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White House ‘not aware’ if Trump briefed on Chechnya anti-gay abuses

President remains silent as other world leaders speak out

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White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she’s not aware if President Trump has been briefed on anti-gay violence in Chechnya. (Screenshot via CSPAN)

The White House said Wednesday it was unaware of whether President Trump brought up the issue of anti-gay abuses in Chechnya with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting Wednesday. In fact, it’s not clear that Trump has been briefed on the abuses at all.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders couldn’t speak to whether anti-gay abuses in Chechnya came up in the meeting when asked about the omission of the issue from the White House readout.

“I mean a lot of times there are parts of the conversation that aren’t specifically included in a readout, but I’m not aware,” Sanders said. “I have not had that conversation. So I do not know, I was not part of that meeting. So I cannot speak to every detail and I would have to refer you to the readout on the specifics of what I know was discussed.”

Asked whether Trump has been briefed on the issue generally, Sanders replied, “That is something I would have to get back to you on. I am not 100 percent sure.”

UPDATE: Michael Anton, a White House National Security Council spokesperson, said via email to the Washington Blade the issue of anti-gay abuses in Chechnya “did not come up in the meetings” with Lavrov.

Concern persists over reports from Chechnya that local authorities have arrested more than 100 gay men and sent them to secret prisons for torture. At least four men have reportedly died as a result. On Tuesday, the Human Rights Campaign held a demonstration outside the D.C. residence of Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak over the reported abuses.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has spoken out against the atrocities, but President Trump himself and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have said nothing. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May has spoken out and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she raised the issue during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The readout of the meeting Trump held at the White House indicates Trump raised the issue of Syria, Ukraine, cooperation in resolving conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere and a general “desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia.” But the readout says nothing about Trump bringing up the issue of anti-gay abuses in Chechnya.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, lambasted the White House in a statement for not being able to disclose if Trump was even aware of widespread reports of the anti-gay violence.

“It is shocking that the White House can’t even confirm if President Trump is ‘aware’ of the anti-LGBTQ violence in Chechnya. It seems President Trump is only aware of news that includes his own name,” Ellis said. “If President Trump doesn’t join Ambassador Haley and other world leaders in condemning this humanitarian crisis, it is only further evidence that his administration is working to force LGBTQ people around the globe back into the closet.”

Trump held the meeting with Lavrov the day after he terminated former FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion between Trump and Russia in the effort.

The Blade has placed a request with the Russian embassy in the United States seeking comment on whether the issue of reported anti-gay violence in Chechnya came up during the meeting.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. lnm3921

    May 10, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    It’s outrageous that we are told that this administration isn’t even aware if Trump has been briefed on Chechnya abuses against gay men or if Trump has discussed it with the Russian Ambassador. Trump seems to be pretty aware of everything. If Nikki Haley has addressed it, why wouldn’t he know about it?

    The bottom line is that Trump doesn’t see those abuses as something he needs to worry about since he doesn’t care about human rights abuses in particular those against GLBT people! He’s a pathological liar. He lied when he said he would defend us! Obama would have spoken up about this immediately! There is no acceptable excuse for Trump’s silence on this! He can make time to address the NRA but has no time to fight for our rights and demand an immediate end to these abuses! He should be offering asylum to those people!

    Stop being duped by Trump supporters. Trump won’t do anything good for us!

    I’m waiting to see if Trump even bothers to acknowledge Pride next month like Obama did. You won’t see his administration send someone high level to address us with support like they sent Pence to address the March for Life!

    • Count Dracula

      May 11, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      Why in the world should he waste one second of his time to address the concerns of a nasty little knobgobbler like you. If a group of people who had a blind, seething, baseless hatred for me, were all of a sudden demanding my attention, to fix their problems, I’d say f’em too. Maybe one day you’ll develop the intelligence to comprehend just how small you are. And how insignificant the rest of us find you to be.

      You think our disdain for you is based on your orientations, no, it’s based on your attitude. You think it’s because we are horrible people, no, it’s because you are.

      • lnm3921

        May 11, 2017 at 6:33 pm

        Because he said he would which proves he’s a liar! Baseless hatred? He’s as obnoxious as you! That’s enough reason!

        The only things small are between your legs and ears! What you think about anyone doesn’t matter. Why would it? You don’t pay our bills! You think you can demoralize us but you NEVER will!

        You’re nothing more than an insignificant wanna be!

        Nasty and horrible? You’re so toxic that the day they plant you in the ground, nothing will grow in that spot even weeds! If they left you out for vultures, they would spit you out the moment they bit into you! Fertilizer is more pleasant than you!

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World

Botswana Court of Appeals upholds decriminalization ruling

‘Today is a momentous day in history’

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(Public domain photo)

The Botswana Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a 2019 ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.

Five justices unanimously ruled sections of the Batswana Penal Code that criminalize homosexuality with up to seven years in prison “violated the right to privacy … the right to liberty, security of person and equal protection under the law … and the right to freedom from discrimination” under the country’s constitution.

Botswana’s High Court in 2019 unanimously ruled these provisions were unconstitutional.

The Batswana government appealed the landmark decision. The High Court heard the case last month.

Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, which challenged the criminalization law with the support of the Southern Africa Litigation Center, applauded Monday’s ruling.

“Today is a momentous day in history, a victorious win in ascertaining liberty, privacy and dignity of the LGBTIQ persons in Botswana and definitely, this judgement sets precedence for the world at large,” says LEGABIBO CEO Thato Moruti. “Moreover, a new dawn for better education and awareness about the LGBTIQ issues. I anticipate that more engagement with various arms of government will also set a trajectory towards a more inclusive and diverse nation.”

Pan Africa ILGA in a tweet proclaimed Monday as a “beautiful day” in Botswana. UNAIDS described the ruling as “a great win for human rights.”

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Virginia

Va. businessman apologizes for burning of rainbow flag poster

‘Shocked and horrified’: Ashburn incident caught on video

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Organizers of an event where a Pride symbol was burned say the incident was a misunderstanding.

The owner of a Virginia technology company that hosted a private Veterans Day party on the grounds of an Ashburn, Va., brewery in which a company employee used a flame-throwing device to ignite a rainbow flag poster said the selection of the poster was a mistake and he and his company have no ill will toward the LGBTQ community.

The Washington Blade learned about the poster burning from a customer of the Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, where the incident took place on its outdoor grounds. The customer made a video of the incident with his cell phone and sent a copy of the video to the Blade.

The video, which includes an audio recording, shows a man using a hand-held flame-throwing device to ignite the rainbow poster, which was hanging from a cable and appeared to be mounted on cardboard or a thin sheet of wood. Bystanders can be heard laughing and cheering as the poster is set on fire.

The poster consisted of a variation of the LGBTQ Pride rainbow flag that included the word “love” configured from an upper white stripe on the rainbow symbol.

The customer who took the video, who has asked not to be identified, thought the decision to set the poster on fire was a sign of disrespect if not hatred toward a longstanding symbol of LGBTQ equality and pride.

Chris Burns, Old Ox Brewery’s president, shared that view, telling the Blade he and his staff were “shocked and horrified” when they learned later that a rainbow flag poster had been burned on the brewery’s grounds. Burns said Old Ox supports the LGBTQ community and participated in LGBTQ Pride month earlier this year.

He said the company that held the private party paid a fee to hold the event on the brewery’s grounds, but the brewery did not know a rainbow poster would be burned.

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC, the Falls Church, Va.-based technology company that organized the Nov. 11 party at Old Ox Brewery. “I can assure you that ZERO ill-will or offense was meant,” Reynolds told the Blade in a Nov. 24 email.

“We held a small private party for a few clients, which included a demonstration of Elon Musk’s Boring Company ‘Not a Flamethrower,’” he said in his message. He was referring to one of billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s companies that specializes in boring through the ground to create tunnels for cars, trains, and other purposes. 

“After so many being isolated during COVID, we wanted to have an event that was lighthearted and to some small effect, silly,” Reynolds said in his message to the Blade.

According to Reynolds, in thinking about what should be used for “fodder” for the flame-thrower, he went to a Five Below discount store and purchased items such as stuffed animals and posters, including a “Space Jam” movie poster as well as what he thought was a poster of the British rock group The Beatles.

“When I pulled the Beatles poster out of the tube it was instead the ‘Love’ poster,” he said, referring to the rainbow flag poster the Blade asked him about in an earlier email.

“All I focused on was the ‘Love’ wording and not the rainbow and did not draw the conclusion that the poster was an icon that represents the LGBTQ community,” Reynolds said. “It was my own ignorance of not connecting the symbolism of the poster. If I had realized it was a symbol of the LGBTQ community, I would not have used it,” he said.

“I feel terrible, and I want to emphasize that I am solely responsible for this mistake – not the Old Ox Brewery,” he wrote in his message. “Nobody at Old Ox had anything to do with this activity.”

Reynolds added, “Hate has no place in my heart, and I sincerely apologize for any offense that could have been drawn from what I now realize was poor judgement on my part. I simply didn’t correlate this poster with the LGBTQ pride symbol.”  

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Before Reynolds issued his statement of apology, Burns, the Old Ox Brewery co-owner, told the Blade in an email he was “saddened and upset” over the rainbow poster burning on the grounds of his brewery.

“We do not wish to benefit from this event,” he said in his email message. “Therefore, Old Ox is donating 100% of the revenue generated from the private event to GLSEN.”

GLSEN is a national LGBTQ advocacy group that focuses on education and support for LGBTQ youth. Burns said Old Ox Brewery also donated proceeds from a Pride month event it organized earlier this year to GLSEN.

LGBTQ activists and organizations contacted by the Blade said they were unfamiliar with the variation of the rainbow flag with the word “love” that was the subject of the poster burning incident. The poster is available for sale at Five Below stores in the D.C. metropolitan area for $5.

Small print writings on the poster show it is produced by Trends International LLC, which describes itself on its website as “the leading publisher and manufacturer of licensed posters, calendars, stickers and social stationery products.” The Blade couldn’t immediately determine who designed the poster.

 The video of the poster burning incident can be viewed here:

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Local

Fairfax schools returns LGBTQ-themed books in high school libraries

Review found ‘no pedophilia’ in texts as critics claimed

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(Book cover insert courtesy of Amazon)

The Fairfax County Public Schools announced on Tuesday that following a detailed review by two committees appointed by school officials it has returned two LGBTQ themed books to its high school libraries that had been temporarily withdrawn after being challenged by critics who claimed they included sexually explicit content inappropriate for students.

The two books, “Lawn Boy,” a novel by author Jonathan Evison, and “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which is described as an illustrated autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe, each contain descriptions of sexual acts.

But supporters of the books have argued that they have won praise by literary critics and, while describing intimate relationships, they tell stories that do not fall into the category of pornography.  

Fairfax County Public Schools, the name used for the county’s public school system, on Tuesday said in a statement that a thorough review of the books by two committees consisting of educators, school officials, parents and some students found that neither book contained content that could be considered to depict pedophilia as claimed by some parents and others opposing the two books.

School officials announced they had temporarily withdrawn the two books from school libraries following a Sept. 23 meeting of the Fairfax County School Board where strong objections to the two books were raised by parents.

“Two books that were subject to formal challenge have been deemed appropriate for high school readers following a two-month review process and will be reinstated to Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) libraries,” Tuesday’s statement by the school system says.

“The decision reaffirms FCPS’s ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters,” the statement continues. “Both reviews concluded that the books were valuable in their potential to reach marginalized youth who may struggle to find relatable literary characters that reflect their personal journey,” the statement says.

The statement says the final decision to reinstate the books was made by Noel Klimenko, the Fairfax County Public Schools’ assistant superintendent for its Instructional Services Department.

The two books have received favorable reviews in various literary publications. Both have received the American Library Association’s Alex Award, an annual award that recognizes the year’s 10 books written for adults that the association says have a special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.

“The robust committee process took place over several weeks and considered whether the books flouted regulations by being obscene or harmful to juveniles as defined by the Code of Virginia,” the school system statement says. “The members also considered the work in line with an excerpt from the FCPS Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook pertaining to possessing obscene visual imagery as defined in the Code of Virginia,” the statement says.

“After careful consideration, neither books were deemed to have fallen foul of these regulations,” it concludes.

The decision by Fairfax school officials to reinstate the two books came about six weeks after more than 425 LGBTQ students and allies from over 30 Fairfax County public high schools sent a letter to the school board and the school system’s superintendent urging them to reinstate the two books.

The Pride Liberation Project, a coalition of LGBTQ and allied students in Fairfax County, organized the joint letter.

“Student representatives from over 30 schools, including nearly every high school in Fairfax County Public Schools, have signed this letter, and many of us are students of color, low-income, gender expansive and not out to our families and communities,” the letter states.

“We are writing to ask you to reject calls to remove Maia Kobabe’s ‘Gender Queer’ and Jonathan Evison’s ‘Lawn Boy’ from Fairfax County Public Schools libraries,” the letter says.

It points out that “hundreds of books in our schools already depict heterosexual relationships and physical intimacy,” and says singling out LGBTQ themed books with similar stories of intimacy for rejection is unfair.

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