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The NFL embraces LGBTQ+ inclusion ahead of Super Bowl LVI

“LGBTQ athletes need to see more stories of athletes like them supported by their teammates because many are accepted just as they are”

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View of branding during A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for GLAAD)

LOS ANGELES – LGBTQ+ History was made Thursday night atop the National Football League’s Los Angeles headquarters rooftop, overlooking the glittering new SoFi Stadium, site of Super Bowl LVI, as about 150 NFL players, sports professionals and fans mingled with supporters of GLAAD to celebrate the league’s now very public embrace of the LGBTQ+ community.

GLAAD and the National Football League (NFL) hosted ‘A Night of Pride,’ sponsored by Pepsi Stronger Together, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood California.

Jonathan Beane, Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at National Football League (NFL) welcomed the crowd and minced no words. 

“This is long overdue, isn’t it?” he exclaimed, referring to the league’s commitment to the LGBTQ community. “This (event)  is just the beginning; there’s a lot more that we’re going to do as a league.” 

LGBTQ community icon and LA Dodger Baseball team owner Billy Jean King, the first female athlete to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for instance, has been selected as a Legendary Coin Toss Captain on Sunday.

Tennis Icon Billie Jean King and her longtime partner Ilana Kloss.
(Photo courtesy of Major League Baseball Inc/The Los Angeles Dodgers)

“LGBTQ athletes need to see more stories of athletes like them, who are supported by their teammates, because so many of them are accepted, just as they are,” GLAAD Deputy President and COO Darra Gordon said in her remarks. “I hope young LGBTQ athletes see posts from tonight and know that they have a rightful place to be out in the NFL, in football, in sports, and at any cultural milestone they aim for.”

LZ Granderson, host of the ABC News podcast ‘Life Out Loud with LZ Granderson, moderated a discussion of LGBTQ inclusion in the NFL featuring out NFL Legend Ryan O’Callaghan and NFL free agent R.K. Russell, who came out as bi in 2019.

R.K., aka Ryan Russell, who is one of more than 20 players in NFL history to come out as gay or bisexual (with Michael Sam and Carl Nassib, he is one of three to do so before retiring) and O’Callaghan (who played six seasons with the NFL retiring in 2012) tackled the hard stuff.

O’Callaghan says, in his day, he never imagined a moment like this would be possible, “not a chance in hell” that there could ever be such a full on embrace of LGBTQ identity and players by the NFL. 

“Back then” he said, “they didn’t do anything much at all.  Especially not publicly. Up until the last few years, the NFL was absent (on LGBT issues).”

O’Callaghan, who came to the GLAAD event from the prestigious annual NFL Honors awards that bestows MVP Award, Players of the Year, etc, reported significant news of a very public LGBTQ moment.

(L-R) LZ Granderson, R.K. Russell and Ryan O’Callaghan speak onstage during A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
(Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for GLAAD)

During the Honors event, the LGBTQ community was also honored with a video montage of thanks from out gay and bisexual players, honoring Carl Nassib.  

“A few months ago we filmed a piece for the NFL Network for their 360 show talking about LGBTQ in sports and the work of the Trevor Project. They had another player, Michael Irving — his brother is gay — and four us (from the NFL 360 segment) appear (tonight) onstage.”

They received a standing ovation. 

“It was very powerful,” he said, “a big step for the NFL to broadcast that to America.”

“What they did tonight was a whole other step,” O’Callaghan said of the world wide television broadcast.

Moderator Gunderson seized the moment with an obvious question: “Are we done or is this like the Obama moment where we got the Black man in the White House but racism is still hanging around.”

R.K. Russell attends A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for GLAAD)

Russell jumped at the chance to answer, saying “Things are certainly accelerating. As a generation of sports fans, as writers, as journalists, as athletes, we want to see ourselves in the game because we’ve always been there, because  we built this game — honestly.”

“With the Black Lives Matters movement, seeing players really take a stand we know we are more than just these athletes. We are more than these titles. When we step off the field, we take those helmets off, I am a Black man and I am a bi-sexual man. That carries with me everywhere I go. I don’t have to wear a jersey for that.”

“But when I do wear that jersey you need to know that and respect that. You can either ride with me or not,” he said, adding “I think we’re just getting started.”

“But,” moderator Granderson ominously asked, “Where are we going?”

“We’ve got a race issue still in the NFL,” he continued. “If a league that is 70 percent openly Black can’t confront racism issues then how do you think a league that has one openly gay player has addressed its homophobia issues?”

“I think that’s where the community, the writers, people like us keep the league accountable as well,” said Russell. “It’s about holding them accountable and we need to see that from everybody — players, coaches, staff, journalists, fans. Keep the NFL to its word.” 

Russell said that Covid downtime had helped people realize that “surface level, performative” actions are not enough. 

“That’s not going to cut it anymore,” he said. “We want to see Black head coaches, we want to see out players, we want to see it in the media, on the field, we want to see you actually do the things you say you’re going to do.”

Asked if he felt the LGBT highlight moment during the evening’s Honors award was performative or a significant step forward, O’Callaghan said he felt “it was genuinely sincere” and that while it was perhaps the most significant thing the league had done to date, it was not the only thing.

O’Callaghan talked about the league’s sponsorship of New York’s Heritage of Pride and float entries into its parade. “They started with small things like that and doing things on social media and the NFL network, changing the logo during Pride month and sharing that on social media.”

“Now it’s kind of expected.,” O’Callaghan said. “The hardest thing was the first step.”

“Doing what they did tonight at Honors, and this party…I’m sure they will be participating in the parades again this year,” he said.

O’Callaghan pointed out that in 2021 the NFL and the Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill sponsored the National Gay Flag Football Super Bowl in Tempe. “It means the world to have the NFL and a team owner supporting LGBT players and fans,” he said.

Of course the evening was wrapped around the Super Bowl, an event that may champion triumph over adversity but also, famously, a commercial opportunity that has in recent years also found marketers paying millions of dollars for seconds long TV commercials that often celebrate cultural issues.

GLAAD’s Visibility Project, a program dedicated to growing LGBTQ inclusion in advertising, announced today that LGBTQ people and issues will be nearly invisible during Super Bowl LVI ads, with only one ad that expressly features LGBTQ people or issues released prior to the Sunday broadcast. The ad for the Google Pixel 6 features a queer couple.

Additionally, Vrbo will air a LGBTQ-inclusive pre-game ad. In 2020, at least-eleven LGBTQ-inclusive ads from Amazon Alexa, Budweiser, Doritos, HGTV, Microsoft, Olay, Pop Tarts, Sabra, Tide, TurboTax, and Under Armour aired during Super Bowl LIV. In 2021, at least four LGBTQ-inclusive ads from M&M’s, Michelob ULTRA, Logitech, and Paramount + aired during Super Bowl LV. GLAAD will track ads during Super Bowl LVI at GLAAD.org and release a comprehensive list following the game.

(L-R) Deputy President of GLAAD Darra Gordon, Brent Miller, Jari Jones, and GLAAD Head of Talent Anthony Allen Ramos attend A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for GLAAD)

GLAAD Board Chair Pamela Stewart moderated a panel on LGBTQ inclusion in advertising featuring Mohit Jolly, Senior Director of Marketing for the Global Ads Marketing Organization at Google, trans actress model and producer Jari Jones, and Brent Miller, Senior Director for Global LGBTQ Equality at P&G.

P&G’s Miller told the story of an 18 year old youth from North Carolina who sent him a letter praising a 2018 Olympics ad in which out gay Olympic gold medalist Gus Kenworthy’s coming out story was featured, thanking P&G for saving a life. 

“Thank you for saving another soul,” he wrote.  He said “Something as short as an ad can be life changing,” telling the story of a 54 year old man who described a sense of empowerment watching a Pride flag unfold on an Olympic venue mountainside in South Korea. That kind of marketing, Miller said, is “what we’re supposed to do.”

Miller also said he was particularly proud that his work moves not just a younger generation but the generations before them who fought “so hard and now get to see their work come to fruition.” 

Andrew Beaver, an advertising and marketing executive who serviced P&G advertising accounts, agreed with Miller, “I worked with P&G during a time when it wasn’t easy to support our community. They put put their money where their mouth approving LGBT+ inclusive advertising.”

Mojit Jolly, Senior Director for Global Ads Marketing at Google, who grew up in Chandigarh, India, a small, conservative city about five hours north of New Delhi, said he knew early on that something about him was different. “I come from the most intensely conservative background and coming out was not easy.”

He and actress Jari Jones spoke of the necessity for inclusion in marketing and the power of LGBT stories. 

Jones said that images of trans people she was exposed to as a young person had set her back but today’s more authentic representations of people like her have changed her life and the lives of millions of people.

Google, said Jolly, recognizes the power of representation and information to transform our lives and highlighted several tools the mega-powered company provides, including LGBTQ safe spaces and LGBTQ business features on maps worldwide. 

“Every day we reach billions and billions of people and so we have a responsibility,” he said. “I believe our commitments are profound.”

As the event drew to a close, Big Fredia took the stage and opened with her signature song of affirmation and call to be your true color, the aptly named “Big Dick Energy.”

Big Freedia performs onstage during A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for GLAAD)

Guests included out NFL Legend Ryan O’Callaghan as well as LGBTQ leaders and allies including Alyssa Milano, Anthony Bowens, August Getty, Big Freedia, Braunwyn Windham-Burke, Jai Rodriguez, Jari Jones, Jeka Jane, Joey Zauzig, Justin Sylvester, Kent Boyd, LZ Granderson, Mollee Grey, Peter Porte, Philemon Chambers, R.K. Russell, Sonya DeVille, Victoria Brito, Cyd Zeigler, Los Angeles Blade Publisher Troy Masters, Andrew Beaver, GLAAD’s Rich Ferraro and Pamela Stewart, Chair of GLAAD’s Board of Directors.

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Africa

Kenya seeks to ban intersex athletes from lowering hormone levels to compete in sports

Country’s human rights body has put forth measure

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(Bigstock photo)

Kenya’s state-funded human rights body does not want intersex athletes in the country to lower their hormone levels as a requirement to compete in any sport.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights in a proposal to the National Assembly notes it will ensure non-discrimination and fairness for intersex people in sports.  

The proposal in the Intersex Persons Bill, 2024, is among numerous amendments to existing laws that seek to grant intersex people equal rights after the government in 2019 officially recognized them as a third sex.

According to the bill that would amend Kenya’s Sports Act of 2013, this will require the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry’s Cabinet secretary and the National Council for Intersex Persons, which the measure would create, to develop measures that ensure fairness for sporting intersex people when enacted.            

“The measures shall not require a person to alter their biological hormonal composition as a condition to participating in any sporting activity or program,” reads the bill. 

Although the measures would apply nationally, they would contradict the World Athletics Council’s 2018 regulations that similarly bar female transgender athletes from participating in international competitions, such as the Olympic Games. Intersex Kenyan athletes have to abide by these rules at the global level.       

The World Athletics through the regulations noted trans women who naturally have higher levels of testosterone compared to ordinary women have to undergo medication or surgery to lower their testosterone levels as a condition before competing in races of between 400 meters and a mile. Kenya’s National Olympic Committee supports these rules.

Some top female trans athletes barred from competing in the Olympic events from the World Athletics regulations due to their high natural testosterone levels include Margaret Wambui of Kenya, Caster Semenya of South Africa, Aminatou Seyni of Niger and and Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi.

The trans athletes opposed the World Athletics regulations with Semenya challenging them in court, but lost the case, even though the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2019 criticized the rules. UNHCR cautioned sports bodies not to “force, coerce or otherwise pressure women and girl athletes into undergoing unnecessary, humiliating and harmful medical procedures.” 

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Deputy Director Veronica Mwangi, who spoke with the Washington Blade about the bill’s controversial proposal, said Kenya, which is the only African country to recognize intersex people as a third sex, has started the conversation with a “bigger picture” for the international sporting bodies to create an alternative competition for them to exploit their talents without reducing their hormonal levels or interfering with their biological characteristics as the condition before competing.      

“As KNCHR, we are very clear that we cannot afford to continue discriminating and marginalizing persons who are born as intersex, but rather we can promote conversations of inclusivity where the Semenya of South Africa, an equivalent of Semenya in Uganda and an equivalent in the U.S. or Kenya can have a special sporting event like the Paralympics for persons living with disabilities,” Mwangi said. 

She also questioned the fairness of World Athletics and other international sporting bodies in demanding “the Semenyas or talented intersex persons” to undergo hormonal therapy which then affects the athletes’ well-being after interfering with their biological anatomy.   

“These governing sporting bodies should not come back to us that it is the intersex persons to carry the blame,” Mwangi said. “It is not the responsibility of the intersex (person) but they are duty-bearers and should think of mechanisms to grow their talents and not find an easy way out of demanding to change who they are.” 

Mwangi disclosed the proposal is driven by KNCHR’s special task force report that found most intersex school children are talented and perform well in sports. 

Kenya’s Intersex Persons Implementation Coordination Committee is already identifying talented intersex people, including those in schools, to support their growth in sports. Kenya’s 2019 Census found there are 1,524 intersex people in the country.

Other amendments to the Intersex Persons Bill include an employment provision that would cap an intersex person’s monthly income tax at 25 percent of wages, compared to other Kenyans whose maximum taxable income stands at 35 percent, depending on one’s monthly total earnings.  

“Capping the income tax or wages for intersex persons at 25 percent is a tax consideration in the form of an affirmative action to uplift them in economic development and it is similar to that of persons living with disability who are tax exempted as marginalized groups,” Mwangi said.

The bill further seeks to amend the Health Act for any parent with an intersex child born at home to report the birth at the nearest government administration office or risk a fine of not more than $1,000 or a six-month prison term, or both, after being found guilty of concealing an intersex child’s identity.

The proposed law, moreover, seeks to create the National Council for Intersex Persons, whose mandates would include the creation of initiatives and programs to prevent discrimination against intersex people, creating a database for all intersex people and accrediting the group for employment purposes.  

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NFL player’s misogynistic, homophobic comments spark outrage

Harrison Butker gave Benedictine College commencement address on Saturday

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Harrison Butker (Benedictine College YouTube screenshot)

Addressing a friendly audience at a private, Catholic liberal arts college, three-time Super Bowl champion Harrison Butker spoke from his heart about his faith and revealed his personal beliefs as a cisgender man about women and the LGBTQ community. 

In his 20-minute commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs kicker said LGBTQ Pride Month events are an example of biblical “deadly sins,” denounced “dangerous gender ideologies” and the “diabolical lies told to women,” declared a woman’s most important title is “homemaker,” and offered his take on abortion, in vitro fertilization and surrogacy, as well as President Joe Biden. 

Butker, 28, criticized Biden’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and questioned his devotion to Roman Catholicism, calling him “delusional.” Speaking directly to the men in the audience, the athlete advised them to “be unapologetic in your masculinity,” and to “fight against the cultural emasculation of men.”

The pro football player announced that God had given him a platform to speak and that, “I have no other choice but to embrace it,” he said. 

Those in attendance laughed in support of Butker when he mocked Pride Month as he cited a recent article by the Associated Press, headlined: “‘A step back in time’: America’s Catholic Church sees an immense shift toward the old ways.” The article detailed the institution’s shift “toward the old ways” and highlighted Benedictine’s rules that “seem like precepts of a bygone age,” which include “volunteering for 3 a.m. prayers” and “pornography, premarital sex, and sunbathing in swimsuits being forbidden.”

“I am certain the reporters at the AP could not have imagined that their attempt to rebuke and embarrass places and people like those here at Benedictine wouldn’t be met with anger but instead met with excitement and pride,” said Butker. “Not the deadly sins sort of Pride that has an entire month dedicated to it, but the true God-centered pride that is cooperating with the Holy Ghost to glorify him.” Butker went on to say that only by surrendering one’s self to Christ will anyone find happiness. 

“Harrison Butker gave a speech in his personal capacity,” the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer Jonathan Beane said in a statement addressing his comments. “His views are not those of the NFL as an organization. The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, called Butker’s speech “inaccurate, ill-informed, and woefully out of step with Americans about Pride, LGBTQ people, and women.”

“Those with expansive platforms, especially athletes, should use their voices to uplift and expand understand and acceptance in the world,” she said in a statement. “Instead, Butker’s remarks undermine experiences not of his own and reveal him to be one who goes against his own team’s commitment to the Kansas City community, and the NFL’s standards for respect, inclusion and diversity across the league.”

Butker called on religious leaders “to stay in their lane and lead,” and told women their place was in the kitchen and the maternity ward.  

“I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: Homemaker,” said Butker, and his words were met with thunderous applause. 

“It is you, the women, who have had the most diabolic lies told to you. Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world,” Butker said.

The Chiefs did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but someone who handles social media for Kansas City posted on X that Butker doesn’t even live in Kansas City but in a suburb 30 miles outside city limits, in a now-deleted tweet. 

Someone then posted an apology using that account:

And Kansas City’s mayor himself apologized, also on X, saying “A message appeared earlier this evening from a city public account. The message was clearly inappropriate for a public account,” he posted. “The city has correctly apologized for the error, will review account access, and ensure nothing like it is shared in the future from public channels.”

Butker’s comments earned him comparisons to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” both in his words and in how his beard appeared similar to one of the Hulu series’ characters. 

You can watch Butker’s commencement address in full here: 

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Brittney Griner considered suicide in Russian prison

WNBA star sat down with Robin Roberts

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ABC News ‘Good Morning America’ anchor Robin Roberts interviews WNBA star Brittney Griner for a primetime special. (Photo courtesy of ABC News)

CONTENT WARNING: The following story discusses suicide ideation.

Her first few weeks behind bars in a Russian prison took a terrible toll on Brittney Griner, the lesbian WNBA star who is breaking her silence on the 10 months she was held on drug-related charges. 

“I wanted to take my life more than once in the first weeks,” Griner told ABC’s Robin Roberts in a primetime interview Wednesday. “I felt like leaving here so badly.”

The two-time Olympic gold medalist and nine-time WNBA All-Star, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, said she ultimately decided against suicide, partly because she feared Russian authorities would not release her body to her wife, Cherelle Griner. 

While Cherelle and the White House worked to gain her release, Brittney reflected on what she admitted was the “mistake” that landed her in Russian detention. 

“I could just visualize everything I worked so hard for just crumbling and going away,” Griner told Roberts, who is co-anchor at “Good Morning America” and is herself a lesbian and former college basketball player.

Griner, 33, was arrested on Feb. 17, 2022, at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow. Authorities said they found vape cartridges in her luggage containing cannabis oil, which is illegal in the country.

Griner told Roberts that was the result of a “mental lapse” on her part — packing the cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage, Griner said that she had overslept on the morning she was leaving for Russia to play during the WNBA’s off-season, which is how many of the league’s vastly underpaid players earn a living, compared to NBA players. 

So, she packed while she was “in panic mode,” Griner said. 

“My packing at that moment was just throwing all my stuff in there and zipping it up and saying, ‘OK, I’m ready,’” she told Roberts.

After landing in Russia, Griner realized that she had those two cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage as Russian security officers inspected her bag at the airport. She recalled the moment as a sinking feeling. 

“I’m just like, ‘Oh, my God.’ Like, ‘How did I — how did I make this mistake?’” Griner said. “I could just visualize everything I worked so hard for just crumbling and going away.”

Russian authorities immediately arrested Griner, but her trial would not take place for five months. She described the horrible conditions of her imprisonment during that delay, saying that she didn’t always have toilet paper and that the toothpaste they gave her had expired about 15 years ago.

“That toothpaste was expired,” she said. “We used to put it on the black mold to kill the mold on the walls.”

“The mattress had a huge blood stain on it, and they give you these thin two sheets,” she added. “So you’re basically laying on bars.”

On July 7, 2022, Griner pleaded guilty at her trial to drug charges, admitting that she had the vape cartridges containing cannabis oil but stating she put them in her luggage unintentionally. She testified that she had packed the cartridges by accident, and had “no intention” to break Russian law.

Roberts pressed Griner on this point: “You know there are those who say, ‘Come on. How did you not know that you had cartridges in your luggage?’”

“It’s just so easy to have a mental lapse,” Griner replied. “Granted, my mental lapse was on a more grand scale. But it doesn’t take away from how that can happen,” she explained.

Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison on Aug. 4, 2022, and in October 2022, a judge denied the appeal filed by Griner’s attorneys.

The sentence landed Griner in a penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia.

“It’s a work camp. You go there to work,” said Griner. “There’s no rest.” Her job was cutting fabric for Russian military uniforms.

“What were the conditions like there?” Roberts asked.

“Really cold,” Griner said. So cold that her health was impacted and she decided to chop off her long dreadlocks.

“What was that like losing that part of you, too?” Roberts asked Griner.

“Honestly, it just had to happen. We had spiders above my bed — making nests,” she said. “My dreads started to freeze,” she added. “They would just stay wet and cold and I was getting sick. You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to survive.”

Her arrest came around the same time as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, further increasing tensions between Russia and the U.S. But as the Los Angeles Blade reported on Dec, 8, 2022, Russia agreed to release Griner in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

However, before winning her freedom, Griner revealed authorities forced her to write a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“They made me write this letter. It was in Russian,” she said. “I had to ask for forgiveness and thanks from their so-called great leader. I didn’t want to do it, but at the same time I wanted to come home.”

Griner said her heart sank upon boarding the plane to freedom and finding that Paul Whelan, another American the White House said was “wrongfully detained,” wasn’t leaving Russia with her.

“I walked on and didn’t see him, maybe he’s next. Maybe they will bring him next,” she said. “They closed the door, and I was like, are you serious? You’re not going to let this man come home now.”

Griner recounts on the experience in “Coming Home,” a memoir set to be released on May 7. 

988 is the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and is available 24/7 via phone, text or chat to everyone of all ages, orientations and identities. If you are a transgender, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. You can still also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day, and it’s available to people of all ages and identities.

Additional resources:

If you are in a life-threatening situation, please dial 911.

If you are in crisis, please dial 988 or contact Rainbow Youth Project directly at +1 (317) 643-4888

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