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Activist sees little evidence of LGBT advocacy in Sochi

Hudson Taylor of Athlete Ally in Russia for games

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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.”

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1 Comment

  1. Stephen Clark

    February 5, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    Yeah, having an HRC viewing party is so much more effective than boycott activism. Boy, that'll shame Putin. These groups shut down boycott activism on the pretense of going to Sochi and protesting. Well, get to it, Hudson. Unfurl that big gay-rights banner and get going. This was the accommodationists' diversionary tactic, so let's see some protests.

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National

Louisiana lawmakers fail to overturn Edwards veto of Trans sports bill

Edwards further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.”

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Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards (Photo Credit: Official state portrait)

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana lawmakers failed to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) veto last month of a bill that would have barred trans girls and women from participating on athletic teams or in sporting events designated for girls or women at elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools.

The measure, Senate Bill 156 authored by Sen. Beth Mizell titled the ‘the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ in the Governor’s eyes, “was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto statement;

“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana. Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue. 

The Republican majority state House chamber failed to override the Governor’s veto after voting 68-30 to override it, according to the state legislature’s website.

The vote narrowly missed the 70-vote threshold needed in the lower chamber to override the veto.

Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must vote to override a governor’s veto, according to the local Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate.

The Governor reacted to the news that his veto withstood Republican efforts to overturn it in a press conference Wednesday.

Edwards noted that in his view he had “rejected a play” that had no place in Louisiana. 

“I would rather the headlines going out from today be that Louisiana did what was right and best. We rejected a play out of a national playbook that just had no place in Louisiana. That bill wasn’t crafted for our state, I mean go read it and look at the arguments that were made. None of that applies here,” Edwards said.

He further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.” 

“We have to be better than that,” Edwards said. “We have to be better than that.” 

 

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Federal court blocks West Virginia Law banning Trans youth sports

“It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

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Becky Pepper-Jackson (Photo credit: ACLU/Raymond Thompson)


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A judge of the United States District Court, Southern District of West Virginia ruled Wednesday that 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson must be allowed to try out for the girls’ cross-country and track teams at her school, blocking West Virginia from enforcing a law that bans transgender girls and women from participating in school sports. 

The ruling came in the lawsuit challenging the ban filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of West Virginia, and Cooley LLP.

“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” said Becky Pepper-Jackson, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed H.B. 3293 into law at the end of April. It was one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills pushed in state legislatures across the country in 2021. During legislative debate, it was not endorsed by any mainstream sporting or health organizations. A similar law in Idaho was blocked by a federal court in 2020, and a federal court in Connecticut recently dismissed a challenge to policies that allow all girls, including girls who are transgender, to participate on girls’ sports teams. Legal challenges are underway against similar laws passed in other states.

The Supreme Court recently refused to disturb Gavin Grimm’s victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where he prevailed in challenging his school’s anti-transgender discrimination against him. This decision — which is binding precedent in West Virginia federal court — said that federal law protects transgender students from discrimination in schools.

“This is great news for Becky, and while our work is not done yet, today’s ruling jibes with similar rulings in other courts across the country,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow, Lambda Legal. “It is our hope that courts recognize and address discrimination when they see it, and nowhere is it more visible than in these stark attacks against trans youth.”

“Becky — like all students — should have the opportunity to try out for a sports team and play with her peers,” said Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We hope this also sends a message to other states to stop demonizing trans kids to score political points and to let these kids live their lives in peace.” 

“We’ve said all along this cruel legislation would not survive a legal challenge, and we’re encouraged by the court’s decision today,” said ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark. “We hope trans kids throughout West Virginia who felt attacked and wronged by the passage of this legislation are feeling empowered by today’s news.”

“We are extremely gratified — for Becky, and for all trans youth — at the court’s recognition that the law and the facts clearly support treating people who are transgender fairly and equally. Discrimination has no place in schools or anywhere else,” said Kathleen Hartnett of Cooley LLP.

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National

Conservative groups attack proposed Alabama capital city’s LGBTQ law

Allege law requires Christians to violate their religious beliefs

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Alabama State Capitol, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade
Alabama State Capitol (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama capital’s City Council is being urged to reject a proposed ordinance that would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under the law.  Matthew Clark, the Executive Director of the conservative Alabama Center for Law and Liberty sent a letter on behalf of his group and six allied organizations asking the Council to abandon a vote implementing the ordnance.

According to the letter, the groups allege that the law would require Christians to violate their religious beliefs or face fines under certain circumstances. Prominent among the other signatures is Mathew D. Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group.

The SPLC, which has its headquarters in Montgomery, writes; “The Liberty Counsel has also been active in the battle against same-sex marriage and hate crimes legislation, which it claimed in a 2007 news release to be “’thought crimes’ laws that violate the right to freedom of speech and of conscience” and will “have a chilling effect on people who have moral or religious objections to homosexual behavior.” In that same release, the Liberty Counsel falsely claimed that the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., had nothing to do with homosexuality, but instead was “a bungled robbery.”

In the letter Clark noted; ““As we read the ordinance, churches could be fined if they refuse to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, and they might be fined if they refused to let same-sex couples use their facilities for weddings,” Clark said. “They could also be fined if they declined to hire non-ministerial personnel, such as facility managers or secretaries, whose sexual orientation or gender identity contradicts the tenants of the church’s faith.”

“Christian schools, small business owners, and homeowners are also in the crosshairs. Schools could face liability if they decline to let transgender students use the locker rooms of their choice,” Clark said. “Small business owners like Jack Phillips [referring to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission] could face liability. And homeowners who list their homes on Airbnb could be fined if they declined to let a same-sex couple engage in sexual activities in their home that violate the tenants of their faith.”

Clark then warned the City Council that if it passes the ordinance, litigation could result and the City would likely lose.

The Montgomery Advertiser reported last month that City Mayor Steven Reed said a council vote in favor of the LGTBQ nondiscrimination ordinance that’s now being drafted in Montgomery would send a message. 

“There are signals that communities can send, and this is an important signal not only to those residents that live here right now but people all over the country that have maybe one idea of Alabama and Montgomery, and we want to show them that there’s a different reality here,” he said. 

Reed and his team have been working with the Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups to draft an ordinance that would expand protections for LGBTQ residents in the state’s capital city. The proposed measure, which would specifically target discrimination in government, employment and housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity the Advertiser reported.

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