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Who will lead U.S. delegation to Russian Olympics?

As world leaders announce boycott, White House remains silent

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Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade
White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, Gay News, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no comment on the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had little to say on Thursday about who will lead the U.S. delegation at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia as he reiterated the Obama administration’s concern about the country’s anti-gay propaganda law.

Carney said he had no announcements regarding the delegation — or when its leader would be announced — under questioning from the Washington Blade in the aftermath of announcements from world leaders that they wouldn’t take part in their countries’ delegation to the Olympics over Russia’s human rights record.

“I don’t have any information on what that delegation will look like or the timing of that announcement,” Carney said. “I can be very clear that our views on the issues that you mention with regard to Russia’s civil rights record have been abundantly clear, and we’ve made it clear that we expect Russia to conduct the Olympics in a way that respects the rights of all participants. And that is what I said when this was an issue we talked about earlier, and it remains the case.”

This week, German President Joachim Gauck announced he’s personally boycotting the Olympics because of Russia’s human rights record. European Union commissioner Viviane Reding made a similar announcement, citing concern with Russia’s treatment of minorities.

The announcement from these world leaders that they won’t take part in the Winter Olympics in Sochi raises questions about whom the United States will send.

As Buzzfeed notes, the White House in 2012 announced that first lady Michelle Obama would lead the U.S. delegation for the Summer Olympics in London four months ahead of time. Although the 2014 Olympics in Sochi are two months away, the White House has yet to make any announcements.

Asked by the Blade whether Russia’s human rights record was a source of anxiety for the White House in choosing someone to lead the Olympics, Carney declined to comment.

“Again, I just don’t have any information on the process of choosing or naming the delegation,” Carney said.

In August, President Obama said “nobody’s more offended than me” over anti-gay legislation in Russia. Amid calls for a general boycott of the Winter Olympics, Obama said he doesn’t think that course of action is appropriate.

A transcript follows:

Washington Blade: Thanks, Jay.  Question on Russia.  The President of Germany and a European Union official announced this week that they were going to personally boycott the Olympics in 2014 in Sochi out of concerns of Russia’s human rights record, which, of course, includes the anti-gay propaganda law.  The White House has yet to announce who is going to be leading our delegation to the Sochi Olympics, even though that announcement was made four months ahead of time of the 2012 Olympics to London.  And Michelle Obama was the person who was leading the delegation at that time.  Is concern over Russia’s human rights record the reason why an announcement has not been made for that delegation?

Jay Carney:  I don’t have any information on what that delegation will look like or the timing of that announcement.  I can be very clear that our views on the issues that you mention with regard to Russia’s civil rights record have been abundantly clear, and we’ve made it clear that we expect Russia to conduct Olympics in a way that respects the rights of all participants.  And that is what I said when this was an issue we talked about earlier, and it remains the case.

So we don’t have — I don’t have any information on the delegation or when that will be announced or the particulars of the timing around the announcement except to repeat our views on this matter.

Blade: But is the human rights record — is that a source for anxiety in choosing who’s going to be leading the delegation?

Carney: Again, I just don’t have any information on the process of choosing or naming the delegation.

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Maryland

Hyattsville mayor dies by suicide

Kevin Ward and husband adopted son in D.C. in 2012

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Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward (Photo courtesy of the city of Hyattsville)

The city of Hyattsville released a statement on Wednesday afternoon announcing that their city’s openly gay Mayor Kevin Ward had died one day earlier by an apparent suicide.

“The city of Hyattsville reports with great sadness that our beloved Mayor Kevin Ward passed away yesterday, Jan. 25, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the statement says.

“Mayor Ward was a valued and trusted leader and a fierce advocate for all the people of Hyattsville,” the statement continues. “We are heartbroken at this loss and extend our deepest sympathy to the mayor’s family,” it says.

“No further information is available at this time,” the statement adds. “Details about services and remembrances will be shared when they are available.”

The Washington Post reported that U.S. Park Police disclosed that Ward was found deceased in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Va., with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Ward, 44, became acting mayor of Hyattsville on Jan. 1, 2021, following the resignation of former Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. He was next in line to become mayor under the city’s political system in his then-position as president of the Hyattsville City Council.

He won election to complete the remainder of Hollingsworth’s term through 2023 in a May 11, 2021, special election, receiving 57.8 percent of the vote in a three candidate race, according to the Hyattsville election board. His closest opponent, Joseph Solomon, received 31.7 percent of the vote.

Nearby fellow gay mayors — Patrick Wojahn of College Park and Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset — said they got to know Ward through Maryland political circles and thought very highly of him.

“He was insightful, smart and dedicated,” Wojahn said. “He always seemed very confident and together as a person. And he had a great sense of humor.”

Slavin said he shared that remembrance of Ward, adding that he found Ward to be a “very nice person” dedicated to the people he served both as mayor and during his two terms on the Hyattsville City Council.

“There was noting in his public life that would have predicted this,” said Slavin in referring to Ward’s sudden passing.

The Washington Blade first reported on Ward in 2012 in a feature story on Ward and his then-domestic partner Chad Copeland when the two attended a ceremony at the D.C. Superior Court to complete the process of adopting their then-5-year-old son Norman. Ward and Copeland were among several gay couples who had their adoption papers signed by a judge at the ceremony.

On the website for his mayoral election campaign last year Ward said he and his family made Hyattsville their home in 2014 after he and his husband adopted their two sons.

“I am a pretty straightforward person,” he said in message to voters on his campaign website. “I believe in listening more than talking. But when I talk, I am not one to mince words or tell people what they want to hear,” he said. “I believe in doing the work. I believe that if I can help someone, then I can change her or his life,” he continued.

“This is why I dedicated my career to providing the best technology to education and to human services, to help as many people as I can,” he said.  

Ward was referring to his career in the field of educational and human services technology.

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Europe

French lawmakers outlaw conversion therapy

The National Assembly unanimously approved ban

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

In a vote hailed by French President Emmanuel Macron, lawmakers in the National Assembly unanimously voted 142-0 on Tuesday to ban the discredited practice of so-called gay conversion therapy.

In a reaction to the vote, Macron tweeted: “The law prohibiting conversion therapy is adopted unanimously! Let’s be proud, these unworthy practices have no place in the Republic. Because being yourself is not a crime, because there is nothing to be cured.”

The law had already been passed by senators in December.

Those found guilty of so-called gay conversion therapy could face two years imprisonment and a €30,000 ($33,714.45) fine. The punishment could rise to three years in prison and a fine of €45,000 ($50,571.68) for attempts involving children or other particularly vulnerable people, Euronews reported.

“The practice of trying to “convert” LGBT+ people to heterosexuality or traditional gender expectations is scientifically discredited,” MP’s in support of the measure had argued previous to the final vote.

“We are sending out a strong signal because we are formally condemning all those who consider a change of sex or identity as an illness,” said Laurence Vanceunebrock, an MP with Macron’s ruling En Marche party.

Nearly every French MP who spoke on Tuesday echoed the same words; “there is nothing to cure.”

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Federal Government

Department of Education investigating BYU LGBTQ+ discipline policy

“They’ve wronged marginalized communities at BYU and they need to be held accountable for it” ~ former gay student at BYU

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Bradley Talbot, a former gay student at BYU (Photo courtesy of Bradley Talbot)

PROVO, Ut. – The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation into policies at Brigham Young University (BYU) that discipline LGBTQ students, aiming to determine whether or not the private religious school, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), is violating their civil rights. 

The Education Department is investigating a complaint that came after BYU removed rules banning “homosexual activity” from its honor code in 2020, only to clarify weeks later that same-sex partnerships were still prohibited.

The probe, which opened in October of last year, will focus on Title IX, a law prohibiting universities from discriminating against students and others based on gender. 

Last year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order mandating every federal agency, including the Education Department, clarify that civil rights laws protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. However, religious schools have Title IX exemptions, making federal scrutiny rare.  

“It’s really significant that investigators are stepping in now,” Michael Austin, a BYU alumnus and vice president at the University of Evansville, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “It means there’s some reason to think the university has gone beyond the religious exemptions it has and is discriminating even beyond those.”

The investigation, headed by the Office of Civil Rights within the department, seems to be about whether faith-based exemptions apply even if the behavior is not directly related to education or expressly written in the honor code. BYU also bans alcohol, beards and piercings, among other things. 

BYU did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment. But a spokesperson told the Associated Press that the school does not anticipate any further action because “BYU is exempt from application of Title IX rules that conflict with the religious tenets” of the LDS.

Though the LDS has softened some of its rules around LGBTQ issues, the church remains opposed to same-sex marriage and sex outside of marriage. 

In a November 2021 letter to the Education Department, Kevin Worthen, president of BYU, argued that religious exemptions do apply to the school. The letter adds that all BYU students, faculty, administrators and staff “‘voluntarily commit to conduct their lives in accordance with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’”

The Department of Education responded to the letter, affirming that the university has some religious exemptions, but the department had to investigate if the complaint falls under those exemptions. 

An Education Department spokesperson confirmed the investigation to the Blade but declined further comment. 

Queer students at BYU celebrated the school’s removal of the anti-LGBTQ language in the honor code. Yet, the university announced weeks later that there was “some miscommunication” as to what the changes meant, clarifying that “the principles of the Honor Code remain the same.”

Bradley Talbot, a former gay student at BYU, was on campus during the apparent reversal, saying it “instilled a lot of fear and a lot of students.” 

“There are still a lot of feelings of betrayal and apprehension around it,” he told the Blade.

At BYU, students who hold hands or kiss someone of the same sex can face punishment, including expulsion. LGBTQ+ students face harsher discipline than heterosexual couples at the school. 

Talbot said he knew of “quite a few people” who lost their degrees and were kicked out during his time at BYU because of the gay dating ban. “People were turned in by roommates. Some people were turned in by their own parents,” he added. 

Courtesy of Bradley Talbot

The university’s clarification frustrated LGBTQ students, according to Talbot. In response, he organized a demonstration in March of 2021, lighting the “Y” that sits above BYU’s campus – one of the school’s oldest traditions – in rainbow Pride colors on the one year anniversary of the university’s letter sent to students that clarified the LGBTQ dating policy. 

“We did it to reclaim that traumatic day and spin in a positive light of support, love and unity to create more visibility and awareness,” said Talbot. “And also to take a stand that we weren’t going to put up with just being tossed around by BYU. We deserve to be a part of the BYU community and a part of the LGBTQ community.”

The school has since updated its policies, banning protests and other demonstrations on Y Mountain, where Talbot staged his demonstration, in December of last year. 

“Demonstrations should be consistent with BYU’s faith-based mission, intellectual environment and requirements described in the policy,” a statement added. 

Still, Talbot, who is now graduated, has hope that the Education Department’s investigation will “finally change” things at BYU. “This has been something that’s been going on for decades,” he said. “They’ve wronged marginalized communities at BYU and they need to be held accountable for it.”

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