Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed two bills into law Wednesday that affect transgender minors in the state.
One bill, Senate File 538, prevents doctors from administering gender-affirming care to those under 18. The other, Senate File 482, prevents trans students from entering school bathrooms or changing rooms that correspond with their gender identities.
The new laws are part of a broader effort among conservative lawmakers throughout the country to restrict the rights of LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender people. So far this year, more than 400 such proposals have been filed in state legislatures, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Supporters of the new Iowa laws say they are necessary to protect children’s safety while using school restrooms and to prevent minors from making medical decisions they may later regret. Critics and LGBTQ advocates argue that the bills will have “devastating consequences” for trans youths and their families.
“This is not the first time that a government has abused its power at the expense of a small group of people,” Mark Stringer, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, said in a statement. “But in this case the target is children. That is shameful and cruel.”
Reynolds, a Republican who notably gave this year’s GOP response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment. But speaking at a press conference Tuesday, she voiced her support for the bill limiting gender-affirming care, arguing that more long-term research on the treatments is needed.
“We need to just pause; we need to understand what these emerging therapies actually may potentially do to our kids,” Reynolds said. “My heart goes out to them. I’m a parent, I’m a grandmother, I know how difficult this is. This is an extremely uncomfortable position for me to be in. I don’t like it. But I have to do what I believe right now is in the best interest of the kids.”
Care that is prohibited for minors under the new Iowa law includes puberty blockers, hormone therapy and transition-related surgeries.
Iowa’s transition-related health care law took effect immediately following the governor’s signature, making it the ninth state — joining Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Mississippi and Florida — to enact such restrictions.
Health care providers in the state who are already administering gender-affirming care to patients will have a 180-day grace period before they have to cease treatment.
The new law restricting transgender people’s bathroom use, which also took effect immediately, applies to multiperson restrooms and locker rooms at public and private elementary and secondary schools. Trans students who want to use single-person restrooms must obtain written consent from their legal guardians before receiving permission to do so.
The restroom law comes nearly seven years after the national controversy surrounding a similar bill in North Carolina. The North Carolina law, House Bill 2, was repealed in 2017 after sparking a massive political and financial fallout and prompting an NCAA boycott of the state.
So-called bathroom bills have seen a resurgence in recent months, according to a group of researchers who are tracking the flow of legislation targeting LGBTQ people. The group found that at least 14 states, including Iowa, weighed the measures so far this year. On Tuesday, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a similar bill into law.
Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, Iowa’s largest union association, denounced the new restroom measure.
“The Iowa Legislature has repeatedly targeted the most vulnerable students with rhetoric and legislation designed to suppress, out, target, ban, and censor Iowa’s LGBTQ+ student communities,” Beranek said in a statement Monday. “Despite these shameful attacks, the ISEA continues to stand with and fight for all our students.”
Iowa’s Senate also passed a bill Wednesday that mirrors Florida’s so-called Don’t Say Gay law and was introduced by Reynolds earlier this year.
Following a string of incidents at New York City gay bars where incapacitated men had money stolen from their bank accounts with the help of facial recognition technology, safety experts are recommending a multi-pronged approach for those seeking a fun and safe night out.
Calls for vigilance were reignitedlast week when the New York City Police Department confirmed that three men who had visited The Eagle NYC, a gay leather bar, in the fall were incapacitated and then had thousands of dollars stolen from their online financial accounts by criminals who accessed the victims’ smartphones using facial recognition technology. These incidents were similar to the circumstances surrounding the deaths of two men in the spring, Julio Ramirez and John Umberger, who were last seen at gay bars in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on the evenings they died.
In the wake of these incidents, public safety experts have advised patrons of the city’s LGBTQ nightlife spaces to avoid using facial recognition technology on their smartphones and to take several other steps to ensure a fun night out doesn’t result in a dangerous situation, especially incapacitation.
Brian Downey, an NYPD detective and the president of the Gay Officers Action League, or GOAL, said the ideal solution “is not getting in that position to begin with.”
Gay bars and nightclubs have long served as de facto community centers for queer people, especially in New York, which has the nation’s largest population of LGBTQ people. This rich history, and the long-held idea of gay bars as safe spaces, has led many patrons of these venues to believe in the inherent good nature of those around them, Downey said. However, he cautioned that queer New Yorkers must avoid letting their guards down and maintain situational awareness, even within these historically safe spaces.
“Our community should be aware at all times that no matter what community you’re going to be a part of, no matter what age cohort you’re in, there are always going to be people who absolutely do not have good intentions,” Downey said. “There are people who perceive our community as weak, our community as folks who can be preyed upon, and they will use that to their advantage.”
In addition to these incidents, the NYPD has confirmed that it is investigating similar crimes that have victimized bar patronswho do not identify as LGBTQ or were visiting venues that are not queer-affiliated. Authorities have also not publicly commented on whether the victims were drugged on the evenings they were victimized. However, three victims of such crimes, including one of The Eagle NYC victims, and family members of three other victims, including Ramirez and Umberger, previously told NBC News they strongly suspect druggings occurred before the thefts.
To avoid being drugged or consuming unsafe substances that can lead to illness or incapacitation, experts shared some prevention methods that officials have been advising for decades: Watch your drink being prepared, do not leave your drink unattended and do not accept drinks or drugs from strangers.
Joseph Palamar, an epidemiologist and associate professor of population health at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, has spent decades studying drug use in New York City’s nightlife scene. He warned that drinks left unattended can easily be spiked with powdered opioids or gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), which can be difficult to detect or taste.
Even if equipped with fentanyl test strips, which are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of the deadly opioid in other substances, Palamar acknowledged that most people are probably not testing their drinks or drugs while they’re out partying. He said it would be more advisable to simply refrain from accepting drinks and drugs from strangers.
“It would be a little awkward testing the person’s drugs in front of them, and I think it would ruin the intimacy of the moment,” Palamar said. “I mean picture it: You’re trying to kiss somebody in a stall and, ‘Oh, hold on! Let me test this bump before you give it to me.’ It’ll be insulting, and there goes the hookup.”
Clubgoers and bar patrons who engage in one-on-one activities with strangers are most vulnerable, he added.
“When you’re off dancing with somebody or kissing somebody or you go to the bathroom with someone to do a bump or to have sex or to do whatever, that is when the risk is much higher to be drugged,” Palamar said. “You can do your thing and run around and hook up, but you need a friend around to notice if you begin acting out of the ordinary.”
Palamar also acknowledged that some clubgoers might go out by themselves, sometimes with the intention of meeting strangers to hook up with. In those scenarios, he and other experts advised making friends or family members aware of your whereabouts before going out.
For those going out solo, Darlene Torres, the director of client services at LGBTQ advocacy group NYC Anti-Violence Project, recommended sharing their phone’s location data — a feature available on most smartphones — with friends or family members. She also recommended they set up check-ins throughout the evening with their loved ones and create a plan should their loved ones not hear from them on evenings they’re going out alone.
“We can’t control people,” Torres said. “We can only really try to give as many tools and safety plans — plan A, plan B, plan C — and to make sure folks have those plans laid out for them before they go out for the night.”
The NYPD has not made any arrests in connection with the incidents at The Eagle NYC or in the cases of Ramirez and Umberger, though the department confirmed all of these incidents are still being investigated. But Downey cautioned that even when those responsible for these victimizations are brought to justice, LGBTQ New Yorkers must continue to be vigilant and practice common nightlife safety measures.
“I would never say, ‘Don’t go out,’ because if we don’t go out, we’re sending a message to people that we’re afraid of them and that we’re not strong enough to come together against these bad actors,” Downey said. “Instead of hiding, what needs to just be increased is our level of situational awareness — and it’s not a time to be complacent.”
Many in the transgender community are mourning the death of British teenager Brianna Ghey, a trans girl who was stabbed to death Sunday.
Ghey, 16, was found dead in a park in Warrington, England — roughly 16 miles west of Manchester, England — with visible stab wounds, British authorities said. Police said they have arrested two teenagers, both 15 years old, on suspicion of the murder.
Ghey’s family released a statement through local authorities, saying Ghey was “a much loved” and “larger than life character who would leave a lasting impression on all that met her.”
“The loss of her young life has left a massive hole in our family, and we know that the teachers and her friends who were involved in her life will feel the same,” Ghey’s family wrote.
According to authorities, at this time there is no evidence to suggest Ghey’s murder was “hate-related.” This did little to quell discontent among trans activists regarding larger transphobic sentiments they say permeate throughout the U.K.
In a tweet that has accrued over 872,000 views as of Monday afternoon, a user slammed trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs, in the name of Ghey’s death.
The climate in the U.K. has grown increasingly hostile for trans people over the last few years. For example, J.K. Rowling, the author and creator of the Harry Potter saga, has become an outspoken critic of trans rights. In a nearly 4,000-word blog post in 2020, the bestselling author said that allowing trans women to use women’s bathrooms and changing rooms would make cisgender women “less safe” — an anti-trans talking point that has been debunked by research.
Simultaneously, in recent years trans activists have accused the British press of stoking or abating anti-trans sentiments.
Notably, the BBC was slammed by LGBTQ activists last year after publishing an article that many critics said painted all transgender women as sexual predators. The British broadcaster defended its piece — titled “We’re being pressured into sex by some trans women” — arguing that it went through a “rigorous editorial process.”
The outcry against the media grew louder among trans activists on Monday, after British newspaper The Times “deadnamed” Ghey, that is, it published the name Ghey went by prior to her transition.
“I will be writing to @thetimes and @IpsoNews regarding this,” British MP Charlotte Nichols wrote on Twitter on Monday, referring to The Times and British media regulator Independent Press Standards Organisation.
The Times did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment. A spokesperson for IPSO declined to comment.
Following Ghey’s death on Sunday, some trans activists also chided the government for a lack of a nationwide law that would allow trans people in the U.K. to change their gender without a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which is the distress caused by a sense of conflict between an individual’s sex assigned at birth and their gender identity. Last month, the British government blocked a similar “self-identify” law from being implemented in Scotland.
Throughout her 30 years as a teacher, Patricia Nicolari said she faced repeated harassment from students due to her sexuality. Some left notes on her desk asking if she is a lesbian. Others called her a “dyke” under their breaths. And one day, students carved “Lez” into her car.
“At the time, I remember thinking, ‘I’m going through so much anxiety as a teacher. I can’t imagine what our students go through questioning themselves and how unsafe it is for them to come out,’” Nicolari said.
Years later, Nicolari is done imagining. Instead, she’s taking action.
In September, she plans to open a private school in Connecticut that’s designed to be an oasis for LGBTQ students. PROUD Academy, which stands for Proudly Respecting Our Unique Differences Academy, will prioritize what Nicolari saw lacking in the U.S. education system: a safe, affirming and bully-free academic environment for LGBTQ students.
The private school’s curriculum aims to includeeducational basics like math and science classes, rigorous courses at theAdvanced Placement and honors levels, and lessons that touch upon LGBTQ history and literature. In addition to fostering a queer-friendly environment, Nicolari said she wants to hire mental health counselors who can cater to the specific challenges of these youths.
When Nicolari first set out to launch PROUD Academy, she planned to only enroll students in grades seven through 12. But since word about the school has spread, Nicolari said, there’s been a strong demand from parents with younger children as well, and she now plans to accommodate these families.
The interest in PROUD Academy has even crossed state borders. At least two families from out of state — including one from Florida, where LGBTQ issues have become a political lightning rod — plan to relocate to the solidly Democratic Connecticut and send their kids to the school this fall.
“Some parents are just saying, ‘I just want my child to be happy again,’” Nicolari said. “And if we can offer that to a family? That’d be priceless.”
While the school doesn’t have a set location yet, Nicolari said it will be in or near the city of New Haven, where Yale University is, and she hopes to start the school from grade three.
Research has long shown that LGBTQ youths suffer from disproportionate rates of bullying and mental health issues.
Just over 83% of LGBTQ students said they experienced in-person harassment or assault at school, according to a 2021 survey by GLSEN, an advocacy group that aims to end LGBTQ discrimination in education. And nearly 1 in 3 respondents said they missed at least one day of school in preceding month as a result of feeling unsafe.
A survey released last year by LGBTQ youth suicide prevention group The Trevor Project found that nearly half of queer youths in the United States had “seriously considered” suicide within the 12 months prior to being surveyed. Respondents who were accepted for their LGBTQ identities at home or at school were less likely to have attempted suicide in the prior year, the survey also showed.
Melissa Combs’ transgender son currently attends a middle school in Farmington, Connecticut. Combs, who is working as a fundraiser for PROUD Academy, said her son is regularly bullied for his gender identity and was physically assaulted last year during Pride Month in June.She said sending her son to a school like PROUD Academy will be “life-changing.”
“This means that I won’t knowingly send my child into a hostile environment every day,” Combs said. “It means that my kid will get to be who he is 100% of the time.”
PROUD Academy will join a handful of other LGBTQ-centered schools — including Alabama’s Magic City Acceptance Academy and Ohio’s Albert Einstein Academy — that have opened within the last handful of years, as the nation’s culture wars over LGBTQ issues have intensified.
Within the last year alone, school officials in states across the country have banned books about gay and trans experiences, removed LGBTQ-affirming posters and flags, and disbanded Gay-Straight Alliance clubs. Simultaneously, conservative lawmakers have introduced hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills, with many seeking to limit the rights and representation of queer students in U.S. schools.
Of the more than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced so far this year, about half restrict the rights of trans students in schools, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Among the large cohort of bills is legislation that would force teachers to disclose trans students’ gender identities to their parents, restrict bathroom access for trans and nonbinary kids, and ban trans children from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identities.
Nicolari reasoned that the recent legislation explains why the majority of the roughly 30 parents who have inquired about enrollment at PROUD Academy have trans or nonbinary children.
“The political climate absolutely accelerated the need for a PROUD Academy and a need for PROUD Academies across the United States,” Nicolari said. “Our kids matter. Their lives matter. Their education matters. Their mental health matters. And we can’t have our students and families be bullied into being less than they’re capable of being.”
NFL Hall of Famer and NBC Sports analyst Tony Dungy is facing renewed criticism for his history of anti-LGBTQ statements after he tweeted an anti-transgender conspiracy theory last week.
Dungy shared a debunked myth to his nearly 950,000 followers that U.S. schools are providing litter boxes for students who identify as cats. His tweet was in response to an article regarding a Mississippi state bill that would mandate menstrual products in boys bathrooms.
“That’s nothing,” the former Indianapolis Colts head coach wrote in the since-deleted tweet. “Some school districts are putting litter boxes in the school bathrooms for students who identify as cats. Very important to address every student’s needs.”
Following widespread online criticism, Dungy apologized on Twitter later, writing: “I saw a tweet and I responded to it in the wrong way. As a Christian I should speak in love and in ways that are caring and helpful. I failed to do that and I am deeply sorry.”
Dungy’s apology did little to quell critics, who were quick to castigate the sports analyst — who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016 — for making repeated homophobic remarks over the years. (NBC Sports and NBC News are both owned by NBCUniversal.)
In an email to NBC News on Tuesday, an NBC Sports spokesperson stated: “NBC Sports does not support or condone the views expressed in the tweet and we have made that clear to Tony. Our company has long and proudly supported LGBTQ+ rights and works hard to ensure that all of our employees are seen, acknowledged, recognized and respected.”
Dungy could not be reached for comment.
Since Dungy’s controversial tweet,several op-eds published in prominent media outlets, including The Washington Post and The Guardian, have criticized the former NFL player and ex-Indianapolis Colts head coach, with the Post accusing him of using “religiosity as deodorant for a theme of intolerance.”
For followers of Dungy on Twitter, the cat litter tweet came as no surprise. NBC News found at least a dozen tweets from Dungy’s account, from 2012 to 2022, that are critical of same-sex marriage, homosexuality and the LGBTQ “lifestyle.”
“No one is saying God will only banish homosexuals to hell,” Dungy wrote on Twitter last June, which was LGBTQ Pride Month. “Jesus said anyone who is not born again by accepting Him as their savior will not enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s the criteria for avoiding hell.”
His remarks regarding gay and transgender people are not just relegated to social media. In 2014, he made headlines for controversial remarks on the drafting of the league’s first openly gay player, Michael Sam.
“I wouldn’t have taken him,’’ Dungy told the Tampa Tribune at the time. “Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth . . . things will happen.’’
Cyd Zeigler, an LGBTQ advocate and a co-founder of the LGBTQ sports site Outsports.com, has been raising the alarm bells on Dungy’s anti-LGBTQ sentiments for years. Just ahead of NBC’s NFL playoffs coverage, in which Dungy had a major part, Zeigler published a lengthy op-ed on Outsports.com this month, outlining his nearly two-decade pattern of homophobia.
“I’ve never called for Tony Dungy to be fired or lose his job or his ability to provide for his family,” Zeigler said. “What I’ve always asked for is that he and NBC explain themselves.”
On Saturday, NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua and NBC Sports Executive Producer and President Sam Flood sent an email to staffers, which was shared with NBC News. In the memo, the executives acknowledged that Dungy shared a tweet that “perpetuated a debunked myth belittling to transgender people” and noted that the tweet was deleted and that Dungy apologized directly to his NBC Sports production team.
Shefik Macauley, an NBC Sports employee who is among the leaders of NBC Universal’s LGBTQ employee resource group, said NBC Sports’ response has been, overall, “favorable” to him and other LGBTQ staffers. However, he noted that he unsuccessfully tried to get the company to have Dungy apologize on air.
An NBC Sports spokesperson confirmed Macauley’s request for an on-air apology.
“Leadership agreed that the apology was best delivered on the platform where Tony had made the mistake — on Twitter,” the spokesperson said.
“If someone is empowered to be on camera and be the face of whatever platform that is, then we should be able to address it with that same audience that we’re empowering that person to be in front of,” Macauley said.
Zeigler said he isn’t convinced that Dungy’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric would stop anytime soon.
The deadly attack at an LGBTQ club in Colorado last month — where a shooter turned the venue’s “Drag Divas” night into a massacre — has made an already harrowing year for drag performers worse. Eight of the country’s top drag queens told NBC News that the current environment has subdued their larger-than-life personas, prompting four of them to increase security at their events in recent weeks.
The Nov. 19 shooting at Colorado Springs’ sole LGBTQ nightclub, Club Q, left five people dead and 17 others shot and injured. The 22-year-old suspect is being held without bond on suspicion of murder and hate crimes, though a motive has not been shared by authorities.
This attack comes on the heels of widespread anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, over 100 protests and threats directed at drag events and several pieces of novel legislation seeking to restrict drag shows.
“We’re trying to smile and make people happy for the holidays, and in the back of our heads we’re thinking, ‘I hope I don’t get shot,’” said Jinkx Monsoon, winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season five and “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” season seven.
Monsoon, who is set to make her Broadway debut in “Chicago” next year, said that over the past several months, she had been using metal detectors and creating venue escape routes for her U.S. events. Since the Club Q shooting, however, she has hired armed guards and has started to ban re-entry following the start of her performances.
Drag superstar Alaska Thunderf— 5000, winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” season two and co-host of the popular drag podcast “Race Chaser,” said that in the days following the Club Q shooting, she sat down with her staff to plot out escape routes for each venue remaining on her current nationwide tour.
At a couple of her gigs this week, police squad cars havebeen stationed down the block from the venues, she added.
“It’s mortifying that we even have to think about these things for something as joyous and celebratory as a drag show,” Alaska said. “Why do we have to be worried about where the exits are and where a safe route to get to safety is? It’s terrifying, but that’s the reality of it.”
Bigoted rhetoric and violence
The Club Q shooting, while the most high-profile and deadly attack affecting the LGBTQ community this year, followed a string of attacks on the queer community — particularly transgender people and drag performers (many of whom identify as gay men or trans women offstage).
For months, many right-wing lawmakers, media personalities and activists have accused LGBTQ people — and drag performers in particular — of “grooming,” “indoctrinating” and “sexualizing” children.
The word “grooming” has long been associated with mischaracterizing LGBTQ people, particularly gay men and transgender women, as child sex abusers, and advocates have warned recently that its resurgence could lead to real-world violence.
The day after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed the Parental Rights in Education law — or what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — the word “grooming” was mentioned on Twitter nearly 8,000 times, compared with just 40 times on the first day of this year, according to Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic.
Even in the days following the Colorado Springs shooting, some right-wing figures doubled down on the rhetoric.
Last week, Fox News host Tucker Carlson was joined by the leader of Gays Against Groomers, a self-described “coalition of gays against the sexualization, indoctrination and medicalization of children,”who said shootings would continue to happen “until we end this evil agenda that is attacking children.” Neither a representative for Fox News nor Gays Against Groomers immediately responded to NBC News’ requests for comment.
Monsoon told NBC News that online trolls have flooded two of her old music videos over the past two weeks with disparaging comments accusing drag queens of sexualizing children. The music videos featured hired teen and child actors, dancing innocently and attending a backyard birthday party.
“Because they can’t call us ‘faggots,’ because we have enough support behind us, they call us ‘groomers’ and ‘pedophiles’ instead,” Monsoon said.
Aside from the surge in trope-laced rhetoric, LGBTQ Americans have also been subjected to threats or acts of violence.
A report released by LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD days after the Club Q shooting found that drag events faced at least 124 protests and significant threats in 47 states so far this year. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, for example, a doughnut shop was vandalized and firebombed by a Molotov cocktail in two separate incidents after it hosted a drag event in October, according to KFOR and KJRH, NBC affiliates in Oklahoma.
Yvie Oddly, winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season 11, said her management company sent her and other drag performers an email Tuesday, saying they had requested extra security staff at their shows and will have the security teams check patrons for guns.
“It is unfortunate that the world has come to this, but your safety and that of the communities you visit is the priority,” the email, which Oddly shared with NBC News, says.
On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security in a terrorism advisory bulletin raised concerns about potential threats to the LGBTQ, Jewish and migrant communities from violent extremists inside the U.S. The bulletin said some extremists have been inspired by recent attacks, including the Colorado Springs shooting.
An old art form meets new opponents
Drag has been an art form since at least the 16th century, and in its modern form, with individual performers building up their own fan bases, since the early 1900s. However, the art form has only recently been thrust into the center of the latest American culture war.
Latrice Royale, who has appeared on both “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,” reasoned that the backlash is due to the greater visibility of drag brought on by the global success of the RuPaul-led competition shows, which have spinoffs in at least 16 other countries. Since it launched in 2009, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has become a global phenomenon, giving mainstream legitimacy to a nightclub art form and transforming small-town performers into worldwide celebrities.
“Back in the day, before drag was so mainstream and on every television channel and all of the media and daytime, we were underground,” Royale, 50, who has been doing drag for over 30 years, said. “Everything happened at night, at nightclubs, in the wee hours of the morning. It was not accessible to the mainstream of the world.”
Drag’s move from queer nightclubs to prime-time television brought it — and its over-the-top characters and costumes — legions of new fans, including children.
“I don’t like parents bringing their kids to meet me, because I don’t want to be seen next to a kid, because I don’t want to be labeled a pedophile,” Monsoon said. “You start to mistrust yourself for no other reason than this language is just being put on you constantly. It is dehumanizing. It makes you feel insane to just be yourself.”
So far this year, at least eight bills have been proposed seeking to restrict drag, according to GLAAD. Last month, for example, a bill was introduced in Tennessee that would ban drag queens from performing on public or private property in the presence of a minor. If signed into law, repeat offenders would be charged with a felony and could face up to six years in prison.
At least two members of Congress, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, have spoken out against children being at drag performances, with Greene saying, in part, “It should be illegal to take children into Drag Queen shows.” Neither Greene nor Boebert immediately responded to NBC News’ requests for comment.
The eight drag queens who spoke with NBC News all agreed that not every drag performance is appropriate for minors — just like not every television show or movie is meant for children. These performers said when their shows incorporate adult material, they include parental advisory warnings on their tickets and show advertisements. However, they added that because not all drag is appropriate for children does not mean it should be banned entirely or face draconian restrictions.
“People need to look at us like they look at any other profession or art forms,” Oddly said. “There are some things that are not going to be made for the youth, but that does not mean that all of us are out here, like people seem to think we are, trying to ‘convert’ or ‘groom’ or whatever.”
Despite the challenges for the drag industry in recent months, Shea Couleé, who won the fifth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,” cautioned young performers not to live in fear.
“You can’t shake a b—- that’s not afraid of you,” Couleé said. “I can get maybe a disapproving glance, but the moment I look them deadass in the eye and make eye contact, who do you think is the one looking down at the ground first? Them.”
BenDeLaCreme, who appeared on the sixth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the third season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,” shared a similar sentiment.
The cases were weeks apart and eerily similar: Two young men at popular New York City gay bars. They each left with at least one mysterious person. They were both found dead. Both of their bank accounts were drained.
And they may not be the only ones.
More gay New Yorkers are coming forward for the first time with accounts that share notable similarities to the unexplained deaths this spring of Julio Ramirez, 25, a social worker, and John Umberger, 33, a political consultant.
The biggest difference so far: They survived.
NBC News spoke to two people who described harrowing experiences that seem to broadly fit the pattern of what happened to Ramirez and Umberger.
“It sounded so eerily similar to what happened to me,” Tyler Burt, 27, said about Ramirez’s death. “I was like, ‘I’m lucky to be alive.’”
Burt and a student at New York University believe they fell victim to a larger string of robberies and assaults that police are investigating. Their stories also mirror a troubling detail that Ramirez’s and Umberger’s families have only suspected — that they felt like they were drugged before they were robbed.
The New York City Police Department said that the city’s medical examiner is still determining the official causes of Ramirez’s and Umberger’s deaths. There have been no arrests. Police would not confirm whether Burt’s or the student’s cases were a part of their ongoing investigation.
The NYPD provided a statement on Friday reiterating that police and the district attorney’s office are investigating “several incidents where individuals have been victims to either robberies or assault,” in which some but not all are members of the LGBTQ community. NBC News could not verify that the men’s experiences were connected to the string of robberies and assaults.
Meanwhile, the gay community in the country’s largest LGBTQ city awaits answers.
John Pederson, 55, says he was robbed in similar circumstances in 2018 and, combined with the recent reports, the experience has left him shaken.
“Part of it’s like, am I crazy?” Pederson said. “Women are so aware of this as a thing that happens. I don’t think gay men would ever suspect that this could be done to them.”
No memories and emptied bank accounts
In December, Burt — who reached out to NBC News on social media after recent reports regarding the two deaths — was walking home from a night out with friends when he stopped at The Boiler Room, a popular gay bar in Manhattan’s East Village, for one last drink by himself. Sitting alone at the bar was the last thing Burt says he remembers before waking up the next morning in his apartment confused.
Burt said he woke up lying on top of his bed with all of his clothes and shoes on and his phone missing. He then noticed that his personal laptop, iPad, headphones and wallet were also missing. Using his work laptop, he discovered that was just the beginning of what would amount to roughly $15,000 of stolen belongings and funds. The person or people who robbed him accessed his checking account, overdrafting it to pay off his credit cards and then using them to buy three new iPhones that morning.
Burt, who reported the incident to the police the day after the encounter, said he believes an assailant used his unconscious face to unlock his iPhone and bank accounts using the Face ID feature. He said he believes that the person or people who robbed him also slipped him some sort of drug, knocking him unconscious and causing him to black out.
“I don’t think I was drinking nearly enough to have zero recollection. Also, that’s never happened to me before,” Burt said, adding that he had a total of three to four drinks over the course of four hours. “I’ll go out and I’ll get home and be like, ‘Oh, gosh, I don’t remember getting home,’ or, ‘I don’t remember leaving,’ or something like that because I drank a lot, but I don’t remember anything. I don’t remember a single thing after I had that drink, which has just never happened to me in my life before.”
The father of a New York University student, who spoke to NBC News on the condition that his name not be published out of fear of putting his son in danger, said that his 21-year-old son also believes he was targeted by men with similar motives on April 8, less than two weeks before Ramirez’s death.
He said that his son, who also requested that his name not be published, told him he was leaving The Q bar in Hell’s Kitchen, the same bar Umberger was last seen at, with three men he had just met that night. The four of them, he said, had planned to go back to his son’s apartment to meet a friend who was already there. The man — who connected with NBC News through Linda Clary, Umberger’s mother — said his son and his son’s friend believe they were drugged at some point after returning to the apartment with the three unidentified men. The father said that his son and his son’s friend believe they were drugged because of the sudden nature of their blackouts and loss of memory coupled with the robbery.
When the two gained consciousness, the father said, his son’s phone was missing, his bank accounts were emptied using cash apps and his credit cards were maxed out. In total, the man said, about $5,000 worth of cash and items were stolen from his son. Similarly to Burt, the college student’s father said his son believes the assailants used his unconscious face to unlock his iPhone and bank accounts using Face ID. His son’s friend, he said, had her wallet stolen. The father of the college student said that his son filed a police report and that his case is still being investigated. NBC News was not able to independently verify the son’s account.
Pederson, a freelance computer consultant who reached out to NBC News on social media after recent reports regarding the two deaths, said that on Nov. 16, 2018, he also had a similar encounter. Pederson said he was heading home from Tribeca after attending a large private party, where he had three to four drinks over several hours. While alone and hailing a cab, he said he suddenly and uncharacteristically blacked out on the street corner and was robbed.
He regained consciousness momentarily, waking up to a man shaking him violently in the back seat of an unfamiliar car, yelling, “What’s the PIN number? What’s the PIN number? If you just give us the PIN number, we’ll take you home,” he said. The next thing he remembers is being dropped off in front of his apartment building before waking up the next morning with a bloodied face and his bank account wiped out.
Pederson said that he was not feeling heavily intoxicated before abruptly blacking out, nor did he have a hangover the next morning, which he said is common for him on the rare occasions he drinks too much alcohol.
‘You would not want to wish this on anyone’
Although traumatized, Burt, the father of the NYU student and Pederson said they look back on the incidents today with gratitude that they weren’t fatal.
It took Burt about a month after the encounter before he felt comfortable sleeping in his apartment again, he said, adding that the incident prompted him to go to therapy.
“It took me a while to really process what had happened to me and how terrifying it was,” Burt said. “And then seeing stuff that’s come out — like that kid who died in May — that really could have been me. It was just one small move away from that happening to me.”
“There’s a lot of ‘what ifs,’ that I’ve gone through in my head, which is, you know, not fun to think about,” he added.
Less than two weeks after the college student’s alleged encounter in early April, Ramirez was found dead in the back of a taxi. His body was discovered an hour after he was seen leaving the Ritz Bar and Lounge with three unidentified men, according to the NYPD. His family previously told NBC News that approximately $20,000 had been drained from his bank accounts.
Roughly a month later, Umberger was found dead after he and two unidentified men left another popular Hell’s Kitchen gay bar, The Q. The unidentified men transferred about $20,000 out of Umberger’s bank accounts and maxed out his credit cards, according to Clary, Umberger’s mother.
“The pain and sorrow and horror is like nothing else,” Clary said. “You would not want to wish this on anyone.”
Burt, Pederson, Clary and the college student’s father all said they felt the NYPD did not initially take their cases as seriously as they had hoped and were, at times, unresponsive.
“It seemed like he was being reluctant to do anything that required a little bit of extra work,” Burt said of the detective on his case. “It just felt like it was not a priority at all and I was the one following up, bugging this guy, time and time again and I was just getting nowhere.”
The father of the college student who was allegedly robbed said that police stopped returning his phone calls until recently, months after the deaths of Ramirez and Umberger.
New York City Council member Erik Bottcher, whose district includes Hell’s Kitchen, told NBC News in a phone call that his office has been in contact with the NYPD and the Manhattan district attorney’s office on a weekly basis since reports surfaced in May about Ramirez’s death. His office has sought to ensure that appropriate resources have been dedicated to the investigation, he added.
“It’s horrifying and infuriating that people are being preyed upon and victimized in New York City in this way,” Bottcher said. “Whoever’s doing this needs to be brought to justice.”
While the NYPD only confirmed it was looking into “several” other potentially related incidents, Clary said she was told there were at least a dozen other cases included in the investigation. She spoke highly of the current detective on her son’s investigation. But her message to the police and public officials was clear: “People, do your job.”
“Thank you for the work you do,” she added, but “I need you to work harder, and I need you to do more for the sake of your great city and for the sake of citizens that are counting on you.”
The New York City Police Department confirmed Monday that it is investigating a string of robberies and assaults that may be connected to the deaths of two gay men earlier this year shortly after they left gay bars in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.
In an emailed statement, Julian Phillips, a spokesperson for the NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information, confirmed that the deaths of Julio Ramirez and John Umberger are being investigated among “several incidents where individuals have been victims of either robberies or assault.” No arrests have been made in Umberger’s death, which remains under NYPD investigation, according to a department official.
In April, Ramirez, a 25-year-old social worker, was found dead in the back of a taxi an hour after being seen leaving the Ritz Bar and Lounge with three unidentified men. His family previously told NBC News that approximately $20,000 had been drained from his bank accounts and that they believed he was drugged.
About a month later, Umberger, a 33-year-old political consultant, was found dead after he and two unidentified men left another popular Hell’s Kitchen gay bar, the Q. The unidentified men transferred about $20,000 out of Umberger’s bank accounts and maxed out his credit cards, according to Umberger’s mother, Linda Clary, who also believes her son was drugged.
The NYPD spokesperson said the city’s medical examiner is still determining the official causes of deaths for Ramirez and Umberger and added that some, though not all, of the victims in their investigation are believed to be part of the LGBTQ community.
Over the weekend, New York City Council member Erik Bottcher, who represents a swath of Manhattan’s West Side that includes Hell’s Kitchen, released a statement on Instagram saying that his office has been in contact with the NYPD and the New York County District Attorney’s Office regarding the investigation.
With 72% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Balint had 61.5%, while her Republican opponent, Liam Madden, had 28.8%.
On Tuesday evening, Balint thanked her supporters in an Instagram post with a caption saying: “Today, we reaffirmed that Vermont, and this nation, is still a place where anything is possible. We’re still capable of change and progress.”
She added, “Tonight, after 231 years, Vermonters are sending a woman and openly gay person to Congress for the first time.”
Balint’s win against Madden, an Iraq War veteran, was widely expected. Vermont has not sent a Republican to Congress since it re-elected former Sen. Jim Jeffords in 2000.
Madden took to Twitter on Tuesday evening to congratulate Balint on her historic feat.
“Congratulations to @BeccaBalintVT for being Vermont’s first woman Congressional Representative,” he wrote. “Well Done.”
Although it was anticipated, Balint’s win was long awaited for women’s rights advocates around the country. Her victory ended Vermont’s status as the only state never to have sent a woman to Congress.
“The future of LGBTQ equality and women’s rights were on the ballot — and Vermonters delivered tonight,” Annise Parker, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to increase the number of LGBTQ elected officials across the U.S., said in a statement. “For nearly a decade, Becca led efforts to pass meaningful legislation to increase fairness and equity within Vermont. Now, she is ready to do the same in Congress.”
Healey is the state’s attorney general, and Diehl is a former state representative who co-chaired former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign in Massachusetts.
Addressing her supporters at a victory rally in Boston on Tuesday evening, Healey dedicated her win to “every little girl and every young LGBTQ person out there.”
“I hope tonight shows you that you can be whatever, whoever you want to be,” she said to a roaring crowd. “And nothing and no one can ever get in your way except your own imagination, and that’s not going to happen.”
Healey’s win was a long-awaited victory for LGBTQ advocates who have been trying to elect a lesbian to the highest office in state government for decades.
Annise Parker, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which helps queer candidates get elected to public office, said Healey’s historic win will help send a message that “LGBTQ people have a place in American society and can become respected public leaders.”
“We are confident that under Maura’s leadership, Massachusetts will reach new heights as one of the most inclusive states in the country,” Parker said in a statement.
Healey will follow two other out LGBTQ Democrats who have been elected to lead their states: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who is bisexual, became the first openly LGBTQ person to be elected governor in 2015, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis became the first openly gay man to be elected governor in 2018. (Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey was not out when he was elected to office in 2001; he came out as gay in his 2004 resignation speech.)
Healey’s victory with running mate Kim Driscoll will also mark the first time in U.S. history that women will serve as both governor and lieutenant governor of a state, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the projected winner of Arkansas’ gubernatorial race, is poised to join Healey in this historic feat, as the two candidates in Arkansas’ lieutenant governor’s race are both women.
Healey is no stranger to shattering glass ceilings for LGBTQ Americans.
In 2009, Healey led the country’s first successful challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages. And in 2014, she broke barriers again, becoming the country’s first out lesbian to be elected state attorney general.