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Activist: Russia LGBT rights record continues to deteriorate

Tarya Polvakova arrested last month in Moscow’s Red Square

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Tarya Polyakova, gay news, Washington Blade
Tarya Polyakova, gay news, Washington Blade

Tarya Polyakova (Photo courtesy of Tarya Polyakova)

A Russian activist earlier this week said the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record has continued to deteriorate since the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi ended.

Tarya Polyakova – a journalist and human rights advocate who is a member of a prisoners rights organization that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina of Pussy Riot founded – said during a conference call with reporters on March 19 that authorities recently charged the founder of an LGBT youth group under the country’s law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

They later dropped them.

“She thinks that this was pure luck,” said Polyakova.

Polyakova said a student who was recently attacked at school was beaten up by her parents after Russian child protective services told them she is a lesbian. The advocate further noted her friend last week lost her job after her boss discovered on her Facebook page that she was dating another woman.

“With this piece of legislation, our government basically gave [its] consent to treat people based on their personal characteristics, not on their criminal behavior,” said Polyakova, “and allow any homophobe out there to attack anyone who dares to come out as a gay person.”

Polyakova is among the 10 LGBT rights advocates police arrested in Moscow’s Red Square on Feb. 7 just before the Olympics’ opening ceremony as they tried to sing the Russian national anthem while holding rainbow flags. She said they remained in a local police station for several hours – and officers beat some of the advocates while in custody.

“The police were filming us on their mobile phones the whole time we were sitting in that cage like we were some sort of animals in a zoo,” said Polyakova.

Polyakova and the nine other LGBT rights advocates arrested in Red Square were scheduled to go on trial on Feb. 19 for unauthorized public assembly and incorrectly singing the Russian national anthem. Prosecutors have delayed their court appearance.

“I won’t be surprised if they charge me with treason or something,” said Polyakova. “This is Russia.”

Polyakova said several of her friends who participated in protests against Russia’s possible incursion into Ukraine and the annexation of the country’s Crimea region were taken into custody earlier this month. She said they spent two days in jail before they were “immediately dragged to court” and given 10 day sentences – they were released from detention earlier this week.

“All the LGBT activists are really concerned about the conflict in Crimea and we’re really standing up against war and military intervention in Ukraine,” Polyakova told the Washington Blade in response to a question about whether the ongoing conflict has worsened the Kremlin’s LGBT rights crackdown. “They cut us down when we try to raise our voices, but now we [have] temporarily stopped because we were charged.”

Russian LGBT rights advocates with whom the Blade spoke before and during the Olympics expressed concern their U.S. and European counterparts will no longer pay attention to their plight after the games end.

Retired Olympic diver Greg Louganis and the more than 300 others who participated in the Russian Open Games in Moscow that ended on March 2 faced bomb threats and other efforts that sought to disrupt the event. Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First, who traveled to Sochi last month with gay Olympian David Pichler, said his organization continues to anticipate the reintroduction of a proposal in the Russian Duma that would allow authorities to take children away from their LGBT parents.

Lithuanian parliamentarians last week postponed the final vote on a bill that would have imposed fines on those who denigrate the “constitutional value of family life.” Lawmakers in neighboring Latvia and Kyrgyzstan have also proposed measures similar to the propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed last June.

“It is really important that we don’t keep our eyes off of Russia and the LGBT community there,” said Gaylord.

Pichler and Gaylord during the conference call also discussed efforts in support of the campaign that urges the International Olympic Committee to add sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s non-discrimination clause. They said the Obama administration and members of Congress are among those who have endorsed the effort.

Pichler added he feels the IOC should also take into account a potential host country’s LGBT rights record during the selection process.

“They should need to look into places when these issues come up and should never have an Olympic games in a location like this,” he said as he discussed Russia.

The conference call took place two days after President Obama issued an executive order authorizing U.S. officials to freeze the American assets of Yelena Mizulina, a state Duma deputy who sponsored the propaganda bill, and six other Russian officials over their country’s incursion into Ukraine that includes the annexation of Crimea.

The anti-gay lawmaker on Twitter said the White House’s decision to sanction her is revenge over the propaganda bill she introduced. Polyakova said another female member of the Duma announced she will support Mizulina and nobody is “going to back down on this law.”

“Regardless of the reason that she ended up on this list, we obviously think if the U.S. is going to respond to human rights concerns that we’re glad that she’s among the people who are facing this kind of response, regardless of how it may have come about,” said Gaylord.

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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