Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s spokesman denied the initial report, calling it “absolute lies.” In fact, the spokesman went on to say that there are no homosexuals in the Muslim-majority region. Ali Karimov said, according to the state news agency RIA Novosti: “It’s impossible to persecute those who are not in the republic.” “If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return,” Karimov added. The Kremlin-backed president’s administration is widely accused of extensive human rights violations. The arrests allegedly began after gay rights group GayRussia.ru applied for permits for gay pride parades, which were denied.
The men who say they were detained for being gay challenge the statement by the Chechen administration, saying they were beaten with sticks, were forced to sit on bottles, and had their hands electrocuted. One man (who did not want to be identified by name for fear of retaliation) said he had been kept in a building where authorities were holding suspected militants who had fought in Syria and those who suspected of being in touch with jihadi fighters. “Several times a day we were taken out and beaten,” he said. “Their main aim was to find out your circle of contacts – in their minds if you are a suspect, then your circle of contacts are all gay. They kept our phones switched on. Any man who texts or calls is a new target.” According to Novaya Gazeta, some of the men caught were handed back to their families with the expectation that their family would perform an honor killing. (Seattle gay News – Shaun Knittel at Sgn.org)
Gilbert Baker, creator of the rainbow flag, has died
New York City – Gilbert Baker, the artist who designed the iconic Rainbow Flag and described himself as a “gay Betsy Ross,” died March 31st in New York City. He was 65. Baker’s longtime friend and fellow activist Cleve Jones broke the news on his Facebook page. “I am heartbroken,” Jones wrote. “My dearest friend in the world is gone. Gilbert gave the world the Rainbow Flag; he gave me 40 years of love and friendship. I can’t stop crying. I love you forever, Gilbert Baker.” Baker and Jones met each other in the circle of young gay activists who gathered around Harvey Milk in 1970s-era San Francisco.
Baker taught himself to sew and used his newly acquired skills to make banners for antiwar and gay rights marches. Among his many creations was the one for which he is best known – the Rainbow Flag – which he designed in 1978, shortly after Milk was assassinated. “We needed something to express our joy, our beauty, our power. And the rainbow did that,” Baker told CNN in a 2015 interview. The flag proved to be an immediate hit. “We stood there and watched and saw the flags, and [the crowd’s] faces lit up,” Jones later told the New York Times. “It needed no explanation. People knew immediately that it was our flag.”
The first flag had eight colors with each stripe carrying significance: “pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for peace and purple for spirit,” the New York Times reported. The flag has since changed to six colors, removing the pink color because pink fabric was too expensive and combining turquoise and blue into one color, royal blue. Baker never sought a trademark on the flag because he considered it “his gift to the world,” Cleve Jones said. “He told me when the flag first went up that he knew at that moment that it was his life’s work.” (Seattle gay News – Mike Andrew at Sgn.org)
Murder charged for trans teen’s death from tainted silicone
Salisbury, North Carolina – The much-publicized death of 19-year-old Symone Marie Jones on January 12th has led to an arrest and more victims coming out of the woodwork. Kavonceya Iman Cornelius, 42, appeared in court on March 22nd facing charges of second-degree murder. Cornelius, a trans woman from Salisbury, had been performing unlicensed silicone injections with non-medical-grade silicone. Cornelius turned herself in to police on March 19th. Since her arrest, another victim has contacted police with testimony about harmful silicone injections performed by Cornelius. TV station WSOC reported that because Cornelius knew about the risk of the injections prior to Jones’s death, police decided to increase the charges against her to second-degree murder. If convicted, she could be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Jones began her transition last year and received breast augmentation performed by a licensed doctor in Florida. The silicone injections that Cornelius gave Jones in her buttocks are known as “pumpers,” consisting of loose silicone that can migrate, causing scarring, disfigurement, or even death. The injections cost between $500 and $1,200. The expense of the illegal injections is minimal compared to the difficulty of accessing licensed medical professionals for many transitioning individuals. CNN reported in 2015 that gender reassignment surgery at one particular clinic cost upwards of $125,000, and that most patients pay out of pocket.
The Salisbury Post reported that the second victim, Kaniya Ebony Bernard, is a transgender woman from out of state and received injections from Cornelius that resulted in illness. When Bernard felt unwell, Cornelius instructed her to go to the hospital and say she got the injections in Mexico. Cornelius even visited Bernard in the hospital. t (Q Notes Online – Maria Dominguez at Goqnotes.com)
‘Erotic World’ remains an important part of Phoenix Pride
Phoenix – No matter what the temperature greets Phoenix Pride Festivalgoers this year, it’s guaranteed to be hot inside Erotic World. Each year, this adult-only area offers anyone age 18 and up the chance to learn more about different forms of play, shop a number of retail booths and see sexy performances and demonstrations – all in a safe space. For the 2017 festival on April 1st and 2nd, Erotic World expanded in its size and offerings. According to festival organizers, the air-conditioned tent space has grown by one-third this year, and it had more hands-on components.
Being able to offer Erotic World to attendees adds to the overall diversity the festival’s offerings, according to Jim Ward, Erotic World manager. “We all have unique identities that contribute to the whole. Pride would get pretty boring if it was all the same,” Ward said. “With Erotic World, [attendees] have an opportunity to come and learn and figure out why in the world somebody finds this particular kind of play pleasurable or erotic.”
Each day, the indoor stage showcased male and female burlesque dancers from Romantasy Cabaret’s VaVaVoom Burlesque and male dancers from Dick’s Cabaret. I addition, experts from the leather community gave demos of forms of sensual play such as flogging, spanking and electro play, and attendees were able to try some of them in a supervised experiential area. Members of local leather organizations, including Mr. Phoenix Leather, Arizona Men of Leather, the Arizona Leather Bears and Cubs as well as the Arizona Power Exchange, led demonstrations and educated members of the public about the BDSM community. For guests wanting to spice up their love lives, the vendor area had items such as adult toys, supplies for more advanced forms of play and kinky clothing. “People can come to Erotic World to learn about the dark and mysterious parts of our community that are embraced and loved, but not often talked about,” said Justin Owen, Phoenix Pride executive director. (Echo Magazine – By Laura Latzko at Echomg.com)
Top Washington court bars LGBT bias in custody cases
Olympia, Washington – On April 6th, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that a lower court improperly disfavored a mother because of her sexual orientation in a child custody case. The Supreme Court’s ruling strongly affirms that courts cannot punish LGBTQ parents because of their sexual orientation when making child custody decisions. The mother, Rachelle Black, married at 19 to a man. Seventeen years later, Rachelle came out as a lesbian. She filed for divorce in Pierce County, Washington.
Despite the fact that Rachelle had been a stay-at-home parent to the couple’s three children for 15 years, the trial court gave primary custody to the father. The trial court also restricted Rachelle from discussing religion, homosexuality, or so-called “alternative lifestyle concepts” with the children. The trial court’s decision relied heavily on the recommendations of a guardian ad litem – the person appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the children – who repeatedly referred to Rachelle’s sexual orientation as a “lifestyle choice.” In a written ruling, the trial court expressed its view that it would be “very challenging for the children to reconcile their religious upbringing” with Rachelle’s sexual orientation. The lower court also favored the father based on its view that he would be “more stable” in maintaining the children’s religious upbringing.
In a decision authored by Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously reversed the trial court’s decision. The court held that “the trial court here failed to remain neutral regarding Rachelle’s sexual orientation and impermissibly favored [the father’s] religious beliefs.” The Supreme Court further recognized that “bias against Rachelle permeated the proceedings” in the lower court. The court ordered that the case be sent back to Pierce County Superior Court, with decisions to be made by a new judge. (Seattle Gay News at Sgn.org)
Anti trans rights bus surrounded in Philly, Boston
Philadelphia – Philadelphia police intervened to rescue anti-trans demonstrators in Philadelphia on April 1st, when a bus they were riding in was surrounded by counter-protestors. The orange bus, bearing signs that read, “Boys are boys ... and always will be” and “Girls are girls ... and always will be,” was funded by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and other anti-LGBT groups. Their plan was to drive through major East Coast cities and display the anti-trans messaging. A group called CitizenGO, based in Madrid, Spain, organized the bus tours, claiming it is pushing back against policies that seek to accommodate transgender people. The group is linked to conservative Catholics, and NOM’s Brian Brown serves on its board of trustees.
In expectation of the bus’s arrival, the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs along with LGBT community groups organized a “Pop-Up Love Party” at City Hall. According to Associated Press, some 100 gathered in support, and a light-blue, pink, and white-striped trans pride flag was hoisted on a flagpole at the end of the event. Just as speakers at the rally finished, the bus turned the corner. “There it is!” someone shouted. Swarms of people then ran toward the bus. A person banged on a drum. Eggs were thrown, hitting the bus. At least two smoke bombs were set off. City police then boarded the bus and gave the driver directions to the closest freeway heading out of town. The driver complied.
The anti-trans bus met with a similar reception in Boston on March 30th. As it pulled up in front of the Massachusetts State House, more than two dozen protesters surrounded it holding signs and chanting, “No hate. No fear. Trans people are welcome here!” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, surrounded by dozens of supporters, raised a flag recognizing the transgender community after the bus briefly stopped in front of City Hall. (Seattle Gay News – Mike Andrew at Sgn.org)
Colorado lesbian couple wins housing discrimination case
Boulder, Colorado – On April 5th a federal district court judge in Colorado ruled that the federal Fair Housing Act protects LGBT people against discrimination. Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said it is the first time a federal court has ruled that the Fair Housing Act’s sex discrimination prohibitions apply to discrimination based on stereotypes about sexual orientation and gender identity.
U.S District Judge Raymond P. Moore ruled that a Boulder County property owner violated both the federal Fair Housing Act and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to rent a housing unit to Rachel and Tonya Smith, a same-sex couple, one of whom is transgender, and their children, because she worried their “uniqueness” would jeopardize her standing in the community. “This is a tremendous victory for Rachel and Tonya, their children, and LGBT people, couples and families across the country,” Gonzalez-Pagan said. “This is two federal courts two days in a row that have said that laws prohibiting sex discrimination protect LGBT people.”
In the court’s opinion Judge Moore wrote: “In this case, the Smiths contend that discrimination against women (like them) for failure to conform to stereotype norms concerning to or with whom a woman should be attracted, should marry and/or should have children is discrimination on the basis of sex under the FHA. The court agrees. Such stereotypical norms are no different from other stereotypes associated with women, such as the way she should dress or act (e.g., that a woman should not be overly aggressive, or should not act macho), and are products of sex stereotyping.” Tonya Smith said she and her family are “delighted with this ruling. We were so shocked and upset by Deepika’s emails, that simply because of who we are she wouldn’t rent to us.” (Dallas Voice – Tammye Nash at Dallasvoice.com)