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NATIONAL Early release, Zara settlement, arrests in Puerto Rico, D.C. gay bars close
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2020-05-12

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U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Timothy J. Shea, the city's lead prosecutor, informed his office's Hate Bias Task Force that he objected to a decision by a judge to grant the early release of a defendant convicted of a bias-related assault against an LGBTQ person, The Washington Blade reported. The judge agreed to a defense request that the perpetrator be sentenced under the D.C. Youth Rehabilitation Act, which allows judges in certain cases to seal the court records of a case involving defendants between the age of 18 and 24. Shea noted that the court's action resulted in the defendant being released from jail April 1 after having served only about 30 days or one-third of his original sentence.

The international clothing retailer Zara reached a $30,000 settlement with a nonbinary transgender customer who reported experiencing discrimination in its New York City stores on multiple occasions, NBC News reported. Medina—a 33-year-old writer and student who uses they/them pronouns—said they were shopping in the men's section of a Zara store in 2016 when they were stopped by an attendant while trying to use the fitting room because they are "not a guy," Medina recalled. According to Medina, that happened at least two more times over the coming months at different Zara stores.

Two men were arrested in Puerto Rico in the shooting deaths of two transgender women—Serena Angelique Velazquez, 32, and Layla Pelaez Sanchez, 21—whose bodies were found in a burned-out car, according to NBC News. The two men were tracked down through fingerprint evidence found at the scene and cellphone tracing. Velazquez and Sanchez were found in a car in Humacao, a town on the island's east coast, early on April 22; the women had been shot, and the vehicle burned.

Two longstanding gay bars in Washington, D.C., announced they are closing their doors permanently, WUSA9.com reported. DC Eagle, a historic gay leather bar, made the announcement of their closure at a virtual meeting with employees; also, Ziegfeld's/Secrets, a gay club that's been a staple in D.C.'s nightlife for nearly 40 years, has closed its doors for good. In addition, gay bars Town Danceboutique and Cobalt closed their doors in 2018 and 2019 to make way for residential units.

Activist Courtney Brousseau, 22, died three days after being hit by gunfire in San Francisco's Mission District, People.com noted. Brousseau was an avid transit activist who founded a group called Gay for Transit, with a goal of improving public transportation, CBS SF reported. On March 13, Brousseau tweeted that he'd bought some LEGOs as a mental-health boost, and offered to match donations up to $400 to help those struggling during the coronavirus outbreak.

A gay adult performer was heavily criticized after posting videos of a house party in New York City attended by a number of gay men, Metro Weekly reported. Adult film star Ian Frost posted a series of videos to his Instagram story showing more than a dozen people in various states of undress attending the May 4 house party, which even featured a DJ. Frost reportedly posted more than 50 videos from the party, but subsequently deleted his Instagram account after receiving backlash once news spread on Twitter.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill concerning the disclosure of HIV status of the recently deceased, Public Radio Tulsa reported. House Bill 4041 codifies law to require that funeral directors, medical examiners and anyone else handling human remains be given a warning if the deceased happened to be HIV-positive. Advocacy groups asked him to veto it for being unnecessary and discriminatory.

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 2016 guilty verdicts of ex-New Jersey aides Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni—both of whom were charged for their connection in the closure of access lanes from Fort Lee, New Jersey, to the George Washington Bridge, Advocate.com reported. The supposed scheme, dubbed "Bridgegate," was presumed to be an act of political retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing then-Gov. Chris Christie's re-election. Baroni—a former Republican state senator in New Jersey and a gay man—was the Port Authority's deputy executive director at the time of the scandal and was accused of approving the plan before attempting to cover it up; he and Kelly were found guilty in November 2016 of fraud, conspiracy and civil-rights violations for their roles.

The Gambier Village Council made the town the 29th municipality in Ohio to pass its own version of the Ohio Fairness Act—and also became the first to do so via Zoom, Advocate.com noted. Most of the council attended the monthly meeting remotely via Zoom, the Mount Vernon News reported; only Mayor Leeman Kessler, Fiscal Officer Kathi Schonauer and Administrator R.C. Wise attended in person at the village community center.

Lesbian couple Stephanie Mayorga and Paige Escalera—who lived together in Wilmington, North Carolina—have not been seen or heard from since April 15, PinkNews reported. Escalera's sister, Stevie Jenkins, raised concerns about the disappearance after discovering that "every single one" of her sister's friends were abruptly blocked from following her on social media—with the couple's dog and Escalera's phone left behind in their apartment when she vanished. Police are "now looking for a grey 2013 Dodge Dart registered to Escalera with a South Carolina tag." Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Wilmington Police Department at 910-343-3609.

Recognizing the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country's mental health and well-being, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention ( Action Alliance ), which serves as the nation's public and private partnership for suicide prevention, started the Mental Health & Suicide Prevention National Response to COVID-19 ( National Response ), a press release noted. This coordinated response effort—led by Joshua Gordon, MD, PhD, director of the National Institute of Mental Health ( NIMH ), and former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, founder of The Kennedy Forum—brings together influential national organizations to address mental health and prevent suicide. See NationalMentalHealthResponse.org .

In light of the global pandemic brought on by the novel coronavirus, a San Francisco nonprofit that was planning to build the first full-scale LGBT history museum in the country has shelved its plans for the time being, The Bay Area Reporter noted. Instead, it is pivoting its efforts to creating a virtual museum and archival center using its vast holdings collected over the last three-and-a-half decades. It could now be five to 10 years or longer before the concept becomes a brick-and-mortar reality, GLBT Historical Society Executive Director Terry Beswick said.

The Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) announced its endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden for president, a press release noted. HRC's board of directors, composed of 26 community leaders from across the nation, unanimously and enthusiastically voted to endorse Biden. "Vice President Joe Biden is the leader our community and our country need at this moment," said HRC President Alphonso David. "His dedication to advancing LGBTQ equality, even when it was unpopular to do so, has pushed our country and our movement forward.

Also, HRC issued a statement on the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, calling for action to bring his killer to justice and prevent future bias-based crimes. "Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down for being a Black man, period," said HRC President Alphonso David. "This is unconscionable, and we cannot allow racism and our woefully inadequate criminal justice system to lead to another mother losing her son or another community in mourning." The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, and charged them with murder and aggravated assault. The pair reportedly claimed they were trying to make a citizen's arrest because they suspected Arbery, who was actually jogging, was a burglar.

Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals at Dallas on behalf of Gustavo Hinojosa, asking the court to recognize his long-term committed relationship with partner Steve Paul LaFredo as a common-law marriage, as defined by a Texas law, a press release stated. "Gustavo and LaFredo held themselves out as a committed couple and did as much as was possible under then-Texas law to establish their commitment to each other after they moved to Texas in 2005," Lambda Legal Senior Staff Attorney Shelly Skeen said, in part. Lambda Legal's brief is at https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/hinojosa_tx_20200505_amicus-brief.

In New Jersey, Trenton Councilwoman Robin Vaughn—facing calls to resign over a homophobic rant directed at the capital city's mayor—apologized, NBC News noted. In a coronavirus conference call on May 2, Vaughn called Reed Gusciora, Trenton's first openly gay mayor, a "b—ch-ass" and a "pedophile." She also accused another city official of performing a sex act on the mayor. Vaughn's remarks came after Gusciora challenged her over remarks she made on social media about the city's "do-nothing" nonprofit organizations.

The LGBTQ+ community faces special challenges during the COVID-19 crisis, and these challenges are the focus of a series of virtual town halls in the Los Angeles area, Public News Service noted. Nicole Kristal, president of the group Still Bisexual, aid the stay-at-home lockdowns are especially tough on LBGTQ+ teens. The meeting for Monterey County will be May 14 and Fresno County on May 26; dates will be added soon for Los Angeles and Shasta counties. Registration and more information is available at CaliforniaLGBTQhealth.org .

Former President Barack Obama will be holding a televised graduation event for the high school class of 2020, most of whom are missing their in-person graduations due to the coronavirus pandemic, ABC News reported. "Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020" will be a one-hour multimedia event featuring several guests, and it will air on Saturday, May 16, on ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC as well as other broadcast and digital streaming partners. Separately, Barack and Michelle Obama will be hosting a virtual commencement celebration in June for the class of 2020. President Obama will also share a message for HBCU ( historically Black college and university ) students at a virtual event in May.

Bill Clinton is to executive-produce a documentary series about the American presidency for History, Deadline noted. The 42nd president of the United States becomes the latest former commander-in-chief to turn to television, following in the footsteps of Barack Obama. The untitled project will look at the history of the position as well as the struggles that presidents have gone through. Clinton is also likely to be featured on camera.

Actress/humanitarian Angelina Jolie lobbied Congress to increase food assistance to families across the country as coronavirus keeps millions in their homes and children out of schools, where many receive free meals, USA Today noted. The Academy Award winner—known for her work internationally with refugees and conservation and human-rights groups—wrote a letter to top congressional leaders asking that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ( SNAP ) benefits be increased to help children who she says are going hungry due to closure of schools and their parents being out of work.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the window for survivors of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits under the New York Child Victims Act has been extended an additional five months, to Jan. 14, 2021, a press release from Jeff Anderson & Associates PA announced. The act allows survivors of child sexual abuse in New York an opportunity to take legal action for the abuse they suffered—but only for a limited time. The legislative "window" to file cases was set to expire Aug. 13, 2020.

A Grindr meet-up in Manhattan took an unexpected turn when a man turned a gun on his date and robbed him of $1,000, Queerty noted, citing The New York Post. A 33-year-old man staying at the Sheraton's Four Points in Manhattan met up with a potential date via Grindr. When the couple returned to his room, his date pulled a gun on him. The assailant then pistol-whipped the man before robbing him of the aforementioned cash, his cell phone, and a computer tablet.

In Florida, Tampa Pride is being postponed again—this time, to 2021, a press release noted. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event had been moved from March 28 to May 30; it's now slated for Saturday, March 27, 2021. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said, ""While we wish we could be celebrating Tampa Pride in person, our community will still be celebrating together in spirit—and with even more pride, passion, and love for each other than ever before. In a time that feels heavy for many, I know that our Tampa Pride community will continue uplifting others and spreading kindness, positivity, and love even from a distance."

Mary Pratt—believed to be the last surviving member of the original 1943 Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League—died at 101, NBC News noted. Pratt also pitched for the Kenosha Comets in the AAGPBL, which was the inspiration for the 1992 hit movie A League of Their Own, which is about the all-female professional baseball league started in the Midwest during World War II.

The Michigan City, Indiana, restaurant Fiddlehead is now offering Dragside Pickup, LGBTQ Nation noted. Owner Aaron O'Reilly, a gay man, says the creative way to serve customers isn't just a gimmick to increase sales. "This is for fun. This is to put a smile on your face. This is to show that better days are ahead for all of us," he said. The dinner and small personalized show are complete with face coverings, gloves and proper social distancing.


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