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White House hosts anti-bullying conference

Obama unveils stopbullying.gov as resource to address harassment

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President Obama speaks at anti-bullying conference (Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama on Thursday opened the doors of the White House to anti-bullying advocates for a conference in which participants discussed harassment of students and devised strategies to curtail bullying.

In remarks starting off the conference, Obama said if the conference had one goal, it would be dispel the myth that bullying is “a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.”

“It’s not,” he said. “Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people.  And it’s not something we have to accept. As parents and students, as teachers and members of the community, we can take steps — all of us — to help prevent bullying and create a climate in our schools in which all of our children can feel safe; a climate in which they all can feel like they belong.”

The conference, in which around 150 students, parents, teachers and anti-bullying advocates participated, wasn’t specifically directed toward the bullying of LGBT students, although harassment of children because of their sexual orientation or gender identity was often mentioned.

Bullying against LGBT students received renewed attention late last year when several young men who were gay or perceived to be gay took their own lives after they were reportedly bullied. Among them was Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student, who leaped off the George Washington Bridge in September after a video was posted online of him reportedly having a sexual encounter with another man in his dorm room.

During his remarks, Obama noted that students who are gay are among the types of children who often face bullying at school.

“A third of middle school and high school students have reported being bullied during the school year,” Obama said. “Almost 3 million students have said they were pushed, shoved, tripped, even spit on. It’s also more likely to affect kids that are seen as different, whether it’s because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the disability they may have, or sexual orientation.”

Obama also announced that his administration had launched a new website, stopbullying.gov, as a resource housed within the Department of Health & Human Services for parents, students and teachers on how to confront the issue of bullying in schools. The website is set to provide information on the risks of bullying and its warning signs and effects.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Michelle Obama, who introduced the president at the start of the event, said the issue of bullying is personal for both her and her hisband because of their concern for their two daughters: Malia and Sasha.

“As parents, this issue really hits home for us,” she said. “As parents, it breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, or on the playground, or even online. It breaks our hearts to think about any parent losing a child to bullying, or just wondering whether their kids will be safe when they leave for school in the morning.”

Michelle Obama urged parents “to make a real effort to be engaged in our children’s lives” and to listen to them and be there when needed.

“We need to get involved in their schools and in their activities so that we know what they’re up to, both in and out of the classroom,” she said. “And when something is wrong, we need to speak up, and we need to take action.”

Following the president remarks, Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, led a panel discussion of anti-bullying experts to discuss ways that parents, administrators and government officials can work to curtail harassment of students.

Points that were mentioned included recommending that parents be friends with their children on Facebook for oversight purposes and how the behavior of those who perpetuate bullying must also be addressed as part of anti-bullying efforts.

After the panel, conference participants split into five break-out sessions for more extensive debate on particular issues related to bullying. Topics of the breakout session included cyberbullying and in-school programs to confront bullying.

Top Obama administration officials during a wrap-up session at the close of the conference emphasized the support that anti-bullying advocates have in the White House.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced a new initiative — a technical assistance center — which would specifically address harassment to complement anti-bullying efforts that are already underway.

“By trying to highlight these best practices, we will state and local policy makers and educators work to keep children safe and provide the best learning environment for all students,” Duncan said. “We can provide support, which is why I’m happy to announce today our department’s intention to establish a new technical assistance center specifically dedicated to bullying prevention.”

Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius urged teachers and others to speak out when anti-gay slurs are used in schools.

“Building safe neighborhoods and schools where young people can thrive is a job for all of us,” Sebelius said. “It means speaking out next time you hear a homophobic slur, stepping in when you see someone being preyed upon and letting your local education leaders — from principals to schools — know that bullying is not an isolated part of growing up. It’s a serious danger for all of our children.”

Participants had a largely positive reaction to the event and thought it was productive in devising strategies to thwart bullying.

In a statement, Jeff Krehely, director of the LGBT research and communications project at the Center for American Progress, said the conference “put a national spotlight” on bullying and its potentially “destructive impact.”

“Although the event is born out of tragedies, the conference will hopefully spark a robust national discussion about what we can all do to stop this problem,” Krehely said. “With an increase in bullying and full-on assaults on youth who are perceived to be gay or transgender, as well as those who are perceived to be Muslim, now is the right time to show leadership on this issue.”

Caleb Laiseki, executive director of the Arizona-based Gays & Lesbians United Against Discrimination, said the conference was “much more productive” than he expected.

“I’m coming from Arizona, and Arizona can’t even pass the anti-bullying bill through committee, so I was extremely happy to see the White House was very dedicated to this,” Laiseki said.

Laiseki, who’s 16 and gay, dropped out of high school after he was bullied because of his sexual orientation and completed his education by earning a general equivalency diploma. He founded GLUAD to help address the  problems he faced in school.

“The reason I started the organization was because I was pushed into lockers and humiliated,” he said. “I received death threats [and was] followed home. It was just one thing after another. And I also had friend commit suicide after several attempts. So, the main goal of GLAUD is homelessness, suicide prevention and anti-bullying work.”

Laiseki attended the breakout session focused on cyber-bullying and said he proposed that law enforcements have the tools to intervene immediately when such harassment takes place.

“We can immediately track down the [Internet protocol] address and go from there,” Laiseki said. “And both of the representatives [from the Obama administration] were in agreement. And we took notes actually and discussed it for at least one-third of the meeting.”

Dan Savage (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dan Savage, founder of the “It Gets Better” online video campaign aimed at helping troubled LGBT teens, said the conference was of “tremendous symbolic importance” because it identified bullying as a national problem, but said more could be done with the issue of parents being the bullies of LGBT youth.

“What was never addressed is when the parents are the bullies,” Savage said. “LGBT kids whose parents reject them are eight times likelier to attempt suicide; kids who are LGBT are four times. It literally doubles the risk of the already quadrupled risk of suicide for LGBT kids when their families reject them.”

Legislation pending before Congress known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act would address the issue of LGBT bullying of students in schools. Savage, who’s gay and also a sex-advice columnist, said the passage of this legislation would be effective.

“It puts schools on notice,” Savage said. “It establishes a national sense of accountability. Schools are reactive. They don’t like to be sued. They don’t like to get in trouble with the folks that pay the bills — at the federal or state level — and it really creates a way for school administrators and school boards to be held accountable.”

Shannon Cuttle, director of Safe Schools Action Network, said she felt the event was effective because it drew more attention to the issue of bullying.

“I think that anytime that you can collectively get a group of people to work in collaboration to try to discuss this issue, it’s going to put a dent in the issue,” Cuttle said. “Today is making the right step. Being able to bring people from across America — teachers, administrators, individuals and students — that’s key.”

But Cuttle, a lesbian D.C. activist, said the best way to address the issue of bullying in schools to confront harassment with “boots on the ground.”

“We have to be able to go into the schools, we have to have conversations and we have to be able to discuss the issue,” she said. “We have to be able to have those honest, open conversations with teachers and school administrators, and as parents and students, we need to talk to our school boards and local officials and be able to put rules and policies in place to keep kids safe.”

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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Federal Government

Federal government prepares for looming shutdown

White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.

As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.

This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.

Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.

Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.

“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.

“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.

The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”

Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

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Federal Government

QAnon follower pleads guilty to threatening member of Congress

Conspiracy movement claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world

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QAnon banner at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va., in 2020. (YouTube screenshot from Anthony Crider)

A New Mexico man has entered a plea deal after being charged with a federal criminal complaint of making threats through interstate communications directed at a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors charged Michael David Fox, a resident of Doña Ana County, for calling the Houston district office of an unnamed member of Congress on or about May 18, 2023, and uttering threats that included knowingly threatening to kill an active member of Congress.

The plea agreement was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Damian L. Martinez of U.S. District Court in New Mexico in the Las Cruces by Fox’s attorney from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in August.

According to the criminal complaint as outlined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal investigator for the Albuquerque Field Office, Las Cruces Resident Agency, on May 18 at approximately 9:04 p.m. Fox called the office of a congresswoman for the District of Texas, U.S. House of Representatives (Victim One/”V1″), who is from Houston. The call was received by V1’s office.

In the phone call Fox stated “Hey [Vl], you’re a man. It’s official. You’re literally a tranny and a pedophile, and I’m going to put a bullet in your fucking face. You mother fucking satanic cock smoking son of a whore. You understand me you fucker?” 

Law enforcement was able to trace the call back to Las Cruces, N.M., and it was believed that Fox was the user of cell phone account used to make the call. According to the FBI agents who interviewed Fox, he admitted to making the call.

Fox acknowledged that the threat was direct but claimed that he did not own any guns. Fox
claimed to be a member of the Q2 Truth Movement, the Q Movement. Fox explained these
movements believe all over the world there were transgender individuals running
governments, kingdoms and corporations. 

Fox told the FBI that there is a plan called “Q the Plan to Save the World” which he learned about from an online video. Fox claimed that he believed Q was going to engage in the “eradication” of the people who were causing all the world’s misery. He believed that part of the eradication had already happened.

Fox explained that he had run Vl’s skull features through forensic analysis and determined
that Vl was born male and is now trans. Fox discussed his military service with the
U.S. Air Force, “Q the Plan to Save the World,” and how God communicates using
numbers. 

Fox continued to reiterate several different types of conspiracy theories indicating
extreme far right ideologies as his explanation for why he conducted the phone call to
threaten V1.

According to the FBI, Fox rescinded his threat against Vl and apologized. Fox claimed he was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when he made the call. Fox stated he understood how Vl would feel threatened by his phone call, and he acknowledged that anyone he knew or cared about would also be concerned with such a threat.

The charge of interstate threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

QAnon began in 2017, when a mysterious figure named “Q” started posting on the online message board 4chan, claiming to have inside access to government secrets. Since then, QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world. It is claimed by QAnon adherents that former President Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat them. 

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist Ana Valens, a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship and sex workers’ rights noted that Fox appears to be a “transvestigator.” Valens noted that the transvestigation conspiracy theory is a fringe movement within QAnon that claims the world is primarily run by trans people. Phrenological analysis is common among transvestigators, with a prominent focus on analyzing celebrities for proof that they are trans.

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