People Taking HIV Meds Outed by Aetna Envelopes With Peep Hole

These unopened envelopes are causing quite a stir.

According to STAT, insurance carrier Aetna sent letters to approximately 12,000 people that was meant to tell them that their pharmacy benefits would be changing. However, visible through a window the envelopes was the fact that the letter was about medication for HIV treatment.

INTO spoke to one HIV-positive person, Fernando, who asked to go only by his first name, who received the letter. Fernando also sent INTO a copy of the letter.

The following text is visible through the window:

“The purpose of this letter is to advise you of the options Aetna health plan when filling prescriptions for HIV”

“My partner and I were kinda shocked,” Fernando told INTO. Fernando’s partner, who is HIV negative and on PrEP, received a similar envelope. “Even to have a letter that has the letters HIV on it is really bad.”

Fernando said that not many people saw his letter, as it was delivered to he and his partner’s shared PO box. However, that was not the case for all people.

Sally Friedman, legal director at the Legal Action Center, told STAT, that people who recieved the letter “have been devastated.”

“We’ve had a number of people tell us they had chosen not to disclose their HIV status to family members but this is how their family members found out,” Friedman told STAT.

INTO contacted Aetna for a statement and will update when it responds.

According to STAT, Aetna has already notified state and federal authorities about the breach. Federal law requires that a person’s HIV status be kept private, according to the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania.

“We sincerely apologize to those affected by a mailing issue that inadvertently exposed the personal health information of some Aetna members,” a company spokesman told STAT. “This type of mistake is unacceptable, and we are undertaking a full review of our processes to ensure something like this never happens again.”
However, for some, that is not enough.

“I don’t think them issuing an apology is enough,” Fernando told INTO.

In a letter obtained by STAT, Aetna said that customers’ personal information was only visible “in some cases.” Friedman countered by saying that, in every case advocates had seen, the information was “very visible.”

Photo credit: Flickr/ Montgomery County Planning Commission

Gay GOP Group Says Hosting Event At Trump Hotel Is Not Endorsement

The Log Cabin Republicans are hosting an event at the Trump Hotel next month, but according to the gay GOP group’s president, that’s not an endorsement of the Commander-in-Chief.

LCR president Gregory T. Angelo gave an interview with The Wrap last week in which he explained that the hotel chain’s Washington D.C. location was selected as the site for its 40th anniversary gala back in March. This was prior to Trump’s proposed ban on transgender people serving openly in the military.

Angelo said that the choice in location should not be viewed as a comment on the president.

“We are not making a point of showcasing the venue, and we were never going to,” Angelo told journalist Itay Hod. “If this event was promoted as ‘A Celebration of Trump’ or featured him as a speaker, criticism of Log Cabin Republicans would be more than warranted, but that’s not the reality.”

Furthermore, Angelo claimed that the hotel gave them a “competitive rate” and that it would be “impractical” to cancel with the gala set to take place in a matter of weeks.

INTO questioned the group’s president in a series of emails about the assertions made in The Wrap interview, an exchange during which Angelo continually referred back to those same statements. He claimed the questions around the appropriateness of the event “were answered at length” in his original comments, which INTO pushed back on.

“How is an event held at a hotel that Trump owns not an endorsement of the man who owns it?” INTO asked, stating that it doesn’t “add up.”

Angelo failed to comment.

This isn’t the first time that the Log Cabin Republicans have struggled to explain their continued defense of the president, who Angelo once referred to as the “most pro-LGBT Republican nominee in history.” Hours before Trump called for a ban on trans troops in a series of tweets, the LCR president called the POTUS a “quiet ally” in a Washington Examiner story.

The GOP group would take a different tack following that proposal, saying it “smacks of politics, pure and simple.”

“The United States military already includes transgender individuals who protect our freedom day in and day out,” Angelo said in a press release. “Excommunicating transgender soldiers only weakens our readiness; it doesn’t strengthen it. The president’s statement this morning does a disservice to transgender military personnel.”

Trump’s claim that allowing trans troops to serve openly would entail “medical costs and disruption” has since been widely debunked. The Oval Office is expected to announce how his tweets will be enacted as on-the-ground policy later this week.

Although Angelo claimed he was “stunned” by Trump’s statement, he continued to defend the president’s LGBTQ allyship just days after the tweets were posted. When questioned about his prior claim that Trump is “pro-LGBT,” Angelo told Salon that “nothing has changed in that regard.”

“Trump brings a cultural awareness of the LGBT community to the White House in a way that past Republican presidents have not,” he said.

Man Drives Car Into Vigil for Kiwi Herring, Slain Black Trans Woman

On Wednesday night in St. Louis, friends and family gathered to mourn Kiwi Herring, a black transgender woman who was shot to death by police on Tuesday. However, their vigil was violently interrupted when a careening car drove through the vigil-goers, injuring several people, according to local affiliate KTVI.

A witness, Keith Rose, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the driver, who police identified to INTO as 59-year-old Mark Colao, raised his middle fingers in the air and accelerated into the mourning crowd, who were in the street outside St. Louis’s Transgender Memorial Garden, run by the Metro Trans Umbrella Group.

St. Louis police, according to the Riverfront Times, blamed the protesters, saying they were blocking traffic and that they surrounded and hit his car when the driver attempted to get around them.

“The protesters surrounded the vehicle and began striking it with their hands and a flag pole,” Schron Jackson, a police spokeswoman, told the Times. “Several protesters also kicked and jumped on top of the vehicle.”

SLMPD also released video of the incident.

A Facebook post from attendee Keith Rose contradicted the police spokeswoman’s account.

According to a public Facebook status shared over 600 times from Keith Rose, a vigil attendee, the car drove towards protesters and, after throwing up his middle finger, drove into the car slowly hitting people who were blocking traffic. People began to hit his car, Rose asserted, after he had already begun to accelerate into those at the vigil.

Footage of the incident circulated on social media.

Post-Dispatch reporter David Carson captured the moment on camera, as well.

After initially refusing to stop for police, the man driving the car stopped and police took him into custody. SLMPD told INTO that Colao has been charged with resisting arrest, leaving the scene of an accident and operating a motor vehicle in a careless and imprudent manner.

INTO has contacted people at Metro Trans Umbrella Group for more information about the vigil.

The driver’s assault echoes the modus operandi of James Alex Fields, the 20-year-old man whocareened into anti-fascist protestersin Charlottesville, Virginia. Fields killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

Police entered Herring’s home on Tuesday morning and saw the 30-year-old Herring holding a knife. She had “severely cut” a neighbor, according to the Huffington Post. Friends who spoke to the Post said that Herring had been the target of ongoing harassment from the neighbor and that there had been several calls to her address for “domestic issues.”

“The neighbor was homophobic and made fun of her,” Crevonda Nance, Herring’s sister-in-law said. “We couldn’t understand why he was so angry and why he cared about Kiwi’s sexual orientation.”

According to police accounts, Herring allegedly slashed at an officer and left them with a wound the Post described as “not that serious.” Unknown is whether police officers tried non-lethal methods, like a stun gun or mace, prior to shooting Herring to death.

According to the Post, police took Herring’s 28-year-old spouse into custody because of “involvement in the assault.” Police have filed charges of first-degree assault with a deadly weapon.

Herring was employed as a caregiver and was a mother to three young boys ages 4, 7 and 8.

Margaret Cho: Arizona GOP “Deserve a Dodgeball to the Face”

Margaret Cho has some tough words for the Arizona GOP.

The comedian is clapping back at Arizona Republicans after using a cast photograph from her 1990s sitcom All-American Girl on their campaign site as a representation of Asian Americans. VICE first reported the snafu on Tuesday.

In a statement to INTO, Cho said: “I find this similar to when I was a kid someone told me that [Duran Duran lead singer] Simon Le Bon’s name was ‘Mike Hunt’ and so I went around school saying ‘I love Mike Hunt’ and even wrote it on my locker. I didn’t bother to research and paid the price of a dodgeball to the face. They got some bad information and ran with it. They deserve a dodgeball to the face.”

All-American Girl featured a crop of recognizable Asian-American actors including Cho, B.D. Wong and 50 First Dates’ Amy Hill all of whom are front and center in the photo. The show ran for 19 episodes in 1994 and 1995.

During its initial run, Girl was controversial and garnered intense criticism for misrepresenting Asian Americans, especially Korean Americans.

“To most, the show was a disappointment–yet another example of Hollywood’s ignorance and indifference when it comes to depicting an ethnic group about which it knows so little,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 1995.

The image has been taken down, and Arizona Republicans apologized in a statement to VICE.

“As soon as this was brought to our attention, the page was taken down,” Torunn Sinclair, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Republican Party, said. “This was obviously a mistake, and we apologize.”

Meet the ‘Hero’ Drag Queens Who Saved Gay Man From Homophobic Beating

A group of homophobic attackers in Australia messed with the wrong drag queens.

Ivy Leaguee, Coco Jumbo, and Vybewho frequently perform on Oxford St. in Sydney’s gay districtwere leaving a gig earlier this month when they encountered a group of men making a ruckus in a nearby kebab shop. After the group was booted out of the establishment by the owner for yelling words like “queer” and “faggot,” the queens tell INTO that the men took it to the street.

A good Samaritan by the name of Ivan Flinn quickly got involved. The 34-year-old IT manager confronted them, saying the gayborhood is no place for that kind of language.

“You can’t disrespect the gay community,” Vybe remembers him saying. “This is a safe space.”

That’s when Vybewhose real name is Angus Robertssays that the hooligans lashed out. The group of men began to pummel Flinn, grabbing his shirt and ripping off his buttons. He was struck in the jaw, which was immediately dislocated by the blow. Flinn would subsequently be sent to the emergency room as a result of his injuries.

Ivy Leaguee, which is the stage name of 26-year-old Luke Karakia, risked her life to intervene. Ivy Leaguee says during a Wednesday interview that she called out the attackers, telling them to come after her instead.

“You’re a tough man for picking on the little guy,” Ivy Leaguee claims she interjected at the time. “Why don’t you try fighting someone your own size?”

The queens argue that the deck was stacked against the attackers all along. Although onlookers might think that a group of club performers in high heels wouldn’t be able to defend themselves, Coco Jumbo (neé Luke Waqa) used to play rugby. She grew up with older brothers. Before becoming a drag queen, Vybe trained as a dancera tradition noted for its athleticism.

According to Ivy Leaguee, the hooligans looked tough but were barely able to defend themselves when challenged. Her wig, however, was ruined when the group of men ripped it from her head.

The trio held off Flinn’s attackers until the police came to break up the fight.

Vybe tells INTO that she was shocked by the violence. Despite a string of 88 murders between the years of 1976 and 2000 that many believe were motivated by anti-LGBTQ animus, she says that Sydney has since become a haven for queer and trans people. The city is the kind of place where people “have each other’s back.”

“This was one of the first attacks in a long time that we have seen or heard about,” Vybe claims.

The timing of the incident couldn’t be more germane. Leading up to a nationwide straw poll on marriage equality, posters urging Australians to “stop the fags” have begun appearing in several major cities. The fliers depict two men holding rainbow belts, alleging that same-sex relationships lead to child abuse.

“Ninety-two percent of children raised by gay parents are abused,” reads the poster, which was distributed by an anonymous group. “Fifty-one percent have depression. Seventy-two percent are obese.”

Australia’s PM Malcolm Turnbull condemned the fliers as “abusive” and “disrespectful,” and numerous studies have shown these allegations to be false.

Children raised by same-sex parents are just as likely as their peers to be happy and healthy.
In fact, an in-depth study from the Pediatrics journalwhich was conducted over a 25-year spanshowed that kids reared in lesbian households outperformed other students in school.

LGBTQ advocates in Australia have long warned that putting civil rights up to a public referendum could lead to backlash. Despite the fact that a majority of Australians have supported marriage equality since 2005, Turnbull won’t allow a free vote in the Parliament until a plebiscite is conducteda nonbinding vote of the people.

Shelley Argent, the national spokesperson for PFLAG, warned in a July email sent prior to the plebiscite announcement that it would have a “negative impact” on LGBTQ Australians.

“It is insulting to have your rights put to a popular vote,” Argent said at the time.

The survey has been set for later this monthwith a final count expected on August 24. With tensions escalating on both sides, Vybe claims that it’s a “stressful” time to be LGBTQ: “It feels like in the past year, the world has taken a few steps back.”

But she hopes that the public support the queens have received after the incident inspires the country to come together. Flinn set up a GoFundMe fundraiser to replace the wigs and nails damaged while saving his life. At the time of writing, the campaign has raised over $9,000. The original goal was $1,000.

Ivy Leaguee says that the response has been “incredible.”

“The incident has generated so much love and positivity for the LGBTQ community that people have reached out to tell us we have changed their views,” she claims. “They will be voting ‘yes’ on equality.”

The performers have become a sensation in local media, hailed as “heroes” and “knights in shining sequins.” Flinn has called them his “angels.” But since sharing this experience together, the queens say Flinn has become a friend. Vybe tells INTO that her sisters, longtime pals who live together in a “drag house,” just did what anyone would do in the situation.

“It’s 2017,” Vybe says. “There’s no place for homophobia. Everyone should respect everyone else for being human.”

Trump Set to Announce How He Will Discriminate Against Trans Troops

The White House is expected to unveil its ban on transgender troops “in coming days,” according to a recent report from the Wall Street Journal.

Multiple anonymous sources close to the Oval Office told the Journal that President Donald Trump will be issuing a two-and-a-half page memo outlining the removal of trans service members from the military. It advises Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis to block transgender people from enlisting, reversing the Obama administration’s 2016 decision to lift the historical ban on trans military service.

The document, as sources claim, also advises the armed forces to stop payment for trans health care.

The question over coverage for gender-affirming surgeries and other related care was a bone of contention that led to Trump’s July 26 tweets banning trans military members. The president claimed in his tweets that the cost trans health would be “tremendous.” A 2016 study from the RAND corporation, however, found that the price tag would be negligibleentailing a yearly expenditure of $8.4 million, at the absolute maximum.

In contrast, the Palm Center think tank estimated that removing trans people from service would cost the military $960 million.

Trump’s memo reportedly calls for Mattis to judge whether active duty trans troops will be removed on a case-by-case basis. The standard will be “deployability,” a phrase Reuters has interpreted to mean as “the ability to serve in a war zone, participate in exercises or live for months on a ship.”

Given the president’s stated concerns about the “disruption” trans service entails, it’s difficult to know how that standard will be applied.

Mattis has six months to implement the policy, sources say.

The Journal report echoes comments that Mattis himself made to members of the media in a briefing at the Pentagon last Wednesday, which were later reported by CNN.

“The policy is going to address whether or not transgenders can serve under what conditions, what medical support they require, how much time would they be perhaps non-deployable, leaving others to pick up their share of everything,” Secretary Mattis said.

This is not the first report about what Trump’s memo, which has been shrouded in secrecy for the past month, will actually entail. The Washington Blade claimed in an August 4 story that the policy would “encourage early retirement, usher out any enlisted personnel after their contract is up, and would fire trans officers up for promotion.”

“The administration wants to get rid of transgender service members as fast as they can,” a source told the Blade.

LGBTQ advocates have repeatedly criticized the president’s military policies since they were originally announced. After news of the memo leaked Wednesday, those concerns intensified. The National Center for Lesbian Rights said in a press release that the policy “poses a serious threat to our nation’s longstanding commitment to honor those who serve.”

Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Center for Trans Equality, claimed that the Trump administration is “doubling down on discrimination.”

“This is an insult to, and an attack on, thousands of trained, capable service members and veterans; and it is blatantly unconstitutional,” Kiesling said in a statement. “Transgender service members do their jobs, serving the country they love, and are no less able to serve and deploy than anyone else.”

Multiple LGBTQ advocacy groups stated that they plan to challenge the policy through legal action. In addition, five trans military members already filed suit against the White House, naming Trump as a defendant.

St. Petersburg Revokes ‘Free Speech Zones’ After Attack On Pride

After a wave of attacks on LGBTQ activists in Russia, St. Petersburg has shut down one of the few spaces where it’s permissible for the city’s queer community to organize.

Field of Mars (or Marsovo Polye) is a large public park located along the Neva River in the city center. Named for the Roman god of war, the space is designated as a “free speech zone,” meaning that groups don’t have to obtain a permit to hold events there. Since the local government began allowing Pride events in these designated areas in 2014, Field of Mars has become a popular site for the festival.

The Moscow Times reports that following a devastating attack on this year’s Pride event, the city is revoking the park’s status as a site for free speech.

Field of Mars erupted in chaos on August 12 when a group of white nationalists targeted festival attendees with pepper spraya number of which included journalists covering the event. Fifteen people were injured. An estimated 100 people gathered at this year’s Pride, making it the largest turnout in seven years.

Police have since investigated the incident as an assault, arresting at least one person.

Svetlana Zakharova, communications manager for Russian LGBT Network, confirms in an email to INTO that organizers would no longer be able to hold events at Field of Mars, effectively leaving the Pride festival without a home.

“Field of Mars was the only space in the city center available for the public actions without the permission of the authorities for all kinds of activists,” Zakharova says.

Zakharova tells INTO that it is “very difficult” for the local LGBTQ community to get permission to hold events outside of the allotted free speech zones. Organizers must apply for a permit through the city government, and officials cite the 2013 propaganda laws as justification for denying space to LGBTQ events.

Passed by a unanimous vote 436-0 in the Russian parliament, the legislation prohibits spreading “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. Those find in violation of the law can be fined up to 500,000 rubles (or $8,000).

If St. Petersburg officials don’t use the propaganda laws to block LGBTQ people from organizing, Zakharova says that authorities will falsely claim that another rally is already taking place at the same time. For local officials to approve a group’s application, there must be no other competing event that day.

The Times points to this year’s Pride event, whose application was rejected because a conflicting WWII memorial event. Reports claim that only five people showed up. Many believe that the remembrance was scheduled in order to prevent the festival from taking place.

Even despite opposition, that event could go on because of the presence of free speech zones like Field of Mars.

Zakharova laments the loss of these spaces, which she says provide a sense of “protection and safety” that, if imaginary, makes people feel more secure to be themselves. But as she notes, LGBTQ people have been arrested even while organizing at zones that are supposed to be safe for them.

Russian LGBT Network reports that following the August attack on Pride, LGBTQ activist Anna Grabetskaya was detained by police for two days. Grabetskaya was accosted for picketing with a rainbow flag and a sign reading: “I Love My Wife.”

Authorities claim that she was apprehended for disobeying police orders after law enforcement officials asked her to “cease her unlawful actions.”

The revocation of Field of Mars from the official list of free speech zones follows an uptick on attacks against LGBTQ organizers in the Russian city, which was once known as a shade more tolerant than its ultra-conservative neighbors.

In May, LGBTQ activists protesting the murder of at least 100 gay men in Chechnyaa predominantly Muslim territory of Russiawere accosted by police. Ten activists marching along the Anichkov Bridge were arrested, dragged away by cops clad in riot gear. At least one person was taken away in an ambulance after fainting.

A group of anti-LGBTQ protesters targeted QueerFest three years prior by “cleansing” the crowd with “colored antiseptic from syringes.” The St. Petersburg festival also received numerous bomb threats.

Zakharova claims that these setbacks, while undoubtedly disappointing, will not shove Russia’s LGBTQ community back into the closet.

“I don’t think that it will stop all public activities,” Zakharova says. “However, this particular act shows that the space for free expression is shrinking rapidly, and that the authorities are not willing to leave any space for public protests.”

Trump Decries ‘Bigotry and Prejudice’ In Military After Banning Trans Troops

President Donald Trump claimed that the military is no place for “bigotry and prejudice” in a Monday speech, but critics claim there’s a problem with that statement: His anti-LGBTQ policies promote the intolerance he condemns.

Trump delivered a televised address to the public in which he said that the military would be reinvesting in the Afghanistan conflict, sending an additional 4,000 troops to the war-torn country. But during that speech, the president appeared to offer yet another statement on the tragedy in Charlottesville, Va. Three people were killed over the weekend as a result of a clash between Confederate apologists and anti-racist protesters.

In response, the president alleged violence on “both sides.” Many noted that statement failed to take a stand against white supremacy.

Trump did not change that tack Monday.

“When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry and no tolerance for hate,” Trump said, now the third time that he has publicly commented on Charlottesville in a press conference. “The young men and women we send to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home. We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other.”

That statement was lambasted by LGBTQ advocates, given that Trump called for a ban on trans military service in a series of July 26 tweets.

“[T]he United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S.,” he wrote. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming military victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said that as the Oval Office works to make Trump’s tweet into policy, the president’s Monday speech is “laughable.”

“His administration has repeatedly tried to move policies that discriminate and to promote prejudice against LGBTQ Americans and other marginalized communities,” Ellis said in an email statement provided to INTO. “From trying to ban transgender troops who just want to serve this country to filling his administration with known anti-LGBTQ activists, Trump’s words are disingenuous and embody fake news.”

Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, also wasn’t impressed.

“The president’s remarks on racism and bigotry within the military were misplaced and not believableespecially only a month after he unilaterally and without expertise or consultation attack transgender troops,” Kiesling wrote in a press release. “The U.S. military has always been a leader in advancing acceptance, integration and equality, yet it is the President called in July for the persecution and purging of transgender troops.”

Although Trump has claimed that removing trans military members would save the armed forces money, that claim has been routinely debunked.

A 2016 study from the RAND corporation found that providing health coverage for transgender service memberswould cost between $2.4 million to $8.4 million. This is far from the “billions” that Trump has cited. Meanwhile, discharging trans troops has a price tag of $960 million. UCLA’s The Williams Institute has estimated that 15,500 active-duty personnel are transgender.

The White House has yet to comment on LGBTQ criticism of the president’s Monday remarks.

Resistance at Work: Queer Employees at NYC Sex Toy Stores Organize a Union

The Pleasure Chest isn’t your typical workplace.

Employees at the sex toy store’s two New York City locations are mostly queermany of them trans and gender non-conforming. And in late June, they did something few retail workers across the country dare to do: they formed a union, voting 16-0 to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), an affiliate of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

“We want more safety and stability for ourselves,” says Sloan Eckhardt, a four-year-veteran and sex specialist at the West Village store, which sells everything from blue raspberry flavored lube and anal beads to feathers and nipple clamps.

“I think that in the current political environment,” Eckhardt continues, “one that’s hostile to women, queer people, transgender people, immigrants, people of color, and Muslims, just the fact that a group of queer people want to get together and create more stability and safety for ourselves, it’s not separate from that [environment].”

By uniting at the workplace, Pleasure Chest employees aren’t just bringing the much-heralded “resistance” to President Trump and to what’s arguably one of its most overlooked arenas. They also mark a rareand resoundingsuccess story for a U.S. labor movement that has long struggled to gain a foothold in the retail sector.

The campaign kicked off last year, propelled by the sorts of issues retail workers face nationwide: low pay and inconvenient, unpredictable scheduling.

“For years now, we’ve been told there’s just no way to solve the challenge of people being unable to call out sick or take vacation or take personal days without putting the store and our co-workers in a bind in terms of the schedule,” says Eckhardt, who identifies as a non-binary trans person and prefers the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them.’ “I don’t believe that. And most of us do not believe that this challenge is unsolvable.”

Eckhardt and their colleagues also face a set of issues specific to the work they doand ones closely intertwined with their various identities as sexual and racial minorities.

If retail workers across the country are accustomed to a certain amount of disrespect from clients, then queer ones of color selling sex toys suffer from it at especially amplified levels. Pleasure Chest employees told INTO they often deal with homophobic and transphobic verbal abuse; they described incidents of co-workers being hit on by clients; they also say they regularly have to confront intoxicated customers.

LeNair Xavier, 46, a customer assistant at the Upper East Side store, recalled one instance of especially drunken shoppers.

“I had this couple inyou could smell the alcohol on them like it was their new perfume,” says Xavier, who is a black man. “The girl was talking about going in the corner and putting the toy on. You could tell she wasn’t really kidding. He tried to be all macho, like ‘That’s my lady, you gonna help us out or what?’ I said, ‘Yeah that’s your lady, that’s not my problem, that’s on you.’”

Eventually, a manager overheard and intervened. And while Xavier has since taught himself to stay calm and lower his voice in these types of situations, he says they’re all too common.

In response, staffers say they’ve repeatedly asked management to hold trainings on security and de-escalation measuresbut without success. As a result, the demand became a pillar of the union campaign.

While queerness is not a job requirement, the work tends to attract a certain kind of sexually and politically-inclined person. That means tight bonds tend to exist among staff. And it means the foundations of a successful union campaign were already well in place before it officially took off.

“They hired very politically savvy, forward-thinking, mostly radical queer people who were left-leaning,” says Eckhardt. “This is a staff of people who are inspired by courageous examples of resistance to oppression, from our past and from our present. And then, we too believe in sorting out nonsense from reality.”

While Pleasure Chest management also exudes a progressive visionof the bedroom, at leastit did not react positively to the union campaign.

After employees asked the company to voluntarily recognize the union, it declined to do so, instead forcing a federally-supervised election through the National Labor Relations Board. In the run-up to the vote, bosses enlisted the services of notorious anti-union forcesthe employer-side law firm Jackson Lewis and the anti-union consulting firm Labor Relations Instituteboth of them widely and more popularly known in the labor world as “union-busters.” By all accounts, these efforts backfired.

Workers say they attended 10 hours of mandatory anti-union meetings pitched as “information sessions,” sitting through presentations that included dubious statistics, graphics, and charts. Before one gathering at the West Village store, according to employees, a consultant with LRI announced that he was going to misgender workers and apologized for doing so in advance.

“What a sensible person would’ve done under the circumstances was ask!” says Eckhardt. “It just shows they didn’t know anything about usIf anyone had been on the fence about voting ‘yes’ to the union, the anti-union campaign solidified those votes.”

In a statement following the election, Pleasure Chest defended its employment practices and rejected charges that it is not doing enough to protect employee safety.

“We support our workers and will engage in negotiations with the union in good faith,” the company said. “We also strongly value the integrity of our business, which we have spent the past 46 years building, and we will continue towork hard to maintain our core values,progressiveprinciples, and our company mission.”

Representatives from the Labor Relations Institute did not respond to requests for comment.

In any case, the campaign shines a light on the largely unorganized retail sector at large. Just 4.3 percent of workers in retail trade belong to unions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than half the already meager national union membership rate. The absence of a significant presence in the growing sector weighs heavily on a labor movement that has lost density for decades and anxiously seeks relevance in the twenty-first century.

“Since this is a growing sector of the labor market, yes, it’s vital for unions to grow there if they are going to survive,” says Ruth Milkman, a labor sociologist at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and expert on the U.S. labor movement.

For the New York City-based RWDSU, which also represents workers at department stores Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, the Pleasure Chest campaign wasn’t its first venture into sex toy retail. Last May, the union won an election to represent workers at three Babeland stores in New York City, the first sex toy shops in the country to organize.

“We’re going to continue organizing retail workers who want a union,” says RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum when asked if the union has plans at other sex toy stores. “And we’re going to encourage workers at other adult entertainment to consider the advantage of working in an organized environment.”

That would be quite alright with Eckhardt.

“I don’t want to benefit at the expense of anyone else,” they say. “I actually would like to see more of retail to become unified, for retail workers to be respected and to be paid fairly for what we do, whether that’s here at the Pleasure Chest or Walmart or Starbucks or Whole Foods or Amazon, all these other places.”

Donald Trump Can’t Stop Appointing Homophobes To The White House

President Donald Trump’s latest White House appointment claimed that homosexuality is a “choice” in a 2014 video unearthed by CNN.

Sam Clovis, a former Trump advisor, is poised to become the new undersecretary of agriculture for research, education, and economics for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Clovis was asked about LGBTQ rights during a 2014 campaign stop on his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate. Clovis remarked that queer and transgender people don’t deserve to be protected from discrimination based on their identity.

Why, you might ask? Let Clovis explain.

“Someone who engages in LGBT behaviorI don’t know what the science is on this, I think it’s still outbut as far as we know, LGBT behavior is a choice they make,” Clovis says. “So we’re being asked to provide Constitutional protections for behavior, a choice in behavior as opposed to a primary characteristic.”

The right-wing talk radio host also claims that LGBTQ rights is a slippery slope that could lead to a number of dangerous behaviors.

“Follow the logic, if you engage in a particular behavior, what also becomes protected?” Clovis adds. “If we protect LGBT behavior, what other behaviors are we going to protect? Are we going to protect pedophilia? Are we going to protect polyamorous marriage relationships? Are we going to protect people who have fetishes?”

When a constituent pushes back on these remarks, Clovis stands his ground.

“I don’t think it’s extreme,” Clovis remarks. “I think it’s a logical extension of thought. And if you cannot follow the logic, then you’re in denial.”

When questioned about his comments by CNN, the USDA claimed that following the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, the matter of LGBTQ rights is “settled.” That response parrots a talking point from Trump’s presidential campaign, but it’s untrue. Queer and trans people can be fired from their jobs in at least 28 states for no other reason than who they are or how they love.

In his career as an conservative pundit, Clovis has fought for the right to discriminate against LGBTQ workers. He states in a 2012 blog post that businesses “should be able to make decisions about who is employed if hiring people who do not behave in accordance with some deeply held religious belief system is at issue.”

LGBTQ advocates told INTO that Clovis’ comments are alarming, especially given his boss’ controversial track record on civil rights.

“Sam Clovis’ nomination further emphasizes how President Trump is willing to do just about anything possible to make his administration the most anti-LGBTQ in recent memory,” says Drew Anderson, director of news and rapid response for GLAAD.

In February, rumors circulated that Trump would sign an anti-LGBTQ executive order giving businesses and private individuals broad license to discriminate on the basis of their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” That order was allegedly tabled at the urging of his daughter, Ivanka Trump, but numerous reports have suggested it remains in play.

“Despite his claims before the election, President Trump has proven to be no friend of the LGBTQ community,” adds David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign.

Clovis is just the latest Trump appointment to receive criticism from advocates for having a noted anti-LGBTQ history.

Mark Green, tapped by the POTUS to fill the shoes of openly gay Army Secretary Eric Fanning, once claimed that being transgender is a disease. Fanning later withdrew his name from consideration. Ben Carson, the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has claimed same-sex marriage leads to bestiality and polygamy. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ family has donated millions to anti-LGBTQ causes.

Clovis, a former Trump campaign advisor, has been met with criticism for more than anti-LGBTQ views. A vocal denier of climate change, critics say he has no background in science or agriculture. If appointed, Clovis would act as chief scientist for the USDA.

His confirmation awaits a vote in the Senate.