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Barbara Walters dies at 93

Groundbreaking journalist interviewed Jazz Jennings, Ellen DeGeneres, among others

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(Screenshot from YouTube/ABC News)

If ever there was a gold standard for American broadcast journalists the likely two top choices would be famed CBS reporter and anchor Walter Cronkite and the groundbreaking ABC News reporter and anchor Barbara Walters.

The news came late Friday that the latter, a legendary broadcast journalist had died peacefully surrounded by family and friends at her home in New York at age 93. Walters shattered the glass ceiling in her profession and became a dominant force in an industry once dominated by men. Walters is survived by her adopted daughter Jacqueline. 

Without a doubt Walters likely holds a record for the shear number of interviews of the rich and famous, political leaders, as well as celebrities from every walk of life and endeavor. Walters, who won 12 Emmy awards, 11 of those while at ABC News was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1989.

In her 50-plus year career as a broadcast journalist she had earned nearly universal acclaim, respect and admiration for her work.

At ABC News as the co-anchor of the network’s extremely successful award winning “20/20,” she interviewed the people who made history in the mid 20th century into the early 21st century conducting her last interview, of then-businessman and potential presidential candidate Donald Trump, in 2015.

Walters began her national broadcast career on NBC’s “Today” show as a reporter, writer and panel member before being promoted to co-host in 1974. Her rising popularity with viewers resulted in Walters receiving more airtime, and in 1974, NBC executives promoted her to be the co-host of the program, the first woman ever to hold such a title on an American news program

Walters joined ABC News in 1976 after, becoming the first female anchor on an evening news program. Three years later, she became a co-host of “20/20,” and in 1997, she launched “The View.”

Bob Iger, the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, which is the parent company of ABC News, praised Walters as someone who broke down barriers.

“Barbara was a true legend, a pioneer not just for women in journalism but for journalism itself. She was a one-of-a-kind reporter who landed many of the most important interviews of our time, from heads of state to the biggest celebrities and sports icons. I had the pleasure of calling Barbara a colleague for more than three decades, but more importantly, I was able to call her a dear friend. She will be missed by all of us at The Walt Disney Company, and we send our deepest condolences to her daughter, Jacqueline,” Iger said in a statement Friday.

She made her final appearance as a co-host of “The View” in 2014, but remained an executive producer of the show and continued to do some interviews and specials for ABC News.

“I do not want to appear on another program or climb another mountain,” she said at the time. “I want instead to sit on a sunny field and admire the very gifted women — and OK, some men too — who will be taking my place.”

From American presidents to her famed interview with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, along the way Walters touched on the lives of diverse and dynamic cross-section of humanity.

Her face to face conversations included face-to-face conversations with folks like actors Katharine Hepburn, John Wayne, Patrick Swayze, Fred Astaire. She spoke with musicians such as Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber, Barbra Streisand and, without missing a beat, the significant political figures of her day like Henry Kissinger, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vladimir Putin and Fidel Castro. Her interviews with Oprah Winfrey and Monica Lewinsky shot the network’s ratings audiences through the roof.

The New York Times reported in 1999 that Walters’ interview with Lewinsky, the former White House intern who was a key component in the impeachment trial of then President Bill Clinton, “attracted an average of 48.5 million viewers, and an estimated 70 million people watched all or part of the two-hour program, in about 33.2 million homes.”

Walters directly asked Lewinsky, “You showed the president your thong underwear. Where did you get the nerve? I mean — who does that?” she said. She also asked the 25-year-old: “Where was your self-respect, where was your self-esteem?”

The list of people in front of the camera with her on the “Barbara Walters Specials” was breathtaking. Yet the stories of everyday folks, their lives, and struggles were a staple of her work searching out stories that needed to be told.

For the LGBTQ community, Walters often told the stories that painted a picture that was critical in putting a human face on an oft times maligned community. Her ABC documentary on transgender children originally broadcast in 2007, introduced the world to trans girl Jazz Jennings, who was at six years of age at the time, and her hugely supportive family.

The Hollywood Reporter noted in an honest interview, Ellen DeGeneres talked to Walters about everything from her movie career to her decision to come out as a lesbian. She also opened up about her stepfather sexually abusing her and how she broke through a window one night to get away. 

Walters in later years did have her share of detractors among younger journalists and writers including Alex Pareene, the former editor-in-chief of online news site Gawker and later a staff writer at The New Republic in 2019.

Pareene penned an unflattering profile of Walters on May 13, 2013, in Salon headlined “Good riddance, Barbara Walters.”

He noted: “[…] current co-host of ‘The View,’ is a national icon and a pioneer, and probably as responsible as any other living person for the ridiculous and sorry state of American television journalism. She has announced her retirement a year in advance, so that a series of aggrandizing specials can be produced celebrating her long and storied career. So let’s get things started off right, by reminding everyone how her entire public life has been an extended exercise in sycophancy and unalloyed power worship.

Pareene also took aim at her relationship with “Roy Cohn, the notorious scumbag McCarthyite mob attorney.”

Writing about the relationship between the two Pareene notes: […] “she, legendarily, pretended to be seeing (romantically) Roy Cohn, the notorious scumbag McCarthyite mob attorney who was also, notoriously, a closeted gay man (who had persecuted closeted ‘deviants’ while working with McCarthy.) Cohn was one of the slimiest and most detestable characters of the entire 20th century.

He was finally disbarred, in part for his hospital visit to a dying and incapacitated millionaire in which Cohn held up the man’s hand and had him ‘sign’ a codicil to his will naming Cohn the trustee of his estate. Despite his moral bankruptcy, Cohn remained a member of elite Washington and New York society his entire life.

Walters said she was and remained close to him because he helped her father with a legal matter when she was a girl. But this also seems to explain why they were ‘dating’ in the 1950s.”

Did Cohn have a secret ‘nice’ side? She was asked.

“I would not use the word nice,” she laughs. “He was very smart. And funny. And, at the time, seemed to know everyone in New York. He was very friendly with the cardinal, he was very friendly with the most famous columnist in New York, Walter Winchell, he had a lot of extremely powerful friends.”

Barbara Walters dies at 93 l ABC News

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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Federal Government

EXCLUSIVE: Robert Garcia urges US officials to protect LGBTQ people during Pride Month

Gay Calif. congressman sent letter to top authorities on June 12

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Participants of the Capital Pride Festival in D.C. on June 8, 2024. Gay U.S. Congressman Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) has urged U.S. officials to ensure LGBTQ people are safe during Pride Month. (Washington Blade photo by Emily Hanna)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) on June 12 sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray to work to ensure LGBTQ people during Pride events.

“Over the last several weeks, your respective agencies and departments have issued stark warnings, and travel advisories to the public over potential threats from foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), and their supporters during this year’s Pride Month,” said Garcia in his letter. “I understand that these steps have come after deeply concerning increases in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, calls for targeted violence, and foiled violent plots.”

The FBI on May 10 issued an advisory that warned of potential violence at Pride events and other LGBTQ-specific events. The State Department on May 17 — the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia — announced a similar warning.

“Ensuring that people can peacefully and safely celebrate Pride and the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community is of utmost importance,” wrote Garcia, a gay man who represents California’s 42nd Congressional District that includes Long Beach.

June 12 also marked eight years since a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State, even though there is no evidence that suggests the extremist group ordered him to carry out the massacre. 

“This week marks the eight (sp) anniversary of the horrific Pulse nightclub Orlando shooting — during which the attacker deliberately and viciously targeted the LGBTQ+ community,” wrote Garcia in his letter. “It is important to put the recent escalation of extremist anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda and messaging in the context the Pulse nightclub shooter who was influenced by these same forces of extremism.”

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