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Pence again defends wife for teaching at anti-LGBT school

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Mike Pence, gay news, Washington Blade
Vice President Mike Pence (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Vice President Mike Pence said Friday “freedom of religion is under attack” in the United States, citing as an example criticism over his wife Karen Pence’s decision to teach at a school that refuses to admit LGBT students or teachers.

“The freedom of religion is not just enshrined in the Constitution, it’s enshrined in the hearts of the American people,” Pence said. “But make no mistake about it. The freedom of religion is under attack in this country. Lately, it’s actually become fashionable for media elites and Hollywood liberals to mock religious belief.” 

Pence made the remarks to great applause to the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference in a speech infused with religious language. Lauding President Trump, Pence said the administration has taken actions that have advanced the security and prosperity of the United States and religious freedom.

Asserting religious freedom is under attack, Pence referenced his wife’s decision to teach art at the Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Va., which does not allow LGBT students or families to enroll and won’t employ LGBT applicants.  The decision by Karen Pence inspired an outcry among LGBT rights supporters who said the second lady shouldn’t be teaching at the school.

“My own family recently came under attack just because my wife Karen went back to teach art to children at a Christian school,” Pence said. “Let me say before all of you, I couldn’t be more proud of my wife.”

Karen Pence was present in the CPAC audience, which applauded upon her husband’s praise of her. The vice president joined the applause. The second lady appeared emotional and gave a brief wave to the crowd.

“She’s a Marine Corps mom, she’s a great school teacher and Karen Pence is a great second lady for the United States of America,” Pence said.

It’s the not the first time Pence has defended the second lady over criticism based on her decision to teach at the anti-LGBT school. During an interview with EWTN Global Catholic Network, Pence said he was “deeply offended” by the criticism.

Pence stated a commitment to religious freedom — often a term used to mean anti-LGBT discrimination — after hailing Trump’s appointment of conservatives like Justice Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the judiciary.

“They’re conservatives who will uphold all of the God-given liberties enshrined in our Constitution, like the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” Pence said. 

In their short time on the bench, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have already issued decisions against LGBT rights, such as lifting court orders to allow the Trump administration to enact its ban on transgender people in the military.

As anti-LGBT groups are asserting a religious freedom right to refuse services to LGBT people and deny LGBT parents adoption rights, Pence said the Trump administration’s position was clear.

“It’s about the sincerely held belief of millions of Americans who cherish their Christian faith and Christian education.” Pence said. “I’ll make you a promise: Under this president and this administration, we will always stand with people of faith, we will always defend the freedom of religion of every American of every faith so help us God.”

Pence has a long anti-LGBT history that includes votes as a congressman against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and opposition to marriage equality. His record notably includes signing into law as Indiana governor a “religious freedom” widely seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

Pence indicated through a spokesperson he supports the Trump administration’s recently announced global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality in countries where it is illegal, such as Iran.

Although that position contrasts with Pence’s record on LGBT rights, it’s consistent with his criticism of Iran — a view he articulated during his speech at CPAC.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is the leading state sponsor of terror in the world,” Pence said. “Iran supports terrorist proxies, fuels conflicts in the region, plots terrorist attacks on European soil and openly advocates the destruction of the state of Israel.”

Pence recalled a recent to trip to Europe and visiting Auschwitz, where during the Holocaust Nazi Germany operated a concentration camp as part of its effort to kill an estimated 6 million Jewish people. In a somber moment during his speech, Pence said he and the second lady prayed there.

“The history of that time must never be forgotten,” Pence said. “We mourn with those mourn and grieve with those who grieve, but we say from our heart, ‘never again.’”

A good portion of his speech was also devoted to denouncing socialism at a time when many Democrats are embracing Medicare for All and a Green New Deal to confront climate change.

“To keep on winning, my fellow conservatives, we have a choice to make in the next 20 months, will we re-elect a president who is making America great again for four more years, or will we let the Democrats take America on a hard-left turn and lose all the gains that we’ve fought so hard to make?” Pence said.

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World

Two LGBTQ people named to Chilean president-elect’s Cabinet

Gabriel Boric and his government takes office on March 11

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Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric. (Photo via the Chilean government)

Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric on Friday named two openly LGBTQ people to his Cabinet.

Marco Antonio Ávila, who is a gay man, will be the country’s education minister. Alexandra Benado, who is a lesbian, will be Chile’s sports minister.

Javiera Zúñiga, a spokesperson for Movilh (Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual), a Chilean LGBTQ rights group, applauded Boric for naming Ávila and Benado to his Cabinet.

“The visibility of sexual orientation and gender identity is no longer an impediment to access any position in Chile,” said Zúñiga in a press release. “Sexual orientation and gender identity are irrelevant for the positions, whether they are public or private. Capability is the only thing that matters.”

Boric and his government will take office on March 11. Chile’s marriage equality law goes into effect the day before.

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National

Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Los Angeles Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, the Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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World

Lesbian couple murdered, dismembered in Mexico border city

Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez killed in Ciudad Juárez

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From left: Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez. (Photo via Facebook)

Authorities in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez on Sunday found the dismembered bodies of a lesbian couple along a local highway.

The dismembered body parts of Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez were found in plastic bags that had been placed along the Juárez-El Porvenir Highway.

El Diario, a Mexican newspaper, reported the married women lived in El Paso, Texas, which is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez. Authorities said relatives last spoke with Ramírez and Medina on Saturday afternoon.

A source in Ciudad Juárez with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Thursday confirmed Ramírez and Medina “were lesbian women” and their murder was “very violent.”

Members of Comité de la Diversidad Sexual de Chihuahua, an LGBTQ rights group in the state of Chihuahua in which Ciudad Juárez is located, and Chihuahua Gov. María Eugenia Campos Galván are among those who have expressed outrage over the women’s murders. Comité de la Diversidad Sexual de Chihuahua on Wednesday also urged local and state authorities to investigate whether the murder was a hate crime.

“People of sexual diversity are questioned, including their existence through heteronormative discourse,” said the group in a statement. “They have the right to a life free of violence in which they exercise all their rights, in addition to living without fear or fear of rejection and aggressions that can unfortunately escalate to hate crimes.”

El Diario reported Ramírez and Medina are two of the nine women who have been reported killed in Ciudad Juárez since the beginning of the year.

Personas de las Diversidades Afectivo Sexuales, an LGBTQ rights group in Ciudad Juárez, and feminist organizations on Thursday organized a protest during which participants demanded local, state and federal authorities do more to end to violence against women in the city. The press release that announced the demonstration specifically cited Ramírez and Medina.

“We seek justice and clarification in the murder of Nohemí and Yulissa, a lesbian couple who was found in Juárez-Porvenir Highway,” it reads.

LGBTQ activists and feminist groups participate in a protest against femicides in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on Jan. 20, 2022. (Courtesy photo)
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