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Ros-Lehtinen meets LGBT activists from Russia, former Soviet republics

Florida Republican sat down with three advocates on Wednesday

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Taras Karasiichuk, Gay Alliance Ukraine, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Party, Florida, United States House of Representatives, Ana Rekhviashvili, Georgia, Identoba, gay rights, gay news, Washington Blade, Russia, Vladimir Putin
Taras Karasiichuk, Gay Alliance Ukraine, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Party, Florida, United States House of Representatives, Ana Rekhviashvili, Georgia, Identoba, gay rights, gay news, Washington Blade, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Igor Kochetkov, Sphere

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (left) meets with LGBT rights advocates from Russia, Ukraine and Georgia in D.C. on Sept. 18. (Photo courtesy of Alex Cruz)

Florida Congresswoman and pro-LGBT Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Wednesday met with gay rights advocates from Russia, Ukraine and Georgia.

Igor Kochetkov of the Russian LGBT rights group Sphere, Gay Alliance Ukraine Director Taras Karasiichuk and Anna Rekhviashvili of the Georgian advocacy organization Identoba met with the lawmaker in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol. The three activists, who traveled to the United States for the first time, were in D.C. to take part in an LGBT civil and human rights training sponsored by the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

“During my meetings with these brave LGBT activists, I impressed upon them my firm belief that they must continue their work for equal rights and that I have supported them every step of the way,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Washington Blade on Friday.

Kochetkov was one of the LGBT advocates who met with President Obama earlier this month during the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. The activist told the Blade he was pleased the meeting took place, but claimed Obama said he couldn’t make human rights a priority in U.S.-Russia relations.

Kochetkov said he disagreed with that sentiment.

Countries’ LGBT rights records sparks concern

Ros-Lehtinen’s meeting with the three activists comes against the backdrop of ongoing concern and outrage over anti-LGBT discrimination and persecution Russia, Georgia and Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in June signed a bill into law that bans gay propaganda to minors. A second statute that prohibits same-sex couples and anyone else from a country in which same-sex couples are allowed to marry from adopting Russian children took effect in July.

The aforementioned laws and growing outrage over the Kremlin’s ongoing LGBT crackdown threatens to overshadow the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Thousands of people in May attacked a few dozen Georgian LGBT rights advocates who tried to stage a rally in Tbilisi the country’s capital, to commemorate the annual International Day Against Homophobia. Identoba Executive Director Irakli Vacharadze told the Washington Blade before the IDAHO march that violence against gays and lesbians in the former Soviet republic remains a serious concern.

Russian police on May 25 arrested 30 LGBT rights advocates who tried to stage a Pride celebration outside Moscow City Hall.

Dozens of advocates on the same day held Ukraine’s first gay rights rally in the country’s capital, Kiev, in spite of an earlier court ruling that banned it. U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Tefft is among those who supported the march.

“It’s increasingly difficult for LGBT individuals in Russia, Georgia and Ukraine to live openly and authentically due to the repressive governments that continue to advance policies that are hostile and discriminatory,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade. “These folks just want to live normal lives with their loved ones, but the governments of these nations are either physically harassing them or intimidating them through the legislative process. Responsible nations should condemn these actions and relate to these governments that equality should be for all their citizens and that these human rights abuses will not be tolerated.”

Ros-Lehtinen’s meeting with Kochetkov, Karasiichuk and Rekhviashvili also took place less than two months after she met with Cuban LGBT rights advocates Wendy Iriepa Díaz and Ignacio Estrada Cepero in her Capitol Hill office. The Cuban-born Republican who supports marriage rights for same-sex couples also co-sponsored a bill that Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) introduced on Thursday that would ensure gay federal employees would have access to employee benefits for their same-sex partners even if they are not legally married.

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The White House

WNBA players back petition for White House to ‘prioritize’ Brittney Griner’s release

Phoenix Mercury center detained in Russia in February

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Russian state TV has released a photo of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was arrested on drug charges in the country after Russian officials say cannabis oil was found in her luggage. (Screenshot)

The Women’s National Basketball Players Association has endorsed a petition that urges the Biden administration to “prioritize” WNBA star Brittney Griner’s release.

“It is imperative that the U.S. government immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home quickly and safely,” reads the Change.org petition that Tamryn Spruill, a freelance journalist and author, created.

“The WNBPA and its members proudly join Tamryn Spruill, the creator of this petition, in demanding that lawmakers prioritize Griner’s return,” it continues. “White House and Biden adminsitration, we ask that you take action today—doing whatever is necessary—to bring Brittney Griner home swiftly and safely.”

More than 135,000 people have signed the petition.

Spruill on Saturday in a tweet said the WNBPA, a union that represents WNBA players, partnered with them and Change.org “in demanding that our elected officials work urgently to gain BG’s swift and safe release.”

Griner — a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife — was taken into custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. Russian officials said customs inspectors found hashish oil in her luggage.

The State Department earlier this month determined Russia “wrongfully detained” Griner. A Russian court on Friday extended her detention for another month.

“The Russian system wrongfully detained Ms. Griner,” then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday during her last White House briefing. “We take our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens seriously.  And we will continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for all U.S. citizens when they are subject to legal processes overseas.”
 
“Now, because the State Department recategorized her as wrongfully detained, it means that our Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs — it’s quite a title but a well-deserved one — is going to be overseeing this case and leading the effort,” added Psaki. “Because it’s a deliberative process and we know from experience of bringing other Americans home, we’re just not going to detail what those efforts look like at this point in time.”

Griner faces up to 10 years in prison.

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Wyoming

GOP Sen. Cynthia Lummis issues ‘apology’ after transphobic comments during graduation speech

“My reference to the existence of two sexes was intended to highlight the times- times in which the metric of biological sex is under debate”

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Screenshot/University of Wyoming YouTube

During her speech delivered to the University of Wyoming’s College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education commencement Saturday afternoon, Republican U.S. Senator Cynthia Lummis told graduates that “the existence of two sexes, male and female” was a “fundamental scientific truth.” 

The audience’s immediate reaction to her transphobic remarks were loud expressions of disapproval including jeering, boos, and demands she leave the podium.

The senator’s remarks came in the latter third of her twenty-minute address which had primarily focused on the critical need for teachers and in the fields of agriculture and other endeavors she noted were Wyoming hallmarks.

In a statement released by her office Sunday, a spokesperson noted that Lummis was apologizing to those who felt “un-welcomed or disrespected” by the comments.

“My reference to the existence of two sexes was intended to highlight the times in which we find ourselves, times in which the metric of biological sex is under debate with potential implications for the shared Wyoming value of equality,” the statement read.

“I share the fundamental belief that women and men are equal, but also acknowledge that there are biological differences and circumstances in which these differences need to be recognized. That being said, it was never my intention to make anyone feel un-welcomed or disrespected, and for that I apologize. I have appreciated hearing from members of the University of Wyoming community on this issue, and I look forward to continuing this dialogue.” 

An Assistant Professor in the University of Wyoming’s Sociology Program in the College of Arts and Sciences tweeted pointing out the graduate’s reactions along with the fact that the UW campus community had recently lost a Trans student to suicide, making the senator’s remarks more hurtful.

The university’s president also issued a statement Sunday expressing support for all members of the UW campus and community:

May 15, 2022

To the UW community:

On Saturday, the university celebrated spring 2022 commencement with a series of events that showcased the best of what makes us special: our students, our staff, our faculty and our ability to openly embrace and debate complex issues. One of our speakers made remarks regarding biological sex that many on campus take issue with. While we respect the right of all to express their views, from students to elected officials, we unequivocally state that UW is an institution that supports and celebrates its diverse communities that collectively make us the wonderful place that we are.

Thank you to the many students and families who celebrated with us this weekend. We welcome the incredible individuality and intellect of all our dynamic and diverse students and never want you to feel otherwise.

Sincerely,

Ed Seidel, President

Senator Cynthia Lummis’ remarks are at the 50:11 time mark:

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Politics

Task Force targets five battleground states in ‘Queer the Vote’

LGBTQ rights organization raises over $15,000 at D.C. event

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LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson (left) speaks to a crowd of supporters at Metrobar on Friday, May 13. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nearly 50 people attended the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Reunited and Resilient fundraiser at Metrobar on Friday, May 13.

Task Force board member Peter Chandler announced at the first in-person D.C. gathering of the organization since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, “we all are thirsty and hungry for community right now.”

Following remarks by Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson and Deputy Executive Director Mayra Hidalgo Salazar, the organization raised more than $15,000 in pledges of donations from guests.

“I think a lot of us are seeing this bill pop up,” Salazar said, referring to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. “And some of us can feel hopelessness, but I’m really thrilled to share with you that the Task Force is super determined to make sure that we are driving the political power of the LGBT movement through our ‘Queer the Vote’ work in Florida.”

Johnson elaborated on the Task Force’s “Queer the Vote” initiative. “As we look to the 2022 midterms, the Task Force is moving our resources into civic engagement across five states: North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Michigan,” said Johnson.

“That’s not by accident: that’s intentional,” continued Johnson. “These are battleground states. These are states where we are seeing not only attacks on LGBTQ issues, we’re seeing attacks on abortion, we’re seeing attacks on voting rights, we’re seeing attacks on immigrants. We’re seeing multi-front attacks on our people, and that’s exactly where the Task Force wants to be: at those intersections of social justice issues and LGBTQ liberation.”

“The states that we are going to — we could change the impact on elections. In some places the margin is one percent; it is a one percent margin of whether we win or lose. And the majority of states in this country are 10% LGBTQ voters. That plus BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] voters, we have the power to impact elections and make real change.”

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