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More than a dozen Russian LGBT rights advocates arrested

Arrests took place hours before Olympics opening ceremony

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Anastasia Smirnova, Sochi, Olympics, Rayburn House Office Building, gay news, Washington Blade
Anastasia Smirnova, Sochi, Olympics, Rayburn House Office Building, gay news, Washington Blade

Anastasia Smirnova (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Russian authorities on Friday arrested more than a dozen LGBT rights advocates hours before the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Video from Moscow shows police arresting 10 LGBT activists–including two Swedish nationals–Red Square who held rainbow flags as they sung the Russian national anthem.

A source who remains in contact with activists in the Russian capital told the Washington Blade the arrests took place shortly before the opening ceremony began in Sochi. The advocates have been released, but the source said one of the activist’s cries was “heard outside of the police station” as officers beat him.

Anastasia Smirnova and a pregnant woman are among the four activists whom St. Petersburg authorities took into custody earlier on Friday. The activists were reportedly trying to take pictures of themselves holding a banner that read “discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic movement. Principle 6. Olympic charter” in reference to a campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter before police took them into custody.

“Detention for a photo with a banner–isn’t it an amazing way to celebrate the opening of the games,” wrote Smirnova on her Facebook page while in custody at a St. Petersburg police station.

The arrests took place a day after U.S. Olympian David Pichler and Human Rights First staffers met with Smirnova, Russian LGBT Network Chair Igor Kochetkov and Maria Kozlovskaya of “Coming Out” in St. Petersburg.

David Pichler, Human Rights First, Russia, gay rights, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, Winter Olympics, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Olympian David Pichler and staffers with Human Rights First on Thursday met with Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights First)

“Having just met with Anastasia and her fellow activists yesterday, we were shocked to hear of her arrest,” said Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First. “This confirms our concerns about growing violence and discrimination, and increased use of the anti-propaganda law. We renew our calls for the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee to speak out publicly against these discriminatory laws.”

Smirnova is among the Russian LGBT advocates who took part in a Capitol Hill briefing in December on the Kremlin’s gay rights record. She also sat on a United Nations panel alongside retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, South African activist Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma, intersex advocate Huda Viloria and U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic on Dec. 11 that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“We are sorry to learn of the detention of activists in Russia for making political statements,” Aaron Jensen, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, told the Blade. “This is an example of the disturbing trend in the Russian Federation of legislation, prosecutions, and government actions aimed at suppressing dissent and groups that advocate for human rights and government accountability. The so-called LGBT ‘propaganda’ law is part of this trend.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) also criticized the arrests.

“No one should be arrested for protesting peacefully and exercising their God-given right to free speech. This is yet another sad example of the intolerance running rampant in Russia,” the Florida Republican told the Blade.

Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month that those who protest the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the 2014 Winter Olympics will not face prosecution under the gay propaganda law. The interview took place a day before authorities detained a gay rights advocate who unfurled a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch relay passed through the city of Voronezh.

The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly said it has received assurances from Russian officials that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games that will take place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

“We aren’t banning anything, we aren’t rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries,” said Putin during a Jan. 17 meeting with Olympic volunteers in Sochi. “We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia, I want to underline that, on propaganda among minors.”

Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview from Sochi earlier this week he had seen little evidence of LGBT advocacy in the Olympic host city ahead of the games.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday highlighted LGBT rights during a speech he gave during an IOC meeting in the Black Sea resort.

“We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people,” said Ban. “We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.”

Ros-Lehtinen once again criticized the IOC for allowing Russia to host the games.

“It is fundamental that the IOC select countries that honor all the Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter, and that those countries reflect the spirit of freedom imbued in the charter,” the Florida Republican told the Blade. “I hope for a day where everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, will be able to express themselves in all spheres of society without fear of reprisal.”

Smirnova posted on her Facebook page shortly after the Olympic opening ceremony began in Sochi that authorities had released them from custody.

They face charges of participating in an illegal public assembly during their scheduled court hearing on Saturday.

“Everyone is feeling right and strong, and the support that we have is truly heartwarming,” wrote Smirnova.

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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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Caitlyn Jenner releases campaign ad and social media reacts- ‘enough already’

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MALIBU – Former Trump presidential campaign manager Brad Parscale released the first campaign advert Tuesday for reality television celebrity Caitlyn Jenner who is running to replace California Governor Gavin Newsom in the recall election race.

The ad drew an immediate and overwhelmingly negative reaction for exasperated social media users, many who identify as LGBTQ, decrying the reality TV personality getting into politics.

Jenner, 71, who is Trans herself, had drawn a firestorm of criticism over the past few days after she was caught outside a Malibu coffee spot Saturday and made remarks to a reporter from celebrity tabloid media outlet TMZ, saying that she didn’t think it was fair to have trans women athletes competing in girls’ and women’s sports.

In Tuesday’s advert, Jenner claims to be a “compassionate disrupter” and offers to rebuild and reopen California while in imagery silently alludes that Newsom in conjunction with ‘big government’ has somehow destroyed the state.

“I came here with a dream 48 years ago, to be the greatest athlete in the world,” she says in the ad, noting her own history in the state. “Now I enter a different kind of race, arguably my most important one yet: to save California.”

Reaction to the ad has been brutal. (Sampling below)

Another challenger to Newsom also released a campaign video Tuesday Sacramento’s Fox affiliate KTXL reported.

California businessman John Cox, who has challenged Newsom previously for the governorship launched his Meet the Beast Bus Tour Tuesday morning at Miller Regional Park in Sacramento. Cox brought a live bear with him.

Throughout the news conference, Cox attacked Newsom’s handling of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, water management and strain on the power grid.

Cox lost the 2018 general election to Newsom by 23 points.

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National transgender military advocacy group elects new president

Bree Fram has been SPARTA member since 2014

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Lt. Col. Bree Fram (Photo courtesy of SPARTA)

SPARTA, the nation’s leading transgender military service advocacy organization, announced Saturday that it had elected Bree Fram as its new board chair and president of the organization.

She has been a member of SPARTA since 2014 and has served on the board of directors since April 2018, most recently as vice president. Fram is also a lieutenant colonel and astronautical engineer in the U.S. Air Force and will soon be recommissioning into the U. S. Space Force.

She is currently a student at the U.S. Naval War College with a follow-on assignment to the Department of Defense at the Pentagon.

“I’m honored and humbled to serve as SPARTA president on behalf of so many amazing transgender service member,” said Fram. “We will do our utmost to continue SPARTA’s a rich history of incredible dedication and progress. My heartfelt thanks go to the previous leaders of the organization, including Sue Fulton, Jacob Eleazar, Blake Dremann, and Emma Shinn, and all our members for the incredible achievements of the past eight years. Despite setbacks, their desire to make transgender military service possible is reality again as of yesterday as the new Department of Defense Policy went into effect.”

The immediate past president, Emma Shinn served through a challenging time as President Trump’s ban on transgender service went into effect in April 2019. Her leadership rallied the organization and ensured SPARTA remained dedicated to positive change.

With the January 2021 executive order from President Biden directing the Defense Department to re-implement open transgender service, she and the organization celebrated a major success that will benefit all members of SPARTA and the nation.

“Leading SPARTA for the past two years has been a tremendous honor and privilege,” stated Shinn as her time at the head of SPARTA came to an end. She continued, “I am confident that SPARTA will continue to help our military and nation recognize the value trans service members bring to the mission. I am thankful for the opportunity SPARTA has given me to work with leaders in the DoD, legislators, and partner groups to make open trans service a reality again. I look forward to continuing to work with this amazing group of people under Bree’s leadership. I am excited for the future of our organization and nation.”

In a press release the organization noted that Fram’s remarks highlighted the fact that SPARTA’s mission is not over. “Although transgender service members have already proven they belong on the battlefield and here at home,” she said. “We need to ensure they can’t be erased in the future by an administration set on turning back the clock. Beyond ensuring our members can thrive in their careers, my top priority is to ensure the opportunity to serve is enshrined in law.”

Fram spoke on additional goals for SPARTA during her tenure and listed the following:

·  Minimize the administrative burden and career impact of transition in the military

·  Advocate for inclusion of transgender voices in policy making

·  Push for inclusive policies regarding intersex and non-binary military service

“All Americans who are otherwise qualified to serve in the military should have the opportunity to do so,” Fram summarized. “This nation will be better and better defended with inclusive policies that enable the military to draw upon the best talent this nation has to offer.”

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