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LGBTQ groups support Hurricane Fiona recovery efforts in Puerto Rico

Storm caused widespread flooding, island-wide blackout on Sept. 18



Hurricane Fiona damage in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. (Photo courtesy of Olga N. Chapman Rivera/Waves Ahead)

Eliana Rodríguez and her father Javier floated on a mattress and pieces of broken debris in flood water in Utuado, Puerto Rico, praying help would come for hours.  

“The rain kept falling and never stopped,” Rodríguez said of the flood water that filled the home she shared with her father. “We sat in the dark when we lost power and when the water became too much, we prayed.”

Hurricane Fiona made landfall on Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast on Sept. 18, inundating Utuado and the surrounding area with 30 inches of rain.

Neighbors eventually rescued Rodríguez and her father. They have now relocated to New York with family, unsure when or if they will return. 

 Rodríguez still grieves for the things she lost in the flood that made her house a home.

Mi isla es mi alma (my island is my soul),” Rodríguez said, choking back tears.

Fiona, which made landfall two days before the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, knocked out power across Puerto Rico. People in the U.S. commonwealth since Fiona’s landfall continue to struggle with a lack of electricity, drinking water, food and medical necessities. 

Rodríguez’s father, who has a heart condition, went without his medication until they reached the U.S. mainland, where they battled medical red tape to finally get the medication her father needs.

As recovery efforts continue to evolve on the island, humanitarian and grassroots organizations have flocked to “la Isla del Encanto” (the Island of Enchantment) to help Puerto Ricans rebuild. 

Agriculture and infrastructure are among the hardest hit industries on the island.

“Hurricane Fiona destroyed $159 million bananas and other crops,” the island’s agricultural minister said.  

Wilfred Labiosa, executive director of Waves Ahead Puerto Rico, an organization that offers support to marginalized and vulnerable communities, including the LGBTQ community, is helping with recovery efforts. 

According to Labiosa, necessities like electricity, drinking water and mental health aid continue to be grave needs that are still unmet and the government is unsure when relief will come. 

“They’re saying water is coming sooner than electricity, while getting electricity to some parts of the island could take months,” Labiosa told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview shortly after Fiona’s landfall.

Labiosa, along with many other Puerto Ricans, has sharply criticized the government for its lack of adequate leadership and oversight of LUMA Energy, the company that holds the exclusive contract to provide electricity to the island. LUMA Energy, which faces zero competition, has consistently failed to provide stable electricity to residents, even before the hurricane. 

Waves Ahead, in collaboration with World Central Kitchen and José Andrés, provides meals for those in need across the island. 

Like most small nonprofit organizations, Waves Ahead relies on donations and funds from the government to provide for those in need. And despite multiple visits by federal legislators, Waves Ahead has not been selected to receive federal aid funds, and Labiosa says that lawmakers do not mention the LGBTQ community in discussions of relief efforts.

Fiona’s effect are traumatic, Labiosa says the storm’s destruction hurts more because of the response from Puerto Rico’s central government and local municipalities.

“We haven’t learned anything in the last five years,” Labiosa said, referencing to Maria’s devastating effects.

Labiosa highlighted the burden of outdated infrastructure on the island, which the government has received millions of dollars to improve yet has not.

“The temporary bridge was supposed to be replaced two years ago,” Labiosa said in reference to Bridge PR-123 in Utuado that was built after Maria, and washed away the day Fiona made landfall. 

Waves Ahead is also working on a partnership with the Ricky Martin Foundation to provide resources and help to all affected by Fiona, including focused efforts on the LGBTQ community.  

Waves Ahead provides food to a resident of Maunabo, Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Fiona made landfall on the island. (Photo courtesy of Olga N. Chapman Rivera/Waves Ahead)

Just like Labiosa, Arianna Lint, executive director of Arianna’s Center, is calling for mental health aid as well as other necessities. 

“We have a very high suicide rate in our community,” Lint said. 

For more than five years, Arianna’s Center has worked extensively in Puerto Rico, serving people of the LGBTQ community through community development and federal legislative efforts. 

Recently, Lint delivered survival kits donated by Gilead Sciences around the island. 

Lint and Gilead Sciences have partnered in an effort to ensure that those living with HIV/AIDS are receiving the medical care they need in the aftermath of the hurricane and destructive flooding.

“One of our largest aliados (allies) is Gilead Sciences, who is promoting the use of PrEP,” Lint said. 

Parts of the island that remain inaccessible due to mudslides and debris from the storm are finding it hard to receive help, especially when it comes to health services for the elderly.

“Our greatest focus is on people left behind and senior people in our community,” Lint said. 

As cleanup and recovery efforts continue in Puerto Rico, one thing is for sure: Cleanup will be a slow process, and many, like Rodriguez and her father, will be faced with the decision to leave their island or stay, uncertain when the cavalry will come. 



Target stores across the country receive bomb threats over LGBTQ merchandise

Company removed Pride-themed items to back of stores in Southern states



Screenshot from YouTube (Courtesy of 11 Alive Atlanta)

Police departments in Utah, Ohio and Pennsylvania aided by assistance from agents from Federal Bureau of Investigation Field Offices in Ohio and Utah are investigating threats made by email to local media referencing the retail chain Target’s LGBTQ merchandise collections celebrating Pride Month.

KUTV CBS 2 Salt Lake City reported that Sgt. John Ottesen with Layton Utah Police said bomb threats were made to Target stores in Layton, Salt Lake City, Taylorsville and Provo. Ottesen confirmed that multiple law enforcement agencies commenced the investigation after the local new stations received the emailed threats.

A Target store in Layton, Utah, was evacuated after police said they were informed of a bomb threat to multiple Utah locations.

The threats specifically mentioned Target’s Pride merchandise, were three sentences long, and came from a “bogus email address,” according to Ottesen.

WOIO Cleveland 19 News received a bomb threat Friday afternoon against four Target stores in Ohio and a store in Monaca, Pa., purportedly from a person or persons angry over Target Corporation’s decision to remove some of the LGBTQ merchandise after a series of threats and physical threats against its retail clerks and staff in several southern states earlier this week.

It was not immediately known if the threats were legitimate, though precautions were quickly taken to ensure staff and customer’s safety according to officials.

A Target spokesperson who spoke with multiple media outlets said: “The safety of our team members and guests is our top priority. Law enforcement investigated these claims and determined our stores are safe. Our stores are currently open and operating regular hours.”

Speaking for the Minneapolis-based retail giant two days ago, spokesperson Kayla Castañeda noted: “Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and wellbeing while at work. Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.”

Castañeda also released a statement from the company:

“For more than a decade, Target has offered an assortment of products aimed at celebrating Pride Month. Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work. Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior. Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.”

Removal of the merchandise from its online store in addition to the storefronts has prompted harsh criticism of the retailer. California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted.

Numerous LGBTQ activists and groups have condemned Target for bowing to what is seen as political pressure by a minority of far right extremists:

“Extremist groups and individuals work to divide us and ultimately don’t just want rainbow products to disappear, they want us to disappear,” Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “For the past decade, the LGBTQ+ community has celebrated Pride with Target — it’s time that Target stands with us and doubles-down on their commitment to us.”

On Friday, Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at the Harvard Law Cyberlaw Clinic and an LGBTQ activist tweeted her disgust over the decision by Target to effectively abandon company support for the queer product lines and the creators.

Atlanta LGBTQ community reacts to Target pulling some Pride merchandise:

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Baptist group forces minister to resign from committees because he is married to man

BWA is based in Falls Church, Va.



Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger (Photo courtesy of Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger)

A Virginia-based Baptist group forced an openly gay minister to resign from two of its commissions because he is married to a man.

The Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger is an associate minister for youth and young adults and community outreach at Lake Street Church in Evanston, Ill., a congregation that is affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA. 

He has worked with the Revs. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Jeremiah Wright, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who is the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, and has preached at the U.N., among other places. 

Williams-Hauger has studied with Warnock and Moss and earned his Master of Divinity at the New York Theological Seminary. Williams-Hauger is also studying to become ordained within American Baptist Churches USA with the support of Judson Memorial Church in New York.

The Rev. Elijah Brown, who is the secretary general of the Baptist World Alliance, which is headquartered in Falls Church, in an April 21 email to Williams-Hauger confirmed his invitation to join the group’s Interfaith Relations and Racial Justice Commissions had been rescinded.

Thank you for your prayerful attitude,” wrote Brown. “Following our phone conversation yesterday, this email confirms that the invitation from BWA for you to serve on Commissions is rescinded. Please know that I am praying for you.” 

Williams-Hauger told the Washington Blade that it “has always been known that I’m married to” his husband.

“Brad and I have been together since 2005 and he has to accompany me to many events with the Sharpton family to events at Trinity United Church of Christ (in Chicago),” said Williams-Hauger. “In fact, when we got married to our wedding, was celebrated by the clergy at Trinity United Church of Christ with Rev. Dr. Otis Moss and Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright.”

Williams-Hauger told the Blade said Brown nevertheless “decided to get rid of me” when he found out he was married to a man.

Brown, according to Williams-Hauger, “lied to us” when he said the BWA’s Executive Committee “made the decision” to rescind the invitations to join the committee.

“He initiated the situation,” said Williams-Hauger.

Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger, right, with his husband. (Photo courtesy of Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger)

BWA affirms ‘Christian marriage and family life’

The BWA’s belief statement states it affirms “Christian marriage and family life” and affirms “the dignity of all people, male and female, because they are created in God’s image and called to be holy.”

“For more than 100 years, the Baptist World Alliance has networked the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ with a commitment to strengthen worship, fellowship and unity; lead in mission and evangelism; respond to people in need through aid, relief and community development; defend religious freedom, human rights and justice; and advance theological reflection and leadership development,” states the BWA on its website.

A BWA spokesperson in a May 21 statement to the Blade did not specifically comment on Williams-Hauger’s allegations. The comment also did not include a reference to the BWA’s position against marriage for same-sex couples.

“As a Christian world communion, the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) represents Baptists in 128 countries and territories with a governing General Council comprised of global representatives,” reads the statement. “Drawing upon over 400 years of shared Baptist history and more than 100 years of organizational history, the BWA remains committed to our mission to network the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ. With more than 400 commission members from across the global BWA family, we acknowledge their commitment to serve as volunteers and are not able to comment further on the specifics of any current or previous commission member.” 

Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger with Rev. Jesse Jackson. (Photo courtesy of Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger)

Williams-Hauger on Friday in an emailed statement to the Blade noted the BWA “adopted a resolution stating that same-gendered marriage is incompatible with scripture” and “on April 20 I was asked by Rev. Dr. Elijah Brown to step down from my position on the BWA’s Interfaith Relations and Racial Justice Commission; a role I have faithfully served for three years. 

“When Elijah Brown rescinded my invitation to serve on the commission it was not just a personal attempt to silence, but rather it is an attempt to silence others like myself, particularly Black queer persons,” Williams-Hauger told the Blade. “Further it was an effort to silence our prophetic presence and witness, our God ordained call to serve and advocate for justice and equality all while calling the family of faith to be and do better.”

Williams-Hauger said he and other Black LGBTQ people “will not be silenced.”

“Standing on the shoulders of the ancestors of James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin and countless others who lived and died and whose spirits give volume to our voices. We call out the hateful theology being practiced by the BWA,” said Williams-Hauger. “This hateful theology does not represent the message of Jesus, nor does it even represent the entirety of the Baptist Community. This theology of hate is embodied in by the likes of Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, Mike Pence and Mike Huckabee to name a few. If Dr. Brown and the BWA wish to go down that path and be another representation of that, hate; we pray for their souls.”

Williams-Hauger told the Blade that he and other Black LGBTQ clergy “will continue to serve a God of justice.”

“We will build upon the legacy of and work alongside the likes of Rev. Al Sharpton and his children, Rev. Jesse Jackson and his children, Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, the good people of Judson Memorial Church NYC, Riverside Church NYC, Lake Street Church, the body of faithful American Baptist Churches, the Alliance of Baptists, and our siblings in the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, and the body of the some friends among the Association of European Baptist Churches until justice rolls and we get a bit of heaven here on earth.”

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Bill to ban healthcare for transgender youth defeated in La. Senate

‘This is a powerful win for transgender children’



Louisiana Capitol building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

House Bill 648, a bill that would have banned gender-affirming care for transgender children in Louisiana was defeated by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee’s vote effectively killing the bill for this legislative session.

“The Senate Health and Welfare Committee has chosen to protect Louisiana’s transgender children by rejecting HB 648. This is a powerful win for transgender children and their families. We lift up and celebrate the incredible families, advocates, providers and lawmakers who worked to stop this dangerous bill that targeted transgender children and stripped rights from their parents,” a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana said in a statement.

“The fight to protect the rights of transgender children and their families is far from over. But make no mistake, as states across the country pass harmful bills that mirror HB 648, today’s committee vote matters, and sends a powerful message that will be heard nationwide.”

The committee hearing room was filled to nearly over capacity with trans Louisianians, their supporters and allies. According to WNNO in New Orleans: The committee killed the bill in a narrow 5-4 vote mostly split along party lines after hours of emotional testimony and contentious debate in the packed room. Republican Committee Chair Fred Mills, of Parks, joined Democrats in opposition.

During the at times contentious debate, anti-trans opponents and Republican lawmakers, including state Rep. Michael “Gabe” Firment (R-Pollock), the legislation’s author, repeatedly referred to gender-affirming care and surgery for trans minors as a “mutilation” of children’s bodies. They also claimed these treatments are “experimental.”

Dr. Quentin Van Meter, a pediatric endocrinologist from Atlanta, told the panel, “We are flying an airplane while we build the airplane,” while others backing the bill rejected the that banning gender-affirming care would lead to worse mental health conditions for minors.

Opponents pointed out that children’s inability to make significant life decisions and because of that, legally minors cannot purchase alcohol or get a tattoo, there’s no reason to allow them to transition.

A trans advocate, Dr. Clifton Mixon, a Louisiana psychologist who works with trans youth in the state, rebuked the idea that doctors are mutilating children’s genitalia. In his testimony, he also pointed out how rarely these procedures occur in the state: From 2017-2021, there weren’t any gender-affirming surgical procedures performed on minors in Louisiana, according to a Louisiana Department of Health study published in 2022.

WNNO noted that state Sen. Jay Luneau (D-Alexandria) said he was concerned that the bill would take away parental rights and called the bill “a solution looking for a problem.”

Luneau said he believes every person who testified, including those that are happy with and those who regret their decision to transition. But lawmakers cannot legislate individual’s decisions, he said.

Luneau made the motion to defer the bill. The decision came down to Mills, who expressed his trust in science and health care providers before joining Democrats in opposition.

“I guess I’ve always believed in my heart of hearts that a decision should be made by a patient and a physician,” Mills said.

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