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Gay N.J. activist: Sandy left behind ‘massive destruction’

Superstorm brought widespread devastation to both New Jersey and New York



Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Fire Island, Sandy
Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Fire Island, Sandy

Bay water inundates the harbor in Fire Island Pines, N.Y., on Oct. 29 (Photo courtesy of Karen Boss)

The head of New Jersey’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization on Wednesday said Superstorm Sandy devastated his state.

“Hurricane Sandy has left massive destruction in her aftermath,” said Garden State Equality Chair Steven Goldstein in a YouTube video shot on a street in Teaneck in Bergen County with down trees and power lines in the background.

Goldstein urged his organization’s members and supporters to keep in regular contact with the elderly, young people and those with disabilities directly impacted by the storm who may need someone to pick up their prescriptions or buy them other basic supplies.

“On behalf of our entire Board of Directors, I extend to you our love, our prayers and most profound gratitude for being there for one another during this time of need.”

Sandy’s storm surge inundated large swaths of the New Jersey coastline, New York City, the South Shore of Long Island and Fire Island as it made landfall near Atlantic City, N.J., on Monday night. The storm killed at least 90 people in the United States and dozens of others in the Caribbean.

Villas, N.J., residents Vince Grimm and Will Kratz, whom the Washington Blade interviewed in August shortly after they celebrated their 51st anniversary, rode out Sandy in their bay front home north of Cape May. The couple lost power and water during the storm, but Grimm told friends in an e-mail he and Kratz have been able to run a generator and their gas-powered fireplace.

The storm did not damage the couple’s home and property.

“Our beach is a disaster and we lost our sand fences, but the dune is intact considering we got hit [during] a high tide with a full moon,” said Grimm. “Actually our street, 11 blocks long, has virtually no damage considering we are sitting on a sand dune along the bay.”

Sandy’s winds ‘unlike anything I’ve heard’

The storm killed at least 37 people in New York City, while a fast-moving fire destroyed more than 100 homes in the flooded Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens late on Monday.

A record storm surge that nearly topped 14 feet in lower Manhattan inundated large swaths of the five boroughs, subway tunnels under the East and Hudson Rivers and the Queens-Midtown and High L. Carey Tunnels that link Manhattan with Queens and Brooklyn respectively.

A limited number of subway and commuter train lines are once again running in portions of the city and metropolitan area, but bus service below 23rd Street in Manhattan remains suspended at night because the lack of electricity has created dangerous driving conditions. More than a quarter of a million customers in Manhattan remained in the dark as of 4:30 a.m. on Thursday.

“It’s been a crazy, crazy few days here,” gay New York City Council candidate Corey Johnson told the Blade on Wednesday. His apartment on West 15th Street in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood is close to the Eighth Avenue building that lost its facade during the height of the storm. “All I could hear was howling winds. It was unlike anything I’ve heard in my 12 years in New York.”

Cindi Creager, the former communications director of the LGBT Community Center in Greenwich Village, was inside her West Village apartment with her wife during the storm. The couple is currently staying with a friend who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, but Creager told the Blade she feels fortunate she and her wife escaped the storm unscathed.

“The wind was howling and whipping [outside] the window. And it was scary,” she said. “We had power and we didn’t and it was total darkness outside the window. And that’s when it felt very scary. You just start to realize how fleeting life can be. We did very well considering.”

Cathy Renna of Renna Communications rode out Sandy in her centuries old farmhouse on Shelter Island between Long Island’s North and South Forks. She told the Blade local utility crews restored the electricity to her home roughly 24 hours after the worst of the storm had passed.

Sandy brought several large trees down across Shelter Island, but Renna stressed she feels she and her family “were really lucky.”

“I grew up on Long Island,” she said, noting her sister’s friend who lives in Lindenhurst along the Great South Bay in southwestern Suffolk County lost everything to the storm. “I have never, ever seen winds like that. It was terrifying, but it was only for a few hours.”

Storm devastates Fire Island, forces LGBT groups to close

Sandy caused widespread flooding and severe beach erosion throughout Fire Island. Dozens of oceanfront homes in Fire Island Pines sustained damage from the storm surge. The high tides also damaged bulkheads and bay front board walks in the hamlet and neighboring Cherry Grove.

The storm also forced the Empire State Pride Agenda, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and other LGBT advocacy groups to close their lower Manhattan offices because of the power outage and in some cases flooding.

“Our New York-based staff members are safe and working from home with limited resources,” said GLAAD spokesperson Seth Adam on the organization’s website on Tuesday. “Today, our thoughts are with all those families affected by Hurricane Sandy, as well as first responders working to keep us safe.”

Officials cancelled the city’s annual Halloween parade in Greenwich Village. The storm also derailed Splash Bar and other lower Manhattan gay bars and clubs’ holiday festivities because of the blackout. Restaurants and other businesses in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood west of Times Square that did not lose electricity during Sandy remain open.

“Day 3 of no power,” said Gym Sports Bar, which is on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, in a message to patrons. “Our thoughts are with you out there. As soon as our lights are back on we will be back on the field. Stay safe out there Gym peeps.”

Restoring power and full subway service remain New York City officials’ top priorities.

“The subway lines are really the veins, arteries and lifeblood of the city,” said Johnson. “People are basically stuck unless they’re going to work or are able to get on a bus.”

Lesbian New York City Council candidate Yetta Kurland, who said her building has run out of the water because of the lack of electricity, said the closure of New York University Langone Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital because of flooding has left lower Manhattan residents more vulnerable. Kurland also pointed out people with disabilities and others who are unable to leave their apartments are unable to obtain food, water and ice at Union Square and other distribution points.

“There’s a large relief effort,” she said. “The city’s doing a great job at this point, but there are a lot of homebound people who cannot get to Union Square.”

Gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm said the situation in his Queens district that includes the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst “is pretty much okay” outside of downed trees. Overcrowded subway stations and gas shortages have become a problem, but Dromm said the gay bars and other businesses along bustling Roosevelt Avenue that were closed during the storm have since re-opened.

“Everything is back up and operational in Jackson Heights itself,” said Dromm. “We were very lucky.”

Gay New Yorkers persevere in spite of Sandy

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which is the country’s largest LGBT synagogue, will hold its weekly Shabbat service by candlelight at a Manhattan church later on Friday. Its group for older congregants will meet at a nearby diner beforehand for dinner.

Elmo, a restaurant on Seventh Avenue in Chelsea, on Wednesday served drinks in spite of the lack of electricity.

Even as New Yorkers try to return to some sense of normalcy, they continue to reflect upon the storm that devastated their city.

“You go from this thriving city uptown to just a ghost town downtown, which is really scary,” said Creager, who briefly returned to her apartment on Wednesday to pick up more clothes and other belongings. “There was a lot of traffic yesterday going up and down the West Side Highway because there’s no subway. There’s that feeling in the air, even on the Upper West Side like something major has happened.”

Dromm, who taught in the city’s public schools for 25 years until his 2009 election to the City Council, said he has “never seen anything like” Sandy “in my life in Queens.” He also applauded New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for raising the issue of climate change during the storm’s aftermath.

“It’s a very important question,” said Dromm. “It’s really scary when you think about lower Manhattan—areas of lower Manhattan being flooded out like that. Government wasn’t even able to really operate in this storm. It’s very, very scary.”



Texas governor signs bill banning transgender youth healthcare

Senate Bill 14 to take effect on Sept. 1



Landon Richie, a 21-year-old political science major and a leading transgender activist, protesting at the Texas Capitol in May. (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

By Alex Nguyen and William Melhado | Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Friday a bill that bars transgender kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, though the new law could face legal challenges before it takes effect on Sept. 1.

Senate Bill 14’s passage brings to the finish line a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas, which opposes any efforts to validate transgender identities. Trans kids, their parents and LGBTQ advocacy groups fiercely oppose the law, and some have vowed to stop it from going into effect.

Texas — home to one of the largest trans communities in the U.S. — is now one of over a dozen states that restrict transition-related care for trans minors.

“Cruelty has always been the point,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “It’s not shocking that this governor would sign SB14 right at the beginning of Pride [month]; however this will not stop trans people from continuing to exist with authenticity — as we always have.”

Authored by New Braunfels Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell, the law bars trans kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, treatments many medical groups support. Children already receiving these treatments will have to be “weaned off” in a “medically appropriate” manner. The law also bans transition-related surgeries for kids, though those are rarely performed on minors.

Those who support the law claim that health care providers have capitalized on a “social contagion” to misguide parents and push life-altering treatments on kids who may later regret their decisions. SB 14’s supporters have also disputed the science and research behind transition-related care.

But trans kids, their parents and major medical groups say these medical treatments are important to protecting the mental health of an already vulnerable population, which faces a higher risk of depression and suicide than their cisgender peers. At the same time, doctors say cutting off these treatments — gradually or abruptly — could bring both physical discomfort and psychological distress to trans youth, some of whom have called it forced detransitioning.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center pledged on May 18 to fight SB 14 in court. They have yet to file a lawsuit.

“Transgender people have always been here and will always be here,” Ash Hall, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said Friday. “Our trans youth deserve a world where they can shine alongside their peers, and we will keep advocating for that world in and out of the courts.”

This legal threat is not new; some of these groups have sued several other states over their restrictions. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice also joined the legal fight against Tennessee’s ban.

While the lawsuits are tailored to each state, Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal and the director of its Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project, told the Texas Tribune last month that a major common challenge to the laws hinges on the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the argument that these laws are stopping trans kids from accessing the same medical treatments that are still available to their cisgender peers.

Buchert added that the lawsuits’ immediate goal is generally to get a preliminary injunction to stop these laws from taking effect, a tactic that has seen some success.

“It’s one thing to see some of the things that state legislators do, but it’s a completely different thing when you’re under the white-hot spotlight of judicial scrutiny,” she said.

And prior to SB 14, the ACLU and Lambda Legal successfully sued Texas last year to halt state-ordered child abuse investigations of parents who provide their trans kids with access to transition-related care. Impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton later appealed the decision in March, but the 3rd Court of Appeals has yet to issue a ruling on it.

“It’s a privilege to be able to fight,” Buchert said about the ongoing court challenges that Lambda Legal is involved in.

Editor’s note:

In a late Friday evening phone call, Landon Richie, with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told the Washington Blade:

“Today Governor Abbott signed cruelty into law. Legislation that purports to ‘protect youth’ while stripping them of the life-saving, life-giving care that they receive will cost lives, and that’s not an exaggeration. Trans kids deserve not only to exist, but to thrive as their authentic selves in every facet of their lives, and we will never stop fighting to to actualize a world where that is undisputed. Despite efforts by our state, trans people will always exist in Texas, as we always have, and we will continue to exist brilliantly and boldly, and with endless care for one another.”


The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge rules Tenn. drag ban is unconstitutional

Law was to have taken effect April 1



(Bigstock photo)

U. S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker of the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee declared Tennessee’s anti-drag Adult Entertainment Act to be unconstitutional.

Parker’s ruling comes after a two-day trial last month. A Shelby County-based LGBTQ theatre company, Friends of George’s, had sued the state of Tennessee, claiming the law unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Parker ordered a temporary injunction halting the just enacted Tennessee law that criminalizes some drag performances, hours before it was set to take effect April 1. In his 15 page ruling ordering the temporary injunction Parker wrote:

“If Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene, it must do so within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution. […] The court finds that, as it stands, the record here suggests that when the legislature passed this statute, it missed the mark.”

Attorneys for the theatre company had argued that drag performances were an artform and protected speech under the first amendment.

In his 70 page ruling Friday, Parker wrote:

“After considering the briefs and evidence presented at trial, the court finds that — despite
Tennessee’s compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of
children — the Adult Entertainment Act (“AEA”) is an UNCONSTITUTIONAL restriction on
the freedom of speech.”

“The court concludes that the AEA is both unconstitutionally vague and substantially
overbroad. The AEA’s ‘harmful to minors’ standard applies to minors of all ages, so it fails to
provide fair notice of what is prohibited, and it encourages discriminatory enforcement. The
AEA is substantially overbroad because it applies to public property or ‘anywhere’ a minor
could be present.”

Read the entire ruling:

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LGBTQ literature advocacy org to host celebrity panel

Discussion to be moderated by writer Sa’iyda Shabazz, ‘Glee’ actor Chris Colfer



‘Glee’ actor Chris Colfer will be one of four panelists at a virtual event hosted by Pride and Less Prejudice on Saturday, June 3. (Photo by Kathclick/Bigstock)

Affectionately known by fans of the show as the “fashionable soprano,” Chris Colfer’s character in “Glee” came out as gay to his father in the fourth episode of the Golden Globe-winning musical drama series. Colfer paused in between fragments of sentences to catch his breath as his pupils, set atop his recognizable rosy cheeks, dilated.

“Being a part of…the glee club and football has really shown me that I can be anything,” he said. “And what I am is…I’m gay.”

Colfer, who is also author of young adult fiction series “The Land of Stories,” will be one of four panelists at a virtual event hosted by LGBTQ organization Pride and Less Prejudice (PLP) on Saturday, June 3. At the event, panelists will discuss queer visibility in authorship and the importance of queer people telling queer stories. 

“We selected [them] because we’re trying to look at the intersection between TV, film, podcasts, [and] books because it’s all media and it’s all really great avenues for queer people telling their own story,” said Rebecca Damante, co-founder and outreach coordinator of the organization.

PLP began in 2019 when Damante had conversations with her mother about her experiences as a queer person and how she came to terms with her sexuality in high school. Although she watched shows such as “Glee” and “Pretty Little Liars” that had great queer representation, she knew that “it would’ve made a huge difference” if she had seen this as a kid.

“I was a huge reader as a kid and my mom had a lot of great books in our library about interfaith families and adoption,” said Damante. “I come from an interfaith family and have family members who are adopted, so she had diverse books in that way but never really had LGBTQ inclusive books.”

This motivated the mother-daughter duo to start an organization that donates LGBTQ-inclusive books to classrooms from pre-K to third grade.

They posted a Google form to social media that was reposted by GLAAD, where Damante had interned, and amplified by LGBTQ activist Kristin Russo. Teachers would put in requests for books and this allowed PLP to start an email chain that they could also use to solicit donations. 

It wasn’t until Damante posted to Pantsuit Nation, a Facebook group that rallied Hillary Clinton supporters during her 2016 presidential run, that PLP garnered interest from hundreds of teachers. This led to a celebrity campaign video where actors Nicole Maines, Theo Germaine, and Darryl Stephens, among others, emphasized the importance of LGBTQ literature in classrooms. 

Since 2019, the organization has raised more than $140,000 in grants and donations and donated over 8,000 books. 

Dylan Moss, a kindergarten teacher in Albany, N.Y., is among those who have benefitted from PLP’s efforts. 

During a quest for more diverse and inclusive books for his classroom, he stumbled upon PLP’s website between 2020 and 2021 and reached out to the organization. Since then, he has been actively involved in PLP’s efforts and is now a member of the advisory committee that helps to create lesson plans that accompany the books.

“Biases start to get formed [in kindergarten], so I like to help [my students] create better narratives,” said Moss in a Zoom interview. “It’s easier to learn it now than to take away all the negative biases they have from everyday society, family, and just being around other humans.”

Moss also added, over email, that when discussing diverse topics in the classroom, conversations are aligned with social studies standards. 

“I’d rather [my students] understand that people are different and that there’s a reason we’re different and that we should love that we’re different,” he said on Zoom. “You don’t have to go deep into the ideas necessarily. You can just give them the basis of what you’re saying and kind of let them take it from there.” 

For Lisa Forman, Damante’s mom and co-founder and executive director of PLP, approaching education this way is not only a form of allyship and advocacy, it’s “standing up for what’s right.”

The first half of the 2022-2023 school year saw 1,477 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles, 26% of which had LGBTQ characters or themes, according to data from Pen America, an organization that advances human rights and literature causes in the United States and worldwide. 

In 2022, the Washington Blade reported that a Loudoun County, Va., school board voted to remove “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” an illustrated autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe that contains descriptions and comic book style drawings of sexual acts that Kobabe uses to tell the story of the journey and struggle in discovering the author’s gender identity.

“As much as these books are for the queer kids in the classroom, they’re for every kid,” said Forman. “We’re doing this not just for the queer kids…we want to normalize the idea of being queer in the classroom.”

Looking to the upcoming celebrity panel, Damante wants to leave attendees feeling inspired enough to own their narratives, whether they identify as queer or not. 

“If teachers are able to see the impact of these queer stories then they’ll understand why it’s important for them to share the books,” she said. 

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