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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.”

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1 Comment

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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Activists demand ICE release transgender, HIV-positive detainees

Protest took place outside agency’s D.C. headquarters on Wednesday



Jessycka Ckatallea Letona, an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who spent nearly two years in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, participated in a protest in front of ICE's headquarters in Southwest D.C. on Oct. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jessycka Ckatallea Letona is an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who fled persecution in her homeland because of her gender identity.

She asked for asylum in the U.S. in 2016 when she entered the country in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Ckatallea on Wednesday told the Washington Blade that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials placed her in a pod with 70 men at a privately-run detention center in Florence, Ariz. She also said personnel at another ICE detention center in Santa Ana, Calif., ridiculed her because of her gender identity and forced her to strip naked before she attended hearings in her asylum case.

Ckatallea spent a year and eight months in ICE custody before her release. She won her asylum case and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“It was a very traumatic experience,” said Ckatallea as she spoke with the Blade in front of ICE’s headquarters in Southwest D.C. “I came to a country thinking that it would take care of me, that it would protect me because of my gender identity.”

Ckatallea is one of the more than a dozen immigrant rights activists who participated in a protest in front of ICE’s headquarters that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention campaign organized. Ckatallea, Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron Morris and other protest participants demanded ICE immediately release trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from their custody.

The groups placed on the sidewalk in front of the building a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” to honor three trans women—Victoria Orellano, Roxsana Hernández and Johana “Joa” Medina León—who died in ICE custody or immediately after their release. The “ofrenda” also paid tribute to Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, a Venezuelan man with AIDS who died in ICE custody on Oct. 1.

Immigrant rights activists on Oct. 27, 2021, placed a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” outside U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Southwest D.C. that honored three transgender women and a man with AIDS who died while in ICE custody or immediately upon their release. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ckatallea, Morris and the other protesters approached the building’s entrance and presented security personnel with a petition that calls upon President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to “immediately release all transgender people, people living with HIV, and people with medical conditions from ICE custody.”

ICE has repeatedly defended its treatment of trans people and people with HIV/AIDS who are in their custody.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center, the same privately-run facility in which Gotopo was held until his hospitalization. The person with whom the Blade spoke described conditions inside the detention center as “not safe” because personnel were not doing enough to protect them and other detainees from COVID-19.

Congressman Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is among the dozens of lawmakers who have called for the release of all trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from ICE custody. The Illinois Democrat on Tuesday reiterated this call during a virtual briefing that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention Campaign organized.

“ICE’s clear inability to do better leads me to seek to end of ICE’s detention of all trans migrants,” said Quigley. “During both the Trump and Biden administration I led dozens of my colleagues to demand that ICE release transgender detainees and end its practice of holding trans migrants in custody. We had hoped that things would change with the new administration, so far I’m disappointed.”

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) also participated in the briefing alongside Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford and Sharita Gruberg of the Center for American Progress and others.

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Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott signs anti-Trans youth sports bill

“Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids & adults- the emails to the Governor to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law”



Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott (Blade file screenshot)

AUSTIN – Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Monday H.B. 25, an anti-Transgender youth sports bill banning Trans K-12 student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. 

H.B. 25 is the 9th statewide bill signed into law this year banning transgender youth from participating in school sports and the 10th in the country. This bill also comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.

“We are devastated at the passage of this bill. Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids and adults, families and advocates, and the many emails and calls our community placed to the Governor’s office to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law,” Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, said.

“Most immediately, our focus is our community and integrating concepts of healing justice to provide advocates who have already been harmed by this bill with spaces to refill their cup and unpack the acute trauma caused by these legislative sessions. Our organizations will also begin to shift focus to electing pro-equality lawmakers who understand our issues and prioritize representing the vast majority of Texans who firmly believe that discrimination against trans and LGB+ people is wrong,” he added.

Earlier this month, the Texas state government was criticized for removing web pages with resources for LGBTQ youth, including information about The Trevor Project’s crisis services. The Trevor Project the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.

“Transgender and nonbinary youth are already at higher risk for poor mental health and suicide because of bullying, discrimination, and rejection. This misguided legislation will only make matters worse,” Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

To every trans Texan who may be feeling hurt and attacked by this legislation and months of ugly political debate — please know that you are valid, and you are deserving of equal opportunity, dignity and respect. The Trevor Project is here for you 24/7 if you ever need support, and we will continue fighting alongside a broad coalition of advocates to challenge this law,” Paley said.


Additional resources:

Research consistently demonstrates that transgender and nonbinary youth face unique mental health challenges and an elevated risk for bullying and suicide risk compared to their peers.  

  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. 94% of LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health. 
  • A newly published research brief on “Bullying and Suicide Risk among LGBTQ Youth,” found that 61% of transgender and nonbinary (TGNB) students reported being bullied either in-person or electronically in the past year, compared to 45% of cisgender LGBQ students. TGNB students who were bullied in the past year reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not. And TGNB students who said their school was LGBTQ-affirming reported significantly lower rates of being bullied (55%) compared to those in schools that weren’t LGBTQ-affirming (65%).
  • A 2020 peer-reviewed study found that transgender and nonbinary youth who report experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity had more than double the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not experience discrimination based on their gender identity.
  • Trevor’s research has also found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (68%) had never participated in sports for a school or community league or club — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at, or by texting START to 678678.

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Ohio high school cancels play with Gay character after Pastor complains

The School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month until the play was canceled



Hillsboro High School (Screenshot via Cincinnati ABC affiliate WCPO-TV)

HILLSBORO, Oh. — A Southwest Ohio high school’s play was abruptly canceled after Jeff Lyle, a local pastor from Good News Gathering, complained of a gay character. 

Hillsboro High School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month, until students learned the play would be canceled last week, reports Cincinnati’s ABC affiliate WCPO

The story follows a high school senior as she learns about her late sister’s life. It is implied throughout the play that her sister is gay, according to the news station.

The play’s cancellation comes a week after Lyle, a long-time voice of the anti-LGBTQ+ religious-right in Ohio, and a group of parents confronted the production’s directors at a meeting, according to Cincinnati CBS affiliate Local 12. Lyle denies pressuring school officials, but tells WCPO he supports the decision.

“From a Biblical worldview this play is inappropriate for a number of reasons, e.g. sexual innuendo, implied sexual activity between unmarried persons, repeated use of foul language including taking the Lord’s name in vain,” Lyle said. 

Some families say they believe Lyle did influence the school’s decision. 

“I think that’s wrong,” Jon Polstra, a father of one of the actors, told WCPO. “All they would have had to do if they objected to something in the play was not go to the play.”

In a statement to Local 12, Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Tim Davis said the play was canceled because it “was not appropriate for our K-12 audience.”

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that the school planned to perform a version intended for audiences as young as 11 years old. 

Students were “devastated” and “blindsided” by the news, according to WCPO. 

“It felt like we had just been told, ‘Screw off and your lives don’t matter,'” Christopher Cronan, a Hillsboro High student, said. “I am openly bisexual in that school and I have faced a lot of homophobia there, but I never expected them to cancel a play for a fictional character.”

Cronan’s father, Ryan, also voiced his frustration. 

“They want to say the town is just not ready, but how are you not ready? It’s 2021,” Ryan Cronan said.

Students have started a GoFundMe in hopes of putting on the production at a community theater in 2022.

“If we do raise enough money, I am going to be genuinely happy for a very long time, because that means people do care,” Cronan told WCPO.

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