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NATIONAL Dustin Lance Black, presidential candidates, Equality Act advances
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2019-05-07

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Oscar-winning screenwriter/activist Dustin Lance Black said the U.S. is moving backward on LGBT rights, citing the Trump administration's military transgender ban, which went into effect last month, The Hill reported. Black called on advocates and lawmakers to overcome their political differences and work across the aisle, as he said they did when pushing for marriage equality. Black won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Milk, the 2008 biopic on the life of Harvey Milk—the first openly gay elected public official in the country.

Former Vice President Joe Biden's announcement that he is running for president has sparked a mixed reaction among activists and LGBT Democrats, The Washington Blade reported. "From his support for inclusive hate crimes protections in the U.S. Senate to his leadership on marriage equality as vice president, Joe Biden has been a vocal champion of equality," said Sarah McBride, a transgender woman from Delaware who is a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign. However, on the other end are people such as Monica Roberts, a trans activist of color and blogger in Houston, who told The Blade, "I still haven't forgotten or forgiven Joe Biden's treatment of Anita Hill." The former vice president, in 1991, was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee when it held a hearing on Hill's allegations against now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke came to the defense of fellow 2020 rival Pete Buttigieg after anti-gay protesters heckled Buttigieg at an event in Texas, CNN.com noted. "Texans don't stand for this kind of homophobia and hatred. Mayor Pete, we are grateful you came to Texas and hope to see you and Chasten back again soon," O'Rourke, a former Texas congressman, tweeted. Buttigieg—the mayor of South Bend, Indiana—was addressing the Dallas County Democratic Dinner on Friday when his speech was interrupted at least four times by a group of protesters.

African-American trans woman Pamela Rocker has announced her presidential bid, NewNowNext.com noted. The 35-year-old outsider prospect from Cincinnati announced her run for the White House in December with a YouTube video made on iMovie. Before running for president, she moved to Los Angeles in 2005 to pursue a career as a hip-hop artist. The rap song "Eat Sushi," which she recorded as "Pam Jones" for the 2008 film Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom, extols the virtues of manicures and Japanese food.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the Equality Act—a wide-ranging bill banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity—moving it to the full House, where a vote is expected to be scheduled soon, Advocate.com noted. The historic 22-10 committee vote, marking the first time the measure has advanced, went along party lines, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all Republicans against, according to Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

The National Black Justice Coalition ( NBJC )—the nation's only civil rights organization working at the intersection of racial justice and LGBTQ/SGL equality—joined the Congressional Black Caucus ( CBC ) and mental-health practitioners to launch a new, emergency task force focused on the growing problem of suicide and access to mental-health care among Black youth, a press release noted. Chaired by Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman ( D-New Jersey ), the CBC Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health will focus on educating Congress members about this mental-health crisis and identify solutions and legislative recommendations.

Nigel Shelby, the 15-year-old Alabama student who took his own life, was laid to rest and buried in a rainbow-adorned casket, Gay Star News noted. Shelby died April 19 after facing alleged homophobic bullying at his school, Huntsville High School. Celebrities like Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade, Lena Waithe, Janelle Monae and more donated to a GoFundMe page set up to help Shelby's mother cover the funeral expenses.

Progressive Christian writer Rachel Held Evans has died at age 37, CBS News reported. Evans was hospitalized in April for what she described in a tweet as a "a flu + UTI combo and a severe allergic reaction to the antibiotics they gave me." In 2015, The Washington Post called her the "most polarizing woman in evangelicalism." She was an advocate for LGBT membership in the church, urged fellow pro-life Christians to vote for Hillary Clinton and wrestled with the role of the patriarchy in the church.

The Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) announced the organization will honor actor, director and producer Michael Urie with the HRC Visibility Award at the 2019 HRC Western New York Dinner, a press release noted. Set to take place on Saturday, May 18, in Rochester, New York, the event brings together HRC's most active members and supporters in the western New York area to raise crucial funds in the fight for LGBTQ equality.

Lambda Legal has asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona to provide relief to all surviving same-sex spouses denied equal access to social security survivor's benefits, including through certification of a class action, a press release stated. The lawsuit was filed in November on behalf of a now 66-year-old gay man seeking spousal survivor's benefits from the U.S. Social Security Administration ( SSA ), which imposes a nine-month marriage requirement even where same-sex couples were not able to be married for nine months because of discriminatory marriage laws. The case, Ely v. Berryhill, is at https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/ely-v-berryhill.

GLSEN denounced the passage of a Tennessee public-indecency bill that it says expands the state's existing indecent-exposure law to specifically target and criminalize transgender people, and affects transgender students in locker rooms, bathrooms or other school facilities. "All students—including transgender students who already face high levels of discrimination and harassment—deserve to feel safe and at school, and we call on Governor Lee to refuse to sign this harmful and unnecessary legislation," said Justin Sweatman-Weaver, chair of GLSEN Tennessee. Despite opposition from many business interests along with LGBTQ activists, Tennessee legislators are continuing to advance homophobic and transphobic bills that have collectively been dubbed the "Slate of Hate," Advocate.com noted.

After a heated debate as hundreds crowded a school-board meeting, Rocklin ( California ) Unified School District trustees narrowly approved a new curriculum that includes contributions made by LGBT figures, The Sacramento Bee noted. Parents in opposition urged the district to pilot an alternative program, saying the K-5 students were too young to learn that historical figures identified as gay or lesbian. California's FAIR Education Act, passed in 2011, mandates that school textbooks and curricula be more inclusive of historically underrepresented communities, including LGBT individuals.

Two fraternities at one of the country's most prestigious liberal arts colleges—Swarthmore—have voted to disband over images and video that appear to show former members making racist remarks and joking about rape, CBS News reported. The closures come after two campus publications released what they say are fraternity videos and photos provided by an anonymous source last month. The material is dated between 2013 and 2016, and contains racist, homophobic and sexist comments. There's even reference to Delta Upsilon having a "rape attic" in its building.

A Northern California man was sentenced to nine months in jail after he was convicted of threatening to blow up a gay Starbucks barista, The Sacramento Bee reported. Vincent O'Sullivan faced hate-crime and criminal-threat charges after he went to buy coffee from the Starbucks in a Safeway grocery store in Guerneville last year and told the barista he was building pipe bombs to blow up the barista, the store and a sheriff's substation. Hank Dixon Myers, the barista, said the threats gave him nightmares for weeks.

A student came out publicly during his valedictorian speech at a prominent Mormon college in the United States, Gay Star News noted. Matty Easton attended his graduation ceremony at Brigham Young University—and gave a shout-out to his LGBTI friends at BYU before revealing he himself identifies as gay. While LGBTI students can attend BYU, they can be banned from campus if they engage in "homosexual behavior."

The Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) joined the international community to honor the 6 million Jews who were murdered and millions of others who were victimized—including members of the LGBTQ community—under Nazi Germany before and during World War II, a press release noted. In part, HRC President Chad Griffin said, "The shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pennsylvania and the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in California are tragic reminders that hate continues to plague our world with often deadly consequences. Today, we must all stand united against anti-Semitism, despotism and bigotry in all its forms, both here at home and around the world."

Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat defended the Wall Street bank's sponsorship of a now-cancelled May 14 event in New York City honoring Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro, who has a history of homophobic comments, NBC News reported. Corbat told CNBC's Squawk on the Street that the bank spends "a lot of time" making sure its staff understand the company's support of the LGBTQ community. Citi has received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation'sCorporate Equality Index for 15 consecutive years. Bain & Co., Delta Air Lines and the Financial Times recently pulled their sponsorship of the event.

In a related matter, GLAAD celebrated what it called a victory for the LGBTQ community in Brazil after the organization joined New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman and other LGBTQ Americans and allies in a public campaign that forced Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a longtime anti-LGBTQ activist, to cancel his upcoming trip to the United States, a press release noted. Bolsonaro was scheduled to receive the "Person of the Year" award from the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce on May 14.

The Scrabble dictionary has updated its list of approved words for the first time since 2015, including LGBTQ terms, Advocate.com noted. Among the 2,800 new words players can use are genderqueer, cisgender, transphobia and the pronoun ze, which could be a game changer for Scrabble players considering it's only the third approved two-letter "z" word in Scrabble history, according to The New York Times. However, the most controversial addition to the dictionary this year was approval of the two-letter ok, which Merriam-Webster approved last year.

GLSEN announced that actor Wilson Cruz will host the 2019 GLSEN Respect Awards-New York, a press release noted. Additionally, the annual event will honor Ace Schwarz as Educator of the Year and Loveless Academic Magnet Program ( LAMP ) High School GSA, Spectrum as GSA of the Year. Cruz became a culture-shifting inspiration for the LGBTQ communities with his first series regular role as Rickie Vasquez on My So-Called Life, and now co-stars on the CBS All-Access series Star Trek: Discovery.

Facebook announced that it had designated some high-profile people, including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and openly gay, right-wing media personality Milo Yiannopoulos, CNN.com noted. Some critics questioned why Facebook banned the accounts in one fell swoop, instead of taking action against the accounts at the time they were determined to have been in violation of the company's rules. A Facebook spokesperson told CNN Business the company goes through a lengthy process and takes into consideration a number of factors before determining an individual to be "dangerous."

Gay-porn star Casey Jacks has died at 29, Gay Star News noted. His agent, Chris Crisco, posted, "'I will always remember his contagious smile and his amazing personality. Please pray for Casey today. I know his #choicetalent family & I will miss him dearly." Several other stars in the industry have died over the past year—and they were all in their 20s.


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