Jerusalem’s Chief Rabbi Asks For Removal of Rainbow Flags Before Pride

Shortly before the Jerusalem Pride events this week, Jerusalem’s Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern wrote a letter to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. According to The Jerusalem Post, Stern wrote that it “greatly saddened” him that event was happening at all and asked that the gay Pride flags that were lining the streets of the parade be removed near two major Jerusalem synagogues.

“Although it has already been made clear to us that it is impossible to prevent this march,” Stern wrote, “one request we do have is that the flags not be flown on King George Street on the section by the Great Synagogue and the Yeshurun Synagogue which are considered to be symbols of the holiness of Jerusalem.”

LGBTQ rights have been a significant topic in Israel over the last month. Specifically, LGBTQ Israelis have been protesting a passed law that denies state-supported surrogacy to gay couples. Chief Rabbi Stern led the anti-LGBTQ opinion on this matter, saying that children born to same-sex couples would have “wretched” lives.

Afterward, 200 rabbis came out in support of Stern’s opinion with a signed letter that described gay people as “perverts.” They also wrote that Rabbi Stern “came out in defense of the children of Israel who will become wretched if they are not adopted by normative families.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu also originally supported same-sex surrogacy, but flip-flopped on the issue and received backlash from the LGBTQ community.

Image via Getty

These Gay Dads Are Fighting a Bill Allowing Anti-LGBTQ Discrimination in Adoption

After being turned away by three foster care agencies in two states, Chris Phippin and his husband, C.J., were almost ready to give up.

Two years ago the couple set up meetings with two local agencies in Texas, where they lived at the time. One foster care agency made it clear in a phone call that they would not be willing to work with prospective gay parents. The other agency came to their home for a face-to-face interview, and a representative asked if the “wife of the house” was available. Phippin explained there was no wife.

Although Phippin says the representative kept the conversation “short and sweet” — promising to email with more information — the couple got an email later that day informing them that the agency didn’t feel their household was a “good fit” for a child.

They didn’t believe that children raised by gay couples have what they “need to be productive and successful in life,” Phippin recalls.

The pair wondered if they were “setting themselves up for failure.”

“We’ve both been through rejection,” Phippin says over the phone. “Coming out and being openly gay, everyone kind deals with rejection at some point or another. We said, ‘Let’s put a pause on this.’”

Phippin’s job, however, relocated them to Tennessee and the couple decided to try again months later. Although his mother warned him that it was still the Bible Belt, he hoped things would be different. At first, they weren’t. The first foster care agency he reached out to claimed the Phippins “did not fit the profile” of what they were looking for in forever homes for children.

Although representatives never stated the refusal was motivated by the couple’s sexual orientation, Phippin had been rejected enough times by this point to understand what those words really meant. After all, he made a decent living, was in good health, owned his home, and had no other kids.

“I knew that it couldn’t be any other things,” he says. “It could only be one thing.”

The Phippins were finally accepted by a foster care placing agency on their fourth try, and through that program, the couple later adopted their sons Chase and Sheldon — who recently turned seven and nine, respectively. In a video released last week by Human Rights Watch, Phippin warns that the discrimination they experienced could prevent children from being placed in loving, happy homes like theirs.

“Though the whole process, the best moment was when we witnessed both of them at individual times taking a sigh of relief taking a sigh of relief that they never had to worry about where they were going to lay their head at night,” Phippin says.

It may be harder, however, for same-sex couples to adopt if Republicans successfully enact legislation which passed the House Appropriations Committee last week. Introduced by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), it prohibits state government agencies from taking action “against a child welfare service provider based on the provider’s religious or moral beliefs.”

For example, if California — one of just three states to explicitly ban all forms of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in adoption — were to strip the license of a foster care agency for denying placement to a same-sex couple, the state could face a 15 percent reduction in federal funding for child welfare programs.

Critics of the bill — known as the Aderholt amendment — say its passage would permit adoption and foster care centers to discriminate against not only LGBTQ couples but any potential family that doesn’t align with the agency’s faith beliefs. Religious entities like Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services could turn away single parents, divorcees, Muslims, interfaith families, or interracial couples.

In the case of Jamie McGonnigal, the amendment means his newborn son might have different parents.

McGonnigal and his husband, Sean Carlson, live in Washington, D.C. but fostered their child through Children’s Choice, a Baptist adoption agency in Maryland. Because Maryland is one of five states prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (but not gender identity) in child placing centers, refusing the couple based on their identity would be illegal.

“If this law were to be passed and they were to decide that they didn’t want to serve LGBTQ couples,” he tells INTO over the phone, “this little boy that’s in my arms right now might very well not be placed with us simply because some people decided that because we’re gay, that we should not be parents.”

“I would feel like the rug was ripped out from under me and that all the work that we have done to be accepted as a family would be ignored,” McGonnigal adds.

Despite impact they have on families like McGonnigal’s, proposals like the Aderholdt amendment have become more common at the state level in recent years. Just this year the states of Oklahoma and Kansas both passed legislation permitting placement agencies to slam the door on LGBTQ couples.

Seven other states have similar laws on the books: Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia.

Supporters of religious liberty adoption laws say these protections are necessary to ensure that child placement centers aren’t forced to violate their faith beliefs. Even prior to the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage equality in June 2015, agencies in California, Illinois and Washington, D.C. shut down to avoid placing children in same-sex households.

Aderholt has claimed his intention is not to discriminate but to ensure these centers can continue assisting children in need. More than 400,000 children in the U.S await placement every single day.

As co-chairman of the House Coalition on Adoption, my goal was straightforward:  to encourage states to include all experienced and licensed child welfare agencies so that children are placed in caring, loving homes where they can thrive,” he says in a statement. “We need more support for these families and children in crisis, not less.”

Statistics show the shutdown of religious services in the states cited above didn’t have an impact on overall rates of adoption and foster care in those states.

When Catholic Charities of Boston closed up shop in 2006, the number of adoptions increased by 12 percent over the next three years, as the Human Rights Campaign reports. Between the years of 2007 and 2009, nearly half of children (47 percent) in need of homes were placed within a year. The rate from 2004 to 2006 was significantly lower — at 42 percent.

Critics of the Aderholt amendment say these proposals will actually have the opposite effect — dramatically lowering the pool of potential families. LGBTQ couples are seven times as likely as heterosexuals to provide a home to a child in need, according to research from UCLA’s The Williams Institute.

Meanwhile, other reports show that many as one-fifth of U.S. same-sex households have sought adoption or foster care services.

Although Phippin and his husband had the option of seeking out a surrogate, he claims same-sex couples understand the plight children in the foster system face — and that spoke to him personally as a gay man. Phippin himself was adopted. His mother left when he was four years old. His father, who was in the Marine corps at the time she left, came home to find him abandoned.

But two years later his father started dating a woman who later adopted Phippin as her son.

“We, as a community, have faced a lot of challenges in our lives and we’ve overcome it,” he claims. “We know what it feels like to feel rejected and to feel alone, and I think that we can relate to these children so much more because we’ve been in their shoes, just in a different situation.”

In seeking out foster services, the couple specifically worked with children who have experienced extreme trauma. When Chase and Sheldon first came to them two years ago, the boys had been through 11 homes in 756 days.

Phippin remembers them as “unruly kids.” “Nobody could handle them,” he says.

That’s why LGBTQ couples are fighting back against the Aderholt amendment by sharing their stories. Although critics of same-sex adoption claim two men or two women aren’t fit to be parents, the Phippins’ home was the only household Chase and Sheldon had thrived in after a dozen attempts. Within three months, the boys were calling their new foster parents “Dad” and “Daddy.”

In fact, when C.J. went to file his name change paperwork to adopt his husband’s last name, Chase and Sheldon asked if they could change theirs, too.

“These two little boys, we didn’t choose them,” Phippin says. “They chose us.”

In addition to the Human Rights Watch video featuring Phippin’s story, McGonnigal started a Care2.org petition blasting the anti-LGBTQ amendment. In an appeal signed more than 30,000 times, he claims children in foster care and adoption agencies “are waiting an average of two years to be placed in a home.”

“We need more parental candidates, not fewer,” McGonnigal writes. “There’s no rational reason for this rule in the first place, which is why we’re asking Rep. Aderholt to pull his amendment.”

If Aderholt came over to dinner at his house, McGonnigal claims the lawmaker would see their family is no different than his.

“I think he would see the love that we have for our son,” he tells INTO. “I think he would see our beautiful little boy and the happiness that we have here. We’d show him this wall full of Polaroids that we have in our kitchen of people who have come to visit this little guy. There’s hundreds of pictures — and so much love. There’s so much love.”

Kim Davis’ Lawyers Threaten Lawsuit Against Planet Fitness Over Trans Locker Room Policy

Planet Fitness is facing down a pair of lawsuits over its trans-affirming locker room policy, one on behalf of Kim Davis’ lawyers.

Liberty Counsel, which represented the Kentucky clerk after she was jailed for denying marriage licenses to gay couples, sent a letter earlier this month challenging the national gym chain’s “No Judgment Policy.” Their client, “Mrs. H.,” claims Planet Fitness Leesburg deactivated her membership after she complained about the presence of a transgender woman in the locker room.

In the complaint, Liberty Counsel claims the trans individual — who is misgendered throughout the account — “exposed his naked body” to women in the changing area. The petition alleges there was an incident in which the transgender woman “[pretended] to apply makeup” for over an hour.

The anti-LGBTQ law firm thusly concludes that Planet Fitness’ inclusive guidelines amount to consumer fraud.

“Planet Fitness’s policy of allowing men into women’s facilities is not represented in its membership contracts; nor next to its restrooms/lockers; nor are we aware of a disclaimer anywhere within the franchise locations, nor in any literature made readily available to its members,” its complaint claims.

“This policy is contrary to common decency and expectations of privacy,” Liberty Counsel adds. “It does not respect the privacy rights of either men or women.”

In addition to reinstating the plaintiff’s membership, Liberty Counsel has demanded Planet Fitness either rescind the policy or post notices in locker rooms and membership contracts advertising it to customers: “Planet Fitness permits men to use women’s lockers and restrooms, and women to use men’s lockers and restrooms. There is no expectation of sex-based privacy within Planet Fitness facilities.”

Liberty Counsel urges resolution of the case by the end of July — or it threatens to pursue legal action.

While Liberty Counsel is a far-right law firm known for filing frivolous lawsuits to push its anti-LGBTQ agenda, the hate group’s case has an easier path to the courtroom following a Thursday decision by Michigan’s Second District Court of Appeals. In an unpublished opinion, judges claim a similar case from 2015 may likewise constitute a violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act (MCPA).

Yvette Cormier’s membership was revoked three years ago after she warned other women working out at a Midland County gym there was a “man” in the locker room. The customer, who was 48 at the time of the incident, says she was not made aware of the policy before signing up.

In addition to alleging a violation of privacy, Cormier claims she experienced “embarrassment, humiliation, severe emotional distress, and damage to her reputation” as a result of the policy, as ThinkProgress reported.

Midland County Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Beale threw out the lawsuit in 2016, claiming she was not harmed by the policy. The Second District Court came to the same conclusion last year, but in April, the Michigan Supreme Court requested appeals judges give the case another look.

In overturning its earlier ruling, the appeals court notably decline to use the term transgender.

Judges Colleen A. O’Brien, Deborah A. Servitto, and Cynthia Diane Stephens claim that Cormier “strongly preferred a locker room and a restroom in which individuals who are assigned biologically male are not present” in their seven-page decision. The panel of justices further uses phrases like “men who self-identify as women,” “male individual,” and “assigned men.”

Based on those assertions, they say Cormier has standing to pursue allegations of consumer fraud.

“[A] reasonable inference arises from plaintiff’s allegations that defendants’ failure to inform her of the unwritten self-identification policy concerning locker rooms and restrooms affected her decision to join the gym,” the appeals bench claims.

As the case heads back to the Midland County Circuit Court for reconsideration, the plaintiff’s lawyers believe they will ultimately triumph.

“We’re pleased with the decision,” Lansing-based attorney David Kallman claims in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. “The appeals court opinion was pretty clear that we not only have a valid claim, but that we will also prevail upon it.”

Cormier is requesting $25,000 in damages and urges Planet Fitness to drop the policy. However, the company has continued to stand for trans inclusion.

“Planet Fitness is committed to creating a non-intimidating, welcoming environment for our members,” claims spokeswoman McCall Gosselin in a statement. “Our gender identity nondiscrimination policy states that members and guests may use all gym facilities based on their sincere self-reported gender identity.”

Photo by DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

The Baltimore Eagle Is Not Closed: Inside The Drama That Caused A Temporary Shuttering

On Wednesday, July 25, in the “CODE” bar of Baltimore Eagle’s three-floor complex, bar management announced that the local nightlife institution would be closing its doors immediately. In what was reported to be a tearful scene, Charles King and his business partners, 4 Crazy Guys, LLC, announced that after a year and a half of business and disputes with the owners of the Baltimore Eagle trademark, the bar was closing. But by Thursday night, the space was re-opened.

“Wednesday evening we got a couple of calls from our patrons saying that our managers had announced an unscheduled and unsanctioned closure of the Eagle and that they were going to ‘loot’ the place,” Ian Parrish, one of the owners of the Baltimore Eagle trademark and building, told INTO in an interview. “We went down there and we found our managers and a bunch of people running in and out of the building with armfuls of liquor, merchandise, and memorabilia. Inside there was broken glass, equipment missing and drains clogged.”

Having opened in its most recent iteration in January 2017 (the original opened in 1991), the Baltimore Eagle was a multi-story complex that housed a leather shop, restaurant, sports bar, dance floor, display of historical memorabilia and the “CODE” bar, an ode to the Eagle’s longstanding international history as a leather and Levi’s bar that served as a place of refuge since the 1970s. Managed by 4 Crazy Guys, the space stuck out early with a brand that stood for inclusion.

“It’s an incredible bar, unlike any other leather bar I’ve ever heard of — part leather bar, part nightclub, part rooftop bar, part sports bar/tavern, part leather shop, part backroom bar … something for everyone,” Wilson, a patron of the bar since around April 2017 wrote on Twitter. “And very trans-friendly.” The bar was one of a few big LGBTQ destinations in the city, like the Grand Central Club.

Wilson told INTO in a statement that the Eagle was the first gay bar he ever went to, but went on to write that the space helped him become “comfortable with the idea of re-entering the dating scene” as a bisexual man, introducing him to his rugby team and more.

“The Baltimore Eagle had created an atmosphere of welcome and love for people regardless of how they identified as an individual or who/how they expressed their love for one another,” Brendan Patrick, Mr. Maryland Leather 2017 said. But while the space built up a reputation for itself, welcoming drag queens, leatherfolks, people of color, sports fans and even furries (the only recurring furry meetup in Baltimore, Fur Up B’More, was here) into its doors, in the background, there was unrest.

For the past four years, we have poured our hearts, souls, and resources into this project,” 4 Crazy Guys wrote in a release about the closure. “It has been a labor of love for a community, city, and state that we have come to feel very strongly about. When we started this endeavor just about four years ago, we were practically in disbelief that we would have the honor of re-imagining how a leather bar and an LGBT bar might serve the community in this new era.”

“[But] in the face of mounting legal expenses and having had this project turned from a dream to a nightmare by outside forces, we must now move on and hope that the communities and people we have come to love so much will find a new place that feels like home.”

Those troubles, according to them, included the Parrish family pushing back on marketing tactics and bar policies, as well as mounting financial issues, some of which they perceived to be a concerted effort to push them out of the business. In a recent Metro Weekly piece, King detailed the malicious ways he felt that Parrish sought to maintain control of the franchise, reportedly objecting to diverse marketing materials.

In a new statement, Parrish pushed back on those charges.

“The crux of the matter is financial,” he told INTO. “For some time our former managers were not meeting their financial obligation agreements in the community including agreements with their own partners who put up most of the money from their side. We get it: the financial management of a place like the eagle is tough, however, there is a difference between making an effort to do the right thing and bouncing checks and dodging phone calls from people within our community who are working just as hard to make a living.”

The extended statement brings context to some accusations made by 4 Crazy Guys and circumvents others but reiterates their commitment to this community. But in the meantime, the Eagle continued on, as it has in the past.

“On Thursday night after jury duty I went straight to The Eagle, not looking forward to the mess from the previous night,” Parrish said referring to broken glass and a venue in disarray. “As I was walking up the ramp I see this sign on the window that says ‘The Eagle is Open.’ I look inside and see that there’s about a dozen people with gloves on, mops and brooms in hand, cleaning up the glass with flowers on the front bar. It was completely unexpected.”

That community support of mostly other local nightlife players has, in collaboration with Parrish, kept the front bar of the Eagle open and will continue to do so in the weeks to come. Behind the scenes, Parrish is having to find his way through replacing what was taken away during Wednesday’s closure.

“We could not afford to give paychecks to staff, so we gave them liquor, merchandise and equipment to pay off our debt,” King told INTO a statement after explaining that claims of “looting” were inaccurate. “We had an incredible staff that deserved at least that from us. We will greatly miss working with each and everyone of them.”

Those actions leave Parrish in the hole for over $500,000 worth of merchandise from vendors and also has seen parts of the Eagle history, encapsulated in memorabilia that was taken, disappeared.

“You know, sure, that ‘belongs’ to the Eagle but really it belonged to this community,” Parrish said of the memorabilia importance to the leather and kink subculture. “To see it gone is a real shame.”

Some of that history, according to King, was the original property of various leather clubs who claimed their property as the space announced the closing. But Parrish maintains that it was not the management’s right to give it back as his family were the “custodians of the Eagle Baltimore brand” by virtue of owning the trademark.

Because of the way events have panned out publicly, supporters seem split with some calling to boycott any future opening of the Baltimore Eagle, siding with 4 Crazy Guys, and others getting involved in the reconstruction of their home. Some have gone so far as planning a wake and a last dance for the space. Still, even those who do not want to support the Parrish family see the closure of the Baltimore Eagle as a real loss to the community.

“[When it opened] the Eagle was an injection of new energy in the community,” an organizer of Fur Up B’more said. As of now, his event is homeless as there are few spaces in the city that are physically big enough for a furry meetup. “But with the Hippo closed and Grand Central leaning more to the side of closing, where the hell do gays meet up? The headline names were always The Eagle, The Hippo and Grand Central so people are really vocal about being afraid that [their communities] are being disappeared quietly.” Parrish is not ready to be counted out.

“We are going to be reaching out to all the vendors and clubs and events to let them know that the leather fetish communities still have a refuge here,” Parrish said of his plans for the next few weeks. “I’m thankful for our faithful friends and patrons and I apologize for this entire situation. I don’t know if there’s anything I could have done differently but I just want everyone to know that the Eagle will re-emerge soon. We are not going to close. Even if it’s just a corner of the bar, this will always be a home.”

King is unsure about the future, saying that he and his team are in the process of moving all events that were pre-planned for the space.

Images via Facebook

Queer Latinx Heartthrob Roberta Colindrez Joins the Cast of ‘Vida’

Revving up for its second season, which has recently been extended from its first season’s six episodes to 10, Tanya Saracho’s Vida is adding out actor Roberta Colindrez (I Love Dick) to its cast as a series regular. Colindrez will portray Nico, a newly hired bartender at Vida, the recently renamed family bar.

Season one of the Starz series introduced sisters Emma and Lyn, who after their mother’s death, return to their hometown of Boyle Heights, a predominantly Latinx neighborhood in Los Angeles, to attend the funeral and settle her affairs. They find their stay unexpectedly extended by their late mother’s financial troubles, and revelations regarding her identity.

Colindrez, who has made several appearances in television and film, is best known for her work in Jill Soloway’s short-lived I Love Dick, where she played a playwright named Devon, and for her role in the Tony Award-winning show, Fun Home, a musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name. More recently, she can be heard in the popular Joseph Fink podcast, Alice Isn’t Dead, which follows a woman named Keisha on a road trip in search of answers regarding the disappearance of her wife. 

In an interview with Vanity Fair last year, regarding her role of Rosencrantz in a stage production of Hamlet, Colindrez discussed the importance of casting queer people of color, in light of experiences she’s had when revealing that she is an actor.

“I know what they’re thinking. ‘You’re clearly queer, you’re dressed like a child, you have tattoos.’ They have this impression that a person that looks like me . . . I try not to be like ‘You’re fucking racist!’ or whatever, but they’re probably thinking, ‘There’s no way you belong on the screen,'” she said. “And I’m so happy to shatter that forever.”

While no additional details of her character have been revealed yet, Roberta Colindrez is a welcome addition to the all-Latinx cast. Born in Mexico, she is Argentinian and Honduran. The show makes a point of hiring a writing staff and cast of mostly Latinx, queer folks in order to provide a more genuine portrait of the queer Latinx experience in 2018 America.

Season 2 of Vida is currently in pre-production.

Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Transmasculinidad: Costa Rica

One young transgender man in San Jose, Costa Rica, excitedly told us he’s getting his paperwork in order to sign up for the national health care system and begin hormone replacement therapy for free. For many trans people around the world, this process is expensive and only available through private clinics, paid out of pocket. Those who can’t afford private clinics risk bad medicines and dirty needles through black market drugs.

In 2017, Costa Rica announced that the country’s national health care system would provide hormone therapy for the nation’s transgender community. In order to sign up, transgender people over the age of 18 must meet with an endocrinologist and psychologist to be accepted into the program. So far, about 30 people have signed up, and the government expects that to grow to about 600 applicants. The cost of doctor visits, psychological accompaniment, as well as the hormone treatment is all covered by the national healthcare system.

The World Health Organization recently announced that it is removing gender incongruence from the mental disorder category, which could mean enormous changes in healthcare for the estimated 25 million transgender people around the world. The ability to transition — socially, hormonally, and surgically — is linked to better health and emotional wellbeing. Every major medical association agrees that gender-affirming healthcare is necessary and researchers have found that providing health insurance coverage for the U.S. trans community is actually affordable, cost-effective, and reduces the risk of negative health impacts in the long run. But the overwhelming majority are still excluded from health care systems and denied access to life-affirming treatment, despite studies (in Canada and the U.S.) that found that the transgender community attempts suicide at a rate 22 times higher than the general public, as well as having a disproportionately higher prevalence of HIV and depression.

The Costa Rican hormone replacement therapy program isn’t without controversy, however. Some people in the trans community want the program to be expanded to people under the age of 18, pointing to studies that show that starting treatment for gender-dysphoria early along with early social transition leads to better mental health outcomes. There is also a push to expand the program to include gender-affirming surgery — transgender men who have started transitioning hormonally but haven’t had a hysterectomy have a higher likelihood of cancer and other complications.

There are also complaints that the hormone therapy program is paternalistic and pathologizing because a psychologist has to effectively validate a transgender person’s identity before they can be admitted into the program. While we were in Costa Rica, we heard stories of uneducated psychologists denying transgender people access for inappropriate and transphobic reasons.

Public health officials in the country recognize the need for proper transgender health care and haven’t ruled out expanding the program to minors and potentially including surgery. They are also educating doctors and psychologists across the country to ensure that the trans community has proper access to health care regardless of where they live.

Despite the missteps and criticism, it is exciting to see a country value transgender lives and take action to improve the healthcare of this community. Publicly funded healthcare for transgender people means transitioning is accessible to people regardless of their socio-economic status. Living a healthy and happy life shouldn’t be reserved for the wealthy.

 

 

 

Go to www.transmasculinidad.com for the full gallery and updates on the project. You can also find us on Instagram or on FacebookThis story was reported from Costa Rica on a fellowship from the International Reporting Project (IRP)

Report: 125 People Have Fled Chechnya Following Anti-LGBTQ Crackdown

Russian advocacy groups report that more than 100 people have left Chechnya in its ongoing purge of the local LGBTQ community.

The Russian LGBTQ Network reports that approximately 125 people fled the semi-independent republic after authorities began arresting, beating, and torturing individuals suspected of homosexuality in 2017. Representatives with the human rights organization claim 49 of the Chechen refugees — or nearly 40 percent — were “detained in Chechnya by law enforcers and questioned.”

These individuals were “forced to confess to homosexuality and spill the data about acquaintances,” the Russian LGBTQ Network claimed.

“Of those who were detained, 37 people [reported] torture and imprisonment for a term of three days to three weeks,” the group continued in statements made to the news website Crime Russia. “Others are partners and family members of the victims, who also received threats.”

Although many of these individuals have sought asylum in foreign countries, some still remain in Russia — where they likely face continued discrimination and persecution.

As INTO previously reported, Chechen purge survivor Zelimkhan Akhmadov was kidnapped by a five-person vigilante mob earlier this month after the Russian LGBTQ Network provided him with a safe house in St. Petersburg. One of the assailants who apprehended the 20-year-old former student was his own father.

While community organizations like Stimul are also offering shelters to refugees hoping to be granted asylum abroad, LGBTQ advocates say more must be done as Russian authorities refuse to recognize the crisis.

“All reports of the use of violence, including those on the part of officials, have been studied and verified,” Valery Maksimenko of the Prosecutor General’s Office said, as Crime Russia originally reported. “The basis for the audit was information in the media about the persecution of people suspected of homosexuality, the killing of at least three citizens.”

“This information was not confirmed,” he added.

In the case of Chechen refugee Maxim Lapunov, Maksimenko claimed there’s likewise no evidence showing he “was illegally detained and tortured.”

Lapunov was the first survivor of the anti-LGBTQ extermination campaign to come forward with details of his abuse. In an October press conference, the 30-year-old claimed he was flogged repeatedly in the “legs, ribs, buttocks, and back” after being captured while selling balloons in the Chechen capital of Grozny last year.

Chechen authorities hoped to beat the names of other LGBTQ people out of him, alleged Lapunov. When he doubled over from the pain, Lapunov claimed his captors would stand him up and begin pummeling him again.

But the Kremlin maintained police “refused to initiate criminal proceedings” due to lack of evidence.

“The investigator’s conclusions fully correspond with the conclusion of the human rights commissioner in the Russian Federation,” Maksimenko said earlier this month after previously claiming investigations “have revealed no gays in Chechnya.”

This is extremely similar to the argument used by Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov to dismiss international criticism about the anti-LGBTQ crackdown. When asked about the reported 100 gay and bisexual men apprehended by police, he called the reports “nonsense,” claiming that Chechnya doesn’t “have those kinds of people here.”

“We don’t have any gays,” Kadyrov added. If there are any, take them to Canada. […] Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also denied the reports, with his spokesman referring to them as “provocation.”

Amid Putin’s meeting with United States President Donald Trump in Helsinki earlier this month, LGBTQ advocates raised awareness about the continuing crisis — as well as Trump’s refusal to acknowledge it — by projecting a message on the side of Finland’s presidential palace.

“Trump and Putin: Stop the crimes against humanity in Chechnya,” urged the Human Rights Campaign.

“Investigate LGBTQ persecution in Chechnya,” continued the message broadcast by the nation’s largest queer advocacy group. “Bring the perpetrators to justice. The whole world is watching. Silence is deadly. #EyesOnChechnya.”

Dearly Beloved, You Can Be Gay and Christian (But…)

In this week’s Dearly Beloved, the advice column from author Michael Arceneaux, a reader wants to have a reconciliation with faith, only he wrestles with whether or not he can find a space that complements both his Southern Baptist church and the political ideology he’s formed over the years. While many would rightfully argue that Jesus Christ matches Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez more on paper than say, Pat Robertson or whatever other old white evangelical male public figure that resembles and behaves like an aging goblin you can think of, most Christian churches remain staunchly conservative, and thus, confining for queer people.

Still, our dear reader would like that old thing back with respect to religion and seeks counsel on how to turn back to God in a region that may not offer the ideal church community.

If you want Michael’s advice, just email him at [email protected] with your question. Just be sure to include SPECIFICS, and don’t forget to start your letter with Dearly Beloved!

It’s a thing.

 

Dearly Beloved,

I am a gay millennial with a penchant for social justice and democratic socialism. I was also raised in the Southern Baptist church, and these two worlds seem to constantly conflict. During the 2016 election, I had a falling out with faith that has lasted until this day, but I find myself wanting to turn back to God. How can this be done when the church communities surrounding me in north Texas don’t reflect the Jesus I know and love?

I want to find a church community that will allow me to walk hand in hand with my partner down the aisle. I want to find a church community that cares about Flint and Puerto Rico and gun violence. I want to find a church community that cares about migrant children separated from their families at the border. I want to find a church community that in the face of police shootings boldly professes that black lives do in fact matter. Is this all asking for too much?

We were not designed to walk on this earth alone, yet I feel like it’s hard to find a Christian community that is willing to walk with me. What should I do?

Sincerely,

Curtis

Dear Curtis,

I’m a recovering Catholic who just published a book entitled I Can’t Date Jesus, so needless to say, I understand your dilemma. The book begins with my first time returning to a church. I’m not sure if it fits every single one of your requests, but overall, it was exactly the kind of church that would welcome our kind with open arms. The sort of religious space that truly lived up to the virtues of Christ — advocating for the poor, disenfranchised, and anyone else suffering from any strain of oppression.

In my case, I had already concluded that my life as a churchgoer was long over, but as I’ve said in the book and to anyone who asks, I completely respect the role religion plays in people’s lives. To your point, it is very difficult to walk this world alone. Faith matters and it is indeed easier to experience faith with a flock of the faithful.

And yes, there are churches like First Corinthians Baptist Church in Harlem and pastors throughout the country that are working to make their churches more inclusive to queer people. Moreover, there are writers like Matthew Vines who pen books like God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships that seek to challenge traditional teachings about homosexuality within the church. The same goes for Dr. Idan Dershowitz, a biblical scholar who recently published the piece “The Secret History of Leviticus” in the New York Times. And there are documentaries seeking the same mission like For The Bible Tells Me So.

There are many, many people out there doing the work, but as you appear to have noticed, that isn’t the case everywhere. To be blunt, I’m not sure you’re going to find a Southern Baptist Church that will give you what you are looking for. They remind me of the Catholic Church in that way. You may be able to find some other church that will accommodate all that you require, but it will likely take quite some time.

Try as many churches as possible. Ask around. Do your research. If you want to find a safe space, get your Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine on. In the meantime, I suggest you do as much as you can to tend to your spiritual health, even if done individually. Or you can find other Christians like you and make your own space. Yes, I know I sound like a bit of an after school special, but finding a Southern Baptist church that’s going to serve you Democratic Socialist realness is as likely as Assata Shakur giving Sweet Potato Saddam a bear hug on the White House lawn.

It’s gon’ take you time, beloved, but in all seriousness, I appreciate your diligence. People like you are going to make Christian churches live up to the ideals of Christ. Some of us didn’t have the fight in us. God bless you and good luck to you.

Signed,

Beloved!

NCTE: The State Department Is Not Revoking Passports for Trans People

The State Department is not revoking the passports of transgender people, despite reports suggesting otherwise, says the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).

The reports come in the wake of a July 27 story published by queer Condé Nast-owned website them detailing the stories of two trans women whose passports were retroactively revoked. The Washington Blade first reported NCTE’s correction of the media reports after the organization Tweeted corrections over the weekend.

“To many people, two dots makes a line,” said NCTE Media Relations Manager Gillian Branstetter. But Branstetter said the State Department is still following 2010 policy in issuing passports reflecting a trans person’s current identity.  

“These instances that have been reported in the media, we do not feel that they are reflective of a broader policy change at the State Department at this time,” Branstetter said.

In its report, them relayed the stories of two trans women whose passports had been revoked, setting off nationwide fears that the State Department had changed course. One story was that of Gender Justice League Executive Director Danni Askini.

In a Facebook post, Askini clarified that her case was a single incident and backed up NCTE’s statement.

“What’s happening with my passport is unique to the facts in my case (adoption as a minor and being trans) and I have been crystal clear about that,” Askini wrote. “As a trans person with a relatively high profile, I do have lingering questions about the extent of hoops I am being asked to jump through as well as the cruel indifference with which the current policy is being applied in my case.”

them also published the story of technology researcher Janus Rose, whose application to update her passport with her new legal name was denied.

“She basically told me that even though the government had changed my gender marker in the last year, that was a mistake,” Rose said.

Branstetter said NCTE has investigated the stories and those two incidents represent individual errors, not new policy.

“NCTE has seen bureaucratic errors like this since before the Trump administration,” said Branstetter.

Kesha Makes Documentary Directorial Debut With ‘Rainbow – The Film’

Kesha made her long-awaited, much-anticipated return to music last year with her third studio album Rainbow. On Monday, the queer singer-songwriter announced her documentary directorial debut Rainbow – The Film, in which she chronicles her grim struggle through one of the darkest times of her life.

The film, which will be released via Apple Music, features never before seen footage of the singer.

“I hope this film inspires others to never give up even if you feel full of hurt or lost, because after the storm comes a rainbow,” Kesha told Billboard. “Depression, anxiety and mental illness are things we all need to talk about more, and there is no shame in asking for help. Making the decision to work on yourself is the bravest thing you can do.”

The documentary is set to debut Aug. 10, one year after the release of her album of the same title, and will explore many of the same themes Kesha explored through the music — pain, suffering, and and eventual healing and resilience, with reference to her high-profile lawsuit against record producer Dr. Luke.

Kesha’s brother, Lagan Sebert,  helped direct Rainbow – The Film alongside Kesha and Kevin Hayden. The trio previously documented Kesha’s behind-the-scenes moments on tour and in-studio in a series of “psychedelic vignettes.”

“I hope this film helps bring light and love to everyone,” Kesha said.