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U.S. takes anti-bullying message to Italy

Ambassador appears in video promoting gay helpline

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A screen capture from Ambassador David Thorne's 'It Gets Better' video.

The Obama administration’s participation in the “It Gets Better” campaign to stop anti-LGBT bullying and teen suicide moved to Europe last week when the U.S. ambassador to Italy appeared in a video promoting an Italian helpline (watch the video here).

Speaking in Italian and addressing viewers of Italy’s version of MTV and YouTube, Ambassador David Thorne said the American Embassy was “focusing on the rights of gays” this year to commemorate Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

“If you are a victim of discrimination or acts of bullying, talk to someone who is ready to listen,” he said. “Call the helpline number listed on the screen. Your life is important. You are not alone. Things will get better.”

Thorne’s video recording follows similar videos on the subject of bullying and LGBT teen suicides related to bullying that have been recorded by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and four cabinet members, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. John Berry, the gay director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, also recorded such a video.

Each of the videos, including the one recorded by Obama, calls on LGBT youth subjected to bullying or harassment to remember that things get better once they finish school and enter a career and that they should seek help and support. The videos are modeled after the first such video made by gay columnist and author Dan Savage, who founded the “It Gets Better Project” to address LGBT teen suicides triggered by harassment and bullying.

Paula Thiede, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Italy, said Thorne made his video through recording facilities at the embassy in Rome after seeing an ‘It Gets Better’ message directed to LGBT young people delivered by Secretary Clinton in a video released earlier this year.

Thiede said Thorne’s video message appeared on Italy’s MTV channel Dec. 8-10.

A press release issued by the embassy directed to the Italian media also announced that the embassy organized a free concert Sunday [Dec. 12] called “Broadway Night” at a Rome theater that was “dedicated to the lesbian, gay and trans community.”

The news release says the concert, which was open to everyone, was sponsored by the City of Rome and the surrounding provincial and regional governments together with the Italian Gay Help Line.

“The concert last night was a huge success, the theater was standing room only, with a lively crowd who really enjoyed the music, calling for encores and requesting their favorite American songs,” said Fleur Cowan, deputy cultural attaché for the U.S. Embassy in Rome, in an e-mail on Monday.

“Guests came from as far away as Naples, and we were approached by many people thanking us for the event and underscoring how important the U.S. example of tolerance and social inclusion was for the LGBT community here,” Cowan said.

Thorne’s video attracted considerable coverage in the Italian news media, including stories in two of Italy’s leading mainstream newspapers — La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera.

“This year, both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton wanted to underscore respect for gay rights,” Thorne said in a statement. “On the occasion of World Human Rights Day, my embassy in Rome decided to collaborate with the associations supporting the Gay Help Line to sensitize public opinion on a very important theme, and to help homosexual young people who are victims of discrimination and bullying.”

Thorne’s video aired at a time when the Italian public and media have been closely following the release by the controversial group WikiLeaks of confidential cables from the U.S. Embassy in Rome that were highly critical of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The embassy cables were among thousands of classified and confidential U.S. documents WikiLeaks obtained from unidentified U.S. sources. The Justice Department is investigating the matter.

Although Thorne’s video steered clear of internal Italian politics, it also followed a Nov. 2 comment by Berlusconi about gays that offended Italian gay activists and drew criticism from opposition party leaders.

In responding to allegations that he hosted parties in his private villas in which young women provided sexual favors to guests — an allegation that Berlusconi strongly denies — the prime minister told reporters at a public gathering, “It is better to like beautiful girls than to be gay.”

His office said the remark was a joke and not intended to offend anyone.

Berlusconi’s government barely survived a vote on a motion of “no confidence” by opposition forces that sought his ouster from office and a call for a national election.

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Federal Government

Rachel Levine tackles bad information on COVID, gender-affirming care

Assistant health secretary is highest ranking transgender person in Biden administration

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Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a visit to one of America’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, Adm. Rachel Levine answered questions and offered insight about two of the most controversial healthcare issues of this decade, long COVID-19 and gender-affirming care.

Long COVID is the mysterious phenomenon in which patients endure debilitating, long-term effects from being infected by the coronavirus and gender-affirming care, treatments for transgender youth that are being targeted by lawmakers nationwide.

“Long COVID is real,” said Levine, the assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the highest-ranking transgender official in the Biden administration. “We heard from patients who have suffered heart issues, lung issues, issues of fatigue and brain fog, after their COVID-19 infection. And we heard from providers at Yale who are forming a multidisciplinary clinic in order to evaluate and treat these patients.” 

In a public session held Monday at the Yale Law School, four of these “long haulers” shared their challenges with the admiral: Shortness of breath, pulmonary disorders, lifestyle and work limitations and disabilities that are hidden to most observers.

“Hearing the patients tell their stories is so meaningful,” she said, calling it a privilege to better understand the challenges they face.

“That helps us drive policy as well as research,” Levine said. 

“I was very active,” said Hannah Hurtenbach of Wethersfield, Conn., a 30-year-old registered nurse who was diagnosed with post-COVID cardiomyopathy, cognitive brain fog and pulmonary issues. “I loved hiking and being outside. I was constantly on the move and now I barely leave my couch. I barely leave my house and I can’t really handle even a part time job now when I used to work full time. So that has been really difficult at age 30 to be facing those sorts of issues that I never really anticipated feeling.”

Hurtenbach told the Washington Blade she appreciated Levine’s visit.

“Sharing my experience today with the admiral was probably one of the more highlight moments of this experience,” she said. “Knowing that the federal government is taking action, is paying attention, and listening to these stories means more to me than anything else, and especially knowing that what I’ve gone through over the last couple of years can be led and used into the future research and help others just like myself.”

A woman named Christine told the Blade that even though she is so impacted by long COVID that she needs assistance to walk and has to pause as she speaks because of her shortness of breath, she felt attending this event was worth all the struggle to get there.

“I’m so glad I came. I learned a lot from hearing from the others,” she said, who like her are trying to recover from long COVID.

Levine told the Blade that so far, she herself has not contracted COVID, and that she is double-vaccinated and double-boosted. With the president announcing the end of emergency COVID declarations on May 11, she said the administration is pushing Congress to approve extra funding for long COVID and other related needs. But how can she expect to get that through a House of Representatives full of anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers and COVID-deniers, including in GOP leadership?

“Long COVID is real and we hear you,” she said. “We plan to engage Congress to talk about the funding that we need. And we’ll continue to work. We do have to get past misinformation in this country, but we are here to give the correct information about COVID-19 and long COVID, and we’ll continue to engage Congress on that.”

Hurtenbach expressed disappointment in those colleagues in healthcare who came out publicly in opposing vaccines and mask mandates.

“I just wish they had paid better attention in school and learned more of the science,” the nurse said. “I wish they would trust the science that they are supposed to be promoting for their patients as well.” 

Following Monday morning’s public meeting, Levine held a private session with long COVID patients and Yale doctors, researchers, counselors, physical therapists and other providers. Then in the afternoon, the admiral spoke at another event, held at Yale Medical School: “A Conversation on LGBTQI+ Health and Gender-Affirming Care.” Although it was closed to press, Yale Asstistant Professor of Medicine Diane Bruessow attended the event and shared with the Blade what Levine told those gathered, which is that she remains positive and optimistic. 

“I think over time, things will change, and things will get better,” said Levine, adding the caveats, “I don’t know if they will get better everywhere in the United States. I also don’t know if it’s going to be quick. I think the next two years will be really, really hard.” Especially with more than 270 anti-trans pieces of legislation moving their way through state legislatures.

“But I am going to stay positive. I’m going to think that over time, things will improve,” Levine said, pledging that both she and the Biden administration would do everything they can to help families with trans kids. “I think the tide will turn.”

Levine: Long COVID is real

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National

Patrons of The Eagle NYC robbed of thousands

NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated

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The Eagle NYC (Screenshot/YouTube)

The New York City Police Department, (NYPD) confirmed that a series of robberies committed at The Eagle NYC, a Chelsea gay leather bar last Fall, had the three victims losing thousands of dollars after the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones.

NBC News Out correspondent Matt Lavietes reported the three men, who were in their late 30s and 40s, visited The Eagle NYC, on separate nights in October and November and were each robbed of $1,000 to $5,000, according to the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of public information. 

No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing, authorities said.

Capt. Robert Gault of the city’s 10th Precinct, who spoke about the incidents at a police community council meeting last week, told NBC News that NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated.

“What we think is happening with this scheme is they’re being lured away from the club, maybe to say, ‘Hey, you wanna come with me? I got some good drugs,’ or something like that,’” Gault said. “And then, once they get into a car to do whatever it is that they’re going to do, at some point or another, they don’t know what happened when they wake up.”

Criminals use facial recognition to patrons at NYC gay bar:

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State Department

State Department spokesperson welcomes Pope Francis’ comments against criminalization laws

Ned Price is openly gay, said pontiff ‘speaks with authority’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, welcomes Pope Francis' recent comments against laws that criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday said he welcomes Pope Francis’ recent comments against criminalization laws.

“His Holiness using his voice in this way is something that will be noticed by people and governments around the world,” Price told the Washington Blade during his daily press briefing. “He obviously speaks with authority that perhaps no one else can. We welcome those remarks.”

Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Rt. Rev. Ian Greenshields of the Church of Scotland on Sunday after they left South Sudan publicly denounced criminalization laws and said their respective churches should welcome LGBTQ and intersex people. Francis during an exclusive interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 24 described criminalization laws as “unjust” and said “being homosexual is not a crime.”

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ and intersex issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, but the church continues to consider homosexuality a sin. The Vatican remains opposed to marriage rights for same-sex couples. 

Price on Monday referred to President Joe Biden’s memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. 

The openly gay State Department spokesperson in May 2021 told the Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the White House in its efforts to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad. Singapore, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis have legalized homosexuality since that interview.

“We will continue, as an administration, as a government, to doing (sic) what we can, perhaps in a very different way, but practical steps that we can to promote and protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world,” said Price on Monday, referring to Biden’s foreign policy memorandum. 

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