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Anti-LGBTQ laws, drag bans loom over Pride celebrations

Organizers in Florida, Texas, Montana, Tennessee coping with new restrictions

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Samantha Vice performs at Lubbock Pride in Lubbock, Texas, in 2022. (Image courtesy Topher Covarrubio of NeverEnding Memories Photography)

Anti-LGBTQ and anti-drag laws that Republican governors have signed have prompted Pride organizers to reconsider or even cancel their events this year.

The Bozanich Photography Collaborative, which organizes St. Cloud Pride in Florida, in its statement that announced the cancellation of its June 10 event noted the state “has recently passed a number of laws that target the LGBTQIA+ community” and they have “created a climate of fear and hostility for LGBTQIA+ people.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 17 — the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia — signed bills that ban gender-affirming health care for minors, restrict pronoun usage in schools and require public buildings and other facilities’ restrooms and locker rooms to have “separate facilities for men and women based on biological sex.” DeSantis on that day also signed House Bill 1438, which “protects children from explicitly adult performances in all venues — including drag shows and strip clubs” and “imposes fines and license suspension for hotels and restaurants that admit a child into an adult performance.”

The Republican presidential candidate last year filed a complaint against a Miami restaurant after LibsofTikTok broadcast a video of children attending a drag show.

The DeSantis administration this year has sought to revoke the liquor license of the Hyatt Regency Miami and filed a complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation after children attended drag shows at the respective locations. 

Tampa Pride on May 18 announced the cancellation of its “Pride on the River” event. Organizers of Pridefest in Port St. Lucie only allowed those who were at least 21 years old to attend their annual event that took place in April. 

Hamburger Mary’s in Orlando has sued DeSantis over HB 1438.

The 2022 Stonewall Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Fla. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The annual Stonewall Pride Parade and Street Festival is scheduled to take place in Wilton Manors on June 17.

Stonewall Pride CEO Jeffrey Sterling on Monday during a telephone interview with the Washington Blade pointed out Wilton Drive, the road on which the parade and festival will take place, is a state road.

He said performers and vendors will have to abide by a series of rules that include no nudity, no lewd conduct and no vulgarity or overtly sexual language. Sterling admitted HB 1438 and the other anti-LGBTQ bills that DeSantis signed “indirectly” prompted Stonewall Pride to implement them, but he stressed they do not apply to those who attend the parade and festival. 

Sterling denied reports that suggest drag queens will not be allowed to perform.

“We need to be proud of the beauty of our culture while keeping in mind who we are entertaining,” he said. “Our standards should be that which we would use around our own children or our families’ nieces or nephews. We are performing for all ages, so the youngest in the audience should dictate the minimum standards we should adhere to.”

Miami Beach Pride took place on April 16, less than a week after Equality Florida and the Florida Immigrant Coalition issued a travel advisory for the state. The event took place before DeSantis signed HB 1438 and the three other anti-LGBTQ laws.

The annual Miami Beach Pride parade took place in Miami Beach, Fla., on April 16, 2023. (Screenshot from video courtesy of Yariel Valdés González)

The third annual PensaPride will take place in Pensacola in Florida’s Panhandle on June 24.

Sydney Robinson, who is a member of PensaPride’s board of directors, during a June 1 telephone interview with the Blade noted the all-day festival is a sober event and “family-friendly, open to all ages.”

She noted drag queens typically perform at PensaPride, but organizers are “still sort of grappling to try and do something or if we want to avoid it altogether because of the new law.” Robinson was nevertheless adamant that Pride events should continue to take place in Florida, despite DeSantis and the anti-drag bill he signed.

“I’m really disappointed with any Pride events that cancel for that reason because I think there is a way to have a vibrant Pride event that doesn’t have drag,” she said. “If you really want to follow the law, if that’s your main concern, you could easily do a wonderful Pride event and just not have that element involved.” 

“On the other end it’s like well Pride is a protest,” added Robinson. “That was the basis of Pride from the start.”

A performer at PensaPride in Pensacola, Fla., in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Olivia Ashcraft/PensaPride)

‘We’re more motivated than ever’

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte on May 22 signed a bill that bans drag story hours in public schools and libraries and restricts “sexually oriented performances” on public property. (His nonbinary child urged him to veto anti-LGBTQ bills that reached his desk during this year’s legislative session.) 

Missoula Pride will take place from June 16-18.

“We’re more motivated than ever to put on just one big hell of a Pride festival,” Andy Nelson, executive director of the Western Montana LGBTQ+ Community Center, which organizes Missoula Pride, told the Blade on June 2 during a telephone interview. “This legislative session here in Montana has been devastating and we just need to come together as a community more than ever.”

Nelson noted the bill that Gianforte signed is specific to public libraries and schools. Nelson said drag queens will perform at Missoula Pride as they normally do.

“As far as drag performers performing at our street party in downtown Missoula, we’re good to go,” Nelson told the Blade. “And so we’re going to have a bunch of queens up there, like usual, doing their thing. They’ll be in the parade and we’re still going to have multiple drag events throughout the weekend.”

Missoula Pride participants in Missoula, Mont., in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Lo Hunter Photography)

A document the Department of Homeland Security shared with law enforcement and government agencies on May 11 notes anti-LGBTQ threats are increasing and are linked to “drag-themed events, gender-affirming care and LGBTQIA+ curricula in schools.” The document also warns of the potential increase in attacks against health care providers and businesses that specifically cater to LGBTQ people.

Police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho last June arrested 31 armed white nationalists who were protesting a Pride event

“We were definitely on edge,” said Nelson, who noted Coeur d’Alene is less than three hours from Missoula and the arrests took place days after Missoula Pride. “What happened there is not out of the question, that it could happen here as well.”

Nelson noted a small group of neo-Nazis with AR-15s in March protested an International Trans Day of Visibility event that took place at Missoula’s courthouse. He said a private security team and members of the Missoula Police Department will be on hand during Pride. 

“We’re definitely keeping safety and security top of mind,” said Nelson.

Missoula Pride participants in Missoula, Mont., in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Lo Hunter Photography)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on March 2 signed Senate Bill 2, which imposes fines and even jail time for “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” on public property or where children are present.

Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based LGBTQ theater company, challenged SB 2 in federal court.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on June 2 declared SB 2, which is also known as the Adult Entertainment Act, unconstitutional. The same federal judge temporarily blocked the law hours before it was to have taken effect.

Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders on Monday noted to the Blade that Pride events took place in Memphis, Cookeville and in other cities across the state over the past weekend.

Sanders said drag queens performed in a public park during Columbia Pride that took place on Sunday. He noted some Pride celebrations “probably did make some contingency plans or change the way their celebration went on, but many continued to have drag as part of their celebrations.”

Sanders told the Blade that activists in Tennessee remain “extremely stressed, particularly about the anti-trans laws.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the state law that bans gender-affirming care for anyone who is under 18 years old. Sanders noted that statute “continues to hang over everything,” but Parker’s ruling was something to celebrate. 

“People got a bit of relief, obviously, because of the drag ruling and people are very excited about that,” said Sanders.

Texas anti-drag bill has ‘broad and vague wording’

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on June 2 signed a law that bans gender-affirming health care for minors in his state. Senate Bill 12 — which would “regulate sexually oriented performances” and “those performances on the premises of a commercial enterprise, on public property, or in the presence of an individual younger than 18 years of age” — is currently awaiting the Republican governor’s signature.

Nick Harpster, the public relations and advocacy coordinator of Lubbock Pride, on June 1 noted to the Blade during a telephone interview that SB 12 would take effect after his city’s Pride events if Abbott were to sign it into law. 

He said SB 12 has “such a broad and vague wording and it’s left up to so much interpretation,” and questioned how it may specficially impact the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Harpster said Texas lawmakers have definitely targeted drag queens with SB 12 and another bill that sought to defund public libraries that host drag queen story hours.

“That’s been the goal from the get go,” said Harpster.

Harpster said Lubbock Pride “may have to do some things differently” next year if Abbott signs SB 12. In the meantime, drag performances and drag story times are among the events that will take place during this year’s Lubbock Pride that will take place on June 10.

A band performs at Lubbock Pride in Lubbock, Texas, in 2022. (Image courtesy Topher Covarrubio of NeverEnding Memories Photography)

Dawn Ennis, Christopher Kane, Michael Key and Brody Levesque contributed to this story.

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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Federal Government

Federal government prepares for looming shutdown

White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.

As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.

This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.

Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.

Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.

“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.

“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.

The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”

Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

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Federal Government

QAnon follower pleads guilty to threatening member of Congress

Conspiracy movement claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world

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QAnon banner at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va., in 2020. (YouTube screenshot from Anthony Crider)

A New Mexico man has entered a plea deal after being charged with a federal criminal complaint of making threats through interstate communications directed at a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors charged Michael David Fox, a resident of Doña Ana County, for calling the Houston district office of an unnamed member of Congress on or about May 18, 2023, and uttering threats that included knowingly threatening to kill an active member of Congress.

The plea agreement was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Damian L. Martinez of U.S. District Court in New Mexico in the Las Cruces by Fox’s attorney from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in August.

According to the criminal complaint as outlined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal investigator for the Albuquerque Field Office, Las Cruces Resident Agency, on May 18 at approximately 9:04 p.m. Fox called the office of a congresswoman for the District of Texas, U.S. House of Representatives (Victim One/”V1″), who is from Houston. The call was received by V1’s office.

In the phone call Fox stated “Hey [Vl], you’re a man. It’s official. You’re literally a tranny and a pedophile, and I’m going to put a bullet in your fucking face. You mother fucking satanic cock smoking son of a whore. You understand me you fucker?” 

Law enforcement was able to trace the call back to Las Cruces, N.M., and it was believed that Fox was the user of cell phone account used to make the call. According to the FBI agents who interviewed Fox, he admitted to making the call.

Fox acknowledged that the threat was direct but claimed that he did not own any guns. Fox
claimed to be a member of the Q2 Truth Movement, the Q Movement. Fox explained these
movements believe all over the world there were transgender individuals running
governments, kingdoms and corporations. 

Fox told the FBI that there is a plan called “Q the Plan to Save the World” which he learned about from an online video. Fox claimed that he believed Q was going to engage in the “eradication” of the people who were causing all the world’s misery. He believed that part of the eradication had already happened.

Fox explained that he had run Vl’s skull features through forensic analysis and determined
that Vl was born male and is now trans. Fox discussed his military service with the
U.S. Air Force, “Q the Plan to Save the World,” and how God communicates using
numbers. 

Fox continued to reiterate several different types of conspiracy theories indicating
extreme far right ideologies as his explanation for why he conducted the phone call to
threaten V1.

According to the FBI, Fox rescinded his threat against Vl and apologized. Fox claimed he was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when he made the call. Fox stated he understood how Vl would feel threatened by his phone call, and he acknowledged that anyone he knew or cared about would also be concerned with such a threat.

The charge of interstate threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

QAnon began in 2017, when a mysterious figure named “Q” started posting on the online message board 4chan, claiming to have inside access to government secrets. Since then, QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world. It is claimed by QAnon adherents that former President Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat them. 

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist Ana Valens, a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship and sex workers’ rights noted that Fox appears to be a “transvestigator.” Valens noted that the transvestigation conspiracy theory is a fringe movement within QAnon that claims the world is primarily run by trans people. Phrenological analysis is common among transvestigators, with a prominent focus on analyzing celebrities for proof that they are trans.

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