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Gay Olympian travels to Russia

David Pichler visited gay nightclub in Sochi

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Shawn Gaylord, Human Rights First, Olympics, Sochi, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Winter Olympics, David Pichler, Mary Elizabeth Margolis, Rosa Khutor, gay news, Washington Blade

Shawn Gaylord, Human Rights First, Olympics, Sochi, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Winter Olympics, David Pichler, Mary Elizabeth Margolis, Rosa Khutor, gay news, Washington Blade

From left: Mary Elizabeth Margolis and Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First and Olympian David Pichler in front of the Olympic torch in Sochi, Russia. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights First)

A gay Olympian told the Washington Blade on Sunday from Sochi, Russia, that he has not seen any athletes publicly support LGBT rights since he arrived in the country.

“We haven’t been to a lot of the different games where somebody might try to flash a symbol,” said David Pichler, a U.S. diver who competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics and 2000 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and Sydney during a telephone interview from the Black Sea resort city. “I imagine we would have heard if there had been something like that.”

Pichler and Shawn Gaylord and Mary Elizabeth Margolis of Human Rights First arrived in Sochi on Feb. 6.

The group visited a gay nightclub on Saturday where they met with Andrei Ozyorny, a 24-year-old man who wrote to Sochi Mayor Anatony Pakhomov last month after he said there are no gay people in the Black Sea resort city. Pichler, Gaylord and Margolis also attended the finals of the women’s slopestyle on Sunday where Jamie Anderson won a gold medal for the U.S.

Shawn Gaylord, Human Rights First, Olympics, Sochi, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Winter Olympics, David Pichler, Mary Elizabeth Margolis, Rosa Khutor, gay news, Washington Blade

From left; Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First, Olympian David Pichler and Mary Elizabeth Margolis of Human Rights First at the finals of the women’s slopestyle in Rosa Khutor, Russia, on Feb. 9, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights First)

Pichler told the Blade that he, Gaylord and Margolis heard about an anti-LGBT protest that took place in Sochi before President Vladimir Putin and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach officially opened the games.

“[It] is kind of contradictory of the standards of the protest zone and everything that was set up,” said Pichler. “There was not anything negative or any type of action taken on them.”

Pichler told the Blade he had read about NBC’s decision to omit the portion of Bach’s speech during their broadcast of the opening ceremony in which he said it is possible for competitors “to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason.” He said parts of the opening ceremony he saw on Russian television showed empty seats inside the stadium where it took place.

“It’s very disappointing to look around and see everyone coming out of the tunnel and seeing part of the stadium empty,” said Pichler. “That says a lot I think about the situation.”

Pichler spoke with the Blade on the same day that Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, left Sochi where he had been highlighting efforts in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause.

Pichler, Gaylord and Margolis met with Russian LGBT Network Chair Igor Kochetkov, Maria Kozlovskaya of “Coming Out” and Anastasia Smirnova in St. Petersburg on Feb. 6 before traveling to Sochi. St. Petersburg police the following day arrested Smirnova and three other LGBT rights advocates who tried to march over a bridge with a banner in support of adding gay-specific language to Principle 6 of the Olympic charter.

Police in Moscow arrested 10 LGBT rights activists who were singing the Russian national anthem in Red Square while holding rainbow and Russian flags just before the opening ceremony. Elena Kostynchenko told the Blade during an interview from the Russian capital on Saturday that officers threatened to sexually assault her and another female activist while in custody.

“It was interesting, just seeing what they’re going through and seeing how much they’ve taken on and how much they’ve had to deal with,” said Pichler as he discussed his meeting with Kochetkov, Kozlovskaya and Smirnova in St. Petersburg. “It’s impressive, and at the same time it’s very discouraging and very frightening to me to see what they have to go through.”

Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month those who protest his government’s LGBT rights record during the Olympics will not face prosecution under the country’s controversial law banning gay propaganda to minors that took effect last June. The IOC repeatedly said before the games that it had received assurances from the Kremlin that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination while in Sochi for the Olympics.

Gaylord said the St. Petersburg advocates told the group they recently saw police officers approach a woman in a subway station who looked “masculine in appearance, yelling things at her about the anti-propaganda law.”

Margolis told the Blade the Moscow Times last week published a short article about “how LGBT friendly the games were going to be.” She said the story also dismissed the international outcry over the Kremlin’s gay rights record ahead of the Olympics.

“Putin said it’s going to be very safe and we’re very excited to welcome all the athletes,” said Margolis, referring to the Moscow Times article. “It was just like a couple of paragraphs about it. It was real positive.”

Gaylord noted he did not see any LGBT-specific articles in the Russian newspapers he read during the group’s flight from the U.S. He told the Blade the only media reports he has seen about the St. Petersburg and Moscow arrests have been from American outlets.

Pichler added the group remains “kind of out of touch” because of the precautions he, Gaylord and Margolis have taken while in Sochi. These include not using Internet connections from computers that have Human Rights First and other personal information on them and purchasing temporary cell phones.

“We’re not getting to the information that we need to an extent because we haven’t had the resources since we came to Sochi,” said Pichler.

Pichler and Margolis are scheduled to return to the U.S. on Tuesday. Gaylord is scheduled to meet with Russian LGBT rights advocates in Moscow later this week before he travels back to D.C.

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Los Angeles Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

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 TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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NCAA adopts new policy amid fervor over transgender athletes

Sport-by-sport approach requires certain levels of testosterone

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NCAA, gay news, Washington Blade
The NCAA has adopted new policy amid a fervor over transgender athletes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced it has adopted new procedures on competition of transgender athletes, creating a “sport-by-sport” approach that also requires documentation of testosterone levels across the board amid a fervor of recently transitioned swimmers breaking records in women’s athletics.

The NCAA said in a statement its board of governors voted on Wednesday in support of the “sport-by-sport” approach, which the organization says “preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete.”

Although the policy defers to the national governing bodies for individual sports, it also requires transgender athletes to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections. The new policy, which consistent with rules for the U.S. Olympics, is effective 2022, although implementation is set to begin with the 2023-24 academic year, the organization says.

John DeGioia, chair of the NCAA board and Georgetown president, said in a statement the organization is “steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports.”

“It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy,” DeGioia said.

More specifically, starting with the 2022-23 academic year, transgender athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections, the organizational. These athletes, according to the NCAA, are also required to document testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections.

In terms of jurisdiction, the national governing bodies for individual sports are charged determines policies, which would be under ongoing review and recommendation by the NCAA, the organizational says. If there is no policy for a sport, that sport’s international federation policy or previously established International Olympics Committee policy criteria would be followed.

The NCAA adopts the policy amid controversy over University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas smashing records in women’s swimming. Thomas, which once competed as a man, smashed two national records and in the 1,650-yard freestyle placed 38 seconds ahead of closest competition. The new NCAA policy appears effectively to sideline Thomas, who has recently transitioned and unable to show consistent levels of testosterone.

Prior to the NCAA announcement, a coalition of 16 LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally, this week sent to a letter to the collegiate organization, urging the organizations strengthen non-discrimination protections as opposed to weakening them. The new policy, however, appears to head in other direction, which the LGBTQ groups rejected in the letter.

“While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play,” the letter says. “This would be similar to the patchwork of non-discrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies.”

JoDee Winterhof, vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the NCAA announcement the new policy was effectively passing the buck.

“If the NCAA is committed to ensuring an environment of competition that is safe, healthy, and free from discrimination, they cannot dodge the question of how to ensure transgender athletes can participate safely,” Winterhof said. “That is precisely why we and a number of organizations across a wide spectrum of advocates are urging them to readopt and strengthen non-discrimination language in their constitution to ensure the Association is committed to enforcing the level playing field and inclusive policies they say their values require. Any policy language is only as effective as it is enforceable, and with states passing anti-transgender sports bans, any inclusive policy is under immediate threat. We are still reviewing the NCAA’s new policy on transgender inclusion and how it will impact each and every transgender athlete.”

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