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National roundup: Trans bill blocked, student killed, Chelsea Manning
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2017-09-20

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U.S. Senate Republican leaders blocked a bipartisan amendment to the annual defense bill that would have stopped the Pentagon from implementing the bulk of President Trump's ban on transgender service members, Metro Weekly reported. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put the kibbosh on the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, deciding not to file for cloture. As written, the amendment—sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ( D-N.Y. ) and Sen. Susan Collins ( R-Maine )—would have barred the Pentagon from forcibly discharging qualified service members from the Armed Forces based solely on their gender identity.

Georgia Tech police shot and killed the president of the Pride Alliance student group in full view of dorm residents, The Washington Post reported. Police encountered Scout Schultz—a 21-year-old computer engineering student who identified as neither male nor female—in a parking lot outside the dorms after someone called 911 to report "a person with a knife and a gun." In a statement, Pride Alliance called its late president the "driving force" behind the group for the past two years. Schultz's mother said police should not have used lethal force, adding that Schultz had numerous medical issues, suffered from depression and had attempted suicide two years ago, according to BBC.com .

The Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School announced that Chelsea Manning would be one of its visiting fellows—but less than two days later, the school's dean withdrew the invitation, NPR reported. Manning—a 29-year-old transgender woman who was recently released from a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence—was convicted of leaking classified information. ( President Obama commuted her sentence. ) After Manning was announced Michael Morell, former deputy director and acting director of the CIA, resigned his senior fellowship post at Harvard; also, CIA Director Mike Pompeo canceled an appearance at the school.

The California Legislature approved a bill that would help ensure that transgender people are recognized for who they are while incarcerated and would increase their likelihood of successful re-entry into society on release, an Equality California press release noted. Senate Bill ( SB ) 310, by Sen. Toni Atkins ( D-San Diego ), would require corrections officials to use the new name of a transgender person who obtains a name change, and to list the prior name only as an alias.

A Philadelphia judge dismissed all charges against Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian, who was involved in a train derailment in Port Richmond that killed eight passengers and injured about 200 others, according to Philadelphia Gay News. On Sept. 12, Municipal Court Judge Thomas F. Gehret dismissed all charges against Bostian, who is gay. Gehret cited a lack of evidence that Bostian acted with "criminal negligence." Instead, the judge said the 2015 derailment was an accident rather than a crime.

Equality Forum will hold its 25th-anniversary celebration Oct. 1 at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, a press release noted. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey will receive the 22nd Annual International Role Model Award while AIDS activist Peter Staley will receive the Frank Kameny Award. See https://equalityforum.com/.

Also in Philadelphia, Common Pleas Court Judge Diana L. Anhalt cleared the way for a December murder trial for Charles N. Sargent, who stands accused of stabbing to death trans woman Diamond Williams and then dismembering her corpse with an axe, according to Philadelphia Gay News. In addition to the 2013 murder, Sargent is charged with possessing an instrument of crime, terroristic threats, abuse of a corpse and related offenses. Sargent remains incarcerated at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in northeast Philadelphia.

The leadership of the National Black Justice Coalition ( NBJC ), an LGBT organization, announced that David J. Johns assumed the role of executive director as of Sept. 1, a press release noted. In 2013, Johns was appointed as the first executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans by President Barack H. Obama and served until the last day of the Obama Administration in January 2017. Johns succeeds Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, who led NBJC for eight years; she will continue her role as CEO of NBJC, and focus on board development, infrastructure and long-term sustainability.

PFLAG National named Jaime M. Grant, Ph. D. as its new executive director, a press release noted. Grant has been active in feminist and LGBTQ movements for three decades, serving previously as the policy institute director at The National LGBTQ Task Force, and as founding executive director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College. PFLAG National was founded in 1972, and now has more than 200,000 members and supporters, with nearly 400 chapters nationwide.

Sen. Bernie Sanders ( I-Vermont ) unveiled his single-payer health-care plan to cheers and a brief "Medicare for all" chant from supporters, TheHill.com reported. Nine Senate Democrats joined Sanders for the unveiling, including two possible presidential candidates, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker ( New Jersey ) and Kirsten Gillibrand ( New York ), attending. "The American people want to know what we're going to do to fix a dysfunctional healthcare system, which costs us twice as much" per person as any other country, Sanders said at the opening of the press conference.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ( R-Kentucky ) and his leadership team are seriously considering voting on a bill that would scale back the federal government's role in the health care system and instead provide block grants to states, Politico reported. However, groups such as the Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) oppose the so-called Cassidy-Graham measure ( written by Sens. Lindsey Graham ( R-South Carolina ) and Bill Cassidy ( R-Louisiana ) ). In a press release, HRC President Chad Griffin said "The Cassidy-Graham bill is yet another drafted-in-secret, cynical legislative ploy to rip health care away from millions of Americans. Like its predecessors, this bill would undermine health care for millions of Americans and have a disproportionate impact on low-income senior citizens, women, children, LGBTQ people and people living with HIV."

Equality Virginia Advocates ( EVA ), the political action arm of Equality Virginia, is calling on the political action committees of various pro-business groups not to endorse Republican Attorney General candidate John Adams in his bid to unseat AG Mark Herring, Metro Weekly reported. In a letter to three political action committees, EVA argued that Adams' on-the-record statements not only opposing marriage equality but LGBTQ rights in general are inconsistent with the groups' supposed claims of supporting candidates that will foster a "pro-business" environment.

A gay couple denied the chance to have a baby using a surrogate challenged a Utah law's reference to opposite-sex parents in a case that illustrates the legal complications LGBT couples can face when starting families amid a national patchwork of surrogacy laws, a U.S. News & World Report item stated. The case came before the Utah Supreme Court after a judge refused to approve the couple's surrogacy agreement. The judge cited references to a mother in the law's requirement that prospective parents prove a woman can't have children without health serious risk before they turn to surrogacy.

The Miss Montana USA pageant welcomed its first-ever openly transgender contestant, according to NewNowNext.com . The contestant, Anita Green, a 26-year-old from Missoula, is no stranger to making history. In 2016, she broke down barriers by becoming the first transgender delegate from Montana after being elected to cast her vote for Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention. Kylan Arianna Wenzel is the only other trans woman to have competed for Miss USA at the state level, as a contestant in California in 2013.

The pasta company Barilla—which has an anti-LGBT history that it has attempted to change in recent years—has opened a restarant on the USC ( University of Southern California ) campus, LA Weekly noted. In 2013, the president of Barilla went on an Italian radio program and stated that he wouldn't include same-sex couples in his company's commercials because he preferred "traditional" family structures. After a lot of backlash, Barilla issued two public apologies from the president and went on a "listening tour"; the company also donated funds to gay-rights causes and participated in Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index—earning perfect scores in 2015-17.

GLAAD issued a press release applauding The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology's decision to place Stanford University research claiming artificial intelligence ( AI ) could determine a person's sexual orientation using facial recognition under an ethical review. "Academic freedom is a right of research professionals, but hyperbolic research claims around being LGBTQ can put people in harm's way," said Jim Halloran, GLAAD's chief digital officer. GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis and HRC President Chad Griffin sent a letter to Dr. Marc Tessier-Lavigne, the president of Stanford University, requesting a response to the research.

Nicholas D. Forte—a South Philadelphia gay man who was assaulted outside the nightclub Voyeur four years ago—recently settled his civil suit against the venue, Philadelphia Gay News ( PGN ) reported. Forte, a former PGN advertising representative, filed suit against Voyeur in November 2015, seeking more than $50,000 in damages. ( His medical expenses alone exceeded $100,000, according to court records. ) Forte's injuries ( inflicted by Miguel Maldonado and Matthew Morris ) included a broken eye socket, a broken nose, a broken rib and multiple facial fractures.

Philadelphia Gay News Publisher Mark Segal will receive the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association's ( PNA's ) Ben Franklin Award on Nov. 2 at the association's conference, according to Business Wire. The association said, "The Benjamin Franklin Award recognizes individuals who have performed an outstanding service to his/her newspaper, to the news media industry in general, to his/her local community, or to the PNA that reflected positively on the news media industry in Pennsylvania."

In New Mexico, members of the Santa Fe Human Rights Alliance picked City Councilor Ron Trujillo as the grand marshal of the Pride parade after saying openly gay Mayor Javier Gonzales deserted them, The Sante Fe New Mexican noted. ( Trujillo is running for mayor next year. ) "After the first year, it was almost like the mayor was MIA," Richard Brethour-Bell, president of the group, said. In a statement, Gonzales disputed the organization's assertions that he had ignored them and laid out some of the things he has done as mayor for the LGBT community.

A secular temple devoted to the iconic writer Oscar Wilde opened in the basement of a New York church, crammed with devotional-style religious art, the UK Telegraph noted. Those involved in the project said it had been 20 years in the making—but with transgender rights under threat from President Donald Trump's administration and gays feeling more discrimination, it was more timely than ever. Conceived by artists David McDermott and Peter McGough at The Church of the Village, the space will be open to members of the public five days a week and available for private ceremonies, including weddings.

In West Virginia, Clay County Schools launched an investigation after allegations of a bus driver using a gay slur when referring to a student, WVMetroNews.com reported. Clay County Superintendent Joe Paxton said he learned of the incident when a high school reported it to the Clay County Board of Education. In part, he said in a statement, "As required in the Code of Conduct, the school system expects all of our employees to maintain a safe and healthy environment, free from harassment, intimidation, bullying, and free from bias and discrimination."

U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto revoked the $5 million bail of Martin Shkreli, the infamous former hedge-fund manager convicted of defrauding investors, after prosecutors complained that his out-of-court antics posed a danger to the community, according to The Washington Post. While awaiting sentencing, Shkreli has harassed women online, prosecutors argued, and even offered his Facebook followers $5,000 to grab a strand of Hillary Clinton's hair during her book tour. Shkreli, who faces up to 20 years in prison for securities fraud, apologized in writing.

The TV network History has given the green light to The Breach: Inside The Impeachment of Bill Clinton, a six-part scripted drama series from R.J. Cutler based on Peter Baker's bestseller The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton, Deadline noted. FremantleMedia North America will produce in association with A+E Studios. Producer/director Ryan Murphy had previously announced the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal as the subject of the fourth installment in his American Crime Story franchise for FX.

A man who claims to have married his computer in New Mexico has sued the state of Alabama for refusing to recognize the marriage, AL.com reported. This is only the latest in a long string of such lawsuits filed by Chris Sevier, who describes his sexual orientation as "machinist." Sevier has filed similar lawsuits in Texas and Utah and filed a suit in Colorado seeking to force a baker to make a wedding cake for him and his computer "bride."

Meghan McCain is exiting Fox News, TheWrap noted. The conservative commenter had been a Fox News contributor since July 2015; last November, she was named permanent co-host of afternoon chat series Outnumbered. McCain, whose father is Sen. John McCain, took to Twitter to say goodbye and express appreciation for her stint.

Former White House communications Director Anthony Scaramucci hosted TMZ on TV, the celebrity news-gossip program, on Sept. 18, USA Today noted. He also co-hosted TMZ Live with Harvey Levin, alongside TMZ founder Levin. "I'm really grateful to Harvey Levin and the entire TMZ family for this vote of confidence," Scaramucci said in the statement issued before he hosted.

Comedian Bill Cosby's retrial on sexual assault charges will begin on April 2 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, according to Reuters. Cosby's first trial ended in a mistrial in June after a jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict after deliberating more than 50 hours. Cosby, 80, is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a former administrator with the women's basketball team at his alma mater, Temple University, in 2004.

Sports commentator Clay Travis is drawing criticism after making controversial remarks to a female CNN anchor on live television, causing the host to abruptly end the interview, The Tennesseean reported. "I'm a First Amendment absolutist," Travis said while speaking to CNN host Brooke Baldwin. "I believe in only two things completely. The First Amendment, and boobs." Baldwin later shut down the interview a few minutes after Travis uttered the sentence.

Adult-film star Cory Chase said that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz ( R-Texas ) "should have paid" for the video of her film Moms Bang Teens 20, going so far as to accuse the senator of piracy, TheWrap noted. The video was "liked" by the Texas senator's official Twitter account—much to Cruz's embarrassment and the rest of the world's amusement.


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