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National news in brief: May 27

Tennessee Governor signs law undoing local LGBT employment protections in that state, FDA clears new Hepatitis C treatment, New York Times hires first openly gay op-ed columnist, ESPN radio’s Jared Max comes out.

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Jared Max

Tennessee anti-gay bill signed into law

NASHVILLE — A Nashville ordinance that barred city contractors from discriminating against LGBT people in employment was reversed Monday, when Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a bill that bans such ordinances.

HB 600, the “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act,” was originally supported by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce until LGBT advocacy groups across America issued statements pressuring Tennessee leaders to drop the bill, according to The Tennessean, a Gannett paper. Nissan, and other large Tennessee corporations attempted to push for a veto in the last days to no avail.

Also Monday, the Tennessee Senate passed a bill barring the discussion of homosexuality in elementary and middle schools, dubbed the “don’t say gay’ bill.  According to CBS 21 News, the bill’s sponsor believes the media has unfairly targeted the bill and misunderstood its intent.

“The media has hyped this up to banning a word and that’s absolutely not true,” he told the TV station. “It just says what is appropriate for real young children to be taught.”

Gay rights advocates are hoping to stop the bill from being signed by the Governor.

NBA player Joakim Noah ‘fine’ with $50,000 fine

CHICAGO — After being fined $50,000 for hurling an anti-gay slur at an abusive fan, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah is ready to face his penalty, calling it “fair.”

Unlike L.A. Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, who last month fought his $100,000 fine by the National Basketball Association, Noah is ready to atone for his behavior and put the incident behind him, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

LGBT advocacy groups had called for swift action by the basketball league in the wake of a spate of recent outburst by high profile professional athletes. The NBA had recently teamed up with the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network to record public service announcements urging viewers to “think before they speak” featuring the Phoenix Suns’ Grant Hill and Jared Dudley.

FDA clears Vertex’s Hepatitis C Drug

SILVER SPRING, Md. — Hepatitis C patients with liver damage will soon have a powerful new treatment that promises to “double” chances of curing the disease.

The FDA has given the green light to Incivek, a twice-a-day tablet by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, after approving a similar drug called Vicrelis by Merck just weeks ago, according to CBS News. The pill will be priced at more than $1,100 a week, making it a costly course of treatment for most patients. The life-threatening disease affects about 3.2 million Americans.

Bruni tapped by Times as first openly gay op-ed columnist

NEW YORK CITY — The “Old Gray Lady,” The New York Times, has made history in hiring its first openly gay op-ed columnist, Frank Bruni, the current chief restaurant critic.

Bruni, 46, has been with the Times for more than a decade and will be penning a new anchor feature for the Sunday Op-Ed pages, according to New York Times opinions pages editor, Andrew Rosenthal.

“This column … will be a sharp, opinionated look at a big event of the last week,” wrote Rosenthal in an e-mail to the staff, on Monday, “from a different or unexpected angle, or a small event that was really important but everyone seems to have missed.”

While writing for the Detroit Free Press, Bruni was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing and has penned two New York Times best sellers, after starting at the Times as a Washington correspondent.

ESPN radio’s Max comes out

Jared Max

Jared Max (Photo courtesy CBS New York)

NEW YORK CITY — Jared Max, popular sports radio personality, well known in New York for a decade, came out on his top rated morning sports talk show on Tuesday saying, “I think its time I released myself from these self-imposed shackles that have kept me living in fear for too long.”

According to blogging site Media Bistro, the announcement came as a total surprise not only to the 37-year-old host’s listeners, but to his colleagues and himself.

“I remember telling my cat Mush the night before, ‘I think something might happen tomorrow,’” he told the site in an interview.

Max’s revelation comes on the heels of several other very powerful self-outings in the media and sports world. Just prior to Max’s coming out, Rick Welts, president of the Phoenix Suns professional basketball team outed himself, as did CNN news anchor Don Lemon and former Villanova University basketball star Will Sheridan.

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Tennessee

6 killed in shooting at Christian school in Nashville

The shooter was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, according to police who identifies as transgender

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Covenant School, Covenant Presbyterian Church, on Burton Hills Dr. in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of the Nashville Metro Police Department)

In a press conference Nashville Police Chief John Drake told reporters that earlier Monday morning a 28-year-old local female armed with two “assault-type rifles and a handgun” was killed by responding officers.

“At one point she was a student at that school,” Drake told reporters hours after the shooting at the Covenant School. “But unsure what year […] but that’s what I’ve been told so far.”

The shooter was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, according to the chief, who identifies as transgender.

According to Drake, three children and three adults were killed in the shooting at The Covenant School on Burton Hills Boulevard, a private Christian school.

Children’s Hospital Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesperson John Howser told reporters “We can now confirm three children and two adults from the school shooting were transported to our Adult Emergency Department (the two adults) and (the three children) to the Pediatric Emergency Department at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital,” Howser said adding “All five patients have been pronounced dead.”

Police identified the three slain students as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all age nine.

The three faculty members killed were Cynthia Peak and Mike Hill, both 61, and school head Katherine Koonce, 60.

At his only scheduled public event at the White House, President Joe Biden called the shooting “sick” and renewed his call for Congress to ban assault weapons.

Drake noted that the shooter was killed on the school’s second floor by his officers acknowledging that the victims were students and staff members of the school.

The school has students from preschool through sixth grade and on a normal day has about 200 students and 40 staff members on campus.

In a statement, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee tweeted: “I am closely monitoring the tragic situation at Covenant. As we continue to respond, please join us in praying for the school, congregation and Nashville community.”

NBC News reported that just days ago, a 17-year-old suspect wounded two administrators at a Denver high school before he was found dead.

In February, three students were gunned down at Michigan State University. And in January, two students were fatally shot at a charter school in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Washington Post and other media outlets reporting that U.S. Rep. Andrew Ogles (R-Tenn.), who represents the Nashville district where the Covenant School is located, said Monday in a statement that he was “utterly heartbroken” by the mass shooting.

Gun reform activists including Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018, have called out Ogles for his hypocrisy posting tweets of Ogles posing with his children all carrying assault rifles in a 2021 family Christmas card photo:

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The White House

Vice president to visit three African countries that criminalize homosexuality

Ugandan lawmakers passed anti-homosexuality bill last week

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Vice President Kamala Harris arrives in Accra, Ghana, on March 26, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Harris' Twitter page)

Vice President Kamala Harris this week will visit three countries in Africa that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Harris and her husband, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, arrived in Ghana on Sunday. They will travel to Tanzania and Zambia before returning to the U.S. on April 2.

Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia are among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The Washington Blade last week reported LGBTQ and intersex Ghanaians remain in limbo as lawmakers continue to debate the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill that, would among other things, further criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people and make advocacy on their behalf and allyship illegal. A Ghanaian representative who spoke during a March 20 meeting that focused on the integration of LGBTQ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work said the body is not an appropriate venue to discuss them.

“You know that a great deal of work in my career has been to address human rights issues, equality issues across the board, including as it relates to the LGBT community,” said Harris on Monday during a press conference with Ghanaian President Nana Afuko-Addo that took place in Accra, the Ghanaian capital. “I feel very strongly about the importance of supporting the freedom and supporting and fighting for equality among all people and that all people be treated equally. This is an issue that we consider and I consider to be a human rights issue and that will not change.”

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu, with whom Harris is scheduled to meet on Thursday, last month described LGBTQ rights as “imported cultures.” The Tanzanian government has also banned children’s books from schools because of their LGBTQ-specific content. 

The State Department in 2019 recalled then-U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote after the Zambian government sharply criticized him for publicly defending a gay couple who had been convicted of violating the country’s colonial-era sodomy law and sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

Then-Zambian President Edgar Lungu later pardoned the couple. Current Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, which whom Harris will meet on March 31, last September reiteated his government does not support LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Harris arrived in Africa less than a week after Ugandan lawmakers approved a bill that would further criminalize homosexuality and LGBTQ and intersex people. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the measure if signed “would impinge upon universal human rights, jeopardize progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, deter tourism and investment in Uganda, and damage Uganda’s international reputation.”

“The bill is one of the most extreme anti LGBTQI+ laws in the world,” she said on March 22 during her daily press briefing. “Human rights are universal — no one should be attacked, imprisoned or killed simply because of who they are or who they love.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price later told the Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the Biden-Harris administration’s five priorities as it relates to LGBTQ and intersex rights overseas.

A senior administration official told reporters during a conference call that previewed Harris’ trip that she “is very much focused on opportunities in Africa and a positive message and the great things we can do in partnership with African countries. And you’re going to really see that as the theme of the trip, given Africa’s role in the world and what we think can be done with Africans, for the sake of Africans in the United States and the rest of the world.” 
 
“But that doesn’t mean that she would shy away from discussing difficult issues, and you know her track record on the LGBTQ issue,” added the official. “She spent her whole career fighting for rights of overlooked and marginalized people, including LGBTQ people.” 

The official further stressed the Biden-Harris administration “is very clear about the right for all people to live free of harm and discrimination and to realize their full potential and to fully participate in society.”  

“The vice president has been clear about that throughout her engagements in the United States and elsewhere in the world, and it won’t be any different when she is in Africa,” added the official. “We have said, you know, including in recent days — expressed the concerns we have about certain developments that we’ve seen on the African continent, whether it’s laws or practices that are anti-LGBTQ. And that’s not consistent with what this administration stands for.” 

The official also said they “don’t think that is a choice between taking a firm stand on that set of really important issues and the big positive opportunity that the vice president sees in Africa and she’s going to emphasize on this trip.”

The Blade will provide further updates of Harris’ trip as they become available.

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New Mexico

LGBTQ protections added to N.M. Human Rights Act

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 207 on Friday

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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs House Bill 7 on March 24, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor of New Mexico)

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 207 into law on Friday that expands protections for LGBTQ New Mexicans under the state’s Human Rights Act. For transgender residents, Grisham also signed House Bill 31, a measure that removes the requirement that name changes be published in a newspaper.

The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported that HB 31 also lets people 14 and older petition a district court for a name change and prohibits the court from requiring notice to the applicants’ parents if it finds notice would jeopardize the applicant’s safety.

“While hundreds of bills have been introduced across the country to restrict the rights of queer and trans people, New Mexico is committed to making our state a safer place for everyone by closing a loophole to ensure our taxpayer dollars cannot be used to discriminate against our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors,” state Rep. Kristina Ortez (D-Taos) said in a statement.

State Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos), the sponsor of HB 31, noted that the measure will benefit trans New Mexicans seeking to change their names as well as ensure safety for victims of domestic violence who may change their names to be more secure.

“Removing this antiquated publishing requirement protects New Mexicans’ privacy and allows them to safely move on with their lives,” Chandler said.

These measures are the latest in legislation passed this session to protect LGBTQ New Mexicans as well as women’s rights.

On March 16, Grisham signed into law House Bill 7, the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Act, which prohibits public bodies, including local municipalities, from denying, restricting, or discriminating against an individual’s right to use or refuse reproductive health care or health care related to gender.

“New Mexicans in every corner of our state deserve protections for their bodily autonomy and right to health care,” said Grisham as she signed HB 7. “I’m grateful for the hard work of the Legislature and community partners in getting this critical legislation across the finish line.”

“Trans and nonbinary individuals deserve the support and care necessary to survive and thrive,” said Ortez, who co-sponsored HB 7. “Protecting gender-affirming health care is a critical part of making sure trans and nonbinary New Mexicans can succeed in school, establish healthy relationships with their friends and family, and live authentically as themselves.”

“In New Mexico we value the freedom and dignity of making your own personal decision about reproductive and gender-affirming health care,” said Ellie Rushforth, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico managing reproductive rights and gender equity attorney. “Now more than ever it is critical that New Mexicans and our neighbors have access to the full spectrum of health care in every corner of our state. We thank the governor for supporting and signing HB 7 into law. This is lifesaving legislation.”

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