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Putin: Gays will not suffer discrimination during Olympics

Russian LGBT rights advocate dismissed comments

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Queer Nation, Vladimir Putin, Russia, Sochi, Olympics, Times Square, gay news, Washington Blade
Queer Nation, Vladimir Putin, Russia, Sochi, Olympics, Times Square, gay news, Washington Blade

Queer Nation members protest outside a U.S. Olympic Committee press conference in Times Square on Oct. 29. (Photo by Scott Wooledge)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 28 said gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi.

“On my own and on your behalf, I have assured Mr. (International Olympic Committee) President (Thomas Bach) that we will do our best, and our athletes and fans will do their best too, so that both participants and guests feel themselves comfortable at [the] Sochi Olympics regardless of their ethnicity, race or sexual orientation,” Putin said during a Sochi press conference that Bach attended, as the Associated Press reported. “I would like to underline that.” 

Putin’s comments come amid lingering outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record that threatens to overshadow the Sochi games that will take place in February.

Putin in June signed a bill into law that bans gay propaganda to minors. A second statute 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 advocacy groups are among those that face fines under a 2012 law that requires non-governmental organizations that receive funding from outside Russia to register as a “foreign agent.”

“It is hard to imagine how people can be welcomed equally regardless of sexual orientation when such a law… is in place,” Russian LGBT rights advocate Anastasia Smirnova said during an Oct. 29 conference call with reporters that All Out hosted as she discussed Putin’s comments and the gay propaganda law he signed.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and more than three dozen other members of Congress earlier in October asked U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun to outline how he plans to ensure the safety of gay American athletes who plan to compete in the Sochi games

Author Dan Savage and playwright Harvey Fierstein are among those who have called for a boycott of the Sochi games over Russia’s LGBT rights record.

Two dozen members of Queer Nation, an LGBT advocacy group, on Tuesday protested outside a Times Square press conference at which the U.S. Olympic Committee officially launched a 100-day countdown to the Sochi games. Activists with the same organization in September interrupted the Metropolitan Opera’s opening night gala to protest Russia’s gay rights record.

“The USOC and the international community should not legitimize Russia’s violations of fundamental human rights by holding the games in that country,” Queer Nation member Duncan Osborne said.

Blackmun on Oct. 11 said Russia’s gay propaganda law is “inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the Olympics and Paraolympic movements.” The USOC Board of Directors the day before voted to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy.

The IOC has repeatedly maintained it has received assurances from the Kremlin that the gay propaganda ban will not affect athletes and others who plan to travel to Sochi, even though Russian officials have previously said the statute will apply to those who go to the games. Bach in September stressed during a speech he delivered in Greece before the lighting of the Olympic flame that Olympic values include “respect without any form of discrimination.”

Bach is scheduled to meet with Russian LGBT rights activists at the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, this week. Smirnova said he declined to meet with them during his most recent trip to the Olympic host city.

“It is a shame that despite the advanced notice, the president couldn’t find the time to meet with representatives of the coalition of LGBT organizations,” she said.

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Delaware

Flight attendants union endorses Sarah McBride

Del. lawmaker would be first transgender member of Congress

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Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride speaks at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in D.C. on April 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Delaware congressional candidate Sarah McBride has earned the support of the Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s most prominent flight attendant union.

It’s the second big labor endorsement for McBride after the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27’s endorsement. The Association of Flight Attendants praised her for spearheading efforts to bring paid family and medical leave to Delaware, which will take effect in 2026. 

“Sarah’s record in the Delaware Senate shows that she understands how to work collaboratively, build power and make big things happen,” the union’s president, Sara Nelson, wrote in a press release shared exclusively with the Washington Blade. “That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy.”

McBride also announced her support for creating a list of abusive passengers and banning them from flying. Each airline has a list of passengers banned from flying, but airlines don’t share the lists with each other, though Delta Air Lines has asked them, because of “legal and operational challenges,” as a representative for the airline industry trade group Airlines of America told a House committee in September 2021.

“Right now, someone can be violent towards a flight attendant or another passenger and walk directly off of that flight and onto one with a different airline to endanger more people,” an Association of Flight Attendants spokesperson wrote in a statement. 

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would put the Transportation Security Administration in charge of building the database of passengers fined or convicted of abuse and has bipartisan support but has sat idly in committee since March. It failed to pass last year, and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have charged that the list would disproportionately target people of color and strip and a better step to reducing hostility would be making flights more comfortable. Reports of defiant and unruly passengers have more than doubled between 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2022.

“I thank the Association of Flight Attendants for endorsing our campaign,” McBride wrote in the press release. “It’s important that we recognize and celebrate the symbiotic relationship between strong, unionized workforces and the continued growth of employers here in our state.”

The union representing 50,000 flight attendants across 19 airlines is putting pressure on airlines to grant union demands in contract negotiations. At American Airlines, unionized flight attendants voted to authorize a strike — putting pressure on the airline to accede to its demands. Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines say they are ready to strike but have not voted to authorize one yet. United Airlines flight attendants picketed at 19 airports around the country in August, ratcheting up the pressure. 

The union’s endorsement adds to a growing list of McBride endorsements, including 21 Delaware legislators, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and Delaware Stonewall PAC. McBride, who would be the first openly transgender politician in Congress, has powerful connections in Washington — including with the White House — and is favored to win Delaware’s lone House seat. 

A poll commissioned by HRC shows her leading the pack of three candidates vying for the seat — 44 percent of “likely Democratic voters” told pollster company Change Research, which works with liberal organizations. The poll of 531 likely Delaware Democratic primary voters, though, was conducted only online — meaning those with less familiarity or access to the internet may not have been counted — and Change Research’s methodology for screening likely voters is unclear. The company also did not provide a breakdown of respondents by age, gender, and race, but says it uses an algorithm to make the results representative.  

Nelson said McBride’s time in Delaware’s state Senate shows her prowess in building power and working collaboratively.  

“That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy,” she wrote.

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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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Virginia

Lawsuit seeks to force Virginia Beach schools to implement state guidelines for trans, nonbinary students

Va. Department of Education released new regulations in July

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(Bigstock photo)

Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

NBC Washington on Friday reported Cooper and Kirk, a D.C.-based law firm, filed the lawsuit in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement them. 

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