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IOC faces renewed criticisms over Russia

LGBT rights advocates blasted Olympic official’s comments on anti-gay law

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Athlete Ally, All Out, IOC, International Olympic Committee, Russia, Sochi, gay news, Washington Blade
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Party, United States House of Representatives, Florida, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Council for Global Equality

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) speaks about Russia’s LGBT rights record during a Council for Global Equality reception at the Rayburn Building in D.C. on Sept. 30, 2013. (Photo courtesy of Gabriella Boffelli)

The International Olympic Committee has faced renewed criticism from LGBT activists over its apparent reluctance to challenge Russia’s gay rights record ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The Associated Press reported that IOC Coordination Commission Chair Jean-Claude Killy said during a Sept. 26 press conference in Sochi, Russia, the Olympic body is “fully satisfied” the Russian law that bans gay propaganda to minors does not violate the Olympic charter. An IOC spokesperson later sought to clarify Killy’s comments to the Washington Blade.

“That is clearly not expressing any view on the law itself,” the IOC said. “Mr. Killy made it abundantly clear that the IOC never comments on national legislation.”

The IOC added it will “continue to work to uphold the Olympic Charter, which allows all participants, from spectators to athletes, to attend the games regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.” IOC President Thomas Bach reiterated this point on Sunday before the lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece.

“The Olympic Torch Relay will be a messenger for the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect without any form of discrimination,” he said.

The IOC has repeatedly said the Kremlin has assured them the gay propaganda ban will not affect athletes and others who plan to travel to Sochi, even though Russian officials have said the statute will apply to those who go to the games.

“The safety of millions of LGBT Russians and international travelers is at risk,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in response to Killy’s comments. “And by all accounts the IOC has completely neglected its responsibility to Olympic athletes, sponsors and fans from around the world.”

Members of COC Nederland, a Dutch LGBT advocacy group, on Sept. 17 met with members of the National Olympic Committee of the Netherlands to discuss their concerns over the safety of LGBT athletes who will compete in Sochi and others who will travel to the games. They also requested a meeting with Dutch IOC member Camiel Eurlings to further discuss the aforementioned issues.

“This conclusion is unheard of,” COC Nederland President Tanja Ineke said in response to Killy’s comments. “The European Union, Council of Europe, United Nations and numerous governments have all clearly stated that this law is discriminatory and an infringement of the human rights of LGBT people. The IOC disregards these conclusions and instead chooses to be the accomplice of the homophobic Russian government.”

President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are among those who have publicly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government’s LGBT rights record. Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein, author Dan Savage, Cleve Jones and other gay activists have called for a boycott of the Sochi games and Russian vodka over the issue.

Olympic skier Bode Miller on Monday described the gay propaganda law as “embarrassing” as he spoke during the U.S. Olympic Committee media summit in Park City, Utah. USA Today reported figure skater Ashley Wagner also spoke out against the statute during the same event.

“I have such a firm stance on this that we should all have equal rights,” she said.

U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun in August told RIA Novosti, an online Russian newspaper, that American athletes should comply with the laws of the countries in which they compete. USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky later sought to clarify Blackmun’s comments by tweeting Russia’s gay propaganda law is “inconsistent with fundamental Olympic principles” and the American Olympic body has “shared our view with the IOC.”

Blackmun on Tuesday told reporters the USOC would support efforts to bolster anti-discrimination provisions within the Olympic charter

“We are not an advocacy organization or a human rights organization,” he said as Reuters reported. “What we can do is advocate for change within our group.”

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.,) who met with Russian LGBT advocate Igor Kochetkov and two other activists from Ukraine and Georgia last month, told the Blade earlier this week she feels the USOC has not done enough to challenge Russia’s gay rights record.

“The U.S. Olympic Committee has been complicit in this act of aggression because they say we respect Russia’s right to do this,” the Florida Republican said after she spoke at a Council for Global Equality reception on Capitol Hill. “That is not worthy of Olympic standards.

Ros-Lehtinen and gay California Congressman Mark Takano continue to seek additional signatories for a letter they plan to send to the USOC that asks it to explain the steps it plans to take to ensure the safety of American athletes who plan to compete in the Sochi games. She applauded both Obama and Kerry for publicly criticizing Putin over his government’s LGBT rights record, but she suggested to the Blade they can do more to respond to concerns over athletes and others who will travel to Russia for the games.

“It’s up to the U.S. to step up,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade.

The USOC did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment on Ros-Lehtinen’s criticisms.

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Africa

Kenya seeks to ban intersex athletes from lowering hormone levels to compete in sports

Country’s human rights body has put forth measure

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(Bigstock photo)

Kenya’s state-funded human rights body does not want intersex athletes in the country to lower their hormone levels as a requirement to compete in any sport.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights in a proposal to the National Assembly notes it will ensure non-discrimination and fairness for intersex people in sports.  

The proposal in the Intersex Persons Bill, 2024, is among numerous amendments to existing laws that seek to grant intersex people equal rights after the government in 2019 officially recognized them as a third sex.

According to the bill that would amend Kenya’s Sports Act of 2013, this will require the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry’s Cabinet secretary and the National Council for Intersex Persons, which the measure would create, to develop measures that ensure fairness for sporting intersex people when enacted.            

“The measures shall not require a person to alter their biological hormonal composition as a condition to participating in any sporting activity or program,” reads the bill. 

Although the measures would apply nationally, they would contradict the World Athletics Council’s 2018 regulations that similarly bar female transgender athletes from participating in international competitions, such as the Olympic Games. Intersex Kenyan athletes have to abide by these rules at the global level.       

The World Athletics through the regulations noted trans women who naturally have higher levels of testosterone compared to ordinary women have to undergo medication or surgery to lower their testosterone levels as a condition before competing in races of between 400 meters and a mile. Kenya’s National Olympic Committee supports these rules.

Some top female trans athletes barred from competing in the Olympic events from the World Athletics regulations due to their high natural testosterone levels include Margaret Wambui of Kenya, Caster Semenya of South Africa, Aminatou Seyni of Niger and and Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi.

The trans athletes opposed the World Athletics regulations with Semenya challenging them in court, but lost the case, even though the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2019 criticized the rules. UNHCR cautioned sports bodies not to “force, coerce or otherwise pressure women and girl athletes into undergoing unnecessary, humiliating and harmful medical procedures.” 

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Deputy Director Veronica Mwangi, who spoke with the Washington Blade about the bill’s controversial proposal, said Kenya, which is the only African country to recognize intersex people as a third sex, has started the conversation with a “bigger picture” for the international sporting bodies to create an alternative competition for them to exploit their talents without reducing their hormonal levels or interfering with their biological characteristics as the condition before competing.      

“As KNCHR, we are very clear that we cannot afford to continue discriminating and marginalizing persons who are born as intersex, but rather we can promote conversations of inclusivity where the Semenya of South Africa, an equivalent of Semenya in Uganda and an equivalent in the U.S. or Kenya can have a special sporting event like the Paralympics for persons living with disabilities,” Mwangi said. 

She also questioned the fairness of World Athletics and other international sporting bodies in demanding “the Semenyas or talented intersex persons” to undergo hormonal therapy which then affects the athletes’ well-being after interfering with their biological anatomy.   

“These governing sporting bodies should not come back to us that it is the intersex persons to carry the blame,” Mwangi said. “It is not the responsibility of the intersex (person) but they are duty-bearers and should think of mechanisms to grow their talents and not find an easy way out of demanding to change who they are.” 

Mwangi disclosed the proposal is driven by KNCHR’s special task force report that found most intersex school children are talented and perform well in sports. 

Kenya’s Intersex Persons Implementation Coordination Committee is already identifying talented intersex people, including those in schools, to support their growth in sports. Kenya’s 2019 Census found there are 1,524 intersex people in the country.

Other amendments to the Intersex Persons Bill include an employment provision that would cap an intersex person’s monthly income tax at 25 percent of wages, compared to other Kenyans whose maximum taxable income stands at 35 percent, depending on one’s monthly total earnings.  

“Capping the income tax or wages for intersex persons at 25 percent is a tax consideration in the form of an affirmative action to uplift them in economic development and it is similar to that of persons living with disability who are tax exempted as marginalized groups,” Mwangi said.

The bill further seeks to amend the Health Act for any parent with an intersex child born at home to report the birth at the nearest government administration office or risk a fine of not more than $1,000 or a six-month prison term, or both, after being found guilty of concealing an intersex child’s identity.

The proposed law, moreover, seeks to create the National Council for Intersex Persons, whose mandates would include the creation of initiatives and programs to prevent discrimination against intersex people, creating a database for all intersex people and accrediting the group for employment purposes.  

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Texas

Anti-trans Texas Democrat loses primary to queer woman

Lauren Ashley Simmons defeated state Rep. Shawn Thierry

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Texas state Rep. Shawn Thierry, picture from a public feed, and Lauren Ashley Simmons, picture courtesy of the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund.

BY ERIN REED | Houston Democratic Texas House of Representatives incumbent Shawn Thierry was trounced in a primary runoff election on Tuesday.

Thierry was one of only a handful of Democrats across the country who broke ranks with her party and voted for a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, delivering a lengthy and misinformation-filled speech in doing so.

After her anti-trans vote, queer union organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons stepped forward to unseat her, earning dozens of influential endorsements from party leaders and organizations. On Tuesday night, Simmons left no doubt about her victory: She resoundingly won by a 65-35 percent margin.

On May 12, Thierry voted to pass a gender-affirming care ban for trans youth, an exceedingly rare vote for a Democrat. In doing so, she spoke on the House floor, calling trans girls “biological males” and arguing that conversion therapy was the true solution to gender dysphoria.

She also voted against every amendment intended to mitigate the harm the bill would cause trans youth in the state. This led to a vote to censure Thierry by the Meyerland Area Democrats, who reported feeling betrayed by her earlier assurances that she was an ally to the LGBTQ community.

Thierry’s district, the 146th District of the Texas House of Representatives, is not a swing district. It includes predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in Houston that tend to vote heavily Democratic. Previously, Thierry had beaten a Libertarian candidate by a 87-13 percent margin, with no Republican running in the race. Thus, whoever wins the Democratic primary in the district is likely to represent the district in the Texas House of Representatives.

Enter Simmons, a queer union organizer who ran in opposition to Thierry’s anti-LGBTQ votes and activism. In her announcement that she would be challenging Thierry in the primary, Simmons stated, “Our current representative has lost her way and now votes with Greg Abbott and Republicans to take away our rights, destroy our public schools, and hurt our kids.”

Simmons quickly garnered major endorsements, an uncommon feat for a primary challenger to an incumbent politician. Equality Texas, the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, and LPAC, all significant LGBTQ organizations, endorsed her.

She also secured major union endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union. Additional support came from Planned Parenthood, Harris County Young Democrats, and Run for Something. High-profile congressional endorsements included Congresswomen Jasmine Crockett and Lizzie Fletcher, as well as former Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

In the lead-up to the election, which was quickly becoming a referendum on whether anti-trans politics could gain a foothold in the Democratic Party, Thierry did not tone down her anti-LGBTQ sentiment. She participated in “faith walks” with major local churches supportive of her stance and relied heavily on Republican donations.

When asked about her anti-trans votes, she called gender-affirming care “Black genocide.” Thierry’s statements were decried by major community members, including Diamond Stylz Collier, who leads the Texas nonprofit Black Trans Women Inc. Collier called the comments disgusting, stating, “We have an increase of trans people dying of violence around the country and a real-life genocide happening in other parts of the globe.”

As votes poured in on Tuesday evening, it became clear that Simmons would be the victor. She secured a decisive majority, with the district voting 65-35 percent in her favor over Thierry. Reflecting on her victory, Simmons stated, “Thanks to your amazing support, we all won BIG last night! We are so grateful, and so proud of the strong message this decisive victory sends to those who seek political gain by using bigotry, hatred, and fear: STOP. Thank you!”

Increasingly, anti-trans influencers are attempting to make inroads into left-leaning politics, a strategy that has seen mixed results internationally. In the U.K., for instance, the Labour Party has been notoriously poor on trans rights.

In the U.S., however, these efforts have met with far less success. Just yesterday in California, an attempt to place a gender-affirming care ban on the ballot was defeated. Similarly, in most states, Democrats have remained steadfast against anti-transgender legislation. Now, even in a conservative state like Texas, it is evident that there is little appetite within the party for sacrificing transgender rights, and doing so could jeopardize one’s political career.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Delaware

Blade Foundation awards 7th Steve Elkins journalism fellowship

Joe Reberkenny will cover Delaware LGBTQ news all summer

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Joseph Reberkenny

The Blade Foundation this week announced the recipient of its 2024 Steve Elkins Memorial Fellowship in Journalism is Joseph Reberkenny, a recent graduate of American University.

He will cover issues of interest to Delaware’s LGBTQ community for 12 weeks this summer. The fellowship is named in honor of Steve Elkins, a journalist and co-founder of the CAMP Rehoboth LGBT community center. Elkins served as editor of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth for many years as well as executive director of the center before his death in March of 2018.

Kevin Naff, editor of the Blade, welcomed Reberkenny and introduced him to the Rehoboth Beach community at a recent event there. 

“We’re all excited to work with Joseph during this important election year in which Delaware is poised to make history by electing the nation’s first transgender congressperson and only the fourth Black woman U.S. Senator,” Naff said.

Reberkenny is the seventh recipient of the Elkins fellowship, which is funded by community donations at the Blade Foundation’s annual fundraiser in Rehoboth Beach. This year’s event was held May 17 at the Blue Moon and included a generous sponsorship from Realtor Justin Noble and a keynote address by Sarah McBride, a candidate for U.S. House.

“I am honored to work for the Blade and to contribute to its rich history in supporting the LGBTQ community,” Reberkenny said. “I am excited to cover Delaware’s politics, and can’t wait to amplify voices that deserve to be heard.” 

“The CAMP Rehoboth community is thrilled to know that the Washington Blade continues to support a student intern in memory of Steve Elkins,” said Kim Leisey, Ph.D., executive director of CAMP Rehoboth. 

For more information on the fellowship program or to donate, visit bladefoundation.org.

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