A Trans Flag Has Come to Capitol Hill In A Rebuke Of Trump’s Erasure Memo

In one of the most visceral signs that change has come to Capitol Hill, a new member of the House is making national headlines by rebuking President Trump’s anti-transgender agenda and hanging the trans pride flag outside her office.

Virginia Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D) told the Washingtonian that she hung the flag because the transgender community, which includes her niece, has been under attack.

“I wanted to show my solidarity because we are talking about my friends and family,” Wexton said.

The flag arrives at a time when the Trump administration is swiftly moving to dismantle transgender protections in the U.S. In October, The New York Times reported that the administration was moving to legally define transgender people out of existence. The report spurred a nationwide campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) launched a #WontBeErased hashtag in response.

Human Rights Campaign regional field organizer Narissa Rahaman shared a photo of the flag on Facebook Thursday.

“The congresswoman said to me, ‘Did you see the flag?! I think we’re the only office on the Hill with one,’” Rahaman wrote.

In 2016, Rep. Mike Honda propped the transgender pride flag outside his office in Washington D.C. for Transgender Day of Visibility.

“We face new challenges across our country, as right-wing groups try to scapegoat transgender people to pass mean spirited anti-LGBT legislation,” Honda wrote on his Facebook at the time.

According to MSNBC, Honda displayed the flag in honor of his transgender granddaughter.

Monica Helms, the U.S. Navy veteran who created the trans pride flag, said she was honored by Wexton’s choice to display the flag, and Helms said it illustrates a change in Washington as Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.

“Just the fact that you put a trans flag outside of your office shows a bit of resistance to the current administration’s policies,” said Helms.

Wexton’s flag is already drawing visitors. On Friday, NCTE Media Relations Manager Gillian Branstetter tweeted a photo of herself in front of the flag.

Helms said she wants a photo in front of the flag, too. But she prefers it to be in a selfie with Wexton.

“It amazes me that people will do stuff like this,” Helms said of Wexton displaying the flag. “The more that we have Congresspeople who have family members who are trans, the more we’ll see this.”

Court Rules in Favor of Trump’s Trans Military Ban—But Trans Troops Can Still Serve For Now

After more than a year of court rulings unanimously blocking Trump’s trans military ban, the White House finally found judges willing to side with them.

On Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a preliminary injunction against the ban put in place by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. While Kollar-Kotelly argued the policy issued in March 2018 was virtually identical to a 2017 presidential tweetstorm announcing Trump’s intention to remove trans people from the armed forces, a three-judge panel differed in its conclusions.

In a three-page ruling, Judges Thomas Griffith, Stephen Williams, and Robert Wilkins argued that Kollar-Kotelly “made an erroneous finding that the Mattis Plan was not a new policy.”

“The government took substantial steps to cure the procedural deficiencies the court identified in the enjoined 2017 Presidential Memorandum,” the court claimed. These steps allegedly included “the creation of a panel of military and medical experts,” as well as the presentation of “new evidence” on the July 2016 policy allowing trans people to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces for the first time.

Judges with the D.C. circuit court claimed the Mattis Plan limited the scope of Trump’s earlier rhetoric.

The 44-page policy first obtained by INTO required trans enlistees to “demonstrate 36 consecutive months of stability” in the sex they were assigned at birth. It also stated that transgender troops should be “willing and able to adhere to all standards associated with their biological sex.”

The bench—which was unanimous in its decision—felt that policy still left the door open for transgender people to join the military.

“We must recognize that the Mattis Plan plausibly relies upon the ‘considered professional judgment’ of ‘appropriate military officials,’ and appears to permit some transgender individuals to serve in the military consistent with established military mental health, physical health and sex-based standards,” the ruling states.

The justices add that “not all transgender persons seek to transition to their preferred gender.”

LGBTQ advocates argue the D.C. circuit court failed to recognize that the Mattis Plan still effectively forces trans individuals to serve in the closet. In a statement, Jennifer Levi of GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders claimed the ruling is “based on the absurd idea that forcing transgender people to suppress who they are in order to serve is not a ban.”

“It ignores the reality of transgender people’s lives, with devastating consequences, and rests on a complete failure to understand who transgender people are,” GLAD’s transgender rights project director said in a statement. “It is also destabilizing to the military to so dramatically reverse a policy that has been in place for over 2 years that senior military officials acknowledge has operated with no problems.”

Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights further called the decision “a devastating slap in the face to transgender service members who have proved their fitness to serve and their dedication to this country.”

“We will keep fighting this cruel and irrational policy, which serves no purpose other than to weaken the military and punish transgender service members for their patriotism and service,” claimed Minter, who serves as NCLR’s legal director, in a press release.

Advocacy groups plan to petition the D.C. circuit to hear the case en banc, which would mean that all 11 members of the bench would have the chance to weigh in.

While the ruling lifts one of the court injunctions blocking Trump’s trans military ban from taking effect, three additional injunctions remain in place. Thus, transgender people will continue to be able to enlist and serve in the military—for now.

The Justice Department has appealed to the Supreme Court to intervene in three cases regarding the policy: Karnoski v. Trump, Stockman v. Trump, and Doe v. Trump (the latter of which was the case heard by the D.C. bench). SCOTUS is expected to discuss consideration of the case during its upcoming Jan. 11 meeting.

Although the Supreme Court generally waits for lower courts to rule on the case before proceeding, the White House has argued this issue merits an exception.

The D.C. circuit court stressed in its decision that their ruling was not a “final determination on the merits” of whether the federal government can constitutionally bar all members of a protected class from serving in the military.

That will be decided in future cases.

GLAAD’s Sarah Kate Ellis affirmed that any further court decisions must rule in favor of trans troops “who are only seeking to serve this country.”

“Trans people have already proven their fitness to serve, and have been serving their country with honor,” claimed Ellis, who serves as the media watchdog group’s president and CEO, in a statement posted to Twitter.

Image via Getty

Report: The Trump Administration Is Considering Broad Rollbacks to Civil Rights Laws

The Washington Post on Thursday reported it had obtained internal memos and source material about the Trump administration’s plans to weaken federal civil rights protections.

According to the Post, an internal Justice Department memo instructs the agency’s civil rights officials to investigate “disparate impact” regulations with the intent to change or revoke them. “Disparate impact” is essentially the legal theory that allows anti-discrimination laws like the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act to be applied in cases of secondary or less-than-overt discrimination. For example, one 2005 lawsuit brought by a group of Black police sergeants in Memphis, Tennessee alleged that a new written test required for promotion had a discriminatory impact on Black applicants.

A more recent “disparate impact” case in 2016 found that in one California school district, Black students were disciplined at much higher rates than white students. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found the school district guilty of disparate impact discrimination and negotiated an agreement to retrain employees and other remedies.

The Trump administration wants to do away with this kind of civil rights case, and not just at the federal criminal justice agency; according to the Post, similar measures are underway at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Education.

Changes to civil rights law could greatly impact LGBTQ Americans. Even though the Civil Rights Act does not expressly include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes alongside race, religion, and other such groups, the prohibition against ‘sex’ discrimination has been extended to include LGBTQ people in previous legal verdicts.

Doing away with disparate impact regulations could make civil rights protections a lot harder to enforce, and suggests that the Trump administration wants to see civil rights laws applied only in the most purely literal sense — to avoid their protections being extended to anyone not explicitly protected. And, to argue that any unintended or secondary discrimination is not really discrimination at all.

Sarah Kate Ellis, the CEO of GLAAD, said the proposals to roll back federal anti-discrimination laws are just the latest example of Trump’s chipping away at the rights of marginalized Americans.

“Either the Trump Administration is blissfully ignorant or just simply unwilling to understand the depth of discrimination that exists in the United States. But one thing is certain: if you are a part of a marginalized community, President Trump wants nothing to do with you,” said Ellis in a statement Thursday. “These attacks on LGBTQ and other marginalized people must stop.”

There is a glimmer of hope for LGBTQ people in the face of Trump considering changes to anti-discrimination law. With Congress flipped to the Democrats and Nancy Pelosi re-taking the title of Speaker of the House, it’s likely that the Equality Act will be reintroduced in 2019. The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity language to the Civil Rights Act, and would become the only federal nondiscrimination protection ever offered to LGBTQ Americans.

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Where is the Official Autopsy for the Trans Woman Who Died in ICE Custody Last Year?

There is no standard time for completing an autopsy, say experts. But the lack of an official autopsy for Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender woman who died in ICE custody more than seven months ago, is starting to raise eyebrows.

The New Mexico Office of the Medical Examiner (OMI) says Hernandez’s case is still under review. Her autopsy was conducted on June 4.

“We don’t think it does Ms. Hernandez or the public any good to rush to any conclusion,” Alex Sanchez, public information officer for the OMI, told INTO. “The pathologist will take whatever time he needs on it.”

Hernandez’s case has drawn national media attention. ICE reported she died on May 25 after experiencing complications of pneumonia, dehydration, and untreated HIV. In November, The Daily Beast reported that an independent autopsy, commissioned by The Transgender Law Center (TLC) and immigration attorney R. Andrew Free on behalf of Hernandez’s family, found Hernandez was severely beaten in custody. ICE refutes that she was abused while at Cibola County Correctional Center.

Sanchez said the OMI’s autopsy has nothing to do with the independent autopsy commissioned by TLC and declined to state why the agency’s autopsy lagged behind the independent report.

In early December, INTO filed a public records request for the autopsy. In response, the OMI said it may need more than 12 weeks to produce an autopsy. It has now been 31 weeks.  

Medical examiners across the country aim to complete autopsies quickly, in part because industry standards demand it.

Last month, the Maricopa Medical Examiner’s Office in Arizona proudly announced its accreditation by the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME).

“It wasn’t easy for us,” said Fields Moseley, a spokesperson for the county. “We’re one of the busiest medical examiners in the country.

The Maricopa Medical Examiner’s Office serves two-thirds of the state, including Phoenix. With only 11 pathologists, the office was facing a backlog of cases. To be accredited, a medical examiner must complete 90 percent of its postmortem reports within 90 days. The county instituted loan repayment incentives to attract new staff and increase its capacity.

There are extenuating circumstances that can put an office behind.

“There are bones found in the desert, for example,” Moseley said. “Can you determine a cause of death from those bones found in a shallow grave?”

Moseley reports that the Maricopa performs about 8,000 autopsies a year. In his three years on the job, he has seen one or two cases that are outstanding after a year.

The New York Medical Examiner also turns most of its cases around between 24 to 48 hours, said Aja Worthy-Davis, executive director for public affairs for the agency. Asked if there was a case that stretched over six months, Worthy-Davis, said: “I can’t think of one.”

“We have considerably more medical examiners than most other jurisdictions so it’s not necessarily fair to compare,” added Worthy-Davis.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, which processes Chicago’s many autopsies, closes out its most complicated cases within three months.

Jonathan Arden, the president of NAME, says a variety of factors can slow down an autopsy, from toxicology testing to law enforcement holding back a report for investigative purposes.

“According to NAME, the industry standard is that you should be trying to get 90 percent of your reports done in 60 calendar days, and you really must get 90 percent of them done within 90 calendar days,” said Arden. “Unfortunately there are many instances where offices don’t meet that criterion.”

Arden attributes some of that delay to 64,000 opioid deaths a year, overwhelming an already limited pool of pathologists nationally.

“I don’t mean it as an excuse, but it’s a harsh reality,” said Arden.

But whether those factors play into the substantial delay in Hernandez’s case remain unclear, in part because the OMI won’t say. Its official statement notes that Hernandez “had complex medical conditions that necessitate extra analyses including specialty consultation.”

Sanchez declined to offer a timeline for when the autopsy would be ready.

Asked about whether the OMI was withholding the autopsy due to scrutiny against ICE in Hernandez’s death, Sanchez said the OMI is independent of the federal agency.

“It is not our job to hide why someone died,” she said.

According to a source close to the case, the OMI sent part of Hernandez’s brain off for testing to determine how far her HIV had advanced. Those results were supposed to be made available to Dr. Kris Sperry, who performed Hernandez’s independent autopsy. Sperry reportedly never received them.

Arden declined to comment on the delay in Hernandez’s autopsy, but noted it was not unusual or unheard of to see such a lag.

“It is outside of certainly the guidelines that are recommended or desired,” he said.

Image via Getty

Facebook Apologizes to Homophobic Preacher After He Was Temporarily Blocked For Anti-Trans Hate Speech

While Twitter is taking historic measures to ban anti-LGBTQ hate speech, Facebook is kowtowing to homophobes.

The social media platform issued an apology to evangelical pastor Franklin Graham after his account was temporarily suspended for comments about North Carolina’s House Bill 2. After Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert in the state over the anti-trans “bathroom bill,” Graham lamented society had strayed too far from Biblical teachings.”

“[W]e need to go back!” he said in 2016. “Back to God. Back to respecting and honoring His commands. Back to common sense. … [A] nation embracing sin and bowing at the feet of godless secularism and political correctness is not progress.”

Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, was locked out of his Facebook account in December as a result of that two-year-old post. He claimed in a Dec. 28 tweet that the website—which counts more than 2 billion active monthly users—was “censoring free speech” by banning him for 24 hours.

“[Facebook is] making and changing the rules,” Graham said. “Truth is truth. God made the rules and His Word is truth. The free exchange of ideas is part of our country’s DNA.”

The pastor further referred to it as a “personal attack” in an appearance on Fox and Friends.

But on Sunday, the 66-year-old reported that Facebook had extended an olive branch. In a message to Graham, its moderators claimed they had made a “mistake” by suspending his account.

“It looks like we made a mistake and removed something you posted on Facebook that didn’t go against our Community Standards,” the message read. “We want to apologize and let you know that we’ve restored your content and removed any blocks on your account related to this incorrect action.”

In an email, the company further reiterated their condolences.

“Upon re-reviewing this content, we identified that the post does not violate our hate speech policy and has been restored,” spokesperson Sarah Pollock told the Asheville Citizen-Times.

On Facebook’s website, it delineates hate speech as a “direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics—race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability.”

“We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation,” the company claims.

Although one could reasonably argue that referring to the movement for trans equality as an embrace of “sin,” “godless secularism,” and “political correctness” is dehumanizing, it appears Facebook does not share that view.

While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was an outspoken critic of HB 2, the site has long had a contentious relationship with the LGBTQ community. In October, a Washington Post report revealed that its policy on political advertising unintentionally censored “dozens” of pro-LGBTQ messages.

More recently, Facebook banned discussion of  “sexual preference” and “sexual roles” in an effort to curb solicitation. A relatively innocuous statement like “#BottomPride” on the platform could, thus, lead to a suspension.

But while Facebook continues to draw ire from its LGBTQ user base, Twitter has trended in the opposite direction.

In October, the company announced it would no longer allow users to deadname or misgender trans people. Its updated Terms of Service prohibit “targeting individuals with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category.”

Graham, who is very active on both Twitter and Facebook, has a long history of this kind of behavior.

The far-right Christian leader supports Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” laws, says LGBTQ inclusion in the Boy Scouts of America is the result of “corrupt values,” and thinks queer people “recruit” children. He has also said same-sex marriage is a “detestable” affront to God and equated it to “senseless violence.”

When HB 2 was repealed and replaced with a controversial “compromise” bill in March 2017, Graham tweeted that any rollback of the legislation would lead to “pedophiles and sexually perverted men in women’s public restrooms.”

Calling trans people “sexually perverted men” would likely get him banned on Twitter today under its new hate speech guidelines.

Luckily for Graham, Facebook is there waiting with blind eyes.

Image via Getty

Trump Praises Brazil’s Homophobic New President As He Strips Away LGBTQ Rights

President Trump praised Brazil’s far-right president as he stripped away LGBTQ protections on his first day in office.

Newly seated Jair Bolsonaro signed a series of executive orders on his first day targeting ethnic, sexual, and gender minorities in Brazil. One of the orders erased considering of LGBTQ issues by the South American country’s human rights ministry, known as the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights.

According to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, Provisional Measure 870 fails to mention queer or transgender people while making reference to the rights of the family, youth, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

In addition, the nondiscrimination body known as “National Council for Combating Discrimination and Promotion of the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Travestis, and Transgender” is not listed in the document by its full name. Instead, it’s referred to as the “National Council for Combating Discrimination,” as PinkNews previously noted.

Despite widespread backlash to Bolsonaro’s order on Twitter, the POTUS wished Brazil’s new leader well. “The U.S.A. is with you!” he told the 63-year-old politician.

Trump wasn’t the only current or former member of the administration who failed to mention the erasure of some of Brazil’s most marginalized communities on Bolsonaro’s very first day in office. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent him “warm congratulations from the people of the United States.”

Nikki Haley, who resigned as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in October, also wished him “congratulations.”

“It’s great to have another U.S.-friendly leader in South America, who will join the fight against dictatorships in Venezuela and Cuba, and who clearly understands the danger of China’s expanding influence in the region,” she claimed on Twitter, overlooking the fact that Bolsonaro ran on a pro-dictatorship platform.

While the remarks were lambasted, it makes sense that the White House would ally itself with a politician styled in the Commander-in-Chief’s own image. Bolsonaro is often referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics.”

In fact, the incoming president’s anti-LGBTQ decisions appear to be taking several pages out of Trump’s own playbook. During the early days of his administration, the White House removed all mention of queer and transgender people from its official web pages. Most of those references have not been restored.

The federal government has continued to roll back equality in the nearly two years since—whether it’s transgender military service or protections for LGBTQ employees in the workplace.

Human Rights Minister Damares Alves has signaled that the Brazilian government under Bolsonaro would continue to follow in Trump’s footsteps. An evangelical pastor, Alves has vowed that “there will be no more ideological indoctrination of children and teenagers in Brazil.”

“Girls will be princesses and boys will be princes,” she said.

Alves has previously claimed that the “Brazilian family is being threatened” by the movement for LGBTQ rights, even though the opposite is more likely true. Brazil’s queer and trans community faces among the world’s highest hate crime rates, with 445 people murdered in 2017.

The human rights ministry, however, has attempted to reassure LGBTQ Brazilians that Bolsonaro’s order will have no impact on their community.

“The current Directorate for the Promotion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Travestis, and Transsexual Rights, formerly a body of the National Secretariat of Citizenship, will be maintained, with the same structure, in the National Secretariat of Global Protection,” the department claimed in a statement.

Only time will tell, but Bolsonaro’s own views provide little comfort as to whether his presidency will uphold the rights of Brazil’s LGBTQ community. He refers to himself as “homophobic and very proud of it.”

In addition, the ultraconservative leader has claimed he would rather have a dead child than a gay one, claiming he would be “incapable of loving a homosexual son.” He has also compared LGBTQ advocacy to fighting for “a pedophile’s right to have sex with a two-year-old.”

Images via Getty

Queering Congress: 10 LGBTQ Senators and Representatives are Being Sworn In Today

On Thursday, the 116th U.S. Congress opens for business, and a historic number of newly-elected and reelected LGBTQ officials are about to be sworn in. With two senators and eight congressional representatives starting work today, neither chamber has ever been this queer.

All 10 of the new queer Congress members are Democrats, hailing from all over the country. Coming to the Senate are Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema. Four congressional freshmen are coming aboard for the first time: Minnesota’s Angie Craig, Kansas’ Sharice Davids, California’s Katie Hill, and New Hampshire’s Chris Pappas.

The newbies will join four gay incumbents who were reelected to Congress this year: Rhode Island’s David Cicilline, New York’s Sean Patrick Maloney, Wisconsin’s Mark Pocan, and California’s Mark Takano.

With Congress flipped to a Democratic majority, and Nancy Pelosi returning to her reign as Speaker of the House, 2019 is setting up to be a banner year for LGBTQ equality legislation.

“Speaker Pelosi will have eight LGBTQ Representatives to consult about how various healthcare or criminal justice reform policies uniquely affect our community,” said Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, in a statement on Thursday. “The relationships these LGBTQ lawmakers will build with their colleagues on Capitol Hill are transformative, and with an unprecedented number of women and people of color also joining the 116th Congress, equality issues will finally receive the attention they deserve.”

Parker, who became the first openly gay mayor of a major metropolitan U.S. city when she was elected mayor of Houston, Texas in 2009, noted that even though the Senate chamber remains under Republican control, the presence of lesbian (Baldwin) and bisexual (Sinema) senators can only help increase LGBTQ visibility there.

“In the U.S. Senate, those opposed to the Equality Act will now need to look two openly LGBTQ Senators in the eyes and tell them their lives are not worth protecting,” said Parker.

The Equality Act is a bill previously introduced twice by Cicilline that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If passed, it would offer LGBTQ Americans the first federal antidiscrimination protections in history — and the only protections for those living in states that have no local antidiscrimination laws inclusive of LGBTQ people.

The new LGBTQ members of Congress are already making their voices heard. In a letter to the House chief administrative officer on Thursday, Pappas said he plans to refuse his first congressional paycheck — saying he doesn’t want to get paid until the government shutdown ends. During the shutdown, around 800,000 federal government workers are under furlough and not being paid.

“As someone who has run a small business, I could not imagine receiving a paycheck while any of my employees are working without pay,” Pappas told Manchester, New Hampshire’s WMUR on Thursday. “For this reason, I write today to request that my pay be withheld until the current shutdown has ended and the entire federal government is reopened.”

A Furry Convention Offers Lessons in Safe Sex

Last month Midwest FurFest attracted over 10,000 folks, in and out of fursuits, for one of the world’s largest furry conventions. They came for a mix of attractions both familiar (gaming sessions, writing workshops, dance parties) and surprising (appearances by Insane Clown Posse’s Violent J and his furry-famous daughter Ruby).

But one feature of the con drew some consternation: Chicago-based public health nonprofit Sinai Health offered free confidential HIV tests to all attendees. And while access to health care and related information is a definite asset to any gathering, the testing also drew a bit of a backlash, exposing widespread ignorance and stigma around HIV.

Responding to tweets from con organizers and attendees, various people claimed on Twitter that HIV tests are a sign of irresponsible behavior, that HIV testing is too depressing a topic for a con, and that people in other fandoms don’t need to know their status. One person claimed that HIV transmission was caused by dirty fursuits.

To their credit, health providers, con organizers, and attendees did their best to dispel the myths around HIV, turning the weekend into an impromptu — and clearly much-needed — lesson in safe sex for all.

With roots in mid-’90s sci-fi conventions, Midwest FurFest draws thousands to a convention center just outside Chicago each year. Charitable giving and community service have always been a component of the event, which raised $94,000 for a literacy program in 2018. And for the third year in a row, counselors and testers with Sinai Health were on hand for anyone interested in checking their HIV status.

The timing was apt, coming just a few days after World AIDS Day and the release of a roadmap for ending the epidemic, signed by hundreds of HIV/AIDS organizations. Among the many recommendations in the roadmap was a call for all adults to be tested for HIV at least once in their lives.

But the frank, open discussion of sexual health troubled some observers on Twitter. “It’s supposed to be a fun weekend but HIV testing makes everything iffy,” wrote one person. “It’s just a little worrisome is all.”

“NEEDING it at a con is a sign that’s there’s way too much unprotected sex going on,” wrote another. “Most cons don’t need it.”

Many of the online responses were laden with undisguised homophobia and ignorance about what HIV is: “Your con is filled with sexual deviants who think it’s ok to spread diseases around like candy, some deadly like HIV;” “The spread of HIV is perpetuated by irresponsibility;” “People should get tested multiple times a year? What, so everyone’s a prostitute now?”

And then came the most forehead-slapping tweet of the con: “I just think that maybe if SOME furries WASHED their fursuits, the spread of HIV would be a little less severe.”

To be clear: HIV testing is a normal part of a healthy lifestyle and isn’t “worrisome,” any more than visiting a doctor for a cholesterol test or a flu shot. When treated, HIV isn’t by itself deadly, and as with diabetes or measles, treatment generally leads to a long healthy life. Even otherwise-responsible people can transmit HIV if they don’t know their status; and sex workers aren’t the only ones who should be aware of their status.

And in case it needs to be said, fursuits are an unlikely vector for transmission, since the virus can’t survive for long outside the body. (But it’s still good manners to wash your suit after yiffing.)

Tweets like these inadvertently illustrated the need for counseling and testing at fandom events — not just Midwest FurFest, but any gathering of people who might be ill-informed or carrying emotional hangups around sexual health that put them at risk. And having health care professionals on-hand is vastly preferable to previous solutions, such as the ‘90s-era handout “The Yiffy Guide to Safer Sex.”

“At the end of the day, anyone that’s engaging in unprotected sex should get tested,” said Kimberly Ramirez-Mercado, Program Manager with the Sinai Infectious Disease Center. She oversaw the testing at the con and noted that many of the people they saw had never had a rapid test before.

Now in its third year, the testing area at FurFest recently expanded to three rooms. Ramirez-Mercado estimates that they tested 225 people, and reached at least 600 with educational material. That’s up from 70 people tested in 2016, and 126 in 2017, according to FurFest. It’s been a helpful experience for both con attendees and health providers.

“This has really opened our eyes to engaging communities,” said Ramirez-Mercado. “We’ve had conversations with the lead organizer at FurFest about doing it at anime conventions. We do see that there’s a big LGBT population that goes to those conventions, but also people who aren’t being reached out to with information about HIV.”

That sentiment was echoed by FurFest’s board of directors. “This testing service was not intended as a statement, or out of any specific health concern,” wrote spokesperson Corey Strom, “but simply as a way to provide valuable information to those who may not otherwise have access to such services.”

Those services include testing, but also providing supplies like condom and lube, as well as information about preventative measures like PrEP. Expanding awareness and access to PrEP is seen as a key step in ending the epidemic.

“We want to give people the right information and possibly risk reduction suggestions so they can lower their risk for HIV,” said Ramirez-Mercado.

For all the fun, sharing of art, and sex that happens at a con, education remains a priority for organizers. “Since 2000, Midwest FurFest has existed primarily for the purpose of facilitating education in anthropomorphic literature and art,” Strom wrote.

Far from being “worrisome,” reaching out to convention-goers “empowers them to take control of their own health,” said Dan Regan, Director of Communications and Public Relations for Sinai Health.

And just to dispel one more myth, when asked if the furry fandom is at heightened risk of transmitting HIV, Ramirez-Mercado answered instantly and confidently, “Absolutely not.”

In other words, all people, no matter what community they’re a part of, should know their status and talk to a counselor about safe sex.

Furries who actually visited the testing area, rather than simply venting about it online, generally seemed appreciative.

“The experience was nice, quiet, confidential,” an attendee who goes by Ambient told INTO. “Would totally recommend it.”

She added, “Furry cons are pretty much the only place I go to where it’d even come up!”

Another onlooker offered sound advice about taking advantage of testing in any setting it’s offered: “Midwest FurFest is in the fucking US,” they wrote. “Take free health care WHENEVER IT’S AVAILABLE.”

Image via Facebook

Trump’s NASA Head Lifts Sanctions Against Anti-LGBTQ Russian Official to Allow Visit

Trump’s head of NASA raised eyebrows this week by lifting sanctions against an anti-LGBTQ Russian official to allow him to speak at its Houston facility.

Jim Bridenstine, who was appointed to lead NASA in April following months of gridlock, reportedly invited Dmitry Rogozin to its headquarters in early 2019. The former deputy prime minister, Rogozin was tapped by Russian President Vladimir Putin to lead Roscosmo—which manages the country’s aeronautics program—last year.

The 55-year-old has also served as Russia’s ambassador to NATO and the head of Russia’s Arctic Commission.

Normally, a visit from a little-known foreign bureaucrat wouldn’t make national headlines. But as Politico was the first to report, Rogozin is currently banned from entering the United States.

In 2014, Rogozin was sanctioned for his part in the annexation of Crimea, widely viewed as trespassing international law.

Adding to the controversy is Rogozin’s staunch record of opposing rights and recognition for the LGBTQ community. When Madonna protested St. Petersburg’s ban on Pride events at a 2012 concert in the Russian city, he called her a “whore” on Twitter.

“Every former [whore] wants to give lectures on morality when she grows old,” tweeted Rogozin, an active social media user. “Especially during foreign tours.”

Rogozin also took aim at Conchita Wurst after she won the famed Eurovision song contest in 2014. He claimed the Austrian drag queen’s victory was a harbinger of LGBTQ supremacy should Russia embrace Western ideology, saying it “showed supporters of European integration their European future: a bearded girl.”

Meanwhile, when Latvian politician Edgars Rinkevics publicly announced on Twitter that he’s a gay man, Rogozin suggested that being LGBTQ is a matter ofpPride only for those who have “nothing else to be proud of.”

“Is that his point of pride?” Rinkevics asked in a tweet.

Despite his anti-equality record, Politico reports that Bridenstine “succeeded in temporarily waiving sanctions on Rogozin” last October so that the official will have the opportunity to meet with NASA in the coming weeks. He’s also scheduled to visit Rice University, Bridenstine’s alma mater.

The former Congressman from Oklahoma defended his decision as part of his mission to maintain a “strong working relationship” between the United States and Russia.

NASA spokeswoman Megan Powers elaborated on that defense in an email.

“The U.S. / Russian relationship in space dates back to the 1970s,” Powers told Politico. “NASA has historically invited the head of the Russian space agency to visit the United States.”

“Following this precedent, and Administrator Bridenstine’s October visit to Russia to participate in crew launch activities to the International Space Station,” she continued, “NASA invited the Director-General of Roscosmos to visit NASA facilities in the United States and discuss our ongoing space-related cooperation.”

LGBTQ groups disagree that the invitation is benign in intent. Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, claimed it “sends an extraordinarily dangerous and discriminatory message to LGBTQ students and other marginalized groups.”

“Leave it up to the most anti-LGBTQ administration in recent memory to grant an anti-LGBTQ activist and Russian nationalist the opportunity to promote his hateful and out-of-touch rhetoric to students,” said Ellis in a statement. “Dmitry Rogozin has no business visiting our nation in the first place, much less being offered a speaking engagement at an academic institution.”

The national watchdog group called on Rice University to block him from campus.

The Houston, Texas university—where Bridenstine graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Psychology, and Business—has not responded to criticism of Rogozin’s impending appearance.

While former Obama administration official Evelyn Farkas told Politico the visit is “appalling” and Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Mark Warner claimed it “sends the wrong message” following reports of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, the controversy isn’t all that surprising.

Although NASA appointees are generally met with little blowback, Bridenstine’s nomination faced widespread opposition. In addition to being a climate change denier, the 43-year-old’s views on LGBTQ people aren’t that different from Rogozin’s.

Bridenstine called the Supreme Court’s decision on Obergefell v. Hodges a “disappointment.” He said the 5-4 ruling was a letdown “not only because it is contrary to millennia of human experience, but also because it is clearly contrary to the choice of the people as expressed in a constitutionally valid process.”

In addition, the former lawmaker opposes same-sex adoptions, affirming bathroom access for trans students in schools, and LGBTQ inclusion in the Boy Scouts of America.

“The left’s agenda is not about tolerance, and it’s not about diversity of thought,” he claimed after BSA announced it would permit openly queer and trans youths to participate. “It’s about presenting a worldview of relativism, where there is no right and wrong, then using the full force of the government to silence opposition and reshape organizations like the Boy Scouts into instruments for social change.”

At the time, GLAAD condemned his appointment as “yet another attack on LGBTQ people” by the Trump administration.

“It’s time for the Senate to take a hard look at the nominations they are confirming and the potential ramifications these anti-LGBTQ politicians stand to have on the LGBTQ employees in their agencies and within our country as a whole,” said Vice President of Programs Zeke Stokes in a press release.

The 18 Biggest LGBTQ News Stories of 2018

If 2017 was the year of anxiety and protest, as Trump entered his presidency and filled the federal government with anti-LGBTQ activists, then 2018 was the year the Trump administration fully went on the attack. The government’s anti-LGBTQ agenda was deployed over and over through federal policy proposals that threatened to define trans people out of existence, cleared the way for employment and healthcare discrimination, and crushed the military careers of HIV-positive troops.

It wasn’t all bad, though: 2018 was also the year that Hollywood finally started to take LGBTQ concerns seriously, the midterm elections brought an unprecedented wave of queer and trans elected officials, and India overturned a longtime British colonial ban on gay sex.

The year ahead presents just as many challenges, and a lot of LGBTQ equality cases that entered the courts are likely to result in 2019 rulings that could widely impact our rights. But with more LGBTQ governors, senators, and congressional representatives than ever before in history, we have a powerful voice in government.

In order to help understand what LGBTQ news and politics will look like in 2019, we’re looking back at some of last year’s biggest stories — presented here in no particular order.

1) LGBTQ PERSECUTION IN CHECHNYA CONTINUES

After the news of state-sponsored “gay purges” surfaced in 2017, reports showed LGBTQ people continued to flee the country in 2018. And a December report commissioned by Europe’s local answer to the United Nations showed that violent persecution and murders had continued throughout 2018 despite international condemnation. 

2) MARRIAGE EQUALITY, REVERSED

Bermuda became the world’s first country to repeal same-sex marriage rights, in a move that’s just sad. 

3) TRUMP KICKS HIV-POSITIVE TROOPS OUT OF THE MILITARY

In February, the Trump administration launched its new “Deploy or Get Out” policy, directing the Pentagon to discharge any troops that couldn’t be deployed overseas in the next 12 months. The effect of the policy: roughly 126,000 troops who are disabled, HIV-positive, or otherwise undeployable under military policy due to illness or injury are losing their jobs. Three separate lawsuits on behalf of HIV-positive soldiers entered the courts in 2018 to challenge the policy.

4) UNQUALIFIED LESBIANS, SKINHEAD LESBIANS, AND KICKBOXING NATIVE AMERICAN LESBIANS

The midterms got ugly this year for lesbians, as candidates on both sides of the aisle flung anti-lesbian comments at rivals and even at a high school student. Some of the hate was just absurd enough, thankfully, to cross over into humor; thanks to Christine Quinn’s jab at NYC mayoral candidate Cynthia Nixon, you can buy a button or a t-shirt advertising your “unqualified lesbian” status. 

5) ALMOST A TRANSGENDER GOVERNOR

Christine Hallquist became the first transgender candidate to win a major party nomination for governor of a U.S. state, as the Democratic primary winner in Vermont. INTO ran an exclusive interview with her.

6) SCOTUS RULES IN FAVOR OF MASTERPIECE CAKESHOP

Three years after it legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the Supreme Court appeared to strike a blow against LGBTQ Americans when it ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop — a business that broke Colorado state law by refusing to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. While SCOTUS made clear its ruling did not justify or legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination in public accommodations, it was viewed as a victory by anti-LGBTQ activists.  

7) HOLLYWOOD LISTENS TO LGBTQ PROTESTS

TODAY -- Pictured: Kevin Hart on Thursday, September 27, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Hollywood finally responds to LGBTQ outcry: it seemed like 2018 was the year Hollywood listened to queer and trans people for the first time. Scarlett Johansson backed away from starring in a biopic about a trans man, and Kevin Hart stepped down as the 2019 Oscars host after the internet blew up his history of making homophobic and transphobic jokes

8) TRUMP TAKES HIV FUNDING TO PAY FOR FAMILY SEPARATIONS

Internal documents from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement showed the agency planned to pay for the increasing cost of taking migrant children away from their families at the border by diverting money away from the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. 

9) TRUMP TELLS FEDERAL CONTRACTORS DISCRIMINATION IS OKAY

The Trump administration’s Department of Labor issued new guidelines instructing the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to allow “faith-based” businesses to freely discriminate against LGBTQ employees in defiance of federal law.  

10) THE BRETT KAVANAUGH NIGHTMARE

Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS confirmation seemed to go on forever, traumatizing sexual assault survivors of all genders and orientations. It also uncovered a bizarre incident with Kavanaugh’s gay college roommate — who came home one day to find a dead pigeon nailed to his bedroom door, saying Kavanaugh refused to speak to him because of likely homophobic animus.

11) INDIA LEGALIZES GAY SEX

India’s highest court struck down a gay sex ban that dated back to British colonial rule in the 1880s, putting an end to a long period of LGBTQ persecution by authorities. 

12) THE ANTI-LGBTQ MAIL BOMBER THAT TRIED TO KILL OBAMA

After a dozen mail bombs were sent to prominent Democrats (including President Barack Obama) and critics of President Trump, authorities arrested Cesar Sayoc for constructing and sending the devices. INTO delved into Sayoc’s past, discovering numerous homophobic and transphobic social media posts — and interviewed his lesbian former boss about the threatening, anti-gay comments he repeatedly made to her.

13) TRUMP ADMINISTRATION AIMS TO DEFINE TRANSGENDER OUT OF EXISTENCE

A Department of Health and Human Services memo leaked to the New York Times revealed Trump administration plans to legally define gender to match the genitals a person is born with, effectively erasing transgender, nonbinary, and intersex people from existence as far as the law is concerned. 

14) THE MIDTERMS WERE A HISTORIC RAINBOW TSUNAMI

The 2018 midterm elections saw more LGBTQ candidates, and more LGBTQ winners, than ever before in U.S. history. 

15) GRINDR PRESIDENT SAYS MARRIAGE IS FOR A MAN AND A WOMAN

INTO took the unusual step of reporting on its parent company after Grindr president Scott Chen posted controversial remarks about same-sex marriage on Facebook. Fallout from the report led to some employees resigning from their jobs. 

16) INTO IN MEXICO WITH THE LGBTQ CARAVAN

After a caravan of LGBTQ migrants broke away from the larger migrant caravan headed for the U.S. border, INTO’s Mexico reporters went inside to find out why — and followed them to Tijuana to witness a mass marriage.  

17) ICE TRIES TO DENY A TRANS WOMAN WAS BEATEN IN CUSTODY BEFORE SHE DIED

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) refused to release a legally-mandated report on the death of transgender woman Roxsana Hernandez, who died in custody in May. After an independent autopsy revealed that Hernandez appeared to have been beaten while in handcuffs before her death, ICE tried to discredit the doctor who performed the autopsy — and insisted that its statements remain off the record. INTO took the rare step of refusing to adhere to an off-record agreement. 

18) TAIWAN VOTES AGAINST MARRIAGE EQUALITY

Taiwan voters decided to ban same-sex marriage in surprise upset referendum, after anti-LGBTQ groups (aided by powerful American conservative organizations) spent $33 million to sway votes. INTO reporter Nico Lang traveled to Taiwan for a series of reports from the ground.