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Gay rights factor into Obama decision to cancel Putin meeting

President tells Leno he has ‘no patience’ for anti-gay laws

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Athlete Ally, All Out, IOC, International Olympic Committee, Russia, Sochi, gay news, Washington Blade
Athlete Ally, All Out, IOC, International Olympic Committee, Russia, Sochi, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of All Out and Athlete Ally on Aug. 7 presented a petition with more than 300,000 signatures to the International Olympic Committee that urges it to pressure Russia to end its gay crackdown. (Photo courtesy of All Out)

The White House on Wednesday announced President Obama has cancelled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that had been scheduled to take place next month in Moscow.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement the Kremlin’s decision to grant temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden last week is among the factors that contributed to the decision to cancel the meeting that was to have taken place before the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. An administration official told the Washington Blade that Russia’s LGBT rights record also played a role in Obama’s decision to cancel the talks with his Russian counterpart.

Obama is still scheduled to travel to the G-20 summit that will take place Sept. 5-6.

“Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues and human rights and civil society in the last 12 months, we have informed the Russian government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda,” Carney said.

The announcement comes hours after Obama joined the chorus of those who have blasted Russia over its ongoing gay crackdown.

“I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimate them or are harmful to them,” he told Jay Leno during a pre-taped appearance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show.”

Gay advocacy groups on Wednesday also presented to the International Olympic Committee a petition with more than 300,000 signatures that urges it to pressure Russian officials to protect the rights of their LGBT citizens.

The petition that All Out and Athlete Ally presented to IOC officials in Lausanne, Switzerland, stresses the organizations stand “with citizens across Russia who are calling on their government to stop the crackdown against lesbian, gay, bi and trans people” ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February. The group also urges the IOC and other global and Russian leaders “to work to eliminate all anti-gay laws and protect all citizens from violence and discrimination” in the country.

Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo; former Oakland Raider Chris Kluwe and Greg Louganis, an Olympic diver who was unable to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow after the U.S. boycotted the games, are among those who have endorsed the petition.

Actor Stephen Fry in an open letter to IOC President Jacques Rogge and British Prime Minister David Cameron that he posted to his blog on Wednesday compared the decision to hold the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia to Nazi Germany hosting the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Leno told Obama he feels Russia’s anti-LGBT crackdown “seems like Germany with let’s round up the Jews.”

“The International Olympic Committee is being forced by Russia to tell athletes to shut up, but instead they are speaking out,” All Out Executive Director Andre Banks said. “Ironically, the global outcry is transforming Sochi into an amazing platform for Russians and athletes to defy the law and speak out.”

The IOC said in a July 31 statement it has “received assurances” from “the highest level of government in Russia” the broadly worded gay propaganda to minors ban that President Vladimir Putin signed in June will not affect athletes and others who will travel to Sochi.

The Associated Press on Aug. 5 reported the organization is engaged in “quiet diplomacy” with senior Russian officials on the issue. This report comes less than a week after Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told a Russian sports website the gay propaganda law will apply to those who attend the games.

Lady Gaga describes Russian gov’t as ‘criminal’

In addition to the gay propaganda ban, Putin last month signed a second law that bans foreign same-sex couples and any couple from a country in which gays and lesbians can legally marry from adopting Russian children. LGBT rights groups and other organizations that receive funding from outside Russia could face a fine if they don’t register as a “foreign agent.”

Authorities in the Russian capital in May arrested 30 people who tried to stage a Pride march outside Moscow City Hall. St. Petersburg officials in June took more than 40 LGBT rights advocates into custody who tried to stage their own Pride event.

Authorities in Murmansk on July 21 arrested four Dutch LGBT rights advocates who were filming a documentary about gay life in Russia.

Reports of anti-gay violence, hate crimes and even ultra-nationalists torturing gay Russian teenagers whom they meet on local social media networks continue to emerge from the country.

The Russian government last week announced it would investigate whether Lady Gaga and Madonna did not secure the proper visas to enter the country last year. Both singers spoke out against St. Petersburg’s law that bans gay propaganda to minors during their concerts in the city.

“The Russian government is criminal,” Lady Gaga wrote on her Twitter page on August 5. “Oppression will be met with revolution. Russian LGBTs you are not alone. We will fight for your freedom.”

Gay actor George Takei on Tuesday urged the IOC to move the 2014 games from Sochi to another city.

“The IOC must do the right thing, protect its athletes and the fans, and move the 2014 Winter Olympics out of Russia,” he wrote on his blog.

Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein is among those who have urged the U.S. and other countries to boycott the Sochi games. Author Dan Savage and LGBT rights advocates Cleve Jones have also called for a boycott Russian vodka.

A coalition of LGBT sports organizations that includes Outsports.com and Athlete Ally on Aug. 1 announced they oppose a boycott of the Olympics. The Obama administration, retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova and Russian LGBT rights advocate Nikolai Alekseev are among those who also oppose calls to boycott the Sochi games.

All Out founder describes Sochi boycott calls as ‘premature’

Banks told the Blade during an interview in his Manhattan office on Aug. 2 that he feels calls to boycott the Sochi games are “premature.”

His group continues to work with Coming Out, a St. Petersburg LGBT advocacy group that was fined 500,000 rubles or slightly more than $15,000 for violating Russia’s “foreign agents” law that took effect in 2012. All Out is also working with the Russian LGBT Network.

“What we’re hearing from the groups inside Russia is we should use this opportunity to speak up and to speak out and to challenge the law as opposed to basically punishing Olympians for this law that they had nothing to do with,” Banks said.

Banks added the games provide an opportunity for the U.S. and other governments and international human rights organizations to speak out against Russia’s LGBT rights record in a way he feels the Russian government cannot ignore.

“The Sochi Olympics create this opportunity where actually everyone — these many kind of stakeholders — have an opportunity to say something at the same time about these laws in a way that can’t be ignored,” he said. “There’s an opportunity for the U.S. to take a more aggressive position than they have taken up to now.”

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

“LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased”

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Florida State Capitol building

TALLAHASSEE – A Republican majority Florida House Education & Employment Committee passed HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion Senate bill SB 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the Press Secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 47% felt nervous and/or scared, 45% felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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California mom claims school manipulated child into changing gender identity

Jessica Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her

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Fox News host Laura Ingraham & Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet Dhillon with client, Jessica Konen (Screenshot Fox News)

A Northern California mother is claiming teachers in a small school district in the state manipulated her daughter into changing her gender identity and name in a legal claim. 

The claim, filed by the ultra-conservative Center for American Liberty on behalf of the mother, alleged “extreme and outrageous conduct” by the Spreckels Union School District, leading Jessica Konen’s 11-year-old daughter to change her gender identity and drive a wedge between them.

Specifically, the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, names two teachers – Lori Caldera and Kelly Baraki – at Buena Vista Middle who, in addition to teaching, ran the school’s Equality Club, later known as UBU (You Be You). Buena Vista is a part of the district. 

It comes after Abigail Shrier, the author of a book widely criticized as anti-trans, quoted what the two educators said last year at the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in a piece headlined “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids.” Caldera and Baraki spoke about the difficulty of running a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in a socially conservative community. 

After the article was published, the teachers were put on administrative leave, and the district hired a law firm to investigate, which is ongoing. The UBU club was suspended. 

Spreckels is a town of about 400 people in the agricultural Salinas Valley, approximately 90 miles south of San Francisco

According to the complaint, Konen’s daughter began attending Equality Club meetings after being invited by a friend when she started sixth grade at Buena Vista. After attending one session, she decided it wasn’t for her until Caldiera convinced her to come back. At the gatherings, Caldera and Baraki held LGBTQ-centered discussions and introduced students to different gender identities and sexualities. 

During her time in the club, Konen’s daughter began exploring her own gender identity and sexuality, choosing to wear more masuline clothes. At some point, she decided to change her name and pronouns, which she has since changed back to her original name and pronouns. 

Konen said she was aware her daughter was bisexual but did not know she began using a male name and gender pronouns until she was called into the school when her daughter was in seventh grade. The meeting caught both Konen and her daughter by surprise – Konen’s daughter had said she wanted to notify her mother, but she did not know the meeting was that day. 

Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her. 

However, when Shrier’s article was published and circulated around the small town, everything changed. At this time, Konen’s daughter was again using a female name and pronouns.

In the leaked recording from the LGBTQ conference, Caldera and Baraki were discussing how they kept meetings private, among other things. 

“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”

However, Caldera told the San Francisco Chronicle that the quotes were either taken out of context or misrepresented. According to Caldera, the stalking comment was a joke. She also defended their work, saying students lead the conversation and they provide honest and fair answers to their questions.
In addition, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association criticized the group bringing the lawsuit forward, according to the Associated Press: “We are concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities for their own political gain, which is evident in this complaint. The Center for American Liberty is concerned with pushing its own political agenda through litigation and has filed multiple lawsuits against various school districts and communities.”

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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