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Trump extols ‘religious freedom’ order at Liberty University

Slams critics as ‘pathetic’

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President Trump disparaged critics as “pathetic” in a Liberty University commencement speech. (Screenshot via CSPAN)

In a commencement speech at a school with an anti-LGBT reputation, President Trump extolled a recent executive order he signed in the name of “religious freedom” that opponents say could lay the groundwork for anti-LGBT discrimination.

Trump made the remarks during his commencement speech Saturday at Liberty University, saying in reference to the executive order he “did some very important signings” recently for religious freedom.

“America is better when people put their faith into action,” Trump said. “As long as I am your president, no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith or from preaching what’s in your heart.”

It wasn’t clear whether Trump was referencing the issue of clerks refusing to marry same-sex couples in his remarks, although he has endorsed “religious freedom” legislation known as the First Amendment Defense Act that critics say would allow anti-LGBT discrimination.

Although the religious freedom executive order on its face doesn’t allow discrimination against LGBT people, the measure instructs U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law.” Some LGBT advocates have said that language will empower Sessions to find ways to discriminate against LGBT people, such as allowing workers at federal agencies to refuse to process paperwork for same-sex couples in the name of “religious freedom.”

Other observers don’t read the executive order the same way. The American Civil Liberties Union had threatened to sue Trump over the executive order, but later declined to take that action on the basis that it was “an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome.”

The “religious freedom” executive order reference was a small component of a commencement speech in which Trump encouraged graduates to look to the future and emphasized the importance of faith in America. On the day before Mother’s Day, Trump invoked the idea of his late mother smiling down on him from heaven and the late Rev. Jerry Falwell smiling down on his son, Jerry Falwell Jr., who’s president of Liberty University.

At a time when Trump is under fire for his administration’s actions and the firing of FBI Director James Comey as he was conducting an investigation on whether he colluded with Russian in hacking in the 2016 election, Trump also during his speech belittled critics when encouraging graduates to pursue their dreams.

“Nothing is easier or more pathetic than being a critic, because they’re people that can’t get the job done. But the future belongs to the dreamers, not to the critics,” Trump said. “The future belongs to the people who follow their heart no matter what the critics say because they truly believe in their vision.”

Trump’s commencement speech marks the first time since President George H.W. Bush spoke at Liberty University in 1990 that the school has hosted a sitting U.S. president. The speech is also the first commencement address Trump delivered as president.

A Baptist school, Liberty University has an anti-LGBT reputation. The university has a policy of prohibiting “sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman,” which prohibits intimate relationships with LGBT people.

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Politics

FBI investigates failed assassination attempt on Donald Trump

LGBTQ groups have condemned the shooting that took place in Pa.

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Former President Donald Trump is shot at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania (Screen capture via CNN)

Authorities are investigating a failed assassination attempt against former President Donald Trump at a rally Saturday in Butler, Pa., where a bullet pierced the ear of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

One attendee was killed, along with the suspected shooter. Two others were critically injured in the attack.

The gunman was identified as 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks, a registered Republican from Bethel Park, Pa., who gave to Democratic donation platform ActBlue in January 2021.

“I want to thank The U.S. Secret Service, and all of law enforcement, for their rapid response on the shooting that just took place in Butler, Pennsylvania,” Trump wrote in a post on Truth Social.

Former first lady Melania Trump wrote on Sunday that “When I watched that violent bullet strike my husband, Donald, I realized my life, and Barron’s life, were on the brink of devastating change.”

“A monster who recognized my husband as an inhuman political machine attempted to ring out Donald’s passion — his laughter, ingenuity, love of music, and inspiration,” she wrote.

President Joe Biden was scheduled to receive a briefing on Sunday at the White House with homeland security and law enforcement officials while the Republican-led House Oversight and Accountability Committee said it would be investigating the assassination attempt and had asked U.S. Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle to testify at a hearing on July 22.

“I’ve been thoroughly briefed by all the agencies in the federal government as to the situation, based on what we know now,” Biden said in remarks from Rehoboth Beach, Del., just after the assassination attempt on Saturday night.

“I have tried to get a hold of Donald,” the president said, “He’s with his doctors.” (The two would talk later on Saturday.)

“There is no place in America for this kind of violence,” Biden said. “It’s sick. It’s sick. It’s one of the reasons why we have to unite this country. We cannot allow for this to be happening. We cannot be like this. We cannot condone this.” 

“We are shocked by tonight’s apparent assassination attempt on President Trump in Pennsylvania and relieved that he is safe and in good condition,” Log Cabin Republicans President Charles Moran said on X.

“Our prayers are with President Trump, his family, and our country while we wait to learn further details,” he said. “We are also praying for the family of the innocent bystander who was killed. Our movement will not be deterred.”

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said on X, “Political violence has no place in America. The attack at today’s rally in PA is an affront to our democracy, and our thoughts are with the former president and all those affected. As a nation, we must unite to condemn political violence in all its forms.”

The National LGBTQ Task Force shared a statement on Instagram:

“Politically motivated violence is unacceptable and has no place in our democratic process. No matter our differences or disagreements, we must all be of one voice in condemning the use of violence as a political statement as we prepare for the upcoming elections.

“We understand that yesterday – and every day- so many in our communities are targeted and live in fear as the political and cultural climates become ever more hostile.

“The National LGBTQ Task Force will continue to work for the safety of our communities and policies and advocate for legislation that protects us. We hope this will motivate and energize all parties to pass federal gun safety laws.”

Congressional leaders from both parties also issued statements condemning political violence.

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Africa

Cameroon president’s daughter comes out

Brenda Biya acknowledges relationship with Brazilian model

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Brenda Biya (Photo via Instagram)

The daughter of Cameroonian President Paul Biya has come out as a lesbian.

Brenda Biya, 26, on June 30 posted to her Instagram page a picture of her kissing Brazilian model Layyons Valença.

“I’m crazy about you and I want the world to know,” said Brenda Biya.

Her father has been Cameroon’s president since 1982.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in the Central African country that borders Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Chad. The State Department’s 2023 human rights report notes harassment, discrimination, violence, and arbitrary arrests of LGBTQ people are commonplace in the country.

Brenda Biya is a musician who does not live in Cameroon.

The BBC reported she told Le Parisien, a French newspaper, in an exclusive interview published on Tuesday that she and Valença have been together for eight months. The women have also traveled to Cameroon together three times, but Brenda Biya did not tell her family they were in a relationship.

Brenda Biya said she did not tell her family that she planned to come out, and they were upset when she did. Brenda Biya told Le Parisien that her mother, Cameroonian first lady Chantale Biya, asked her to delete her Instagram post.

The Washington Blade on Thursday did not see the picture of Brenda Biya and Valença on her Instagram account.

“Coming out is an opportunity to send a strong message,” Brenda Biya told Le Parisien.

Brenda Biya described Cameroon’s criminalization law as “unfair, and I hope that my story will change it.”

Activists applauded Brenda Biya for coming out. The BBC reported the DDHP Movement, which supports Cameroon’s anti-LGBTQ laws, filed a complaint against her with the country’s public prosecutor.

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District of Columbia

D.C. Public Schools’ LGBTQ+ program helps ensure students feel safe

More than half of queer students experience bullying, harassment

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According a study from Theirworld of LBGTQ+ Gen-Z youth, students feel unsafe in schools. D.C. Public Schools is trying to combat the problem in the District. 

“Research shows that the way schools and families respond to LGBTQ+ youth can affect their physical health, mental health outcomes, academic outcomes, and their decision-making later in life,” said DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Programming Specialist, Adalphie Johnson. 

DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Program started in 2011 after a 2009 survey from GLSEN revealed that 9 out of 10 queer students reported in-school harassment. 

In response, they have created extensive programming to ensure students feel safe at D.C. Public Schools. In 2015 they created a trans and non-binary policy that included guidance on LGBTQ+ terms, locker room accommodations, gender-neutral dress codes, and more. 

In addition, they host an annual conference for queer and trans DCPS students. 

“The “Leading With Pride” conference increases networking, and builds the leadership capacity of our students and faculty advisers to implement school-level LGBTQ programming,” Johnson said. 

In 2023, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures according to HRC. This year, Theirworld’s survey found that more than half of LGBTQ students experienced bullying and harassment at school.

Johnson said that students feeling safe in school requires creating an environment where all students can thrive. 

“We encourage students to report incidents without fear of retaliation and ensure that reports are taken seriously and investigated promptly,” she said. 

Johnson also pointed out that as a result of discrimination, students are more likely to miss school, which can lead to low grades, along with impairing cognitive responses. So, she said, it is best for schools to respond with action swiftly. 

However, Johnson and the LGBTQ+ programming team acknowledge that not all students come from supportive backgrounds. 

As a part of their trans and gender-nonconforming policy, staff are expected to work closely with students to determine how involved parents are with the transitioning student, before contacting parents. 

Johnson gave parents eight steps to ensure the safety of their child, if they are in the LGBTQ community.  

8 Steps For Parents

1. Educate Yourself. Learn about LGBTQ+ identities, issues, and terminology. Understanding the basics can help you provide better support and avoid misunderstandings.

2. Listen and Communicate. Create an open and non-judgmental space for your child to express themselves. Listen to their experiences and feelings without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice.

3. Advocate for Them. Stand up for your child in situations where they may face discrimination or misunderstanding. Become actively involved in the PTA and other parent groups within the school.

4. Seek Support. Lead or organize programming with/for other parents of LGBTQ+ children can provide  valuable insights and emotional support.

5. Respect Their Privacy. Allow your child to determine their own level of outness at school. Don’t share their identity without their permission.

6. Create a Safe Environment. Inform the school of any homophobic or transphobic remarks or behavior from others.

7. Inform school about their needs. Recognize that each LGBTQ+ person’s experience is unique. Ask your child what they need from you and how you can best support them. Communicate those needs to the school. This would be a great opportunity to develop and share a Safety Plan for the student while at school. 

8. Promote Inclusivity. Encourage, support and inform inclusive policies and practices in your child’s school community. 

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