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U.S. agencies to celebrate Pride month, but without Cabinet secretaries

White House silent on whether Trump will issue Pride proclamation

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary James Mattis and HUD Secretary Ben Carson aren’t attending Pride celebrations hosted by their agencies. (Washington Blade photos of Pompeo and Carson by Michael Key; photo of Mattis public domain)

With Pride month approaching, many U.S. agencies in the second year of the Trump administration are continuing plans to hold celebrations for their LGBT workers, although Cabinet leaders will be absent and some annual events are in question.

The absence of Cabinet leaders at these events stands in contrast to the Obama years when they were featured speakers at the celebrations, wished LGBT federal workers a happy Pride and reflected on the significance of the annual event.

Meanwhile, President Trump has an opportunity to reverse his decision last year to ignore the occasion and issue a proclamation recognizing June as Pride month, which was the custom of former Presidents Obama and Clinton. Obama also each year in office hosted a reception at the White House with LGBT leaders to commemorate Pride.

Any Trump Pride proclamation would stand out and raise questions after a year of LGBT rollbacks in his administration since last June that include a transgender military ban, the Justice Department’s decision to exclude LGBT people from protections under federal civil rights law and “religious freedom” executive actions that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

The White House didn’t respond to repeated requests from the Blade in the past two weeks to comment on whether Trump would recognize Pride either with a proclamation or a reception, nor would White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders call on the Blade during her regular news conference in that time period, which has been her custom since taking on the role.

A handful of U.S. departments and agencies already have plans in place for events recognizing June as Pride month, despite rollbacks in those departments on LGBT rights.

Most prominent is an event DOD Pride is hosting June 11 at the Pentagon Center Courtyard. The event is consistent with Pride celebrations at the Pentagon that started in the Obama years and continued in the first year of the Trump administration, but it’s the first one that takes place after Trump instituted his transgender military ban, which he first announced on Twitter in July 2017.

Although federal courts have blocked the Defense Department from enforcing the ban as litigation against it moves forward, since those rulings Defense Secretary James Mattis has issued recommendations affirming transgender people should be excluded from the armed forces with few exceptions. Any appearance by him at a Pride celebration would contradict that sentiment.

Asked if Mattis will attend, a member of DOD Pride said the organization instead invited Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, but he’s unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. Invitations to the rest of Pentagon leadership were set to go out Monday, the DOD Pride member said.

At the State Department, the LGBT affinity group for foreign service officers, GLIFAA, has coordinated with the State Department’s Office of Civil Rights and will host an internal event for employees on June 5, where Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) are scheduled to speak.

But in the aftermath of Senate confirmation of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, GLIFAA has also opted to invite a different official. As a member of the U.S. House representing Kansas, Pompeo built an anti-LGBT record and once suggested homosexuality is a “perversion” — a topic on which Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) grilled the secretary of state during his confirmation hearing.

David Glietz, president of GLIFAA, said the organization opted to invite Sullivan as opposed to Pompeo because Pompeo’s confirmation was uncertain at the time the event was planned.

“The event was planned prior to Secretary Pompeo’s confirmation and at the time we were unsure when he would be confirmed and arrive in the department,” Glietz said. “Therefore, we opted to request the Deputy attend as the most senior department official at the time of planning.”

At the Department of Housing & Urban Development, HUD Pride is holding two events. One event on June 6 is on the legal landscape of LGBT access to housing and shelter, and a panel discussion on June 20 on the same topic.

Much like the other affinity groups, HUD Pride is coordinating to have the deputy secretary speak as opposed to the Cabinet member. A HUD Pride official said the main event would be the June 20 panel, but HUD Secretary Ben Carson won’t attend because he’s already scheduled for travel that week. Instead, HUD Pride has invited Deputy Secretary Pam Patenaude and is hoping for confirmation soon.

Had Carson attended, it would have been months after he expressed concerns about allowing transgender people access to homeless shelters consistent with their gender identity — the very topic the panel is set to discuss. During a congressional hearing in March, Carson said the issue is “complex,” citing concerns by women whom he said don’t want to use bathroom facilities with “somebody who had a very different anatomy.”

At the Education Department, an email from LGBTQ & Allied Employees at ED was sent out highlighting two events recognizing Pride. One discussion set for June 19 is titled “Highlighting Difference with Children.” Another event in July is set to discuss Supreme Court cases related to LGBT issues and will feature speakers from the Education Department’s Office of the General Counsel.

An Education Department employee said Secretary Betsy DeVos was invited to attend, but there’s “not a chance” she’d make an appearance. DeVos’ participation in the event on children would stand in contrast to her decision not to take up complaints from transgender kids whose schools have blocked their bathroom access, while taking part in the panel discussion on the Supreme Court would be noteworthy after she said she wouldn’t reverse that policy until the Supreme Court or Congress acts on the issue.

Pride celebrations at other U.S. agencies are in question altogether. The Commerce Department in the first year of the Trump administration held an event recognizing Pride, although Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross didn’t attend. Months after Ross issued an equal employment statement that excluded LGBT workers — then corrected it — a Commerce Department official told the Blade the department has no plans to host a similar event this year.

At the Justice Department, the situation is similar. A DOJ Pride member said he’s “not at liberty to comment” on whether the Justice Department would hold a Pride celebration. The DOJ Pride member referred the Blade to the Justice Department’s public affairs office, which didn’t respond to a request for comment.

No Pride events at the Justice Department would be a change. DOJ Pride has coordinated Pride celebrations in the Great Hall of the Justice Department even during the George W. Bush administration. Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey spoke during the last year of the Bush administration, and U.S. Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch addressed DOJ Pride during the Obama years.

Last year, a Pride celebration took place in the Great Hall under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, although the event wasn’t confirmed until June, Sessions didn’t attend and the Blade was kicked out when attempting to cover the event. Over the course of the Trump administration, Sessions has spearheaded the legal framework for LGBT rollbacks, including “religious freedom” guidance that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

At the Department of Health & Human Services, a member of One HHS, the affinity group for the HHS LGBT employees, said independent of the organization the department’s equal employment opportunity office is planning a Pride event.

It’s unclear whether HHS Secretary Alex Azar, whose department established a Religious Freedom & Conscience Division enabling medical practitioners to refuse service to transgender people, would take part. The HHS public affairs office didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

One agency scheduled to host a Pride event is the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is coming off a controversy after deleting material for LGBT businesses from its website at the start of the Trump administration. The material wasn’t restored until last week after complaints from House Democrats and LGBT small business leaders.

Blade Editor Kevin Naff was the keynote speaker at the SBA Pride event last year. SBA Administrator Linda McMahon wasn’t there, but an SBA official read a statement from her expressing support for Pride month. This year, a notice was sent out the event will take place either June 14 or June 19 and would be titled, “Remember the Past, Create the Future.”

Carol Wilkerson, an SBA spokesperson, said SBA is hosting the event and that it would include participation from the local LGBT Chamber of Commerce, although the time isn’t yet set. Asked if Administrator McMahon will make an appearance, Wilkerson replied, “Once the date is confirmed we will know more.”

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National

California mom claims school manipulated child into changing gender identity

Jessica Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her

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Fox News host Laura Ingraham & Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet Dhillon with client, Jessica Konen (Screenshot Fox News)

A Northern California mother is claiming teachers in a small school district in the state manipulated her daughter into changing her gender identity and name in a legal claim. 

The claim, filed by the ultra-conservative Center for American Liberty on behalf of the mother, alleged “extreme and outrageous conduct” by the Spreckels Union School District, leading Jessica Konen’s 11-year-old daughter to change her gender identity and drive a wedge between them.

Specifically, the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, names two teachers – Lori Caldera and Kelly Baraki – at Buena Vista Middle who, in addition to teaching, ran the school’s Equality Club, later known as UBU (You Be You). Buena Vista is a part of the district. 

It comes after Abigail Shrier, the author of a book widely criticized as anti-trans, quoted what the two educators said last year at the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in a piece headlined “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids.” Caldera and Baraki spoke about the difficulty of running a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in a socially conservative community. 

After the article was published, the teachers were put on administrative leave, and the district hired a law firm to investigate, which is ongoing. The UBU club was suspended. 

Spreckels is a town of about 400 people in the agricultural Salinas Valley, approximately 90 miles south of San Francisco

According to the complaint, Konen’s daughter began attending Equality Club meetings after being invited by a friend when she started sixth grade at Buena Vista. After attending one session, she decided it wasn’t for her until Caldiera convinced her to come back. At the gatherings, Caldera and Baraki held LGBTQ-centered discussions and introduced students to different gender identities and sexualities. 

During her time in the club, Konen’s daughter began exploring her own gender identity and sexuality, choosing to wear more masuline clothes. At some point, she decided to change her name and pronouns, which she has since changed back to her original name and pronouns. 

Konen said she was aware her daughter was bisexual but did not know she began using a male name and gender pronouns until she was called into the school when her daughter was in seventh grade. The meeting caught both Konen and her daughter by surprise – Konen’s daughter had said she wanted to notify her mother, but she did not know the meeting was that day. 

Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her. 

However, when Shrier’s article was published and circulated around the small town, everything changed. At this time, Konen’s daughter was again using a female name and pronouns.

In the leaked recording from the LGBTQ conference, Caldera and Baraki were discussing how they kept meetings private, among other things. 

“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”

However, Caldera told the San Francisco Chronicle that the quotes were either taken out of context or misrepresented. According to Caldera, the stalking comment was a joke. She also defended their work, saying students lead the conversation and they provide honest and fair answers to their questions.
In addition, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association criticized the group bringing the lawsuit forward, according to the Associated Press: “We are concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities for their own political gain, which is evident in this complaint. The Center for American Liberty is concerned with pushing its own political agenda through litigation and has filed multiple lawsuits against various school districts and communities.”

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Virginia

Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community

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Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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World

South Korean electronics giant pulls pro-LGBTQ ad after backlash

Singapore campaign showed mother supporting drag queen son

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Los Angeles Blade montage

An advert campaign by South Korean electronics giant Samsung was yanked after significant backlash in Singapore from some members of its Muslim-majority community.

The ad, part of the company’s “Listen to Your Heart” campaign to promote its Galaxy Buds2 and Watch4, featured a Muslim mother expressing support for her drag queen son.

The ad was meant to promote Samsung’s new wearable products, like noise-cancelling earbuds and a smart watch with a heart rate monitor, the BBC reported.

The video featured several participants’ reactions as they listened to heartfelt recorded messages from their loved ones. One of the pairs of participants featured a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf as she heard a message from her son, who was a drag performer.

“You are just unbothered having people looking or judging you differently, having a son that does drag,” he tells her in his message.

The scene of the Muslim mother embracing her drag queen son sparked a torrent of negative commentary on virtually all social media platforms with some ad hominem remarks directed at Samsung which caused the electronics company to pull the ad.

In a Facebook post Samsung wrote;

“We acknowledge that we have fallen short in this instance, and have since removed the content from all public platforms,” Samsung said. “Samsung believes that innovation and growth are driven by diversity and inclusivity. We will certainly be more mindful and thorough in considering all perspectives and viewpoints for our future marketing campaigns.”

Members of the local LGBTQ community similarly expressed their disappointment at the ad being taken down.

“It was the first of its kind video coming from a minority group on a relationship between mother and son [and] was so affirming,” Hilmi, a center manager at local LGBTQ organization Oogachaga, told BBC News.

“As a queer Malay man, I am saddened to see a video that expresses unconditional love [being] taken down abruptly due to societal pressure from a group of people with conservative values.”

Marketing Interactive, an online Singapore-based daily news and email news service which is emailed every work day to advertising and marketing professionals in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, interviewed Anand Vathiyar, managing director at Cheil Singapore, the ad agency Samsung partnered with.

The campaign was meant for people from all walks of life to be able to express their true feelings to their loved ones, Vathiyar said.

“What is heartening is that for everyone who is getting politically correct about this episode, there are many others, especially younger Singaporeans, who seem to get that we can do better to listen to each other with due care, empathy, respect, and consideration,” Vathiyar added.

Meanwhile, in a video posted on Instagram on Jan. 20, the BBC noted that the son featured in the video also reassured followers that he and his mother were “doing well.”

“I’m not going to talk about the comments that [were] said in [that video],” the drag performer known as Vyla Virus said.

“It was all about a mother’s love in that video, nothing else was mentioned.”

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