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Demonstrators to protest Manning’s ‘torture’

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The 25-year-old gay soldier accused of leaking classified U.S. government files to Wikileaks is being “tortured” in solitary confinement at the Quantico Virginia Marine Corps Brig, said Kevin Zeese, an organizer of the Bradley Manning Support Network, at a benefit concert on Sunday held at Busboys and Poets to raise funds for Manning’s legal defense.

Next comes a rally Sunday at 2 p.m. to stand in support of Manning’s release — in an action, led by famed Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, in front of the main gates at Quantico, which organizers hint may lead to direct action there, in civil disobedience leading to possible mass arrests.

“It is torture,” declared Zeese of U.S. Army PFC Manning’s current condition. Zeese is based in Baltimore and one of the leaders of the Manning legal defense effort.  “They are torturing him,” he told the crowd of nearly 100.  “We should call it nothing else.”

“Long-term solitary confinement is torture,” said Zeese, quoting Charles Dickens (who spent months at a time living with populations of U.S. prisons and mental hospitals in the 19th century).

Zeese also pointed to research showing that previously healthy prisoners forced into long-term solitary confinement often (as Zeese quoted from the research) “develop clinical symptoms usually associated with psychosis or severe affective disorders” including “all types of psychiatric morbidity” and that many have in fact committed suicide.

Manning, who was arrested on duty in Iraq in May 2010 and charged with passing classified information to the whistleblower website Wikileaks, including an unspecified but nevertheless capital offense of “aiding the enemy,” has now been in solitary confinement in Quantico, awaiting a pre-trial hearing, for more than seven months and for 10 months there in total.

“His cell is 6 feet wide and 12 feet in length,” said Zeese.”  He is awakened every morning at 5 a.m. and is not allowed to sleep again until 8 p.m.  “If he attempts to sleep at any time from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” said Zeese, “he will be made to sit up or stand by the guards.”

He is not allowed to exercise in his cell, forbidden even from doing pushups. If he tries, the guards stop him, Zeese said.

Recently, for more than a week, he was placed on a so-called “prevention of injury watch” and required to give up his prison jumpsuit and boxer shorts at night, sleeping naked, ostensibly to prevent him from committing suicide, he added.

The brig psychiatrist however has labeled Manning as a low suicide risk. Even so, he was ordered to sleep in the nude, to prevent him from using any garments to assist in a suicide attempt. Each morning, then, he was forced to get out of bed, “shivering from being naked all night in a cold cell,” said Zeese, and forced to walk to the front of his cell, “with his hands in front covering his genitals.”

“A guard orders: Stand at parade rest,” said Zeese, ands Manning is told to remain there, his hands behind his back with legs spread shoulder width apart, “waiting and waiting,” until the Brig Supervisor arrives, and everyone is then called to attention.  The supervisor and other guards then walk past his cell inspecting him from all sides.  “They stop,” said Zeese, “they look as he stands naked, they stare at him, then they stare at him some more.”  Finally, Manning is told to go back inside his cell and wait there, still naked, until, perhaps 10 minutes later, his clothes arrive and he can dress.  But Zeese said, “the shiver from the cold night stays with him.”

On Friday, however, the enforced nudity — which his attorney has described as ritual humiliation designed to break him and force him to give evidence in the case, and which U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has compared to treatment of Iraqi prisoners held under U.S. detention at the Abu Ghraib prison — was halted.

On Sunday, P.J. Crowley, the official spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, resigned (or was forced to resign), after he was quoted having termed Manning’s treatment to be “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid” in off-the-cuff but on-the-record remarks made by Crowley recently when speaking to a group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

President Obama rejected that criticism on Friday, saying that he had asked the Pentagon about Manning’s treatment and had been assured that his terms of confinement were “appropriate and are meeting our basic standards.”

Calling the U.S. government “our Big Brother security state,” Zeese told the crowd at Busboys and Poets on Sunday that “the military says they do it for Manning’s own protection” but that this is “a lie that does not pass the straight face test.”

“The president re-enforces the lie, telling America that he has talked to the Pentagon and they have said it is for his own protection.  The president says this with a straight face,” a grim Zeese said, asking, “Does anyone believe the president any more?”

Sunday’s rally at 2 p.m. will take place about 50 yards from the base’s main gate, at what Zeese called the Quantico Triangle near the intersection of Joplin Road and Route 1.  Two buses are already organized, boarding at 12:30 p.m. and departing from Union Station in D.C. at 1 p.m., and a possible third bus may be arranged.  The cost is $10.

Before the rally, the one person able to visit Manning other than family members, David House — a friend who is a computer scientist and MIT researcher — will visit him in the morning with words of support and then come out to report on his condition.

After the rally, Zeese said that the march to the main gate will begin, “and we’re not sure what will happen next, but for sure we’re taking our message to free Bradley Manning to the front gate,” and that Ellsberg and retired Army Colonel Ann Wright, an activist with CodePink, will ask for a meeting with the Brig Commander, CWO2 Denise Barnes to discuss Manning’s treatment.

For more information about the rally on Sunday and about the Bradley Manning Support Network, contact Kevin Zeese, director of Come Home America and steering committee member for the BMSN,  at 301-996-6582 or by e-mail at [email protected] or visit bradleymanning.org.  Another local BMSN organizer to contact is Peter Perry at 202-631-0974.

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Federal Government

Lambda Legal praises Biden-Harris administration’s finalized Title IX regulations

New rules to take effect Aug. 1

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U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (Screen capture: AP/YouTube)

The Biden-Harris administration’s revised Title IX policy “protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination and other abuse,” Lambda Legal said in a statement praising the U.S. Department of Education’s issuance of the final rule on Friday.

Slated to take effect on Aug. 1, the new regulations constitute an expansion of the 1972 Title IX civil rights law, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding.

Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County case, the department’s revised policy clarifies that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity constitutes sex-based discrimination as defined under the law.

“These regulations make it crystal clear that everyone can access schools that are safe, welcoming and that respect their rights,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said during a call with reporters on Thursday.

While the new rule does not provide guidance on whether schools must allow transgender students to play on sports teams corresponding with their gender identity to comply with Title IX, the question is addressed in a separate rule proposed by the agency in April.

The administration’s new policy also reverses some Trump-era Title IX rules governing how schools must respond to reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault, which were widely seen as imbalanced in favor of the accused.

Jennifer Klein, the director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said during Thursday’s call that the department sought to strike a balance with respect to these issues, “reaffirming our longstanding commitment to fundamental fairness.”

“We applaud the Biden administration’s action to rescind the legally unsound, cruel, and dangerous sexual harassment and assault rule of the previous administration,” Lambda Legal Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project Director Sasha Buchert said in the group’s statement on Friday.

“Today’s rule instead appropriately underscores that Title IX’s civil rights protections clearly cover LGBTQ+ students, as well as survivors and pregnant and parenting students across race and gender identity,” she said. “Schools must be places where students can learn and thrive free of harassment, discrimination, and other abuse.”

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Michigan

Mich. Democrats spar over LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law

Lawmakers disagree on just what kind of statute to pass

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Members of the Michigan House Democrats gather to celebrate Pride month in 2023 in the Capitol building. (Photo courtesy of Michigan House Democrats)

Michigan could soon become the latest state to pass an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime law, but the state’s Democratic lawmakers disagree on just what kind of law they should pass.

Currently, Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act only offers limited protections to victims of crime motivated by their “race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” Bills proposed by Democratic lawmakers expand the list to include “actual or perceived race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, physical or mental disability, age, national origin, or association or affiliation with any such individuals.” 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have both advocated for a hate crime law, but house and senate Democrats have each passed different hate crimes packages, and Nessel has blasted both as being too weak.

Under the house proposal that passed last year (House Bill 4474), a first offense would be punishable with a $2,000 fine, up to two years in prison, or both. Penalties double for a second offense, and if a gun or other dangerous weapons is involved, the maximum penalty is six years in prison and a fine of $7,500. 

But that proposal stalled when it reached the senate, after far-right news outlets and Fox News reported misinformation that the bill only protected LGBTQ people and would make misgendering a trans person a crime. State Rep. Noah Arbit, the bill’s sponsor, was also made the subject of a recall effort, which ultimately failed.

Arbit submitted a new version of the bill (House Bill 5288) that added sections clarifying that misgendering a person, “intentionally or unintentionally” is not a hate crime, although the latest version (House Bill 5400) of the bill omits this language.

That bill has since stalled in a house committee, in part because the Democrats lost their house majority last November, when two Democratic representatives resigned after being elected mayors. The Democrats regained their house majority last night by winning two special elections.

Meanwhile, the senate passed a different package of hate crime bills sponsored by state Sen. Sylvia Santana (Senate Bill 600) in March that includes much lighter sentences, as well as a clause ensuring that misgendering a person is not a hate crime. 

Under the senate bill, if the first offense is only a threat, it would be a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and up to $1,000 fine. A subsequent offense or first violent hate crime, including stalking, would be a felony that attracts double the punishment.

Multiple calls and emails from the Washington Blade to both Arbit and Santana requesting comment on the bills for this story went unanswered.

The attorney general’s office sent a statement to the Blade supporting stronger hate crime legislation.

“As a career prosecutor, [Nessel] has seen firsthand how the state’s weak Ethnic Intimidation Act (not updated since the late 1980’s) does not allow for meaningful law enforcement and court intervention before threats become violent and deadly, nor does it consider significant bases for bias.  It is our hope that the legislature will pass robust, much-needed updates to this statute,” the statement says.

But Nessel, who has herself been the victim of racially motivated threats, has also blasted all of the bills presented by Democrats as not going far enough.

“Two years is nothing … Why not just give them a parking ticket?” Nessel told Bridge Michigan.

Nessel blames a bizarre alliance far-right and far-left forces that have doomed tougher laws.

“You have this confluence of forces on the far right … this insistence that the First Amendment protects this language, or that the Second Amendment protects the ability to possess firearms under almost any and all circumstances,” Nessel said. “But then you also have the far left that argues basically no one should go to jail or prison for any offense ever.”

The legislature did manage to pass an “institutional desecration” law last year that penalizes hate-motivated vandalism to churches, schools, museums, and community centers, and is LGBTQ-inclusive.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, reported hate crime incidents have been skyrocketing, with attacks motivated by sexual orientation surging by 70 percent from 2020 to 2022, the last year for which data is available. 

Twenty-two states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime laws. Another 11 states have hate crime laws that include protections for “sexual orientation” but not “gender identity.”

Michigan Democrats have advanced several key LGBTQ rights priorities since they took unified control of the legislature in 2023. A long-stalled comprehensive anti-discrimination law was passed last year, as did a conversion therapy ban. Last month the legislature updated family law to make surrogacy easier for all couples, including same-sex couples. 

A bill to ban the “gay panic” defense has passed the state house and was due for a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

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Indiana

Drag queen announces run for mayor of Ind. city

Branden Blaettne seeking Fort Wayne’s top office

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Branden Blaettner being interviewed by a local television station during last year’s Pride month. (WANE screenshot)

In a Facebook post Tuesday, a local drag personality announced he was running for the office of mayor once held by the late Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, who died last month just a few months into his fifth term.

Henry was recently diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer and experienced an emergency that landed him in hospice care. He died shortly after.

WPTA, a local television station, reported that Fort Wayne resident Branden Blaettne, whose drag name is Della Licious, confirmed he filed paperwork to be one of the candidates seeking to finish out the fifth term of the late mayor.

Blaettner, who is a community organizer, told WPTA he doesn’t want to “get Fort Wayne back on track,” but rather keep the momentum started by Henry going while giving a platform to the disenfranchised groups in the community. Blaettner said he doesn’t think his local fame as a drag queen will hold him back.

“It’s easy to have a platform when you wear platform heels,” Blaettner told WPTA. “The status quo has left a lot of people out in the cold — both figuratively and literally,” Blaettner added.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported that state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, who has led the Indiana House Democratic caucus since 2018, has added his name to a growing list of Fort Wayne politicos who want to be the city’s next mayor. A caucus of precinct committee persons will choose the new mayor.

According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, the deadline for residents to file candidacy was 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday. A town hall with the candidates is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday at Franklin School Park. The caucus is set for 10:30 a.m. on April 20 at the Lincoln Financial Event Center at Parkview Field.

At least six candidates so far have announced they will run in the caucus. They include Branden Blaettne, GiaQuinta, City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, City Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, former city- and county-council candidate Palermo Galindo, and 2023 Democratic primary mayoral candidate Jorge Fernandez.

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