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GLAAD reverses position on AT&T/T-Mobile merger; endorses ‘net neutrality’

Acting President of GLAAD sends letter to FCC reversing GLAAD position on AT&T merger, endorsing ‘net neutrality.’

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GLAAD logo

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is attempting to move on and make atonement after a June scandal that saw the resignation of much of the organizations’ Board of Directors and the group’s leader Jarrett Barrios.

The organization has submitted letters to the Federal Communications Commission asking to have their endorsement of the AT&T and T-Mobile merger removed from the record — returning their position to neutral on the merger — and coming out in favor of the principle of ‘net neutrality.’

The organization came under scrutiny after earlier this year sending a letter to the Federal Communications Commission endorsing the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile; a deal that, if approved, will create the nation’s largest phone provider. Confusion over the group’s curious endorsement led to examination of other strange filings with the FCC the group has made on behalf of AT&T over the course of several years.

Attention became focused on a several 2009 letters sent to the FCC signed by Barrios on behalf of AT&T apparently endorsing the company’s position against the principal of ‘net neutrality’ which advocates that internet providers should not censor content coming from competing networks, nor impede its customers from accessing content from competing networks through pay walls, domain blocking or other obstacles. No major American telecom company has as of yet put in place any policies that would impede access, though many have made statements in favor of putting such restrictions up, arguing that the increased revenue from doing so would fund expansion of broadband networks into jurisdictions that had previously not had access.

The 2009 FCC letter was crafted from ‘suggested language’ sent from AT&T to GLAAD and several other LGBT and progressive non-profits, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Equality California. Barrios claimed in June the letter had been sent due to a clerical error, and GLAAD did send a follow-up letter to the FCC in January 2010 asking the agency to strike the letter from record. However, the controversy over the incidents brought scrutiny to organizational actions and individuals working with several of the organizations, including a former AT&T executive, Troup Coronado, with connections to several of the organizations involved, including GLAAD. Coronado served on the Board of Directors at GLAAD.

With today’s letter, GLADD will seek to put this matter behind them, and redirect attention to their programming as a media watchdog group. Last month GLAAD successfully convinced 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan to publicly apologize for making violent, anti-gay remarks, and brought the actor together with LGBT community leaders and at risk youth in an effort to educate the comedian, and generate greater awareness for efforts seeking to challenge anti-gay hate speech head-on.

“A rigorous review process considered GLAAD’s unique mission,” Acting President Mike Thompson said in a statement announcing the letter, “and concluded that while AT&T has a strong record of support for the LGBT community, the explanation used to support this particular merger was not sufficiently consistent with GLAAD’s work to advocate for positive and culture-changing LGBT stories and images in the media,”

Read the full letter here: FCC_Letter_07132011

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U.S. Federal Courts

Guilty verdict in first federal murder trial based on gender identity

Dime Doe killed in S.C. in 2019

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Dime Doe (Family photo)

A federal jury on Friday handed down a guilty verdict of a man accused of murdering a Black transgender woman in what is classified as the first in the nation federal trial over a hate crime based on gender identity.

After a 4-day trial in a federal hate crime case, a jury found a South Carolina man, Daqua Lameek Ritter, guilty of all charges in the indictment, which included one hate crime count, one federal firearms count and one obstruction count, all arising out of the murder of Dime Doe.

“Acts of violence against LGBTQI+ people, including transgender women of color like Dime Doe, are on the rise and have no place in our society,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer. “The Justice Department takes seriously all bias-motivated acts of violence and will not hesitate to hold accountable those who commit them. No one should have to live in fear of deadly violence because of who they are.”

According to court documents and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, evidence presented at trial showed that Ritter was upset that rumors about his sexual relationship with Dime Doe were out in the community. On Aug. 4, 2019, the defendant lured Doe to a remote area in Allendale, S.C., and shot her three times in the head. At trial, the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Ritter murdered Doe because of her gender identity. Ritter then burned the clothes he was wearing during the crime, disposed of the murder weapon and repeatedly lied to law enforcement. 

This was the first trial under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for violence against a trans person. The Shepard-Byrd Act is a landmark federal statute passed in 2009 which allows federal criminal prosecution of hate crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

“A unanimous jury has found the defendant guilty for the heinous and tragic murder of Dime Doe, a Black transgender woman,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The jury’s verdict sends a clear message: Black trans lives matter, bias-motivated violence will not be tolerated and perpetrators of hate crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This case is historic; this defendant is the first to be found guilty by trial verdict for a hate crime motivated by gender identify under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. We want the Black trans community to know that you are seen and heard, that we stand with the LGBTQI+ community and that we will use every tool available to seek justice for victims and their families.”

Ritter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering federal sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

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Oklahoma

Okla. lawmaker describes LGBTQ people as ‘filth’

State Sen. Tom Woods made comment on Friday

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Oklahoma state Sen. Tom Woods (Photo courtesy of Woods' state Senate website)

Republican Oklahoma state Sen. Tom Woods took part in a public legislative panel forum on Friday, during which the panel was asked by a constituent about the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary Owasso High School student who had been attacked and beaten in a school bathroom. 

The Oklahoma Voice reported that Cathy Cott, a 64-year-old semi-retired resident, asked the lawmakers why the Legislature had such an obsession with the LGBTQ citizens of the state, what people do in their personal lives and how they raise their children, according to the Tahlequah Daily Press, which first reported the remarks.

When she got no answer, she asked about the bills targeting the LGBTQ community.

“Why does the Legislature have such an obsession with the LGBTQ citizens of Oklahoma and what people do in their personal lives and how they raise their children?” Cott asked.

Woods replied, “We are a Republican state — supermajority — in the House and Senate. I represent a constituency that doesn’t want that filth in Oklahoma. You know we are a religious state. We are going to fight and keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma because we’re a Christian state” 

The Tahlequah Daily Press also reported several audience members clapped, while others appeared shocked.

Cott said in an interview with Oklahoma Voice that she was not surprised by Woods’ answer.

Cott said she has many family and friends who are LGBTQ.

“I have dealt with other state representatives and senators and been to lobby day and tried to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community when I can so I am used to it,” she said. “They haven’t said anything like this to me before where they describe citizens of the state as filth, but they let me know they just don’t care.”

She said Woods’ remarks absolutely contribute to the hostile climate in the state for the LGBTQ community.

Prior to his election to his seat to represent Oklahoma’s Senate District 4 in 2022, Woods was a farmer and business owner. He ran a dairy farm, feed store and trucking company. His district runs along the eastern border of Oklahoma from West Fort Smith to Grove, and runs into Tahlequah.

Another Republican, state Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, a former teacher, told the audience he’s always seen educators’ jobs as “to educate students, not indoctrinate students.”

In a statement to the Washington Blade, Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf said:

“The only ‘filth’ here is this vile statement from a sitting state senator. This is the kind of hate speech that incites deadly violence against our communities. This is what we mean when we say that the flames of dehumanization and hate have been fanned in Oklahoma. Enough is enough. There needs to be accountability for this climate of hate — and the damage being done.”

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis told the Blade:

“Enough is enough. Oklahoma’s Republican leaders are continuing to nurture a climate of anti-LGBTQ animus, modeling disgusting anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, questioning our very humanity, attacking marginalized youth and educators who support them and improperly handling bullying and assaults at school. Leaders with a bully pulpit have the power to inspire empathy and understanding, but they also have the power to inspire hate, bullying and physical attacks. These so-called leaders fomenting hate, Sen. Tom Woods, Supt. Ryan Walters, Gov. Kevin Stitt are failing Oklahoma’s youth in dangerous and myriad ways.”

There has been national outage in reaction to the death of Benedict. Vice President Kamala Harris, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) are among those in leadership decrying the death and the political climate that LGBTQ advocacy groups say have been contributing factors.

HRC President Kelley Robinson has called for federal investigations by the U.S. Justice and Education Departments.

In her social media post, the vice president said: “My heart goes out to Nex Benedict’s family, friends, and their entire community. To the LGBTQI+ youth who are hurting and are afraid right now: President Joe Biden and I see you, we stand with you and you are not alone.”

Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who in 2022 signed an anti-trans bill prohibiting students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates, wrote in his statement that “our hearts go out to Nex’s family, classmates and the Owasso community. The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy — and bullies must be held accountable.”

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Oklahoma

Police release Nex Benedict bodycam footage

Nonbinary teenager died earlier this month after a fight in school

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Owasso Police Department bodycam footage. (YouTube screenshot)

The Owasso Police Department on Friday released bodycam footage from the interview conducted by the Owasso High School resource officer taken at the emergency room, investigating the attack on a nonbinary high school student who died a day after the attack.

In the video, 16-year-old Nex Benedict describes how they were bullied by three girls for “the way that we dress.” After Benedict dumped some water on them, the girls pinned them to the floor of the restroom and beat them until they blacked out.

Benedict’s mother stresses that they did not throw any punches or get physically combative during the attack. Facts that Benedict then verified in their account to the investigating officer.

Police have confirmed to multiple media outlets that the school failed to follow procedure and notify law enforcement about the beating.

Owasso police department bodycam footage (video courtesy of the owasso police department)

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