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National roundup: FBI finding, Trevor Project, Cleveland action, Obergefell
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2016-07-19

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U.S. law-enforcement officials have said that the FBI has found no evidence so far that Omar Mateen—who killed 49 people and wounded more than 53 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida—chose the popular establishment because of its gay clientele, The Washington Post reported. "While there can be no denying the significant impact on the gay community, the investigation hasn't revealed that he targeted Pulse because it was a gay club," a U.S. law enforcement official said. The FBI's assessment is based on interviews and an examination of his computer and other electronic media. Among other things, the FBI has been unable to verify that Mateen used gay dating apps and instead has found evidence that Mateen was cheating on his wife with other women. Still, some maintain they had contact with Mateen on two gay dating apps, Grindr and Jack'd, and stand by their original claims.

The Trevor Project has taken a stance that conversion therapy is a harmful practice and should be banned on a national scale, a press release stated. "A preponderance of evidence shows that conversion therapy poses real health risks to LGBTQ youth, including depression, shame, decreased self-esteem, social withdrawal, substance abuse, risky behavior, and suicidal ideation. We urge all participants involved in deciding party platforms to use science to drive decision-making, and to ensure no platform policy is designed to hurt, discriminate or take away basic liberties and freedoms for LGBT people," said Abbe Land, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project.

Before the Republican National Convention hits town, the Cleveland City Council, on July 13, passed legislation allowing transgender people to choose which restroom, shower or locker room aligns with their gender identity, Cleveland.com reported. The measure was introduced in 2013 as part of a package of ordinances that update the city's existing anti-discrimination laws to include the transgender community. The new ordinance also does not require businesses to incur any costs to build separate facilities or change signs on restrooms.

A year after the U.S. Supreme Court used an Ohio case to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, the case's plaintiff appeared before Congress to denounce a legislative effort he contended would undermine those rights, Cleveland.com reported. Backers of the bill dubbed the "First Amendment Defense Act" say it would protect religious universities policies' on same sex marriage, and ensure that faith-based agencies can insist that children they put up for adoption "need both a father and mother." However, at a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, Jim Obergefell said the legislation would "authorize sweeping, taxpayer-funded discrimination."

NBC News reported that Black trans woman Deeniquia Dodds was shot in Washington, D.C., on the fourth of July, Autostraddle noted. Dodds, known as "Dee Dee" to her friends, was taken to the hospital, where she was kept alive on life support for 10 days before passing away. Dodds became at least the 15th trans person murdered in the United States this year.

Sharmus Outlaw—a Washington, D.C.-based advocate for transgender and sex-worker rights and people with HIV/AIDS in the United States and internationally for more than 25 years—died July 7 at age 50 at a hospice in Arlington, Virginia, from complications associated with lymphoma, The Washington Blade reported. Outlaw most recently served as a national policy advocate focusing on transgender rights and healthcare access for the Best Practices Policy Project. She also served as the U.S. representative for the Program Advisory Committee of the Red Umbrella Fund, an Amsterdam-based international fund that assists sex worker rights organizations.

In Michigan, Darnell Jones—vice president of the Gender Identity Network Alliance—died from cancer-related complications, OaklandCounty115.com reported. Jones was a pharmacist by day and an activist at night, helping transgender individuals through the transitioning process with medications and support. Jones was also founder of Transcend the Binary, a group committed to helping individuals through their transition process with access to holistic care.

A gay Black man, 22-year-old Michael George Smith Jr., recently took his own life by hanging himself in Atlanta's Piedmont Park, according to NewNowNext. Just 30 minutes before his death, Smith ( as London Jermaine ) took to Facebook to share his last words: "I see y'all in the next life … Father forgive me." Friends confirmed that he was a student at Georgia Tech University, where he was studying computer science. Smith was openly gay and hoped to be an actor and model.

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly LGBT mayor of a major U.S. city, will be the keynote speaker at a ceremony in Philadelphia to unveil a historic marker at the home of the late Barbara Gittings, a leading LGBT-rights activist from the early days of the movement until her death in 2007, The Dallas Voice reported. The Barbara Gittings Residence Historic Marker Dedication ceremony is set for Tuesday, July 26, at the home Gittings shared with her partner, Kay Lahusen.

Maryland's highest court has recognized new rights for separated same-sex parents, The Baltimore Sun reported. The Court of Appeals ruled that people who have raised children but do not have a biological or adoptive relationship with a child can still be recognized as their legal parents; the ruling covers both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The case concerned Michael Conover, a transgender man, and his ex-wife Brittany Eckel.

Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund ( TLDEF ) announced the appointment of Jillian T. Weiss as its new executive director, a press release stated. Weiss is a nationally recognized transgender-rights attorney and law professor who brings three decades of legal experience to the post. Weiss succeeds Michael Silverman, who founded the organization in 2003.

The president of the conservative LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans says Donald Trump is "the most pro-gay nominee this party has ever had"—but the group is holding off on an endorsement, TheWrap noted. Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, noted Trump's support of the gay community following the Orlando shooting last month, and Trump's claim that he's better on gay issues than his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. However, Angelo has serious problems with the company Trump keeps.

A Christian conservative group is pushing for a referendum in Maine that would repeal the state's 11-year-old law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, On Top Magazine reported. Equal Rights, not Special Rights is helmed by Mike Heath, who, as head of the Maine Family Policy Council, worked to repeal Maine's gay-inclusive marriage law. The group said that it wants to restore the United States to its former greatness by excluding same-sex couples from marriage and outlawing gay sex.

Pro-LGBT group One Iowa will co-present the Iowa LGBT Rural Summit with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Drake University Agricultural Law Center on Thursday, Aug. 18, at Drake University's Parents Hall. The summit is part of the National LGBT Rural Summit Series, a series of events aimed at sparking conversation about LGBT people's lives in rural American communities and connecting LGBT people with valuable programs and services. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will present keynote remarks.

Kathryn Knott was released from prison after serving five months for her role in assaulting a gay couple in Center City two years ago, PhillyVoice.com reported. Judge Roxanne Covington granted a motion for parole, according to court documents. Knott, 25, of Upper Southampton, Bucks County, served the minimum amount of prison time on her sentence. Knott was among three defendants charged with beating Andrew Haught and Zachary Hesse as the couple walked through Center City on Sept. 11, 2014.

Peter Thiel, the openly gay co-founder of PayPal, was on the list of speakers Donald Trump released for the Republican National Convention ( RNC ), The Huffington Post noted. ( Thiel was outed against his will by Gawker, resulting in a legal drama in which he privately funded a separate suit against the site that led to its bankruptcy. ) Steve Fong, a little-known official with the pro-gay rights group Log Cabin Republicans, gave a one-minute speech, to little fanfare, in 1996; openly gay Rep. Jim Kolbe spoke at the RNC in 2000.

The Scotch Plains-Fanwood school district of Union County, New Jersey, will pay $110,000 to a teacher it fired in 2014 after parents of students learned he was gay and started regularly harassing him, NewNowNext.com noted. Matthew Richards, 29, worked as a third-grade teacher at William J. McGinn Elementary school as a maternity leave replacement beginning in 2011, and was hired on staff the following year. However, Richards' lawsuit claimed that a group of parents who learned Richards married his same-sex partner in January 2014 had launched a coordinated attack in order to get him fired.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's well-known candor was on display as she called Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump "a faker," CNN noted. She said, "He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego. ... How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns? The press seems to be very gentle with him on that." Trump fired back on social media, posting, "Justice Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court has embarrassed all by making very dumb political statements about me. Her mind is shot—resign!" Ginsburg later expressed regret for the statement.

The California State Board of Education unanimously voted to adopt a new history-social science framework, an Equality California press release noted. The framework sets out guidelines for K-12 schools to implement content standards for history and social-science instruction. Among the many changes made to the framework will be that LGBT people and their contributions to California and U.S. history are accurately represented for the first time.

Campaign for Accountability ( CfA ) released a new report, "Documenting Discrimination," that shows how national right-wing religious groups—working through smaller local groups—are spearheading the movement to legalize discrimination against LGBT individuals through Religious Freedom Restoration Act ( RFRA ) legislation, a press release stated. See http://campaignforaccountability.org/cfa-releases-report-showing-state-anti-lgbt-laws-coordinated-at-national-level.

Infamous Kentucky clerk Kim Davis' attorneys with Liberty Counsel told WKYT the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Davis' motion to drop her appeals, ending more than year of court battles. Davis' attorney said last month her appeal was no longer necessary because a new law accomodates her religious convictions. That bill, SB 216, removes the requirement for county clerks' names to be on marriage licenses in Kentucky. The bill passed unanimously by the legislature and was signed by Gov. Matt Bevin in April; it went into effect July 15.

Duke University's opponent for game two of its fall basketball tournament schedule is "To Be Announced" because of North Carolina's anti-LGBT law HB2, according to LGBTQ Nation. The State University of New York at Albany refused to play in N.C. at the behest of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who issued an executive order banning state-funded travel to that state and Mississippi as a protest against anti-LGBTQ laws. Although the college basketball tournament schedule had been set for about a year, this means the ball is now in the court of the Hall of Fame, which suddenly has to find another school to play in North Carolina for its two guaranteed home games.

A men's clothing store is closing its last two outposts in the country, DNAInfo noted. Universal Gear in New York City will shutter by Aug. 14, a manager at the store confirmed. The Hell's Kitchen and a Washington D.C. locations are the company's last two remaining stores, the Washington Blade reported. Gay D.C. businessman David Franco recently announced that he and his business partners are closing both stores. At one point, the store was in several other cities, including Chicago and Atlanta.

In North Carolina, the Gay Men's Chorus of Charlotte spent a recent afternoon serenading random shoppers, moving through the mall and stopping when they spotted someone they felt looked in need of a song, People noted. The men were taking part in #KINDNESSMatters, a grassroots social-media movement born in Charlotte that asks people to perform acts of kindness, document them and challenge others to do the same. The group's repertoire was carefully chosen for the cause and included Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" and Eric Clapton's "Change the World."

In another Zika-related development, the first case of female-to-male sexual transmission of the Zika virus has occurred, in New York City, CNN reported. Up until now, it was thought that the only likely route of sexual transmission was male-to-female or male-to-male. The CDC now urges female sexual partners of pregnant women to use barrier methods every time they have sex if they live in or have recently returned to an area with active Zika transmission.

Kalyn Chapman James, the first Black woman to win the Miss Alabama title, told Inside Edition that she regretted calling Dallas sniper Micah Johnson "a martyr" in a video, a press release stated. Still, James—who was crowned the first Black Miss Alabama in 1993—said the video will remain. James was suspended from her job as TV host at Florida station WPBT-2 following the controversy.


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