “There are over 400 anti-trans bills moving across state legislatures in the US, twice the amount introduced last year.”

“This bill being signed into law is a beacon of hope and sends a powerful message of acceptance to LGBTQ people across the nation. At the Trevor Project, we work every day to protect the lives of LGBTQ youth, and days like today prove that in generations to come, both their legal and lived equality will no longer be fodder for political debate,” said Troy Stevenson, director of state advocacy campaigns for the Trevor Project. “Our research shows that having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent. We applaud the elected leaders, advocates and Gov. Whitmer for making this a reality, and affirming the dignity and rights of LGBTQ Michiganders by codifying these protections into law.”

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