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Karine Jean-Pierre makes history in WH briefing, but skips over LGBTQ press

WH spokesperson first LGBTQ woman to hold briefing

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White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre made history on Wednesday by being the first Black woman in decades and the first openly LGBTQ woman to conduct a White House briefing, although she declined to mark the occasion by calling on the LGBTQ press in the room.

Jean-Pierre, asked during the White House briefing about the significance of her conducting it, recognized the milestone but also downplayed it in favor of praising the Biden administration.

“I appreciate the historic nature; I really do,” Jean-Pierre said. “But I believe that…being behind this podium, being in this room, being in this building is not about one person: It’s about what we do on behalf of the American people. Clearly, the president believes representation matters, and I appreciate him giving me this opportunity, and it’s another reason why we are so proud and this is the most diverse administration in history.”

Jean-Pierre, after repeating that it wasn’t about her, added “We’re going to be truthful, we’re going to be transparent and that’s the way, I believe, the president would want us to communicate to the American people.”

Many of the questions Jean-Pierre took were on new reports of intelligence the coronavirus may have been the product of lab engineering in Wuhan, China, which she addressed by deferring to an ongoing Biden administration review of the matter. Jean-Pierre, in response to another question about President Biden’s meeting with the George Floyd family on Tuesday, said the occasion was “deeply personal” for him.

Jean-Pierre is not the first openly LGBTQ person to conduct a White House press briefing. That distinction belongs to Eric Schultz, who was deputy White House press secretary during the Obama years and conducted his first briefing in 2015.

Other openly gay administration officials have served as principals during the White House briefing and answered questions, including acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell during the Trump administration and current Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Jean-Pierre, however, declined to mark the occasion by calling on the Washington Blade, which is the only LGBTQ outlet in the White House briefing room and in the seating rotation under coronavirus restrictions today to ask a question. The Blade was present in the room for its turn in the rotation and its reporter’s hand was raised for an inquiry the entire time.

Had the Blade asked a question, the topic would have been the upcoming Pride month and whether the White House would restore the practice during the Obama years of holding a reception, as well as any plans to light up the White House in rainbow colors as the Obama administration did in 2015.

Matt Hill, a White House spokesperson, was vague last week in response to a Blade inquiry via email over Pride plans within the Biden administration.

“President Biden is proud to have taken executive action since his first day in office to champion full equality and strengthen civil rights for LGBTQ Americans,” Hill said. “From reversing the transgender military ban, urging Congress to send the Equality Act to his desk, preventing discrimination in housing, healthcare, and lending, President Biden has sent a clear message to LGBTQ people at home and around the world: he has your back. During Pride Month, the Biden-Harris Administration will continue advancing the President’s commitment to equality and equity and we look forward to sharing more about our efforts throughout June.”

Another question the Blade would have asked — as the number of anti-trans laws enacted by state legislatures this year continues to pile up, including a measure last week in Tennessee requiring businesses to post signage if they have restroom policies respecting the gender identity of transgender people — is whether the Justice Department has given the White House any heads up about upcoming legal action against these measures.

Other journalists in the briefing room aside from the Blade also weren’t able to get a question in during the briefing the same day, including reporters from the New York Post, the Daily Mail and a representative from the foreign press. Although the Blade attempted to get a question before the briefing closed by shouting a request, another reporter from a conservative outlet largely drowned that out by interrupting at the end of the briefing by shouting questions on assertions Anthony Fauci perjured himself in testimony before Congress.

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World

Dutch government formally apologies for forced sterilization of trans, intersex people

Gender Change Act was in place from 1985 to 2014

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Dutch government on Saturday formally apologized to transgender and intersex people who were forced to become sterile in order to legally change their gender.

The Gender Change Act, which was also known as the Transgender Act, was in effect in the Netherlands from 1985 until its repeal in 2014.

Education, Culture and Science Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven and Law Minister Sander Dekker last year on behalf of the Dutch government apologized to trans and intersex people who had undergone forcible sterilizations. The Dutch government also agreed to pay 5,000 euros ($5,633.68) to around 2,000 trans people who had sterilization surgeries.

A ceremony did not take place because of the pandemic.

Van Engelshoven issued Saturday’s the formal apology during a meeting with trans and intersex people that took place at the Ridderzaal, a 12th century building in The Hague that the Dutch government uses for speeches from the country’s royal family and other important ceremonial events.

“For decades we have had a law that has harmed transgender and intersex people,” said van Engelshoven. “People have undergone medical treatment that they did not want, or have been forced to postpone becoming themselves. Today, on behalf of the entire Cabinet, I make our deepest apologies. Recognition of and apologies for what has been done to these people and which has caused a lot of grief for those involved is extremely important and is central to this special day in the Ridderzaal.”

Transgender Netwerk Nederland in a press release said the Netherlands is the first country in the world to issue such an apology. The advocacy group notes the Dutch government last month began to compensate trans and intersex people who were forcibly sterilized, but adds the amount of money they will receive remains too low.

“The government has structurally disadvantaged and damaged transgender and intersex people for almost 30 years,” said Willemijn van Kempen, who spearheaded the campaign for the formal apology. “It is important that it now apologizes for that.”

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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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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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