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Hundreds of thousands attend pro-Israel rally in D.C.

Congregation Bet Mishpachah, A Wider Bridge members among participants

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Organizers of the March for Israel that took place on the National Mall in D.C. on Nov. 14, 2023, said hundreds of thousands of people attended the event. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Organizers of a pro-Israel rally that took place on the National Mall on Tuesday said upwards of 290,000 people attended.

House Majority Leader Mike Johnson (R-La.); Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.); House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.); U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa); U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), Deborah Lipstadt, the special U.S. envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, actress Debra Messing, CNN’s Van Jones, Israeli singer Omer Adam and relatives of some of the Israelis who militants from Hamas and other Muslim extremist groups kidnapped on Oct. 7 are among those who spoke at the March for Israel.

“Oct. 7 was a crime against the Jewish state, indeed against humanity, so barbaric that it cannot be ignored,” said Torres. “It cannot go unpunished. Hamas must be brought to justice.”

U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), center, speaks with March on Israel attendees on Nov. 14, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke virtually from Jerusalem.

U.S. Sens. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Reps. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Eric Sorensen (D-Ill.), Steny Hoyer, Norma Torres (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Jim Hines (D-Conn.), Maryland state Rep. Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery County), former Arizona state Rep. Daniel Hernández, Rabbi Jake Singer-Beilin of Congregation Bet Mishpachah in D.C. and A Wider Bridge Executive Director Ethan Felson also attended the march that the Jewish Federations of North America organized.

“Today, the LGBTQ community marched with Israel in Washington, D.C.,” said A Wider Bridge on its Facebook page.

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D- Pa.) at the March on Israel in D.C. on Nov. 14, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Matt Adler, a Jewish Israeli American, attended the rally with A Wider Bridge. He was holding a sign with the slogans “we are one family” and a “special thank you to our brave Israeli Druze and Arab soldiers” written in English, Hebrew and Arabic when he spoke with the Washington Blade. 

“It’s really important to show that Hamas is bad for all peoples: Palestinian and Israeli,” said Adler. “As an LGBTQ community member, I think it’s important to stand on the side of peace for all, and Israel represents that peace for me.”

(washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

The rally took place roughly five weeks after Hamas, which the U.S. and Israel have designated a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government has said roughly 1,200 people have been killed, including at least 260 people who Hamas militants murdered at an all-night music festival in a kibbutz near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli government also says more than 5,000 people have been injured in the country since the war began and Hamas militants kidnapped more than 200 others.

Hamas rockets have reached Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ben Gurion Airport and other locations in central and southern Israel. Israeli Defense Forces and Hezbollah, another militant group, have exchanged fire across the Israel-Lebanon border.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says more than 11,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began.

The Israeli government has cut electricity and water to Gaza and has stopped food and fuel shipments. 

The IDF on Tuesday entered Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Israel has said it has “concrete evidence” that Hamas has operated out of the facility that is the enclave’s largest hospital.

Pictures of IDF soldiers holding Pride flags inside Gaza circulated on social media on Sunday. Helem, an LGBTQ rights group in Lebanon, condemned them.”Love doesn’t manifest through genocide, occupation, colonization, killing, bombing and detention,” said the organization in a post on its X account. “Not in our name!

Tens of thousands of people took part in a pro-Palestine rally in D.C. on Nov. 4.

A Free Palestine poster on 17th Street in Dupont Circle on Oct. 23, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected growing calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. The Biden-Harris administration, meanwhile, has sought to address incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia that have increased since Oct. 7. 

“We need to hear more American voices, especially from the progressive left that I am a part of, speaking out for human rights for Jewish people in addition to all peoples in the region,” Adler told the Blade. “We all deserve safety and security.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. Public Schools’ LGBTQ+ program helps ensure students feel safe

More than half of queer students experience bullying, harassment

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According a study from Theirworld of LBGTQ+ Gen-Z youth, students feel unsafe in schools. D.C. Public Schools is trying to combat the problem in the District. 

“Research shows that the way schools and families respond to LGBTQ+ youth can affect their physical health, mental health outcomes, academic outcomes, and their decision-making later in life,” said DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Programming Specialist, Adalphie Johnson. 

DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Program started in 2011 after a 2009 survey from GLSEN revealed that 9 out of 10 queer students reported in-school harassment. 

In response, they have created extensive programming to ensure students feel safe at D.C. Public Schools. In 2015 they created a trans and non-binary policy that included guidance on LGBTQ+ terms, locker room accommodations, gender-neutral dress codes, and more. 

In addition, they host an annual conference for queer and trans DCPS students. 

“The “Leading With Pride” conference increases networking, and builds the leadership capacity of our students and faculty advisers to implement school-level LGBTQ programming,” Johnson said. 

In 2023, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures according to HRC. This year, Theirworld’s survey found that more than half of LGBTQ students experienced bullying and harassment at school.

Johnson said that students feeling safe in school requires creating an environment where all students can thrive. 

“We encourage students to report incidents without fear of retaliation and ensure that reports are taken seriously and investigated promptly,” she said. 

Johnson also pointed out that as a result of discrimination, students are more likely to miss school, which can lead to low grades, along with impairing cognitive responses. So, she said, it is best for schools to respond with action swiftly. 

However, Johnson and the LGBTQ+ programming team acknowledge that not all students come from supportive backgrounds. 

As a part of their trans and gender-nonconforming policy, staff are expected to work closely with students to determine how involved parents are with the transitioning student, before contacting parents. 

Johnson gave parents eight steps to ensure the safety of their child, if they are in the LGBTQ community.  

8 Steps For Parents

1. Educate Yourself. Learn about LGBTQ+ identities, issues, and terminology. Understanding the basics can help you provide better support and avoid misunderstandings.

2. Listen and Communicate. Create an open and non-judgmental space for your child to express themselves. Listen to their experiences and feelings without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice.

3. Advocate for Them. Stand up for your child in situations where they may face discrimination or misunderstanding. Become actively involved in the PTA and other parent groups within the school.

4. Seek Support. Lead or organize programming with/for other parents of LGBTQ+ children can provide  valuable insights and emotional support.

5. Respect Their Privacy. Allow your child to determine their own level of outness at school. Don’t share their identity without their permission.

6. Create a Safe Environment. Inform the school of any homophobic or transphobic remarks or behavior from others.

7. Inform school about their needs. Recognize that each LGBTQ+ person’s experience is unique. Ask your child what they need from you and how you can best support them. Communicate those needs to the school. This would be a great opportunity to develop and share a Safety Plan for the student while at school. 

8. Promote Inclusivity. Encourage, support and inform inclusive policies and practices in your child’s school community. 

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District of Columbia

SMYAL for Summer returns July 25

‘Their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated’

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A scene from last year's SMYAL for Summer. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

SMYAL for Summer is back at Franklin Hall on July 25, where the youth services organization will honor the next generation of change makers in the LGBTQ community. 

“In a tumultuous year for policy against LGBTQ+ youth, celebrating the achievements of our scholarship winners sends a powerful message that their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated,” said Caro Vordndran, SMYAL’s Development Coordinator. 

At the event, SMYAL, the D.C. queer and trans youth advocacy organization, will honor recipients of its Youth Leadership Award and the Sophie’s Live Out Loud Scholarship. Plus, the event will feature a drag performance from Mia Vanderbilt. 

One of the scholarship recipients, Lion Burney, said that in addition to the scholarship they were most excited for the community they will continue to seek in SMYAL’s safe space. 

“The SMYAL community means a lot to me. From found family to open expression to endless support — I am beyond grateful to be a part of this experience,” Burney said.

This is SMYAL’s 12th annual SMYAL for Summer event and the 40th year of creating community for D.C.’s youth. Given SMYAL’s history, alumni like Nathan Handberg often come back to keep traditions alive. 

Handberg was an awardee in 2019 and served on the selection committee this year. They said they felt great about their continued involvement with SMYAL.

“Being a previous winner really gave me insight that helped with the process of choosing the winners this year and I like that I have the ability to help shape future leaders in our community,” they said. 

Tickets for the event range from $10 for students and $20 for general admission, up to $500 for Platinum Supporters. Tickets for the event will contribute to funding for SMYAL’s year-round youth advocacy programming. The event will run from 6-8 p.m.

“They have housing programs for queer youth… they’ve done queer sex education classes filling in critical gaps that are left by our education curriculum,” Handberg said. “Honestly they do so much more, I could write multiple pages on my experiences with SMYAL and all they do.”

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District of Columbia

Congressional budget amendments target D.C. Office of LGBTQ Affairs, Human Rights Act

U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced proposals

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U.S. Capitol
Two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced budget amendments that would defund the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and prohibit the city from using its funds to enforce the D.C. Human Rights Act in cases of discrimination against transgender people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced separate amendments this week to the D.C. budget bill that would eliminate funding for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and prohibit the city from using its funds to enforce the D.C. Human Rights Act in cases of discrimination against transgender people. 

The two amendments, along with as many as 10 other amendments introduced by GOP House members targeting the D.C. budget, were expected to come up for a vote in the House Rules Committee, which is now considering the D.C. budget bill, during the week of July 22.

Congressional observers have said the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, as it did last year, was expected to reject most of the House amendments to the D.C. budget bill if they were to pass in the full House.

Under the D.C. Home Rule Act, in which Congress established D.C.’s home rule government consisting of an elected mayor and City Council, Congress retains full authority to approve, change, or reject any laws passed by the city, including its annual budget. 

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) introduced the amendment calling for eliminating funding for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced the amendment calling for ending funding for enforcing the D.C. Human Rights Act regarding discrimination based on gender identity and expression. 

Spokespersons for the two House members couldn’t immediately be reached by the Washington Blade for comment on what prompted them to introduce their amendments. 

Sharon Nichols, a spokesperson for Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said Norton strongly opposes the two amendments and will be urging her House colleagues to oppose them. 

The amendment introduced by Gosar calling for defunding the LGBTQ Affairs Office states “none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act, including titles IV and VII, may be used for the salaries and expenses of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Affairs established under the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs Act of 2006 (Sec. 2-1831 et seq., D.C Official Code.”

The D.C. Council on June 12 gave final approval for D.C.’s fiscal year 2025 budget that includes $1.7 million in funds for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Among those who will lose their salary if the full Congress approves the amendment would be Japer Bowles, the LGBTQ rights advocate who currently serves as director of the LGBTQ Affairs Office. 

The amendment introduced by Mace would prohibit D.C. from using federal or local funds to enforce the part of its municipal regulations that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression, which pertains to trans people. The regulations in question pertain to the D.C. Human Rights Act. 

“It is no surprise to me that Republicans filed two anti-LGBTQ+ amendments to the D.C. appropriations bill,” Norton told the Blade in a statement. “D.C. has some of the strongest non-discrimination initiatives in the country, including regulations protecting individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Norton said.

“The Republican amendment that would prohibit funds from being used to enforce anti-discrimination regulations and the amendment to defund the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs are disgraceful attempts, in themselves, to discriminate against D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community while denying D.C. residents the limited governance over their local affairs to which they are entitled,” Norton told the Blade. “I will do everything in my power to prevent these amendments from being included in the final bill.”

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