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BREAKING: White House names interim LGBT liaison

Alvillar, from Biden’s office, to replace Bond

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Raul Alvillar (photo courtesy of the White House)

The White House has designated a gay administration official as the interim point of contact for the LGBT community until a permanent liaison is named, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said Raul Alvillar, who currently serves as associate director for public engagement at the Office of the Vice President, will serve as a temporary replacement for Brian Bond, the current LGBT liaison. Bond, who’s leaving later this month for a position at the Democratic National Committee, is deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and handled LGBT outreach as part of his portfolio.

“Following Brian’s departure from the White House to his new position at the DNC, we will have a full-time liaison to the LGBT community in the Office of Public Engagement in October,” Inouye said. “In the interim, Raul Alvillar from the Office of the Vice President will serve as the point of contact for the LGBT community for OPE.”

Alvillar, 33, served for two-and-a-half years as the congressional relations officer for the Department of Housing & Urban Development. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Alvillar was western political director for Obama and assisted with LGBT outreach and LGBT super delegates at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

David Smith, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of programs, said in a statement HRC has heard “good things” about Alvillar.

“He has been with President Obama since the earliest days of the campaign,” Smith said. “Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council, and Jon Carson, director of the Office of Public Engagement continue to shepherd our issues in the White House so we don’t anticipate these changes to cause any problems.”

Winnie Stachelberg, senior vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, said she’s “thrilled” the White House has selected Alvillar as the interim LGBT liaison because of his work on LGBT politics and issues.

“He’s certainly got the ear of senior leadership in the White House, and it’s a good step,” Stachelberg said. “He’s got a sense of the policy from having worked in the legislative office. He’s worked in state politics, which I think is terribly important. He’s worked on the campaign. So, he’s someone who’s absolutely worked in a range of different positions, which I think will help him, and, ultimately, help the community to navigate these times and continue the progress that we’ve made on LGBT issues in the past two-and-a-half years.”

It’s unclear from the statement given by the White House whether Alvillar, or his permanent successor, will have the same role as Bond or if the position will be modified. Some LGBT advocates have been calling for the appointment of a more senior LGBT adviser who could more directly and consistently counsel Obama on LGBT issues.

Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, said the opportunity for the White House to create a more senior LGBT adviser still exists in the time period before a permanent replacement for Bond is named.

“What I think the community wants and deserves is a senior, full-time White House official at the special assistant or higher level whose sole responsibility is to represent the interests of the LGBT community at the White House and in the federal government,” Socarides said. “We deserve no less — and the time, the political moment calls for it. It should be clear to everyone.”

But Stachelberg maintained Obama already has a circle of senior advisers who counsel him on LGBT issues — including Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president; Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council, and John Berry, who’s gay and director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management — and said the appointment of a senior LGBT adviser would be redundant.

“What the White House has with respect to LGBT issues is a senior leadership team to work on these issues,” Stachelberg said. “It’s important that it’s not just about a person, but that it’s about the senior leadership team that the president has around him that really deals with these issues all the time.”

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Oklahoma

White House, national groups respond to nonbinary Okla. teenager’s death

Nex Benedict died after reported assault

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Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8 after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and national advocacy groups issued statements on Wednesday about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict after they were allegedly assaulted in a high school restroom.

Benedict died on Feb. 8. According to ABC News, officials investigating the incident said they will be interviewing students and staff “over the next few weeks” and plan to share findings with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.

The victim’s mother told the Independent that Benedict had suffered bullying over their gender since the start of the 2023 school year, shortly after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill to prohibit students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school,” Jean-Pierre said in a post on X. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, their friends, and their entire school community in the wake of this horrific tragedy.”

Calling Benedict’s death a “gut-wrenching tragedy that exposes the chilling reality of anti-trans hatred,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said. “We are reaching out to the DOJ, we are encouraging the community to speak out.”

Along with Robinson’s remarks, HRC’s Press Team included a link to the organization’s blog post about Benedict and a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the HRC Transgender Justice Initiative:

“Extremist anti-LGBTQ+ hate accounts, like online troll Chaya Raichik, the woman behind ‘Libs of TikTok’, who was recently appointed to Oklahoma’s library advisory board, are perpetuating a vile and hateful narrative that is permitting these types of public attacks,” she wrote.

State schools superintendent Ryan Walters, who last year called transgender youth using public restrooms “an assault on truth” and a danger to other kids, was responsible for naming Raichik to the library media panel.

“The assault on Nex is an inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric and discriminatory legislation targeting Oklahoma trans youth,” Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma wrote in a joint statement.

“We are deeply troubled by reports the school failed to respond appropriately to the altercation that preceded Nex’s death and demand a thorough, open investigation into the matter,” the groups wrote.

Their statement also notes the organizations’ lawsuit challenging Oklahoma Senate Bill 615, the bathroom bill signed by Stitt last year.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Alito renews criticism of the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality ruling

Obergefell decision allowed same-sex couples to marry around the country

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speaks at a conference in D.C. in December 2023 (YouTube screenshot)

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Tuesday renewed his criticism of the landmark 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that established the nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

His remarks came in a 5-page order that was written in connection with the High Court’s decision not to hear Missouri Department of Corrections v. Jean Finney — a dispute over whether a juror’s position that “homosexuality, according to the Bible, is a sin” can be the basis for striking him from an employment discrimination case that was brought by a lesbian.

The conflict, Alito argued, “exemplifies the danger” he foresaw in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, which was decided by a 5-4 majority with Alito among the justices who dissented.

Specifically, Alito raised concern in his statement that “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.'”

“The opinion of the court in [Obergefell] made it clear that the decision should not be used in that way,” the justice wrote, “but I am afraid that this admonition is not being heeded by our society.”

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Oklahoma

Nonbinary Okla. high school student dies after fight

Nex Benedict passed away Feb. 8

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Nex (Dagny) Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary high school student, died from injuries suffered in a physical altercation at Owasso High School on Feb. 7, 2024. (Family photo)

Located in Tulsa County on U.S. Highway 169 six miles north of Tulsa’s city limits, Owasso, which is home to 39,328 people, is grappling with conflict and accusations after Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old Owasso High School sophomore who was nonbinary, died after a physical fight in a restroom at the school.

However, according to school officials there was no notification or staff awareness of the fight until the young student had been taken to hospital and later died. The Owasso Police Department is now investigating the circumstances surrounding the student’s death. 

According to the local newspaper, the Owasso Reporter:

“On Wednesday, Feb. 7, around 3:30 p.m., police were called to Bailey Medical Center by the parent of a 16-year-old Owasso High School student who allegedly had a physical altercation at the campus earlier that day, according to the police report.”

It states that no initial report of the fight was made to police prior to their admission to Bailey, although information was taken by a school resource officer at the hospital.

On the evening of Feb. 8, police were made aware that the student was rushed back to the hospital where they were pronounced dead from a medical episode, the report states.

KJRH in neighboring Tulsa reported that a person knowledgeable of the events leading to the teen’s death, who claimed to be the mother of the victim’s best friend, told the station regarding the teen’s death:

“I think complications from brain trauma, head trauma, is what caused it,” she said.

The woman wouldn’t say the victim’s name but said Benedict was a sophomore. Bailey said the victim was outgoing and loyal once they got comfortable and was not afraid to be outspoken. The woman said three older girls were beating on the victim and her daughter in the girl’s bathroom.

“I know at one point, one of the girls was pretty much repeatedly beating [Benedict] head across the floor,” she said. That’s when [Benedict said] a teacher walked in and broke it up.

“[Benedict] couldn’t walk to the nurses’ station on [Benedict] own, and staff didn’t call the ambulance, which amazes me,” she said.

The woman told KJRH the victim’s grandmother, who [Benedict] primarily lived with, brought [Benedict] to the hospital after the fight. She said the victim was released that evening but was brought back the next day and died.

KJRH reached out multiple times along with other media outlets to Owasso Public Schools. A school district spokesperson responded saying there would be no comment “because this is an active police investigation.”

The Owasso Police Department also declined to comment except for noting investigators still don’t know if the fight was related to the teen’s death or if a separate medical issue was the cause. OPD said they’re waiting on the corner-medical examiner’s report before releasing more information.

Owasso Public Schools released this statement about the student’s death:

“The Owasso Police Department has notified district leaders of the death of an Owasso High School student. The student’s name and cause of death have not yet been made public. As this is an active police investigation, we will have no additional comment at this time. Further inquiries should be directed to the Owasso Police Department.”

“The district will have additional counselors at the school to provide support to students and staff beginning on Friday.”

On Feb. 15, after a service was held at Mowery Funeral Service Chapel, Benedict was buried at Ridgelawn Cemetery in Collinsville.

LGBTQ advocates and others are angered by the death, the misgendering in local media and the fact that the school district, which has been previously targeted by the far-right anti-LGBTQ extremist Libs of TikTok’s creator Chaya Raichik, seems unable to grapple with anti-LGBTQ bullying.

Raichik was named to sit on an Oklahoma committee reviewing school library content by far-right leaning State Superintendent of Schools Ryan Walters.

In 2022, Raichik targeted a now former Owasso 8th grade teacher for speaking out in support of LGBTQ students who lacked acceptance from their parents. That teacher, Tyler Wrynn, was labeled a “groomer” and a predator in social media posts.

According to LGBTQ advocacy groups, Raichik’s endless targeting only seems to encourage more violence against LGBTQ youth. 

Lance Preston, the CEO of the Indianapolis-based Rainbow Youth Project, which has been working to assist queer youth in the state, posted a video expressing his frustration and anger over this death and the other anti-LGBTQ violence.

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