A Washington, D.C., gay couple was attacked on Sunday by a pair of teenagers who reportedly called them “monkeypox f****ts.”
The couple says they were walking in the Shaw neighborhood when they encountered a group of teens who began calling them “monkeypox f****ts.” According to Metro Weekly, Robert, 25, and Antonio, 23, were followed down the street by one of the teens. When Robert turned to confront him, the teen punched him in the forehead, knocking him to the ground.
A second teen then punched Antonio in the face. The first teen struck Robert again, breaking his glasses. An onlooker called the police, and most of the teens fled. However, two young women who had been with the group approached Robert and Antonio to apologize.
“One of them said their dad was gay and it was messed up that they attacked us. But I was still pretty pissed at the whole incident, so I let them pass,” Robert said.
Police took the couple to the emergency room at Howard University Hospital, where they remained for six hours to ensure they didn’t have concussions. Antonio also received stitches to his upper lip.
“I mainly feel shock that this could happen in D.C. in broad daylight, only three or four blocks from U Street, walking from a gay bar to public transit,” said Robert.
“I’ve actually had more experiences of homophobia the past couple of months than I have ever before, just this summer alone,” he continued. “A few months ago, a friend of mine and I were on the Metro coming home on the Red Line from a pool party. And some guy told us not to—he just said some homophobic things to us, saying that where he was from, they ‘kill gay people’ or something along those lines.”
“And then even as we were walking down 7th Street, just minutes before, someone shook his head at us and said, ‘That ain’t right,’ which I think was a reference to what Antonio was wearing, which was just a crop top. So yeah, it’s just kind of crazy that it seems like there’s been way more homophobia than I’ve experienced before, even growing up in Texas.”
“There is more overt homophobia here,” added Antonio, who has lived in D.C. since 2020. “There are more altercations on the street or verbal comments from random people versus at home.”
A small-town library is at risk of shutting down after residents of Jamestown, Michigan, voted to defund it rather than tolerate certain LGBTQ+-themed books. Residents voted on Tuesday to block a renewal of funds tied to property taxes, Bridge Michigan reported.
The vote leaves the library with funds through the first quarter of next year. Once a reserve fund is used up, it would be forced to close, Larry Walton, the library board’s president, told Bridge Michigan – harming not just readers but the community at large.
Beyond books, residents visit the library for its wifi, he said, and it houses the very room where the vote took place. The library’s refusal to submit to the demands led to a campaign urging residents to vote against renewed funding for the library.
Ugandan authorities have suspended the work of a prominent LGBTQ rights group, calling it an illegal entity.
Sexual Minorities Uganda has been the East African nation’s most prominent support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people since 2004.
Its leader, Frank Mugisha, said Saturday that authorities who oversee non-governmental organizations advised him to suspend activities, saying his group lacked needed documentation.
“This means that the life-saving work we do is on hold. We can’t protect and support vulnerable LGBT people,” he said. “The background, of course, is homophobia and transphobia.”
The NGO Bureau said in a statement that the group needed to stop work “with immediate effect” because it’s neither a company nor an NGO.
The case against Sexual Minorities Uganda stems from the group’s name itself. The registrar of companies declined to register that name, saying it was unsuitable. A judge agreed, and the group’s appeal to a higher court is awaiting judgement, Mugisha said.
He said that because of the hostility to his group over the years, he decided to run it as “an association” instead of an NGO.
Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda under a colonial-era law that criminalizes sex acts “against the order of nature,” and LGBTQ people face widespread discrimination.
Some Ugandan officials have urged tough new legislation after a panel of judges nullified an anti-gay law enacted by President Yoweri Museveni in 2014 amid international condemnation.
That law, invalidated because it had been passed by lawmakers during a session that lacked a quorum, prescribed punishments of up to life in prison for individuals convicted of engaging in same-sex activity.
The original version of that bill, first introduced in 2009, included the death penalty for what it called aggravated acts of homosexuality.
The study also found that the proportion of adolescents who were assigned female at birth and have come out as transgender also has not increased, which contradicts claims that adolescents whose birth sex is female are more susceptible to this so-called external influence.
“The hypothesis that transgender and gender diverse youth assigned female at birth identify as transgender due to social contagion does not hold up to scrutiny and should not be used to argue against the provision of gender-affirming medical care for adolescents,” study senior author Dr. Alex S. Keuroghlian, director of the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center at the Fenway Institute and the Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry Gender Identity Program, said in a statement.
The “social contagion” theory can be traced back to a 2018 paperpublished in the journal PLOS One. Dr. Lisa Littman, who at the time was a professor of behavioral and social sciences at Brown University, coined the term “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” which she described as adolescents experiencing a conflict between their birth sex and gender identity “suddenly during or after puberty.” These adolescents, she wrote, “would not have met the criteria for gender dysphoria in childhood” and are experiencing dysphoria due to social influence.
Littman also hypothesized that adolescents assigned female at birth are more likely to be affected by social contagion and, as a result, are overrepresented in groups of adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria when compared to those who were assigned male at birth.
After intense debate andcriticism, PLOS One conducted a post-publication reassessment of the article, and issued a correction that included changing the headline to clarify that Littman did not survey transgender or gender-diverse youth themselves, but actually surveyed their parents. The correction also noted that, “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) is not a formal mental health diagnosis at this time.”
To test the social contagion theory, researchers used data from the 2017 and 2019 biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which collected gender identity data across 16 states from ages 12 to 18. In 2017, 2.4%, or 2,161 of the 91,937 adolescents surveyed, identified as trans or gender diverse. In 2019, that percentage dropped slightly to 1.6%, or 1,640 of 105,437 adolescents surveyed.
Researchers concluded that the decrease in the overall percentage of adolescents identifying as trans or gender diverse “is incongruent with the (rapid-onset gender dysphoria hypothesis) that posits social contagion.”
The study also found that the number of transgender adolescents who were assigned male at birth outnumbered those assigned female at birth in both 2017 and 2019, providing additional evidence against a “notion of social contagion with unique susceptibility” among those assigned female at birth.
The social contagion hypothesis, by assuming that youth are coming out, for example, because their friends are, asserts that there’s some social desirability to being trans. Some supporters of the theory, according to the study, also believe that more youth identify as trans or gender diverse because those identities are less stigmatized than cisgender sexual minority identities, or those who identify with their birth sex and are lesbian, bisexual, gay or queer, among other sexual identities.
To evaluate these claims, researchers examined rates of bullying among adolescents who identified as trans and gender diverse, and those who did not.
They found that, consistent with other surveys, trans and gender-diverse youth were significantly more likely to be victims of school bullying (at 38.7% in 2017 and 45.4% in 2019) compared to cisgender lesbian, gay and bisexual youth (at 30.5% in 2017 and 28.7% in 2019) and cisgender, heterosexual youth (at 17.1% in 2017 and 16.6% in 2019).
“The idea that attempts to flee sexual minority stigma drive teenagers to come out as transgender is absurd, especially to those of us who provide treatment to [transgender and gender diverse] youth,” study lead author Dr. Jack Turban, incoming assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a statement. “The damaging effects of these unfounded hypotheses in further stigmatizing transgender and gender diverse youth cannot be understated. We hope that clinicians, policymakers, journalists, and anyone else who contributes to health policy will review these findings.”
They wrote that despite the methodological flaws in Littman’s study, the concept of rapid onset gender dysphoria “has been used in recent legislative debates to argue for and subsequently enact policies that prohibit gender-affirming medical care” for trans and gender diverse adolescents.
An increasing number of states have also tried to ban or restrict trans youths’ access to gender-affirming medical care through legislation. The number of bills seeking to restrict gender-affirming health care for transgender youths has grown from one in 2018 to 36 this year, according to an analysis by NBC News. Governors in three states — Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee — have successfully signed such restrictions into law, though judges have prevented those measures from taking effect in Alabama and Arkansas.
The study lists several limitations, including that the data were collected through a school-based survey and, as a result, youths who don’t attend school were not represented. It also noted that youths were asked, “What is your sex?” and that response options were limited to female and male. It didn’t ask about respondents’ “sex assigned at birth” and didn’t include an additional question about their “gender identity,” which is an established research method for asking about gender identity. But the researchers creditedseveralstudies that found trans and gender-diverse youths are aware of the differences between their sex assigned at birth and gender identity.
Actor Kevin Spacey has been ordered to pay nearly $31 million in damages to production company MRC for alleged sexual misconduct behind the scenes of the Netflix series House of Cards.
The order from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mel Red Recana confirmed an award previously handed down by an arbitrator in October, 2020.
Spacey, who was an executive producer on the series and played president Frank Underwood, was dropped from both roles just days after the allegations came to light in 2017.
Spacey was first accused of misconduct by actor Anthony Rapp in a Buzzfeed story alleging that Spacey had made a sexual advance on him in Spacey’s apartment in 1986, when Rapp was 14. Production on the show was suspended two days later.
Two days after that, CNN reported that Spacey created a “toxic” work environment on set, making overtly crude comments and touching young male staffers without consent.
The allegations of groping prompted an MRC internal investigation.
MRC argued that the two-time Oscar-winning actor owed them millions in lost profits because his misconduct forced them to remove Spacey from House of Card’s sixth season and cut the show’s episode order from thirteen to eight episodes. The arbitrator ruled in MRC’s favor, finding Spacey’s behavior violated the production company’s sexual harassment policy with respect to five House of Cards crew members, and constituted a material breach of his agreements as an actor and executive producer.
Earlier this year, Spacey’s attorneys, Stephen G. Larson and Jonathan E. Phillips, sued to throw out the multi-million dollar judgement, arguing, “The truth is that while Spacey participated in a pervasive on-set culture that was filled with sexual innuendoes, jokes, and innocent horseplay, he never sexually harassed anyone. In fact, as the evidence established and the Arbitrator recognized in the Award, the few times Spacey was told that his conduct made someone feel uncomfortable or was in any way unwanted, he stopped.”
In May, Spacey was charged by the U.K.’s Crown Prosecution Service with four counts of sexual assault and one count of “causing a person to engage in penetrative sexual activity without consent.” The alleged incidents took place in London and Gloucestershire between 2005 and 2013.
Spacey, 62, stars in the upcoming feature Peter Five Eight — his first major role in five years — playing “a charismatic man in black.”
The tagline for the film is, “The guilty always pay the price.”
The public library in a small Iowa farming town has been embroiled in a monthslong controversy spurred by anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, attempts to censor books with progressive and LGBTQ themes and the alleged harassment of LGBTQ staff members.
The situation reached a tipping point last month when the library — a place referred to by some as the “heart of the community” — was forced to close for more than a week after its interim director resigned, saying he felt ostracized for being gay.
It’s indicative of an undercurrent of homophobia that exists in the town among a small portion of its 5,000 residents, according to more than a dozen current and former Vinton residents. Although not representative of the entire community, the controversy has divided it in recent months, racking up national headlines and leaving some LGBTQ residents feeling unsafe and unwelcome.
With efforts to censor LGBTQ books in many communities across the U.S., along with increased threats targeting Drag Queen Story Hour events, the situation in Vinton appears to be a microcosm of a nationwide trend. It also marks the arrival of a new battleground in the culture wars: public libraries.
“This in particular has really put a dark cloud over the community,” said Dan Engledow, a 42-year-old gay man who has lived in Vinton all his life. “There’s a small group of people who have caused lots of problems.”
Vinton now finds itself facing not only a dearth of library services, which many residents depend on, but also larger questions about how welcoming the community is toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
“Like any small, Midwestern community, it’s really not that open to a lot of the LGBTQ community,” said Molly Jennings, a former editor at The Vinton Eagle and Cedar Valley Times. “It’s the first time that I recall that it has been this blatant.”
‘Not what this town is about’
The library’s simmering culture clash dates back to late 2020, a few months after Janette McMahon, a woman with decades of experience as a library administrator, took over as director from Virginia Holsten, who retired after more than 30 years at the library, McMahon said.
“Change gets really hard when things have stayed the same a long time,” McMahon said.
In January 2021, she hired Colton Neely, who is gay, as the new children’s librarian. She called him “utterly fantastic” but said that after hiring him, the environment some patrons were creating at the library started to become less “comfortable.”
Within a few months after Neely was hired, McMahon said, a patron whom she did not name — though others familiar with the matter, including Neely, have identified this person as the pastor’s wife — checked out several children’s books and refused to return them for a prolonged period of time. One of them was written by first lady Jill Biden and another was by Vice President Kamala Harris (Harris visited the library in 2019 to read hers). “Sometimes People March,” a book about activism that was checked out, referenced the Black Lives Matter movement and the Pride flag.
Eventually, the books came back, but McMahon said some patrons had already started accusing her of having a liberal agenda.
“Gossip runs rampant in lots of places, but in small towns it tends to go very fast,” she said.
In April 2021, the pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Vinton sent an email to a board member who has since resigned expressing concern that the library was biased toward “certain political positions and a certain political party,” according to a copy of the email shared with NBC News. The pastor, Stephen Preus, took issue with the same books and asked why the library had not chosen to instead display a biography of former President Donald Trump and a book by former Vice President Mike Pence. What Preus found even more concerning, according to his email, was what he called the library’s promotion of leftist ideologies, including “the LGBT agenda,” “transgenderism” and “Black Lives Matter Inc.”
Preus did not respond to a request for comment.
Eventually, McMahon said, the growing fervor in the town made her decide she couldn’t effectively run the library. She resigned in July 2021, after serving just over a year, and moved about an hour and a half away. She now leads a public library in Dewitt, Iowa.
With McMahon gone, Neely stepped into her shoes until the library’s board of trustees could hire a more permanent replacement. For months, Neely said, he operated the library from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. essentially by himself. All the while, he alleged, he dealt with both subtle and blatant homophobia from a handful of patrons.
One day, when he was wearing a bow tie, a patron told him to “dress down,” he recalled. “She said, ‘That’s not what this library is about; that’s not what this town is about.’”
Neely also alleged that longtime Vinton resident Brooke Kruckenberg made comments that Neely perceived as homophobic in front of him and her children while at the library. McMahon corroborated that she had heard Kruckenberg and other patrons refer to Neely as “the gay man” in what she perceived as a negative way and that Neely had been the target of what she characterized as microaggressions from Kruckenberg.
And while he was interim director, Neely said, the secretary and treasurer of the library board, Jennifer Kreutner, suggested the library obscure certain titles — including those covering LGBTQ topics — with book sleeves. Kreutner had previously objected to a summer reading challenge that had encouraged patrons to read books by people of color and LGBTQ authors, according to Neely, McMahon and another person familiar with the matter.
Kreutner’s suggestion to cover certain books with sleeves or move them elsewhere in the library was the topic of a heated library board meeting Tuesday night. During the meeting, another board member accused Kreutner of censorship, and several board members argued with Kreutner about some of her behaviors while on the board, according to an audio recording of the meeting shared with NBC News.
“I don’t think it’s a conflict of interest to represent people in the community that come forward with their views and concerns,” Kreutner said at the meeting. She then apologized after a board member accused her of only representing a conservative Christian viewpoint, though she added, “I represent the entire rural community, but most of them are conservative Christians.”
Neither Kruckenberg nor Kreutner responded to NBC News’ requests for comment.
Jimmy Kelly, chair of the library’s board of trustees, said the board was not officially made aware of any discrimination of Neely or other staff at the time of the alleged incidents. He also said in an interview before Tuesday’s board meeting that he had no prior knowledge of Kreutner’s alleged suggestion to obscure certain titles with book covers.
‘Something wasn’t right’
In November, the library board hired a new director. Renee Greenlee, a librarian with years of experience and a master’s degree in library and information science, was someone Neely thought “could fight this crowd back.”
“From the moment I shook her hand, I was like, ‘She’s the one to be in this position,’” Neely said.
Greenlee had worked for about three years as a library assistant at a publiclibrary in Marion, Iowa, where she helped facilitate Marion’s first LGBTQ Pride event, including a drag queen storytime event and a parade around the library. In January, shortly after taking the job in Vinton, she was selected from more than 1,300 librarians around the country by the American Library Association for the I Love My Librarian Award.
Neely said circumstances started to improve at the library after Greenlee took over, and he moved back into the children’s librarian position. Still, he struggled at times to attract families to his storytime events. He said he believes this was partly because parents seemed to disapprove of the fact that he is gay.
“Deep down, I felt like something wasn’t right,” he said.
At a library board meeting March 9, a motion was put on the agenda to establish gender-neutral bathrooms in the building. It passed unanimously, but at the meeting, Kruckenberg joined the chorus of residents claiming the library staff had a “liberal agenda.”
“I don’t believe the library is representing our town well with hiring a majority of staff who are openly a part of the LGBTQ community,” she wrote in a statement, which she then read at the meeting, according to attendees and meeting minutes. Neely and Joey Anderson, who were two of the library’s six employees at the time, are openly LGBTQ, Neely said.
Kruckenberg said she took issue with a “subtle, yet noticeable, display of the LGBTQ agenda,” taking form in the “choices of books on display, the cross-dressing of employees, Facebook posts and the question of non-gender bathrooms being considered.”
Greenlee left that March meeting “white as a ghost,” Neely said.
Anderson, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said in an email to NBC News that Greenlee pulled them into her office the day after the meeting to tell them what had happened. They called the experience “devastating.”
“It contributed to some pretty terrible dysphoria over the next several months,” they said.
According to meeting minutes, a prepared statement shared with NBC News and local news reports, Kruckenberg alleged at the March meeting that she had spoken to library members and parents in the community who had decided to step back from supporting the library, or stop coming completely, because of “staffing decisions” and the “liberal books that are on the shelves.” She said she wasn’t asking for any books to be banned or removed from the library, but instead for the books to be “balanced.”
“For every book on display with a topic of becoming a transgender,” Kruckenberg’s prepared statement said, “I would ask that there is a book on display that discusses how God created and designed people as either male or female from birth, for life.”
Kreutner, who takes the meeting minutes, recorded the March meeting, but she declined to produce the audio file for Greenlee and the city administrator when they asked her for it, board members said during Tuesday’s meeting. The board then spent $300 retaining a lawyer, who sent a letter to Kreutner telling her she was legally obligated to produce the file under public records laws, a copy of the letter shows.Kelly, the board chair, confirmed Kreutner eventually turned over the audio file.
After the March board meeting, Greenlee compiled a seven-page response to Kruckenberg’s allegations that included a diversity audit of the children’s book collection. At an April 13 library board meeting, she presented her findings, which showed that of the nearly 5,800 children’s books and other materials in the library, only seven books had subject headings with the terms “LGBT,” “gay” or “transgender.” There were 31 books with Christian-related subject headings.
Greenlee also condemned Kruckenberg’s comments from the March meeting, video of the April meeting shows, saying they were “discriminatory” and “hurtful” and that she had instructed her staff to let her know if they felt unsafe, threatened or harassed.
“I very much wish that every community member could be happy with all aspects of the library, but I have been in libraries long enough to know that is not realistic,” she wrote in a public statement, which she read in full at the meeting.
Neely was sitting behind Kruckenberg and her family — whom several residents described as a powerful force in town. When Greenlee finished speaking, Neely said many of them started shaking their heads.
“They were just clearly not taking it,” he said.
By May 23, Greenlee called her staff into her office, according to Anderson, and tearfully told them she had put in her resignation letter and accepted a position at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. She said she would leave in early June.
“We’d be without a director, yet again, and still under attack by community members, leaders, and board members,” Anderson said in an email to NBC News.
Greenlee declined to comment on the record for this story.
The library board accepted Greenlee’s resignation and reappointed Neely as interim director at a June 8 board meeting. The meeting drew about 100 people, a crowd so big it had to be moved to City Hall, according to Neely and Kelly, the board chair, both of whom attended the meeting.
Molly Rach, a library assistant for the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who’s lived in Vinton with her husband for eight years, was one of many residents who spoke at the meeting to express disappointment in the situation, saying the community had “run out two highly qualified, highly credentialed library directors.”
“This library is indeed going to suffer, but not because of diverse books or staff members who identify as LGBTQIA+,” she said at the meeting, “but because you are going to have a hard time finding anyone who is willing to put up with being targeted by community members for simply doing their job.”
‘I’ve had it’
It was just a matter of weeks before Neely left, too.
“You could tell half the crowd was just like, ‘Ugh, you’re disgusting,’” he said of the June 8 meeting. “That was the board meeting where I was just like, ‘I’ve had it.’”
He penned a resignation letter to the library board on June 27, writing that despite his hard-earned qualifications, he felt reduced to just “the gay man of the library.”
“It hurts and I am disappointed,” he wrote.
Neely’s departure coincided with that of another staffer.The sudden exitsforced the library to close for more than a week at the beginning of July, leaving residents who relied on the library, like Kelsey Ann Wiederin, a stay-at-home mom of three, in the lurch.
“They just closed their doors, and that was it,” she said.
Wiederin moved to Vinton from the nearby community of La Porte City about a year ago. She said Neely had a knack for interacting with her oldest child, who has a disability. Finding out he resigned earlier this summer was “heartbreaking,” she said.
The other staffer who left around the time of Neely’s departure was Connie Bennett, who confirmed to NBC News she was put on administrative leave. In an email to NBC News, Anderson accused Bennett of previously making what they perceived to be subtle transphobic remarks. During Tuesday’s board meeting, Kelly said an investigation into a staff member, whom he did not identify, had concluded, and that the staff member would be returning to work. He also said theboard voted to refer the situation to the city’s Title VI coordinator for continued monitoring. Title VI is a provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination of protected classes in programs that receive federal funding.
When contacted by NBC News, Bennett would only confirm that she would be returning to work and referred additional questions to the city administrator, Chris Ward, who said in an email that any records regarding personal employee information are confidential unless that employee has been fired, demoted or decided to quit.
After learning that Bennett would return to work at the library, Anderson, who had been the only remaining staff member since Neely’s departure, resigned Tuesday.
The library building is now open for half of its usual hours, but only because seven of the nine board members were trained to help run the library, Kelly said. On Tuesday, the board selected a new director, though she likely won’t start for another month. The incoming director asked that her name not be published before she resigns from her current job.
Meanwhile, the library’s diminished capacity means reduced summer programs and less access to the building’s resources, such as free internet and office supplies for the low-income residents who need them.
Last week, Vinton resident Crystal Pladsen-Coder spoke at a City Council meeting, reading from a petition with more than 400 signatures that urged city leaders to “take a stand” and “lead the way as we reclaim our city.” As the controversy at the library unfolded, she also led an effort to place Pride signs on yards across Vinton in recent months. Shortly after she spoke, someone else used the public comment period to decry the dangers of “critical race” and “critical gender” theory.
Another resident said the words of “one person have been used to brand an entire community,” a sentiment many current and former residents of Vinton share.
“The people that are the loudest kind of get all the attention,” said Tracie Walker, a former Vinton resident who now lives close by.
Walker said she found herself disappointed as she followed the controversy over the past few months. She said she felt like Vinton residents have been lumped together with what she called a very small group of people who don’t represent everyone.
Walker raised her two sons, who are gay, in Vinton in a house near the library. One of her sons, Jordan, said he didn’t always know he was gay, but growing up in Vinton, what he knew for sure was that in some places, he felt comfortable, and in others, he didn’t.
One of the places he felt safe was the library. He was there all the time from fifth grade until about high school, when he said he started “working tirelessly to be passibly straight.”
After high school, Jordan, now 37, felt compelled to leave and eventually landed in Chicago, which he called the “perfect spot” for someone who missed the Midwest to live as his “true self.”
Like many moms, Tracie Walker said she had always hoped her sons would move back near their hometown and raise their families in the area. The past few months, however, have made her realize that dream may be a lost cause.
A 74-year-old retired schoolteacher from a New York City suburb was sentenced to 30 months in prison Wednesday for mailing dozens of violent threats to LGBTQ affiliated individuals, groups and businesses over several years.
According to prosecutors, Robert Fehring threatened to blow up the Stonewall Inn, a historic bar in Manhattan considered the birthplace of the gay rights movement. He also threatened to place explosives at 2021 New York City Pride march that would “make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting look like a cakewalk,” referring to the 2016 attack in which 49 people were killed and dozens wounded at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Other messages threatened to kill, shoot and bomb LGBTQ affiliated businesses and individuals, including an African American-owned barbershop in Brooklyn that Fehring wrote in one letter “is the perfect place for a bombing.”
Fehring pleaded guilty in February to mailing threatening communications through the postal service.
“We are disappointed in the length of the sentence, but Mr. Fehring is happy to be putting this nightmare behind him,” his attorney, Glenn Obedin, said in an email. “He is deeply remorseful for what occurred, and looks forward to living quietly with his family once he has served his sentence.”
An FBI search of Fehring’s home last November in Bayport, Long Island, yielded two loaded shotguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in addition to copies of letters containing threats. Investigators also found a stamped envelope addressed to an LGBTQ-affiliated attorney containing the remains of a dead bird, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York.
“Robert Fehring made heinous threats against members of the LGBTQ community in locations throughout New York, including Suffolk County, for nearly eight years,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said in a statement. “Thanks to the tireless efforts of our department’s Hate Crimes Unit detectives and the diligent work of our law enforcement partners, Fehring is being held accountable for his crimes.”
Joseph Ladapo — Florida’s surgeon general appointed by the state’s anti-LGBTQ Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — is trying to make people distrust the monkeypox vaccine, stating that there is “little data” on it, which is misleading.
Ladapo’s position is hardly surprising considering that he spent years spreading COVID-19 disinformation and echoing DeSantis’ distrust in vaccines.
On Tuesday, DeSantis criticized the Democratic governors of California, Illinois, and New York for declaring states of emergency over monkeypox. The declarations give their governments greater ability to mobilize resources against the virus. (U.S. President Joe Biden declared a national state of emergency for monkeypox on Thursday.)
DeSantis said the governors were using the emergency declarations to stoke fear, control people, and “restrict your freedom.”
Ladapo backed up DeSantis’ words, stating, “It’s just kind of remarkable to see some of the headlines — the headlines that very clearly are trying to make you afraid of monkeypox or fill-in-the-blank. You know, because if you’re not afraid of this there will be something else after that and something else after that.”
“These people are determined to make you afraid and do whatever it is they want you to do. And, um, you know, I hope that more and more people choose not to do that,” he added.
Then after revealing that Florida had distributed 8,500 monkeypox vaccines, Lapado said, “You should know that there’s actually very little data on this vaccine.”
To understand why Lapado’s claim is misleading, a little background is necessary.
As of Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 6,326 monkeypox cases within the United States. The Florida Department of Health shows 525 monkeypox cases statewide, The Florida Phoenix reported.
The Jynneos vaccine is made from a virus that is closely related to, but less harmful than, monkeypox viruses. It does not cause disease in humans and cannot reproduce in human cells.
A study of 400 individuals found that the Jynneos vaccine was as effective against monkeypox as the ACAM2000 smallpox vaccine, which the FDA approved in 2007. The safety of Jynneos was assessed in more than 7,800 individuals who received at least one dose of the vaccine, the FDA said. Previous studies have shown that smallpox vaccines are 85% likely to provide a high level of immunity against monkeypox for up to two years, according to the MIT Technology Review.
Ladapo’s authority on vaccines is highly questionable at best.
In July 2020, near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he appeared in a 43-minute viral video as part of a group called America’s Frontline Doctors. The group, which had no epidemiologists or immunologists qualified to speak on infectious diseases, promoted the anti-malaria medication hydroxychloroquine as a “cure” for COVID-19, even though no studies substantiated that claim. The video also said that face masks do not slow the virus’s spread and that COVID-19 is less deadly than the flu. Both claims are untrue.
The video also featured Dr. Stella Immanuel, a pediatrician and religious minister who gained notoriety in 2020 for her bizarre theories, including that “demonic seed” causes endometriosis and ovarian cysts. Immanuel explained on her church’s website that demons insert sperm into sleeping individuals when they have sex in their dreams.
The doctors’ recorded speech was organized by the Tea Party Patriots, a right-wing group backed by wealthy Republican donors. Lapado has written numerous op-eds repeating the video’s false claims.
The video received millions of views when then-President Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and other right-wing media figures shared it on social media. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter all removed the video for violating their policies on sharing COVID-19 misinformation.
In October 2020, Ladapo signed the Great Barrington Declaration, a statement that called for developing societal herd immunity to COVID-19 through natural infection. In response, 80 medical researchers signed an open letter published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, calling the declaration’s theory “a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.”
Florida ranks third among U.S. states with the highest numbers of COVID-19 infections and related deaths. DeSantis has signed orders expanding exemptions for people who don’t want to get vaccinated against COVID-19 vaccines and to prevent schools and local governments from instating face mask mandates in Florida.
A southwest Florida school district added warning labels to more than 100 books, many of which touch on issues related to race or the LGBTQ community.
Collier County Public Schools, a district that includes part of Naples, added the labels both on physical copies of the books and in Destiny, the district’s online catalog, according to the nonprofit Florida Freedom to Read Project. The top of the label, according to a photo shared with NBC News by Florida Freedom to Read Project, says “Advisory notice to parents” in capital letters.
“This Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students,” the label states. “This book will also be identified in the Destiny system with the same notation. The decision as to whether this book is suitable or unsuitable shall be the decision of the parent(s) who has the right to oversee his/her child’s education consistent with state law.”A sticker of the notice is on the front inside cover of the books, according to Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which advocates against censorship in Florida schools. Ferrell said a media specialist in the school district shared photos of the labels with her in June.
After a series of public records requests about the labels, challenged books and the district’s creation of a committee that reviews school materials, Ferrell said she received a phone call from Elizabeth Alves, associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Collier County Public Schools.
Ferrell said Alves told her the district began adding the labels in February, after the district’s legal representative spoke with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group that last year issued a “Porn in Schools Report.” The report included a list of books that “promote gender self-identification and same-sex marriage” as well as titles that include “indecent and offensive material,” according to the group.
Alves defended the decision as “a compromise,” Ferrell said.
“I said, ‘It’s unfortunate, because this is a literary work. The sticker that they chose to put on there, the language that they chose, would make any reader who would otherwise pick up the book based on the cover and the description, it would make them think twice about reading the book,’” Ferrell said of her response to Alves.
Chad Oliver, a spokesman for Collier County Public Schools, confirmed that Alves spoke to Ferrell but denied that the warning labels were added in response to a conversation with the Florida Citizens Alliance.
“Based upon advice from the General Counsel, we placed advisory notices on books about which parents and community members had expressed concern and in accordance with the recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights Law (HB 241),” Oliver said in an email, referring to a state law that allows parents to object to instructional materials.
A total of 110 books feature the advisory labels, according to PEN America, a nonprofit group that promotes free speech. This list, which PEN America shared with NBC News, has significant overlap with a list of at least 112 books that the Florida Citizens Alliance inquired about in a Dec. 11 email sent to Collier County Public Schools. Ferrell, who obtained the email through a public records request, shared a copy with NBC News.
Keith Flaugh, CEO and co-founder of the Florida Citizens Alliance, confirmed his group submitted a public records request about 112 novels in the district.
“Many of these contain sexually explicit and age inappropriate content,” which he said in an email is in direct violation of Florida laws on obscenity and the sale of harmful materials to minors. He also citeda 2017 law that the group helped draft that allows parents and any residents of the state to object to instructional materials and provide evidence for why they believe the material is inappropriate.
Some of the titles that appear on both lists — and now have an “advisory notice to parents” warning label in Collier County Public Schools — include LGBTQ- and race-related books that have landed on banned-book lists across the country. These titles include “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, and “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. The list also includes literary classics like “Beloved” by Toni Morrison and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.
Also included is the popular children’s book “Everywhere Babies,” a rhyming, illustrated book about what babies do. The illustrations include what could be interpreted as a few same-sex couples, but they are never identified as such in the text. The book first landed on a banned-book list in Walton County, Florida, in the spring, after the Florida Citizens Alliance included it in its 2021 “Porn in Schools Report.”
“It’s a really good example of just how extreme this is getting,” Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, said in a phone interview. Some of the images in the book are “assumed to be gay,” he added, and as a result some critics think they require a warning.
“These warning labels are like something you might see on a cigarette package,” Friedman said. “They’re treating it like a controlled, alarming substance. This is literature for young people.”
Oliver said none of the books were removed from the district’s media centers and that parents were made aware of the labels in a districtwide email prior to spring break.
He added that the district is “very mindful and concerned with protecting the rights of all students and employees.”
“At no time were the members of the LGBTQ community a focus of the district’s review,” Oliver said. “Whether we are following new State laws or responding to concerns from community members, Collier County Public Schools is mindful of both U.S. Supreme Court precedent based upon the First Amendment principals, Fourteenth Amendment equal protection principles, and Florida Civil Rights Law.”
The Florida Citizens Alliance supported the Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by LGBTQ advocates, which bans instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity “in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Ferrell, a mom of two kids in Orange County Public Schools, said she’s worried about the message the label will send to parents about books that their child might love. For example, she said her son loves the series “The Bad Guys,” by Aaron Blabey, which has been challenged in Florida.
She added that the sticker doesn’t include a disclosure that it was placed there at the request of the parents and community members, and, as a result, it sends the message that the district agrees with the sticker’s sentiment.
“Now, I cannot go in there and make a decision for myself without seeing somebody else’s opinion on this book,” Ferrell said.
Dmitry Shapoval is a 24-year-old gay man from Ukraine who lives with HIV.
He was working at an IT company’s call center and studying web and UX design in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, in February when Russia launched its war against his country. Shapoval swam across a river and entered Poland less than a month later.
Shapoval now lives in Berlin with his cat Peach and has begun the process of resettling in Germany.
“I feel very secure here,” Shapoval told the Washington Blade on July 22 during an interview at Berlin’s Palais Populaire by Deutsche Bank on the city’s Unter den Linden boulevard.
Shapoval is one of the more than 900,000 Ukrainians who have arrived in Germany since the war began.
Ukrainians are able to enter Germany without a visa, and the German government provides those who have registered for residency a “basic income” that helps them pay for housing and other basic needs that include food. Ukrainian refugees can also receive access to German language classes, job training programs and childcare.
Anastasiia Baraniuk and her partner, Yulia Mulyukina, were living together Dnipro, a city on the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, when the war began.
Mulyukina, who is from Russia, was living in Moscow when she and Baraniuk began to talk online. Mulyukina traveled to Lviv in western Ukraine via Istanbul to meet Baraniuk, who is a Ukrainian citizen.
Mulyukina on July 22 told the Blade at Palais Populaire that she asked the Russian Embassy in Kyiv for help when the war began. Mulyukina said officials suggested that she “ask Ukraine what to do.”
“I was really shocked that my own country, with this idea of bringing peace, bringing quiet to Ukraine, just rejected me entirely,” she said in Russian as Shapoval translated.
Baraniuk, who also spoke with the Blade in Russian, said the Ukrainian government and a local NGO provided them with food and money.
The couple had planned to stay in Ukraine, but they decided to leave after Mulyukina “heard five explosions” while she was walking to a store. The two women’s friends gave them money to buy train tickets to Poland.
Insight, a Ukrainian LGBTQ and intersex rights organization, helped Baraniuk and Mulyukina and their cat enter Poland. They spent a week there before they arrived in Berlin on April 28.
Shapoval met them when they arrived at the train station.
Shapoval, Baraniuk and Mulyukina are among those who attended a reception that took place at the end of a two-day meeting the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration organized that took place in Berlin from July 21-22.
Activists from Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy and the U.S. attended the gathering that had a stated goal of starting “the conversation about long-term/mid-term needs and solutions for LGBTIQ Ukrainians and incite collaboration among stakeholders working with LGBTIQ Ukrainians and third-country nationals.”
“We were thrilled to bring together activists and human rights defenders from 10 countries and 20 organizations to develop medium and long-term strategies to support displaced LGBTIQ Ukrainians and third country nationals,” ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth told the Blade after the meeting. “All these organizations, including ORAM, have done an amazing job getting emergency support and services to LGBTIQ Ukrainians in need. As the war in Ukraine drags on, it’s more important than ever for organizations to coordinate efforts and plan for supporting longer term needs. This two-day roundtable in Berlin was a great step in that direction.”
ORAM has partnered with Airbnb.org and Alight (formerly known as the American Refugee Committee) to provide more than 1,000 nights of short-term housing to LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians and other displaced people in Germany and other countries in Europe. Shapoval, Baraniuk and Mulyukina are among those who live in such apartments.
Roth noted ORAM has begun to develop “a housing collective” for LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians in Berlin. He said ORAM rents the apartments in which the refugees can live for up to six months, “allowing them to register in Berlin, access social welfare and other services.”
“Safe and secure housing is one of the most urgent needs facing displaced LGBTIQ Ukrainians,” Roth told the Blade. “It’s an essential element in getting settled and rebuilding lives.”
Baraniuk helped carry ORAM’s banner during the parade, while Mulyukina took pictures for the organization.
‘Stop Russian aggression’
Kyiv Pride Executive Director Lenny Emson is one of LGBTQ and intersex activists from Ukraine who participated in the ORAM meeting and in the parade.
He told the Blade before the parade began that he took several trains from Kyiv to Poland before he flew to Berlin. Emson said the trip took two days.
“I understand that it is a safe ground, but I still have those flashbacks,” Emson told the Blade as he smoked a cigarette in front of a hotel near the parade staging area. “When you were sitting in the conference room and I saw something that reminds me of an air raid siren I was getting a panic attack. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a safe place.”
Emson also took issue with parade organizers’ opposition to war.
“Unfortunately, we as the Ukrainian community here (are) very disappointed with the motto that Berlin Pride put on the main stage: No war,” said Emson. “This doesn’t reflect the feelings that we have right now.”
“We would like to actually say it loud: Stop Russian aggression,” he added. “We need action right now. We need to stop it. We need to stop Russian aggression. We need to stop it right now.”
A group of marchers held a blue and yellow — the colors of Ukraine’s flag — banner that read “Arm Ukraine: Make Pride in Mariupol possible” while others simply carried the Ukrainian flag.
A man carried a homemade sign that read “Arm Ukraine: Make Pride in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Zaporizha, Kryvyi Rih possible again.” Viktoriya, a woman from northern Ukraine who is now pursuing her PhD in Berlin, held a cardboard poster that noted her homeland’s “queer soldiers are fighting for all of us.”
“I’m marching for both rights of queer people and rights of Ukrainians: The right to live and the right for love,” she said as she marched towards Potsdamer Platz in the center of Berlin.
Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity was commonplace in Ukraine before the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last year pledged his country would continue to fight anti-LGBTQ and anti-intersex discrimination after he met with President Joe Biden at the White House.
Shapoval, who is dating a man he met last October when he traveled to Berlin, told the Blade that he received “looks” in Kyiv if he wore a pink shirt.
He was wearing a pair of purple sneakers during the interview. Shapoval said he would not have been comfortable wearing them if he were still in Kyiv.
“For me it was even harder because I had misery in Ukraine because of homophobes,” he said. “Even the gay community is so toxic in Ukraine because it’s all about toxic masculinity and all of that … I also had some experiences where gays were like, ‘Oh my gosh just cut your hair and then we will get in touch with you.’”
Shapoval has begun the process of applying for German residency.
“I fell in love with the city right from the beginning,” he said. “I found friends here.”
Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights, and others have noted transgender and gender non-conforming Ukrainians have not been able to leave the country because they cannot exempt themselves from military conscription. Another issue that LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians have faced as they attempt to resettle in another country is the lack of legal recognition of their relationships.
A marriage equality petition that Kyiv Pride submitted to Zelenskky on July 12 received more than 28,000 signatures, which is higher than the threshold that requires him to consider it. Ukrainian law requires Zelenskky to respond to it within 10 days of receiving it.
Baraniuk and Mulyukina hope to resettle in the U.S. and Canada, but are unable to legally prove they are in a relationship. The U.S. has a marriage-based immigration system for bi-national couples, while the Canadian system requires them to be married or “common-law partners.”
The U.S. has approved Baraniuk’s resettlement request, but denied Mulyukina.
They said the process to legally prove they are together is prohibitively expensive.”Right now we are looking for a way to get the proof that we are a couple,” said Baraniuk. “We don’t want to stay in Berlin.”