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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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Virginia

New campaign challenges Va. guidelines for transgender, nonbinary students

Students4Trans planning rallies, walkouts across the state

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Students and Pride Liberation Project supporters hold signs supporting transgender rights at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, Va., during a Fairfax County School Board meeting in 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A group of Virginia students have launched a campaign that challenges the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

The Pride Liberation Project on Sept. 20 announced the formation of Students4Trans.

Students4Trans held a rally outside the Virginia Department of Education in Richmond on Sept. 22. Another rally will take place during the Virginia Beach School Board meeting on Tuesday.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. The regulations, among other things, require parents to be informed of a student’s name and pronoun change, with the exception of “imminent risk of suicide related to parental abuse or neglect.” 

Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement the guidelines. 

The Spotsylvania County School Board announced last month that students are required to use the bathroom that aligs with their assigned sex, and parents could choose the names and pronouns their children use at school. Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

Students4Trans has organized a student walkout on Friday to protest the Spotsylvania County School Board’s new policies.

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.

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Puerto Rico

Two men charged with attacking trans Puerto Rican woman plead guilty to federal hate crimes charges

Alexa Negrón Luciano attacked with paintball gun before her murder

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(Bigstock photo)

Two men on Monday pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes charges in connection with attacking a transgender woman in Puerto Rico in 2020.

A Justice Department press release notes Jordany Laboy Garcia, Christian Rivera Otero and Anthony Lobos Ruiz “were out driving together” in Toa Baja, a municipality that is about 15 miles west of San Juan, early on Feb. 24, 2020, “when they saw” Alexa Negrón Luciano “standing under a tent near the side of the road.”

“The defendants recognized A.N.L. from social media posts concerning an incident that had occurred the day prior at a McDonald’s in Toa Baja,” reads the press release. “During that incident, A.N.L. had used a stall in the McDonald’s women’s restroom.”

“Upon recognizing A.N.L., Lobos-Ruiz used his iPhone to record a video of himself yelling, ‘la loca, la loca,’ (‘the crazy woman, the crazy woman’) as well as other disparaging and threatening comments to A.N.L. from inside the car,” it notes. “The defendants then decided to get a paintball gun to shoot A.N.L. and record another iPhone video. Within 30 minutes, they retrieved a paintball gun and returned to the location where they had last seen A.N.L., who was still at that location. Lobos-Ruiz then used his iPhone to record Laboy-Garcia shooting at A.N.L. multiple times with the paintball gun. After the assault ended, Lobos Ruiz shared the iPhone video recordings with others.”

Negrón was later killed in Toa Baja.

Laboy and Rivera pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit a hate crime and obstruction of justice. El Nuevo Día, a Puerto Rican newspaper, notes a federal judge sentenced Lobos to two years and nine months in prison after he pleaded guilty to hate crimes charges last November.

Laboy and Rivera are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 10.

They, along with Lobos, have not been charged with Negrón’s murder.

“To assault an innocent victim who posed no threat to the defendants for no other reason than her gender identity is reprehensible behavior that will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico in the Justice Department’s press release. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend the rights of all people, regardless of their gender identity, to be free from hate-fueled violence. Our community must stand together against acts of violence motivated by hate for any group of people — we remain steadfast in our commitment to prosecute civil rights violations and keep our communities safe and free from fear.”

Pedro Julio Serrano, spokesperson for Puerto Rico Para Todes, a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, on Tuesday welcomed the guilty pleas. Serrano also urged authorities to bring those who killed Negrón to justice. 

“The time for total justice for Alexa is now,” said Serrano in a press release. “Her murder was a hate crime. Nobody doubts this. They falsely accused her, persecuted her, hunted her, insulted her with transphobic epithets, uploaded onto social media a video of them accosting her and they killed her. There are already three individuals who will serve time in federal prison for attacking her in a hate crime. That’s some justice, but not complete.” 

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Obituary

Longtime D.C. resident, humanitarian Eric Scharf dies at 65

Center Global volunteer passed away on Sept. 21

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Eric Greene Scharf of Washington, D.C., passed away on Sept 21, 2023, at age 65 after a long battle with cancer. Eric was the first born with his twin brother, Edward (Ted) at Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Conn., on April 22, 1958, to Patricia K. and John Stewart Scharf. He spent his early childhood in Syracuse, N.Y.; Essex Junction, Vt., and Barrington, R.I., until he was five when the family moved to Yarmouth, Maine. 

Eric graduated from Yarmouth High School in 1976 and the University of Southern Maine in 1980. As a youth he volunteered at the Yarmouth Merrill Memorial Library, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Falmouth, Maine, and on various Episcopal diocesan events and programs. While in high school and college he worked as a driver and assistant to the Right Rev. Frederick B. Wolf, sometime Bishop of Maine which took him on travels across Maine, the U.S. and even to Africa.

After graduating from college, Eric moved to Washington, D.C., where he spent 43 years as an association executive and mental health advocate. He was rarely satisfied with the world as he found it and was determined to make it right. He worked on addiction issues, help for LGBTQ refugees, depression and bipolar initiatives — for world peace even. We have more room for hope because of Eric’s work.  

His work with professional trade groups included the Passenger Vessel Association, National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America and the American College of Nurse Practitioners. In retirement he served as the D.C. voice for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and advocated for LGBT asylum issues. Eric was also involved in electing several mayors and other leaders in the District of Columbia from the mid 1980s on and worked on the staff of Anthony A. Williams.

Eric was a cradle Episcopalian who attended St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Dupont Circle. He was a founding member of the national church’s Episcopal Caring Response to AIDS and in the Diocese of Washington, the Episcopal Caring Response to AIDS. Both organizations worked to educate the church at large about the epidemic and provide services locally to people suffering from the disease.

Eric is survived by his twin brother, Ted K. Scharf of Augusta, Maine, brothers Scott W. Scharf and his wife, Susan of Portland, Maine, and Steven C. Scharf of Portland, Maine. He is also survived by his father, John Stewart Scharf of Tilton, N.H. He was predeceased by his mother, Patricia K. Scharf.

In lieu of flowers, Eric asked that donations be made to: 

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church: 1517 18th St., N.W. Washington, D.C., 20036

Capital Clubhouse, Inc.: 1517 18th St., N.W., 4th floor Washington, D.C., 20036

or

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: 55 East Jackson Blvd., Suite 490, Chicago, Ill., 60604

A memorial service will be held at St Thomas’ Episcopal Church at 1517 18th St., N.W., Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, at 2:30 p.m.  The service will be streamed live on the St Thomas’ Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/StThomasDC

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