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Activist sees little evidence of LGBT advocacy in Sochi

Hudson Taylor of Athlete Ally in Russia for games



Hudson Taylor, Athlete Ally, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade
Hudson Taylor, Athlete Ally, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade

Hudson Taylor started his LGBT advocacy work during his college wrestling career. (Photo courtesy Athlete Ally)

Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview from Sochi, Russia, on Wednesday that he has thus far seen little evidence of LGBT advocacy in the city ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Many of the athletes we are working with are just getting here and getting their bearings,” he told Blade contributor Kevin Majoros during a telephone interview.

Taylor, a former college wrestler who coaches the sport at Columbia University, said he has yet to talk with any of the athletes about Russia’s LGBT rights record since he arrived in Sochi earlier this week. He said he had a “very interesting conversation” with a Russian Olympic volunteer and a driver on Wednesday as they drove them to a television interview.

“I was reluctant to talk to them about why we were in Sochi at first but then the Olympic volunteer saw the Principle 6 shirt we had on,” said Taylor, referring to the campaign in support of the International Olympic Committee adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination statement his group has spearheaded. “The text was in Russian and she said to me, ‘I understand. That is really a problem here.’”

Taylor said the Olympic volunteer told him she had a girlfriend for two years and has gay friends.

“When we were getting out of the car, the driver, who barely spoke any English, surprised me in the nicest way,” he told the Blade. “He had been listening to our conversation and he shook my hand and he said, ‘You’re beautiful and you are right.’”

Taylor also said he has yet to visit any of the protest zones the Russian government has established around Sochi — one of them is located in a coastal village roughly 11 miles southeast of the Black Sea resort city.

“Based on conversations that I’ve had with Russian activists, the protest zones are simply not a viable place to show dissent,” he said. “You had to apply and be approved to enter the zone. Think about the implications of that.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly sought to assure the IOC and his critics that gays and lesbians who travel to Russia for the Olympics would not face discrimination.

The Russian president told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during an interview last month that those who protest the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the Olympics will not face prosecution under his country’s controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors. Authorities detained a Russian LGBT rights advocates who unfurled a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch relay passed through the city of Voronezh the day after Putin spoke with Stephanopoulos and a handful of other journalists from Russia, China and the U.K.

“We haven’t seen any kind of protest or other issues since I’ve been here,” NBC 4 anchor Jim Handly, who is covering the Olympics for his D.C. television station, told the Blade from Sochi earlier this week.

The Associated Press reported International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said during a Feb. 4 ceremony in Sochi that the games should not be “used as a stage for political dissent or for trying to score points in internal or external political contests.” The news agency said Bach appeared to single out President Obama and European officials who have criticized Russia’s gay propaganda law during his speech that Putin attended.

“Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes,” said Bach as the AP reported. “People have a very good understanding of what it really means to single out the Olympic games to make ostentatious gesture which allegedly costs nothing but produces international headlines.”

Bach delivered his speech on the same day Human Rights Watch released a video that contained what the organization said is proof of widespread and systematic anti-LGBT violence in Russia. One of the clips contained within it shows a gay Uzbek migrant who was reportedly sodomized with a broken glass bottle.

Cuban authorities last month arrested Maxim Martsinkevich, an ultra-nationalist who flew to Havana from the Ukrainian capital after Russian officials charged him with extremism.

Martsinkevich and members of his group, Occupy Pedophilia, lure LGBT teenagers through fake accounts they set up over Russian social media networks. The men then abuse and beat their victims before posting videos of the assaults online.

“The Russian authorities have the power to protect the rights of LGBT people, but instead they are ignoring their responsibility to do so,” said Tanya Cooper of Human Rights Watch on Feb. 4. “By turning a blind eye to hateful homophobic rhetoric and violence, Russian authorities are sending a dangerous message as the world is about to arrive on its doorstop for the Olympics that there is nothing wrong with attacks on gay people.”

LGBT advocates in D.C. have planned a series of events this week around the Olympic ceremonies to highlight the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

The Human Rights Campaign, Team DC, Capital Pride, Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies and Pride House International have organized an opening ceremony viewing party at HRC’s Rhode Island Avenue, N.W., office on Friday. Former professional hockey player Sean Avery is scheduled to emcee the event that will benefit the Russia LGBT Sports Federation.

The Council for Global Equality and the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University in D.C. on Thursday will host the Sochi Sendoff Party at Madam’s Organ Restaurant and Bar on 18th Street, N.W., in Adams Morgan.

The event, which will benefit the Russia Freedom Fund, will feature live music from András Simonyi, the former Hungarian ambassador to the U.S. who is managing director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations, and Misspent Youth. The benefit will also include a contest in which contestants will dress as Putin in drag.

“What we want to do is send a strong message from Washington that not only do we care about this, but the best way to convey a serious message is to do it in a humoristic, ironic way,” Simonyi told the Blade last week. “My experience with authoritarian leaders is they understand it better when there’s a little bit of humor in the message, but it’s dead serious.”


The White House

Biden’s Pride month proclamation: ‘Our nation faces another inflection point’

States across the country have passed anti-LGBTQ laws



The White House was lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing in December 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Just as the 1969 Stonewall riots marked a transformational time for LGBTQ civil rights in America, the country now faces another critical inflection point, President Joe Biden said in the White House’s proclamation Wednesday honoring Pride month.

This moment is precipitated by the wave of hateful anti-LGBTQ legislation moving through state and local legislatures across the country and amid the escalating violence and threats of violence against the community, the statement notes:

“In 2023 alone, state and local legislatures have already introduced over 600 hateful laws targeting the LGBTQI+ community. Books about LGBTQI+ people are being banned from libraries. Transgender youth in over a dozen states have had their medically necessary health care banned. Homophobic and transphobic vitriol spewed online has spilled over into real life, as armed hate groups intimidate people at Pride marches and drag performances, and threaten doctors’ offices and children’s hospitals that offer care to the LGBTQI+ community. Our hearts are heavy with grief for the loved ones we have lost to anti-LGBTQI+ violence.”

Biden drew parallels between the “LGBTQI+ protestors” who “bravely stood their ground” against the law enforcement dispatched to arrest them more than 50 years ago and the youth organizers leading walkouts in response to discriminatory education laws, along with the “young people and their parents [who] are demonstrating unimaginable courage by testifying in state capitols in defense of their basic rights.”

The statement reaffirms the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to standing “proudly with the LGBTQI+ community in the enduring struggle for freedom, justice and equality,” chronicling some of the major steps the administration has taken on this front.

Biden highlighted his issuance, on his first day in office, of an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination, along with his signage last year of the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified protects for the rights of same-sex couples that might otherwise be jeopardized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority.

The statement then noted the administration’s moves to protect LGBTQ youth by ordering federal agencies to: Combat conversion therapy, “end the crisis of homelessness among LGBTQI+ youth and adults,” and address anti-LGBTQ discrimination in foster care.

Meanwhile, Biden said, the Justice Department is fighting against discriminatory laws targeting transgender youth, while the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have drafted rules that would better protect anti-LGBTQ discrimination “in healthcare, at school and in sports” and the White House is developing ways to combat online harassment and abuse that “disproportionately target LGBTQ people.”

Finally, the White House noted: Its rollout last year of the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for LGBTQ youth, who can now reach specially trained counselors by dialing 988 and then three; the administration’s appointment of historic numbers of LGBTQ appointees at all levels of the federal government; and its repeal of bans preventing trans people from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

From passing federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans via the Equality Act to addressing “the crisis of violence against transgender women and girls of color,” Biden acknowledged the work that lies ahead.

“This month and every month,” his proclamation concludes, “let us celebrate the pride that powers the movement for LGBTQI+ rights and commit to doing our part to help realize the promise of America, for all Americans.”

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Defense secretary orders cancellation of drag show at Nev. Air Force base

Event was to have taken place at Nellis AFB on Thursday



Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force Public Affairs)

A previously scheduled drag show to kick off Pride month on the sprawling Nellis Air Force Base, an advanced combat aviation training facility for the U.S. Air Force northeast of Las Vegas, was cancelled Wednesday according to a Pentagon official, after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stepped in.

A Pentagon source familiar with the matter told the Washington Blade that Milley informed Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., that it is not Pentagon policy to fund drag shows on bases and the show needed to be canceled or moved off base. 

The issue over drag performances was a focus at a House Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this year on March 29, when anti-LGBTQ Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) demanded in an angry tone that Austin and Milley explain why drag queen story hours were being hosted on U.S. military installations. The Florida Republican mentioned bases in Montana, Nevada, Virginia and Germany.

In a highly publicized incident in May 2022, Stars and Stripes reported that the Commanding General of the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany had a drag queen story time, that was to be held in honor of Pride month cancelled. 

According to Stars and Stripes, the 86th Air Wing’s public affairs sent a statement to a radical-right anti-LGBTQ news outlet in Canada, the Post Millennial, which had requested comment to its article about the event and also accused the Air Force of pushing a more “woke” agenda among servicemen. 

In a press release, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took partial credit for the cancellation.

Rubio sent a letter to U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall regarding the Air Force Library at Ramstein hosting a “Drag Queen Story Time” event for young children of servicemembers. 

Rubio urged him to cancel the event, discipline the staff involved in planning and hosting the event and respond to questions on whether other installations both at home and around the world have done similar events. Following receipt of Rubio’s letter, the Air Force canceled the event. 

“The last thing parents serving their nation overseas should be worried about, particularly in a theater with heightened geopolitical tensions, is whether their children are being exposed to sexually charged content simply because they visited their local library,” Rubio wrote.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin, III, and Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meet with U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on July 14, 2021. (Photo by Carlos M. Vazquez, Department of Defense)

A Pentagon official referring to the drag show at Nellis said Milley was visibly angry about the decision to host the event on base after being informed about it earlier this week.

The drag show was scheduled for Thursday, but Maj. Gen. Case A. Cunningham, the commander of the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis was informed in the past few days that it must either be canceled or moved off base. 

On May 23, Gaetz sent a letter to Austin and Milley, alleging that the “pervasive and persistent use of taxpayer dollars for drag events,” had a June 1 Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., event scheduled.

Gaetz went on to write that “Nellis Air Force Base has announced a so-called ‘family-friendly’ drag organized by the Nellis LGBTQ+ Pride Council for June 1, 2023. In this latest outright attack on children, this event is being advertised as having no minimum age requirement.” 

In his letter Gaetz also demanded to know: 

  • Does the DoD feel it’s appropriate for children to attend a sexualized drag performance?
  • Why are base commanders defying your intent and direction by facilitating drag events?
  • If this event goes forward, whether on June 1 or a later scheduled date, please provide an explanation regarding your justification for why you allowed the event to take place.

According to a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, Nellis, in June 2021 the base had hosted a Pride month drag show titled “Drag-u-Nellis.” The spokesperson noted the 2021 show was intended to promote inclusivity and diversity. 

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Ala. extends ban on transgender female athletes to universities

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed bill on Tuesday



Alabama Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday signed House Bill 261, which limits transgender students to playing sports in public colleges and universities only with “their biological sex assigned at birth.”

“Look, if you are a biological male, you are not going to be competing in women’s and girls’ sports in Alabama. It’s about fairness, plain and simple,”  said Ivey in a statement released by her office.

House Bill 261 was approved 26-4 in the Alabama Senate and 83-5 in the House of Representatives. In the vote in the House more than a dozen lawmakers abstained from the vote.

Ivey had previously signed legislation in 2021 banning trans female athletes from competing in K-12 girls sports. At the time she signed that bill the governor had noted that “Alabama remains committed to protecting female athletes at all levels and upholding the integrity of athletics.”

Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey, Alabama state director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation is part of a “systematic attack against LGBTQ+ people” in Alabama and elsewhere.

“In just two years, [Ivey] and extremist lawmakers in Alabama have passed four anti-LGBTQ+ bills. From dictating what bathrooms we can use to blatantly ignoring the actual problems in women’s sports, these politicians are making Alabama an increasingly hostile place for transgender people and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole,” Anderson-Harvey said.

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