A judge in Texas who refused to marry same-sex couples has had her lawsuit against the state agency that oversees judicial misconduct thrown out of court. She filed the lawsuit in late 2019 after the agency warned her she needed to change her ways or stop officiating weddings.
Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley works in Waco, McLellan County. A devout Christian, she filed a class-action lawsuit to enable her, and other justices of the peace in the state, to decline to marry same-sex couples.
She was backed by the First Liberty Institute, an organization that has helped others to fight to express their religious beliefs. The lawsuit, against the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, was moved to Travis County last year.
Soifer ruled the State Commission on Judicial Conduct had sovereign and statutory immunity from the claims. She also said Hensley had failed to exhaust other legal avenues before filing her action.
SCOTUS ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples could marry across the US. Some officiants and judges have stepped down from performing marriage ceremonies because they believe having to wed gay couples goes against their religious beliefs.
In fact, it was reported last summer that all but one of the other five McLennan County justices of the peace have stopped doing weddings since the Supreme Court decision.
In Texas, officiating weddings is an optional duty for justices of the peace. Performing them can help those officiating to earn thousands of dollars in extra income.
Between August 2016 and late 2019, Hensley conducted over 300 wedding ceremonies, all for opposite-sex couples. Hensley earned around $25,000 for these duties, according to the Houston Chronicle.
If her office was approached by any same-sex couples, they were given a document explaining her reasoning for declining and providing a list of others who could perform the ceremony.
Hensley made her opposition to marrying gay couples public knowledge. In 2017, she told local news station 25 News KXXV, “I have no desire to offend anybody, but the last person I want to offend is God.”
Hensley’s suit was seeking $10,000 in damages for the money she claims she lost while the commission investigated her. She also wanted a ruling allowing her to continue to refuse to marry same-sex couples. In throwing out the case, Judge Soifer also ordered Hensley to pay court costs associated with her lawsuit.
How is the US doing in its battle to end the HIV epidemic? It’s heading in the right direction but at a slower-than-desired pace, according to a major report issued by the CDC at the end of May. Its conclusion could be summed up in one line: “Hopeful signs of progress in HIV prevention, but gains remain uneven.”
The encouraging news is that HIV infections fell 8% from 2015 to 2019. This is partly due to a big increase in the number of gay men taking PrEP and more HIV-positive people being diagnosed and put on to treatment.
However, to put that in perspective, in the United Kingdom, HIV infections fell by 29% between 2014 and 2018 – and that was before PrEP being made available on its national health service.
In other areas, progress in the U.S. remains slow. Black Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans remain eight times and four times as likely to be HIV positive than white Americans.
The incidence of HIV dropped for those under 24 and over 45 but remained stable for those between those ages. Clearly, much work remains to be done.
On the campaign trail in 2020, Joe Biden vowed to better President Trump’s aim of ending the HIV epidemic by 2030, saying he wanted to bring it to an end by 2025. In March, Queerty asked several HIV experts whether they thought that was realistic.
Most said it was possible but would take a Herculean amount of effort. Carl Schmid, Executive Director of the HIV + Hepatitis Policy Institute in Washington DC, is less hesitant about dismissing such campaign talk.
“ was unrealistic then and it’s unrealistic now,” he states bluntly during a Zoom call. “Sticking to the original 2030 plan is still … that would be a major achievement and it’s going to be very difficult.
“We’ve had Covid, too, since then. But that’s not the only factor. It’s just going to take a long time to find the people, get them into care, keep them on care and treatment and also to ramp up PrEP, but I have to say, we’re on the right path.”
Schmid is gay. He lives in Washington DC with his husband, Alejandro Barrera. He’s been working in the field of HIV for the past 20 years. This includes as a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS from 2007-09 and chairing its Domestic Subcommittee. He spent 16 years as a senior figure within the AIDS Institute and was co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS under President Trump.
Schmid highlights promising signs among the latest CDC report, including an increase in the number of HIV-positive people in the US who are now undetectable (up from 60% to 66%). This means they cannot pass the virus on to others. He also says the falling number of young people acquiring HIV is a significant step in the right direction.
“I do think the younger generation knows more [and] hears more about HIV, and particularly PrEP. I think a couple of years ago, fewer younger people were aware of PrEP, and now more and more are.”
What’s without a doubt is that more money is needed to help continue the battle: particularly when it comes to tackling health inequalities.
Schmid points out that President Trump wanted Congress to approve a budget last year of $761million to help bring HIV in the US to an end. Congress rejected it.
“Biden’s numbers for this year don’t even meet what Trump proposed last year. We need the continued funding to make sure we reach those goals. So … we’ll see.”
Although Trump wanted to spend more money, many would argue as to whether that equates with him doing more to end HIV. Advocates in the field – including Democrat lawmakers – were highly critical of Trump’s budget plans to cut billions of dollars from programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, and Medicare.
Biden’s plan, on the other hand, includes a $46 million increase for the Ryan White CARE Act, which helps low-income and uninsured people access HIV medications, and a $20 million boost for the Housing Opportunities for Persons with HIV/AIDS (HOPWA).
Schmid knows that tackling inequality will be a major hurdle in bringing HIV under control.
“We need to make sure that more of the funding is targeted at these communities who are impacted,” he says. “It is not just an HIV problem. It is a race and equity problem, and I have to say, that issomething that’s a priority for President Biden and his administration. In fact, one of his first executive orders was to direct government agencies to look at those issues and how they can be improved.”
Schmid says the reasons for those inequalities are multifold and cover everything from sex education to health providers.
“Why is PrEP lower in certain communities?’ Schmid asks aloud. “Well, maybe those doctors, who may be Black and Latino, are not offering PrEP. They don’t discuss PrEP.”
Schmid says that when providers discuss HIV testing and PrEP, they should be treating everyone the same.
“Here in the United States, we have routine HIV testing. It should be color blind. It should be everythingblind. Everyone should be offered it and we’re missing a lot of cases because doctors are not offering it. So it’s a workforce issue as well.”
If there’s one silver lining to the Covid pandemic, it’s helped health providers explore new ways of delivering healthcare. Some of these may help when it comes to HIV. There’s already been talk of the Moderna coronavirus jab being used to help develop a vaccine for HIV.
Schmid also points to the way members of the public have been prompted into self-testing. Because of this, they may be more willing to order mailing HIV kits or make use of tele-PrEP services.
“Certain states, you can get PrEP without a doctor’s prescription for the first 30-60 days. Three states have already passed that,” says Schmid, highlighting another innovation that might help if rolled out nationally. He also thinks the introduction of long-acting treatments – HIV medications and PrEP (both of which are undergoing trials or pending FDA approval) – will also help.
“Persistence adherence are problems both with treatment and PrEP. Particularly for PrEP.
“When you have HIV, you’re living with an infectious disease and so you’re conscious about it and conscious of how it impacts other people and your own health, and so there’s a stronger desire, perhaps, [to take the medication]. But for PrEP, you’re taking a drug to prevent a potential infectious disease, and if you have to take it every single day … we’re seeing a lack of persistence.”
He believes a long-acting form of PrEP, such as an injection once every two months, would be a “game-changer”.
June marks the 40th anniversary of the first cases of AIDS being reported by the CDC. Schmid, who was born in 1960, says he started to hear about HIV in his 20s, and “lost a lot of friends, lovers and over that time.”
He says it is amazing how things have changed for the better, and how it is now possible to live a normal lifespan with HIV. However, he acknowledges that “people still die”, and one thing that remains is the stigma.
Schmid praises Billy Porter who recently revealed he was living with HIV: Information he’d kept secret for 14 years. “He is a well-known celebrity. He exudes confidence, but inside, couldn’t share this very important [information] … It just shows there’s still so much stigma and shame.”
“Lots of friends of mine didn’t tell their family members,” he remembers. “They were ashamed. They didn’t tell their friends that they were living with HIV. There was so much stigma and shame back then, but there’s still so much stigma and shame. I think it’s less, with people talking about PrEP these days, but a lot of people I know are still not talking about their HIV status.”
Another day and another Pride Month attack from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).
When she’s not bashing Dr. Anthony Fauci and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or engaging in a double-act with fellow Rep. Matt Gaetz at pro-Trump rallies, Greene has had plenty to say about LGBTQ people.
Following earlier attacks on embassies flying Pride flags, she yesterday took to Twitter to lambast what may or may not be on the school curriculum.
Greene shared a video of a 14-year-old girl recently testifying before a school board meeting in a suburb of Indianapolis. The girl has not been named.
In the clip, the youngster, who has certainly had a difficult upbringing in her formative years, talks of being a “trauma child” and of being adopted from a foster home when she was four.
She complains about being taught about sexuality at school, which she believes should be a private matter. She also says she cannot see how she has white privilege, given her own background.
The clip was first shared on Twitter last week and went viral. Greene re-shared it yesterday and used it to attack schools talking about Critical Race Theory, gender identity of sexuality.
Critical race theory (CRT) has been talked about for the last 40 years in academic circles but has only more recently entered mainstream debate. It explores the idea that racism and patterns of discrimination in the US have shaped its society, legal systems and institutions.
In recent months, CRT has become an increasing lightning rod for some on the right of the GOP to attack anti-racism campaigners or those on the left.
Many educators and advocates believe talking about sexuality in school, and teaching kids that it’s OK to be gay, will reduce anti-LGBTQ bullying and would support many LGBTQ youngsters struggling with mental health issues. LGBTQ youth are at a far greater risk of attempting suicide than their straight peers. They contemplate suicide roughly three times as often as straight youth.
As explained by The Trevor Project, “All young people deserve access to safe and supportive public education, free from harassment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“However, policies known as ‘No Promo Homo’ and ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws ban educators from talking about LGBTQ people, issues and history entirely, or they only allow negative discussion. These laws keep supportive teachers from speaking out in the classroom, eliminating vital safe spaces for LGBTQ students.”
GayCities encourages you to stay safe during the Covid 19 pandemic. If you choose to travel, we recommend that you follow all CDC Travel Guidelines and adhere closely to all local regulations regarding face coverings, social distancing and other safety measures.
The risk of transmitting Covid is known to decrease outdoors. Therefore, planning a trip to a gay campsite is not only one way to get a little closer to nature, but also the possibility of socializing with others a little more safely.
Don’t know where to start? There are dozens of gay campgrounds across North America. Here are just a few recommended ones.
Roseland Resort in West Virginia
Roseland is one of the best-known gay-owned and operated campgrounds in the US. It’s set amongst 222 acres of West Virginia countryside. Besides stunning views, it offers bed and breakfast style cabins and tent sites. There’s also a pool, bar area and the Walnut Tree restaurant. It’s aimed at gay men over the age of 21. It scores highly on Trip Advisor for its clean facilities and friendly staff.
“This place is amazing. Beautiful scenery, great facilities, but most importantly very, very nice people. I can’t stress that enough. Just a lot of fun, easy going energy,” says one reviewer.
One recent visitor praised the local landscape: “One of the most under appreciated aspects of Roseland is how much amazing hiking there is,” said Mike (@thedreamofthenineties)
You’ll find it at 925 Nolte Lane, Proctor WV 26055. It’s quite a drive into West Virginia and the owner do recommend you check the route on Google Maps as some GPS systems don’t track all the small local roads.https://www.instagram.com/p/CCT830NjKdo/embed/?cr=1&v=13&wp=1080&rd=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.gaycities.com&rp=%2Foutthere%2F53815%2F10-best-gay-campsites-us%2F%3Futm_source%3Dqueerty%26utm_medium%3Ddirectlink%26utm_campaign%3Ddirectlink%26utm_content%3D10%2Bof%2Bthe%2Bbest%2Bgay%2Bcampsites%2Bin%2Bthe%2BUS%2Bfor%2Bsummertime%2Bfun#%7B%22ci%22%3A0%2C%22os%22%3A1501%2C%22ls%22%3A1016%2C%22le%22%3A1033%7D
Sawmill Camping Resort, Florida
One of the most highly-rated gay and lesbian camping grounds in the south-east, “where camping meets nightlife.” Sawmill offers it all: Four bars, Woody’s Nightclub, a clothing-optional pool, plus nature trail, lakeside walks (around Ricki Lake!), and local Zip Lines and antique shopping. There’s also a nightly campfire and regular entertainment on the courtyard stage.
“How wonderful is it to find a place where you can go and be you,” said one visitor on TripAdvisor. “Very welcoming and inviting. Along with all the amenities, one could want while camping … Sawmill Campground is truly the best”
You’ll find Sawmill Resort at 21710 US Highway 98, Dade City, FL 33523. You can rent a cabin, or space for your RV or tent. Membership is required, which costs $35 and lasts for 12 months.
Vitambi Springs in Florida
Near the tranquil Lake Vitambi, you’ll find Vitambi Springs at 28280 Etumakee Way, Clewiston, FL 33440. Once again, do check Google Map before setting off on your drive as it’s quite out there in the wilderness! It’s around 90 minutes to Miami, Naples or Fort Lauderdale.
Around two-thirds of this huge site are clothing optional. It offers a range of accommodation, including inn room, private cabins, military barracks, plus space for RVs and tents. There’s a pool, a lakeside dock with canoes, a bar, gym, café, ‘Big Oak Lodge’ and plenty of wild deer wandering around. There’s also a regular calendar of event, such as Bad Bear weekend.
Nestled in a hidden valley of the Superstition Mountains, it offers bed and breakfast accommodation along with camping facilities. Amenities include a hot tub and pool, BYOB Saloon, full food menu, karaoke, community fire pit and 40 acres of trails. It’s also clothing optional!
Local attractions include the Tonto National Forest, Hike Peralta Trails and the town of Superior.
There’s also an airport shuttle service if you’re flying not driving to the resort. It hosts regular events, such as its upcoming Wellness Weekend and Drum Circle on May 14, and ‘Cowboy Fling’ weekend.
“You get to meet new people and everyone is so nice and very welcoming!” one customer, Cesar Alonso Borey, told GayCities. “They don’t treat you like a stranger even if it’s your first time there. Uncle Bobby and Rich always do their best to make you feel very comfortable! You get to really talk to people like we used to! A totally wonderful, relaxing, fun experience!”
Copper Cactus Ranch Men’s Retreat, 4516 North Elephant Butte Road, Queen Valley,
Campit Resort in Michigan
Campit Resort bills itself as an “affordable getaway and vacation destination” for the LGBTQ community, their friend and allies. “We are all affirming, with a reputation as a very friendly, welcoming and safe place to relax and play.”
It offers 33 acres to explore and roam, ten minutes from the towns of Saugatuk and Douglas. The Lake Michigan beaches are also not far away.
Besides space for tent and RV’s, there are also 22 log cabin which can be rented, plus a five-bedroom bunkhouse. It also offer a clubhouse with regular entertainment, swimming pool and nature trails. Themed weekends are aimed at both gay men and lesbians.
Someone who’d visited several times told GayCities he liked it for its range of sleeping options, while nearby Saugautuk is also very gay-friendly and offers a number of cider mills, breweries and a winery to visit.
Campit Outdoor Resort is at 6635 118th Ave, Fennville, MI 49408.
The Woods Camping Resort in Pennsylvania
Nestled in the Pocono Mountains, and open since 2004, the Woods Camping Resort in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, is another of the country’s best LGBTQ camping grounds. It’s set amidst 161 private acres with its own streams and four-acre lake.
You’ll find it open between May and October, with a whole calendar of events to explore and activities such as yoga and volleyball. In addition to plenty of space to rent for tents and RVs, it offers 30 cabins and three resort homes.
Events include an annual bears gathering, leather/country weekend, and Christmas in July weekend, among many others. To make a reservation, you’ll need to take out a membership.
The resort’s ethos is simple: less digital interaction and more real-life interaction!
“In an era when old methods of meeting people have dwindled, The Woods has risen.
“At The Woods, you are among like-minded people in an inviting atmosphere which encourages face-to-face interaction. You can choose from a variety of activities and places where you’ll be among real live people! Talking, laughing, dancing and yes, cruising if you so choose.”
The inclusive resort welcomes everyone from the LGBTQ spectrum: “The only people not allowed at The Woods are bullies, racists, fighters, immature jerks and those who get overly intoxicated.”
The Woods Camping Resort, 3500 Forest Street, Lehighton, PA 18235.
Triangle Recreation Camp in Washington
Triangle Recreation Camp (47715 Mountain Loop Highway, Granite Falls, WA 98252) in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, 21 miles east of Granite Falls, has a history dating back to 1975.
Situated in a beautiful, extremely rural part of the country, this clothing-optional site tends to pull in visitors from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, as well a further afield.
It is regarded as the premier “recreational campground that is Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer owned and operated” in the northwest of the US. It’s open from mid-April to October, and offers 80 acres to set up your tent or RV.
There’s stunning scenery to enjoy, including a local waterfall, beach and forests dominated by huge, centuries-old trees.
Freedom Valley in Ohio
Freedom Valley is an acclaimed camping ground in Ohio, about 57 miles from both Akron and Cleveland.
It offers a large bunkhouse, a handful of cabins and trailers, plus plenty of space for tents amongst its flowery meadows. It is aimed at “all Men of all backgrounds, sizes, and ages (over 21).” It offers a pool, firepit, plus several themed weekends throughout its summer season.
In 2017, respondents to a survey in the South Florida Gay News voted Freedom Valley their second favorite campground in the US (behind Sawmill). It’s been praised for its appearance, accommodations and community atmosphere. You’ll find it at 1875 U.S. 250 South, New London, OH 44851.
Jones Pond in New York
Jones Pond in Angelica, NY, has a history as a gay camping ground going back to 1991. You can choose from a bunkhouse or cabin, while there’s an expansive area to rent space for a tent or RV (175 camping sites!).
An all-day cafe takes care of all your food needs, while there’s over 100 acres of rural, Western New York State to explore.
Aimed at men aged over 21, it’s clothing optional around the pool area. Like the other sites mentioned here, there are plenty of themed weekends throughout the summer, like an annual Pride weekend celebration and Cowboy Weekend.
Jones Pond camp site is at 9835 Old State Road, Angelica, NY 14709.
Camp Camp in Maine
Camp Camp is not a camping ground but a big, annual LGBTQ camping event that takes place every August in southwestern Maine (45 miles west of Portland, Maine).
It’s been running for over 25 years and routinely attracts around 200 attendees.
Activities include everything from hiking, zip-lining, rock wall climbing, and canoeing to pottery and stained glass workshops. You sleep in bunk beds in cabins named after LGBTQ icon like Ellen DeGeneres, Harvey Milk and Oscar Wilde.
The organizers say that around 75% of those who attend return for at least a second visit: a testimony to the unique and special atmosphere fostered by this inclusive event.
Other winners last night included Stephanie J. Block. She won the lead actress in a musical award for her role as Cher in The Cher Show.. In her acceptance speech, she thanked ‘the goddess Cher, and her legacy.’
The show also won best costume designer for legendary designer, Bob Mackie. Mackie is famed for creating many of Cher’s more flamboyant creations in the 1970s.
Both wins prompted jubilation from Cher herself. She tweeted: ‘I cannot stop jumping, crying,laughing,….I feel like I won an award!’ And, ‘I’m so crying … Bob Mackie deserves this award more than anyone will ever know.’
The biggest winner of the night was the musical Hadestown. The folk opera took home eight awards, including Best Musical and Best Director.
Collecting her award, director Rachel Chavkin noted she’s currently the only woman on Broadway directing a musical. She called on the theatreworld to do better: ‘It is a failure of imagination.’
The Ferryman by British playwright Jez Butterworth won the Tony for Best Play.
Bryan Cranston (of Breaking Bad fame), won his second Tony. This time it was for his performance in the revival of Network, about network news broadcasters.
He dedicated his award for best actor in a play to real-life journalists, saying the media, ‘is not the enemy of the people. Demagoguery is the enemy of the people.’ The remark was understood by the audience as a reference to President Donald Trump, who regularly blasts media coverage of his administration.
Elaine May won the award for best actress in a play for her role in The Waverly Gallery.
Best actor in a musical award went to Santino Fontana for his role in Tootsie – a stage version of the hit 1982 film in which a man pretends to be a women in order to land a role on a TV show. Tootsie also won Best Book.
Rainbow red carpet and Billy Porter
The 73rd Tony Awards, was hosted by James Corden. Before the show, celebrities walked a red carpet against a rainbow backdrop made up of thousands of roses. The rainbow was incorporated into the red carpet in honor of World Pride, which takes place in New York City this month.
‘Focusing the red carpet theme around World Pride marks a seminal moment for New York City, as it hosts both the Tonys and World Pride in the same month,’ event designer Raul Àvila told Vogue beforehand.
‘These two communities have been closely intertwined since the beginning of Pride.’
One of those to make the biggest impression was Pose star Billy Porter. The actor has become a fixture on red carpets with his eye-catching looks. This time he wore a costume by Celestino Couture, created from the velvet curtains from the show Kinky Boots, in which he starred.
Kinky Boots closed in 2018. The curtains were purchased by Scenery Bags, who create bags from retired show material. The brand asked Porter if he wanted to carry a bag made from the curtains, but instead, he worked with Scenery and Celestino to come up with a tuxedo top and tulle skirt combo!
Mayoral candidate Satya Rhodes-Conway has achieved victory in her bid to become mayor of Madison, Wisconsin. In doing so, she becomes the first openly gay mayor of the US city, and only the second woman.
Democrat Rhodes-Conway, 47, a former three-term Madison City Council member, ousts incumbent Paul Soglin.
Soglin, 73, served as mayor from 1973-1979, 1989-1997, and from 2011 until now. He was Madison’s longest-serving mayor and it was his 22nd year in the office.
Rhodes-Conway’s victory was called around 9.25pm local time Tuesday. She had 62% of the vote with 92% of precincts counted (47,915 votes to Soglin ‘s 29,1500).
New Madison mayor: ‘Full of hope for our city’
Rhodes-Conway campaigned on a platform of developing affordable housing, improving Madison transportation with rapid transit, tackling systematic racial inequities and addressing climate change.
In her victory speech at Prism Dance Club, Rhodes-Conway paid tribute to Harvey Milk as an inspiration. She also said, ‘I am full of hope for our city!’
Her victory comes on the same night as another LGBTI candidate made history in Chicago. Lori Lightfoot became the first black, lesbian to be elected mayor of the Illinois city. Lightfoot becomes the highest-ranking LGBTI mayor in American history.
Other LGBTI candidates to achieve success in local elections yesterday included Democrat Jolie Justus in Kansas City. She secured the top spot in the run-off for Mayor. The mayoral election will take place there on June 18.
Actor Jussie Smollett was summoned to an emergency court appearance this morning in Chicago to be told all criminal charges against him are being dropped by Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx.
Smollett had been charged with felony disorderly conduct for filing a false report. In total, he faced 16 felony charges.
In a statement released after his appearance, his attorneys – Tina Glandian and Patricia Brown Holmes – said:
‘Today, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him.
‘Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th. He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgement.
‘Jussie and many others were hurt by these unfair and unwarranted actions. This entire situation is a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion. That is wrong.
‘It is a reminder that a victim, in this case Jussie, deserves dignity and respect. Dismissal of charges against the victim in this case was the only just result.
‘Jussie is relieved to have this situation behind him and is very much looking forward to getting back to focusing on his family, friends and career.’
Shortly after his attorneys issued a statement, Cook County prosecutors issued their own.
‘After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case.’
January incident in Chicago
Smollett, 36, reported being attacked on in the early hours of 29 January in Chicago. The gay actor and singer said he’d gone out for food when two men attacked him. He said they threw an unidentified liquid at him and put a noose around his neck.
He took himself to hospital and notified police.
Police later arrested two men in connection with the attack. However, after questioning the men and carrying out investigations, they arrested Smollett.
Police alleged he had lied about the assault, suggesting he concocted the incident for publicity purposes.
News of the charges being dropped will inevitably raise questions about why charges were brought in the first place.
UPDATE: Smollett says ‘This has been an incredibly difficult time’
On leaving the court, Smollett gave his own statement to waiting reporters. He said: ‘I want to thank my family, my friends, the incredible people of Chicago and all over the country and the world who have prayed for me, who have supported me and who have showed me so much love.
‘No one will ever know how much that has meant to me and I will be forever grateful.
‘I want you to know that not for a moment was it in vain. I have been truthful and consistent on every level since day one.’
He continued, ‘I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I’ve been accused of.
‘This has been an incredibly difficult time. Honestly one of the worst of my entire life. But I am a man of faith and I am a man that has knowledge of my history and I would not bring my family, our lives or the movement through a fire like this. I just wouldn’t.
‘Now I’d like nothing more than to get back to work and move on with my life. But make no mistakes, I will always continue to fight for the justice, equality and betterment of marginalized people everywhere.
‘So again thank you for all the support. Thank you for faith and thank you to God. Bless you. Thank you very much.’
Russia is failing to address the gravity of torture use by authorities in Chechnya. That’s the conclusion of the Council of Europe’s anti-torture Committee.
Yesterday, the committee issued a public statement. It urges the Russian Federation to do more to investigate reports of atrocities and an anti-gay purge.
Located in the North Caucasus region, Chechnya is a subject of the Russian Federation.
Its president is Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been in power since 2007. He tends to rule the country in accordance with traditional Islamic social codes, even if these contravene Russian law. Since late 2016, the country has arrested, detained and tortured LGBT citizens. Some men have disappeared, believed murdered.
There has been an international relief effort to help get LGBT people out of Chechnya. Political condemnation led Russian President Vladimir Putin in summer 2017 to say that Russia would investigate the reports. However, no action appears to have been taken.
New wave of atrocities
It was believed that international attention led to Chechnya halting its persecution of gay and bi people. However, late last year reports began to emerge that arrests had recommenced.
The full statement from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) can be read here.
The CPT has issued statements on the use of torture in Chechnya on three previous occasions: 2001, 2003 and 2007. It returned to the region in November and December 2017 to see if the situation remained the same.
‘Regrettably, it is clear from the information gathered by the Committee in the course of those visits that resort to torture and other forms of ill-treatment by members of law enforcement agencies in the Chechen Republic remains widespread, as does the related practice of unlawful detentions which inevitably heightens significantly the risk of resort to ill-treatment, in particular due to the denial of fundamental safeguards.
‘Further, it remains deeply worrying that, in their responses to the CPT’s visit reports, the Russian authorities have failed to acknowledge the gravity of the situation.’
‘A deep-rooted problem’
The statement says, ‘torture and other forms of ill-treatment of detained persons in the Chechen Republic has remained a deep-rooted problem.
‘This speaks not only to a dereliction of duty at the level of the Republic’s authorities, but also to a failure of effective oversight and control at the Federal level. It is clear that the manner in which law enforcement officials in the Chechen Republic deal with persons in their custody must be subject to far closer and more robust supervision.’
The committee notes widespread reports of an anti-gay purge in Chechnya. This includes, ‘abductions, unlawful detentions, severe ill-treatment and extrajudicial killings of a large number of people – including but not limited to LGBTI persons – by, at the instigation, or with the acquiescence of law enforcement officials at various locations in the Chechen Republic.
‘The facts found during [our] 2017 visit lend credence to those claims.’
It says the committee has made repeated requests to Russia to carry out investigations.
‘Regrettably, the CPT’s ongoing dialogue with the Russian authorities on this subject has reached an impasse.’
Russian authorities have failed to show evidence to the committee that it is carrying out any investigation.
The committee says Russia must deliver, ‘a firm and unambiguous message of “zero tolerance” of ill-treatment to all members of law enforcement agencies operating in the Chechen Republic. … As part of this message, it should be reiterated that all forms of ill-treatment are absolutely prohibited, and that both the perpetrators of such acts and those condoning them will be punished accordingly.’
The report was welcomed by human rights advocates. Rachel Denber is a Deputy Director with Human Rights Watch, overseeing Europe and Central Asia.
She describes the report as, ‘powerful and important.’
‘It calls out the widespread practice of torture in Chechnya.
‘The Russian authorities’ failure to cooperate with the committee in no way diminishes the importance of this report. It’s essential for an agency that is as authoritative and expert as the CPT to document this intolerable abuse – for the sake of the victims, and the sake of the facts themselves.’
How you can help
Gay Star News is currently running a fundraiser to help raise money to halt the crisis in Chechnya. Money raised will go directly to the Russian LGBT Network to help tackle the crisis and to aid LGBTI people to flee Chechyna and seek asylum elsewhere.
One in ten new cases of HIV in gay and bisexual men are linked to gonorrhea and chlamydiainfection. That’s the conclusion of a modelling study highlighted by the NCSD (National Coalition of STD Directors) in the US.
The journal, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, published the research this week. Both sexually transmitted infections can increase the risk of HIV transmission taking place: a fact known for some time.
However, with rates of both gonorrhea and chlamydia rising in the US, health experts are concerned how this may impact public health advances in tackling HIV.
Between 2013-2017, the US saw a 22% increase in chlamydia. Gonorrhea diagnosis shot up by 67%. By comparison, there has been a 13% drop in HIV diagnosis over the last eight years.
The precise extent to which chlamydia and gonorrhea increase HIV transmission is unknown. Other biological factors may also play an influence. For this reason, parts of the ‘modelling’ study relied on estimates.
However, researchers from Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta say their findings should be used by those working in public health to address the issue of STIs and HIV transmission.
‘The historic levels of STDs imperil our progress towards ending HIV’
‘This study highlights a clear need for a federal investment in the STD field and serves as a stark reminder that HIV and STD prevention must go hand-in-hand,’ says David C. Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD).
‘The historic levels of STDs imperil our progress towards ending HIV. We can’t hope to end HIV without also addressing STDs.’
According to the NCSD, there has been a 40& cut in STD prevention program funding since 2003. It is asking for an additional $70million injection from Congress to help tackle the problem of rising STD rates.
‘STDs lead to serious health problems, and now this study shows two of our most common STDs can cause HIV. This is a wakeup call to our country to respond to the real and growing threat of STDs.’
The importance of regular sexual health check-ups
Ian Howley, Chief Executive of the UK-based LGBTQ HERO, the parent organisation of gay men’s health project GMFA, told Gay Star News: ‘It’s been thought for some time that having an STI increases the chances of contracting HIV. When your body is fighting an STI it becomes more accessible to contracting HIV.
‘If you are HIV-negative and been diagnosed with an STI you should abstain from sexual contact with another person until you’ve been treated and cleared.’
Howley recommends all sexually active men should test for HIV and STIs at least every six months.
‘More if you are having condomless sex and not on PrEP. You should also know what the symptoms of STIs are, such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis. That way you can catch it early and get it treated before it imposes a further risk to yourself and others.’
However, all three infections may present with no symptoms. This is why sexual health workers stress the importance of regular testing, whether you notice symptoms or not.
‘Reducing the levels of undiagnosed STI infection is crucial’
Matthew Hodson, executive Director of NAM/aidsmap, said: ‘The public health emphasis on HIV has often overshadowed concerns about STIs. Considering many STIs will have no symptoms initially, reducing the levels of undiagnosed STI infection is crucial.’
Hodson was also keen to point out the role of STIs in HIV transmission does not detract from the Undetectable=Untransmittable message sexual advocates support.
‘When someone is undetectable on treatment they will not pass HIV on to their sexual partners. Even if other STIs are present. “U equals U” still applies.
‘We know this because the studies that affirmed zero sexual transmission risk when undetectable didn’t find a single case of transmission, even though many people in those studies had STIs.’
A study has found LGBT people in the US more likely to go into their overdraft than the general population.
The study, undertaken by OverdraftApps.com, questioned just over 1,000 people across the US. Around 11% of respondents identified as LGBT.
The study asked people how often they found themselves dipping into their overdraft over the past year: Never; once or twice; three to nine times; or 10+ times.
Key findings include:
• Fifty-four percent of non-LGBTQ people said they ‘never’ went into overdraft. This compares to only 47% of LGBTQ people.
• Eighteen per cent of the LGBTQ population overdrafted three to nine times in the last year. This is against 12% of the non-LGBTQ community.
• When it comes to earnings, a similar number of LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ people earn between $25,000-$50,000 (around 35%). However, differences appear when looking at low and high earners. Around 25% of LGBTQ said they earned less than $25,000 compared to 14% of the general population.
• Of those earning more than $50,000, LGBTQ people were again in the minority. Thirty-two per cent of the general population said they earned $50,000-$75,000, but only 25% of LGBTQ respondents earned this much. This continued in the $75,000-$100,000 bracket (16% of non-LGBTQ against 12% of LGBTQ).
• Ninety per cent of the LGBTQ population doesn’t trust the current administration to help lower bank fees, compared to 76% of those outside the community.
• Ninety-four per cent of the LGBTQ respondents do not believe President Trump specifically will help decrease bank fees. This compares to 83% of those not in the LGBTQ community.
Banks will charge ‘whenever and wherever they can’
The survey found that many people across the population had a lack of knowledge about overdrafts, associated banking fees and options such as overdraft protection. It found LGBTQ people were also slightly less likely to complain to their bank about overdraft fees.
‘Everyone is now aware that fees are a multibillion dollar business for banks. They are going to charge whenever and wherever they can, so it’s really up to people to track their finances, finding alternative ways to borrow money,’ said Paul Golden, spokesperson finance NGO Nefe, the National Endowment for Financial Education, in the report.
Spending in the LGBTI community
Much has been written about the power of LGBTI spending. Many of those who point to wealth in the LGBTQ community highlight the fact that same-sex couples are less likely to have kids.
While it’s true that couples with no kids are likely to have more disposable income, this does not compensate for the fact that LGBTQ people often face barriers to career advancement or have had to overcome challenges in life linked to their sexuality or gender identity.
A spokesperson for Overdraft Apps told Gay Star News: ‘We think that the prejudices that the LGBTQ community suffered in the past and are still going through today are great factors when it comes to their lower income and the amount they overdraft compared to the general population.
‘It just makes sense: When your mind is busy with existential questions, you have less time to focus on your financial well-being.’
Distrust in political leadership
Bob Witeck is the founder of Witeck Communications. The marketing agency produces an annual report on the spending power of the LGBTQ community.
He told GSN he was, ‘not especially surprised’ by the findings. However, as a caveat, he says part of the findings may be down to those identifying as LGBTQ being younger: baby boomers ‘tend to be more closeted based on their lives’ experiences.’
However, he said the study, ‘seems to confirm data I’ve seen over the years that suggests LGBTQ consumers tend to be slightly less savvy about financial services, and tend to distrust or to be wary of financial institutions slightly more than others.
‘There is no surprise at all that LGBTQ respondents express their distrust in our current political leadership too, given the climate fostered by the Trump Administration.’
Male couples discriminated against on mortgage applications
A 2013 study by The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found though ‘poverty rates for nearly all populations increased during the recession, lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) Americans remained more likely to be poor than heterosexual people.’
Spending power is also complicated by many other factors. Some studies have found that lesbians, on average, tend to earn more over their lifetime than heterosexual women of similar educational standing. However, this is largely due to them being less likely to take career breaks to raise children.
Another recent analysis, by the University of Chicago Law Review, found that gay male couples were more likely to encounter discrimination when applying for a mortgage.
It found white male couples 2.5% less likely to be approved a mortgage than a white, opposite-sex couple. Faring worse were black male couples. They were 7.5% less likely than a white, straight couples to be approved for a similar mortgage.