These Schools Get Millions Of Tax Dollars To Discriminate Against LGBTQ Students

LYNCHBURG, Va. ― Sunnie Kahle used to think that if she promised to be good, she could go back to her old school.

She’d plead with her great-grandmother to let her enroll again at Timberlake Christian Schools, where she had gone since she was 3 years old. Even if teachers were mean to her, even if other kids said bad things about her, she wouldn’t be mad. She just wanted her old life back.

Her great-grandmother and guardian, Doris Thompson, 74, didn’t know how to tell Sunnie she wasn’t allowed back at the school. Administrators didn’t want her there. In a 2014 letter to Thompson that essentially expelled Sunnie, the school referenced several passages from the Bible as to why they wouldn’t take her back. They suggested Sunnie wasn’t acting “Christlike” by wearing her hair short and preferring pants to skirts.

Sunnie was 8 years old. She wasn’t traditionally feminine enough for them.  

Timberlake Christian Schools in Virginia is one of over at least 700 religious schools in America currently receiving public money while openly advertising and practicing anti-LGBTQ policies, HuffPost has found in a new investigation.

HuffPost has been examining private schools that receive taxpayer dollars through voucher or tax credit programs. We created a database of more than 7,000 schools in 25 states and the District of Columbia with private school choice programs that give public money to private religious schools. 

In the first story of this investigation, which we published earlier in December, we looked at what was being taught. We discovered thousands of schools that used evangelical Christian curricula, largely considered inaccurate and unscientific. In our second article, we singled out a handful of schools that purported to be secular but maintained strong ties to the Church of Scientology. For this story, we researched the number of schools in our database that practice discrimination toward LGBTQ students and staff members.

We visited every website of each school in search of evidence of their attitudes and policies on gender-nonconforming and LGBTQ students. If a school did not advertise a specific policy, we followed up via email or a call. For Catholic schools, we looked for diocese-wide policies on these issues. Often, these schools had policies against heterosexual sex before marriage, as well.

We found at least 14 percent of religious schools take an active stance against LGBTQ staff and students. Some of these schools have policies on their websites generally broadcasting their opposition to same-sex marriage or even stating their belief that homosexuality is a sin on par with bestiality. Others have harsher policies ― specifically stating that students can face punishments, like expulsion, for displaying signs of a “homosexual lifestyle” or “alternate gender identity.” At least 5 percent of these schools also have explicit policies against hiring or retaining LGBTQ staff.

On the other hand, we also found many schools that have policies specifically protecting students from discrimination based on sexual orientation.  

Many more of these schools belong to larger churches that preach anti-LGBTQ sentiment. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is “opposed to homosexual practices and relationships,” per the denomination’s website. The Roman Catholic Church says marriage can occur only between a man and woman. We did not assume that schools identifying with these groups were hostile places for LGBTQ students. In our count, we included only schools (or dioceses) that had a specific anti-LGBTQ policy. In that way, our numbers represent a bare minimum of schools where LGBTQ students may encounter hostility.

Religious schools are generally exempt from the types of regulations that would protect students and teachers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s only in recent years, though, that these schools have received an injection of taxpayer funds with the rise and expansion of state-level private school choice programs.

Since President Donald Trump and his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, have expressed the desire to use federal dollars to increase private school choice, it’s worth closely examining which students are served and which are not. 

After Sunnie was kicked out of Timberlake, her great-grandma transferred her to public school. Thompson, who is emphatic when she talks about Sunnie, in the way only proud grandmas do, has a tattoo on her wrist that says, “Family is forever.”

Sitting in her living room, the walls lined with photos of Sunnie, here in this city just a couple of hours from Richmond, the Virginia capital, Thompson explained how she came to be Sunnie’s guardian. It’s a complicated tale of mental illness and addiction, but since Sunnie was 2 months old, Thompson has been her protector.  

In February of 2014, when Sunnie was in the second grade, the school principal sent a letter home to Thompson saying that, although Sunnie was a “very bright girl,” she recommended that Sunnie not re-enroll the next year if she wasn’t able to “dress” and behave accordingly with her “God-ordained identity” as a female.

Thompson pulled her out of the school immediately.

“They pretty much ruined a little girl’s life,” said Thompson, who helps with her husband Carroll’s truck repair business.

Sunnie didn’t attend Timberlake using a publicly funded scholarship through Virginia’s tax credit program for low-income students. But the year she was kicked out, other students did. During the fiscal year of 2014, Timberlake received $104,121.57 in scholarships. That number has increased. For the fiscal year of 2017, the school received $237,500, per the Virginia Department of Education.

In Virginia, tax credits are given to individuals and corporations that donate to scholarship programs. These scholarship groups then help low-income students attend private schools. Voucher programs are more direct: Taxpayer funds help provide voucher scholarships for students who meet certain requirements to attend private schools.

A 2016 analysis of voucher program rules conducted by Indiana University professor Suzanne Eckes found that not a single one had protections preventing discrimination for LGBTQ students. Eckes did not include tax credit programs in her research.

So HuffPost conducted a similar analysis including programs that were left out by Eckes. We found the same trend. Only one state’s program, Maryland’s, protected students from discrimination based on sexual orientation. While in our research we found a handful of Maryland schools that expressed opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexuality, each stopped short of saying they would deny these students admission.

DeVos has been pressed before on if private schools receiving federal money under a possible voucher program would be required to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination. In June, testifying before a Senate subcommittee, DeVos said that such a program would have to follow federal law.

Indeed, in an email to HuffPost, a spokesperson for DeVos emphasized the fact that there is no federal voucher program and that, if there were, it “would have to comply with federal law.”

The problem is federal law is murky.

The Obama administration interpreted Title IX ― the federal law banning sex discrimination in schools ― to include protections for LGBTQ students. The Trump administration seems to think these decisions should be made at the local level.

“There’s no federal protections for LGBTQ students outside of Title IX,” said Nathan Smith, director for public policy for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. “We still think it covers LGBTQ students, despite the fact that this administration doesn’t think so.”

Advocates of school choice emphasize that anti-LGBTQ bullying is a problem in all schools, not just private religious ones that participate in voucher programs. They preach the bigger cause of giving parents the ability to choose the most appropriate school for their child. Indeed, voucher programs are typically targeted to low-income families who normally wouldn’t be able to afford the private school of their choice.

“I abhor discrimination and I would hope that schools would not discriminate against LGBTQ students even if the issue is part of their statements of faith,” wrote Robert Enlow, CEO and president of EdChoice, an education reform group, in an email. “I also recognize, though, that we live in a pluralistic society that values choice, individual freedom and an abiding respect for all faiths. I trust parents to make the best choices for their kids based on their shared values and goals.”

But Thompson hopes leaders at Timberlake know that their interpretation of faith is one without merit. 

I feel sorry for them,” Thompson said, referring to administrators at Timberlake, “if they have to answer and stand before our God one day.”

The 74-year-old describes Sunnie as the great love of her life. Even after raising two kids and helping with three grandkids, Sunnie is her ultimate baby. The child has always been fiercely loyal and unfailingly independent, and she has a heart as sweet as apple pie, Thompson said, beaming with pride when asked about Sunnie’s personality.

But now, at 12, Sunnie is also angry and sad.

Life was never going to be easy for Sunnie. Sunnie’s mom had her as a teen. Sunny’s father has not been a consistent presence, Thompson said.

Sunnie’s story of being kicked out of Timberlake was largely covered in the media when it first happened in 2014. Headlines screamed outrage. Sunnie was another victim of homophobia, another viral story here today and gone tomorrow.

What wasn’t covered is what happened next. Sunnie didn’t want to leave Timberlake. From her point of view, it was a place where she was loved and accepted by her friends.

At her new public school, she was teased. The other students would call her “it” and “gay.” Sunnie made one friend ― he used to come over on weekends, and they would play games, Thompson recalled. Then, suddenly, the boy’s father stopped letting him come over. The father said Sunnie needed to “find out her gender” before they could hang out again.

Things didn’t get better. First, Sunnie faked being sick so often that truancy became a problem.

Sunnie didn’t talk to HuffPost for this article for reasons that HuffPost is not reporting to protect the privacy of a minor.

But Thompson wants Sunnie’s story to be heard.

“Being so young, she really doesn’t know how she feels. She doesn’t know what she wants to be. Or who she wants to be,” Thompson said as her eyes welled with tears, reliving the trauma Sunnie experienced. 

Sunnie still doesn’t talk about feelings she may or may not be having. She’s on the verge of puberty. But Thompson worries about what will happen next.

At the time that Sunnie was kicked out of school, lawyers for Timberlake Christian Schools told the media: “Parents and guardians send their children to the School because of our Christian beliefs and standards. We have a duty to create an environment that is supportive of these Christian values.”

HuffPost reached out to the school and asked if they had anything further to add about Sunnie’s situation, years later. They said they did not.

The school’s anti-LGBTQ policy remains in place.

Punishable behaviors include, “but is not necessarily limited to, living in, condoning or supporting sexual immorality; practicing homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity; promoting such practices; or otherwise having the inability to support the moral principles of the school,” according to the school’s website.

Sunnie’s story is unusual because of how young she is. She had adult thoughts and projections pushed on her before she was even close to having them herself.

But a similar version of this story plays out around the country regularly.

In 2012, the same year 15,000 Indiana students used vouchers, Warren came out to his family and friends as transgender, he told HuffPost. At the end of his junior year, he informed the principal at his Catholic school that he would be returning as a boy for his senior year.

The bishop from the diocese overseeing Cathedral High School thought this was unacceptable. But instead of kicking Warren out, or telling him not to come back, administrators ignored the way he chose to identify, Warren said.

Teachers were told that if they called Warren by his chosen name, they would face reprisal. Those with whom Warren was close, who wanted to respect his new identity, were afraid to buck the diocese, he said. Some found workarounds by calling him by his last name or initials.

Warren was deeply involved in the school marching band as well as the school’s plays. During the marching band performances, they would announce the performers. Warren asked announcers to leave his name out, since he knew only his “dead name” would be announced. He asked not to be listed in the programs for the school plays.  

“I was pretty depressed a lot of the  time. I had horrible social anxiety,” said Warren, who’s withholding his last name because his college peers are not aware of his transition.

Even after Warren got his name changed legally that school year, the school refused to accept it. They sent off his high school transcripts to colleges with the wrong name, compelling Warren to explain the confusion to admissions offices, thereby being forced to out himself.

A representative of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis said that it opens its doors to “all who are committed to a quality Catholic education, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, socio-economics, religion, learning differences, etc. Our admissions policies and practices at each local site conform to this approach.” The high school did not respond to requests for comment on the situation.

The diocese does, however, have a policy against employing staff members in same-sex unions, a representative told HuffPost during data collection.

For Warren and Sunnie, other kids at their private schools were not the problem. They were supportive.

It was the adults.

Thompson only hopes the adults at Timberlake learn to treat children with kindness and empathy.

“God wants you to love everybody,” she said. “Especially his children. He loves his children.”

Thompson is attending regular counseling sessions to educate herself on how to be the best parent she can be to her great-granddaughter. 

Course, now I’m 74 years old, so I don’t know that I’m going to be around here 10 years, when she’ll be 22 years old. I hope to God that he will let me stay here until she is grown. But I hope that she will make something of herself. Be somebody, and be proud of who she is.” 

Data and graphics by Alissa Scheller.

If you have experienced discrimination in schools, email rebecca.klein@huffpost.com.

This is the third story in a HuffPost investigation on the policies and curriculum of schools that participate in private school choice programs. The first story, looking at the curriculum used in evangelical Christian schools, is here. The second story, dealing with schools with strong ties to Scientology, is here

New 'Yass' Community Center Linked to Peter Thiel Money

A new LGBT community workspace called Yass debuts next year in San Francisco — if it can survive the backlash of having Peter Thiel as a backer.

Thiel is Silicon Valley’s best known Donald Trump supporter, and Yass would become a members-only community gathering place that costs up to $300 per month in dues. Its website calls it “A headquarters & hangout for today’s generation of queer people to bring out the best in each other.” How much you pay to join (what seems a lot like an LGBT center, which are usually free) depends on your industry.

The Guardian reported Thursday that Thiel’s venture capital firm is its only backer. There’s no word on how much Thiel’s firm has put behind the center; he reportedly gave $1.25 million to the Trump campaign. 

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Thiel’s association isn’t clear cut: “The investment in Yass, though it came from a Thiel-backed firm, was actually made by Cyan Banister, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur who told Wired in 2016 that she identifies as both a man and a woman and calls herself genderqueer. Banister is a partner at Founders Fund, the Presidio-based venture capital firm Peter Thiel co-founded in 2005.”

Still, even that much of a link comes with consequences. The Huffington Post reports that some on Twitter are pledging never to join. 

Thiel’s connection to the LGBT community is tentative. He famously sued Gawker into oblivion in retribution for outing him. He did it by secretly backing a number of unrelated lawsuits, with the Hulk Hogan case breaking the company.

After historian Jim Downs wrote a guest op-ed for The Advocate calling out Thiel for backing Trump, Thiel lashed out at all LGBT people, saying their “intolerance has taken on some bizarre forms. The Advocate, a magazine which once praised me as a ‘gay innovator,’ even published an article saying that as of now I am, and I quote, ‘not a gay man,’ because I don’t agree with their politics. The lie behind the buzzword of ‘diversity’ could not be made more clear: If you don’t conform, then you don’t count as ‘diverse,’ no matter what your personal background.”

Downs had written that, “By the logic of gay liberation, Thiel is an example of a man who has sex with other men, but not a gay man. Because he does not embrace the struggle of people to embrace their distinctive identity.”

Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention and proudly declared he’s gay, helping to drive home the notion that Trump would be a good choice for LGBT people. Trump went on as president to try banning transgender people from the military while rolling back inclusive guidelines for trans students. His Justice Department, led by Jeff Sessions, issued a “religious freedom” order that lets federal agencies and contractors turn away LGBT people without repercussions. Activists call it a “license to discriminate.” Most recently, Trump’s spokesperson said he believes religious freedom means businesses can post “No Gays Allowed” signs.

Having Thiel’s support these days isn’t what it once was. In November, Silicon Valley learned that famed incubator Y Combinator was no longer affiliated with Thiel. That’s according to a news release from 2015 when the company had announced it was welcoming Thiel. It’s now been revised.

Whether Yass can recover from the Thiel affiliation, it will still have to contend with criticism that its name further appropriates ball culture, and that its location is another example of the worst kinds of gentrification. Read more at about those issue from SFGate.com.

Aisha C. Moodie-Mills Leaves Victory Fund, Succeeded by Annise Parker

Victory Fund is getting a change in leadership.

Aisha C. Moodie-Mills announced today that she’s resigning as president and CEO of Victory Fund and its sister organization, Victory Institute, and former Houston Mayor Annise Parker will take over the post Monday. The groups train and support openly LGBT candidates and elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels.

Moodie-Mills, who has been in the position for two and a half years, made her announcement at the International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C. “Politics are so personal for me, for all of us,” she said, according to the Washington Blade. “Our lives are on the chopping block. And so, it is with a heavy heart but clear purpose that is time for me to leave Victory. This past election has upended the normalcy [of] our politics and our discourse, and I see it as my redefined mission to help progressives set a new course.”

Moodie-Mills did not specify what her next move will be. Victory Fund director of communications Elliot Imse, speaking to The Advocate afterward, did not offer specifics either, but said Moodie-Mills wants to work in the broader progressive movement, incorporating LGBT issues and more. She plans to move from Washington to join her wife in New York City. “With the 2018 election cycle heating up, the timing worked out for everyone,” he said.

Parker said that’s certainly the case for her. Since leaving office as mayor two years ago, she’s been working for nonprofit organizations in Houston, including BakerRipley, which aids immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized communities. She resigned from BakerRipley at the beginning of November, and she soon got the call from Victory Fund. “The stars aligned, and the timing was perfect,” she told The Advocate. “The right call came in on the right day, and I said yes.”

“I am really, really passionate about LGBT issues and bringing more people into the political process,” she added, further noting, “I’m a lesbian activist at heart.”

Parker wants to build on Victory Fund’s successes, she said. “We’re going to do more of the same,” she said. Moodie-Mills helped inspire more LGBT people of color to run for office, for instance, and Parker wants to continue increasing those numbers.

It’s also important to continue increasing the number of transgender candidates, she said, after a year that saw some major victories for trans candidates endorsed by Victory Fund, with Danica Roem defeating anti-LGBT incumbent Bob Marshall for the Virginia House of Delegates, and Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham elected to the Minneapolis City Council.

“One of the reasons it’s really important to support transgender candidates is that there’s been a ramp-up in attacks on the transgender community,” she said. While many straight and cisgender people know someone who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual, far fewer know someone who is transgender, and that makes it easy for anti-trans forces to create an image of trans people as a “feared other,” she said.

She saw that happen up close during the effort to repeal the trans-inclusive Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which voters did in 2015. Opponents of the ordinance, which the City Council passed in 2014, ran a fearmongering campaign alleging that it would allow predatory men disguised as women to terrorize women and girls in public restrooms.

“The fight over HERO was the start of a wave of very focused attacks on the transgender community,” she said. It was also a learning experience for Parker and others who support equal rights for trans people. “It was a great reminder that we have to get out early and we have to own the narrative in these political campaigns,” she said. That’s a lesson she plans to bring to her work with Victory Fund, she said, adding that greater acceptance of trans people will be transformative for the whole LGBT community.

Parker served three terms as mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city, the largest ever to have a mayor drawn from the LGBT population, and left office due to term limits. Before that, she spent three terms as city controller and three on the City Council. She received Victory Fund support at each level.

Previously, she worked for 20 years in the oil and gas industry, a major part of Houston’s economy. She had a conservative Republican boss – Robert Mosbacher, who was also a member of President George H.W. Bush’s Cabinet and has a lesbian daughter, Dee. Parker was “oil company employee by day, activist by night” in those years, she said. “I was about the most visible lesbian activist in Houston in the 1980s,” she said. Her activism actually goes back even farther; she attended her first LGBT political event in 1975, which was before Moodie-Mills was born.

Now, she said, she sees a great increase in young people interested in politics, and the size of Victory Institute’s candidate training classes has grown enormously. “They’re young, they’re driven, and they’re really passionate,” she said of these aspiring pols. “The trick will be translating that into the nuts and bolts of campaigning.”

She doesn’t plan to relocate to Washington, although she will be at Victory Fund’s headquarters frequently. The group is involved in campaigns nationwide, and it’s often easier to travel from Houston. Parker shares her home there with wife Kathy Hubbard; they’ve been together for 27 years and married for four. They have four children, the youngest of whom is 22, and one grandchild.

Victory Fund/Victory Institute leaders expressed faith in Parker and were proud of Moodie-Mills’s record. “As the first openly LGBTQ mayor of Houston, Annise understands the challenges inherent in running and winning elected office, and she’s ideally positioned to help us fulfill our mission now and in the future,” One Victory board chair Kim Hoover said in a press release. “During Aisha’s tenure we grew the organization’s leadership initiatives to ensure LGBTQ people from across the country were prepared to run for office and be a voice for our community. We invested in game-changing campaigns and took on anti-equality incumbents with historic LGBTQ candidates, and won. And we strengthened and grew our network of LGBTQ elected officials, who work tirelessly to be the change we want to see in the world. We are grateful for her leadership, and now we are excited to build on her great work and use Annise’s experience and expertise to ensure Victory Fund and Victory Institute have an even greater impact moving forward. And she is eager to get started.”

“Over the last two years I’ve been fortunate to lead an incredible team at Victory, and together we have achieved great progress in in our efforts to elect LGBTQ candidates across the country,” Moodie-Mill, said in the same release. “We witnessed a surge in the number of LGBTQ people from across the country who want to run for office and be our voice in the halls of power – and it has been so personally rewarding for me to have helped historic candidates win elections thought impossible just a few years ago. Most importantly, I am proud that we’ve positioned the organizations for growth at a critically important time – a turning point in our movement to build LGBTQ political power and wield it on behalf of equality. I am so happy that such a capable leader like Annise will be continuing the vital work of Victory Fund and Victory Institute, and look forward to supporting the organizations as they continue to secure representation for our community.”

Gay Man Denied Marriage License by Kim Davis Wants Her Job

David Ermold and Kim Davis

David Ermold and Kim Davis

December 06 2017 7:24 PM EST

A gay man who was denied a marriage license by Kim Davis in Rowan County, Ky., is seeking to challenge her for the county clerk position.

David Ermold, who with his partner, David Moore, was denied a licnese in 2015, announced today that he’s seeking the Democratic nomination for county clerk in next year’s election, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. Three other Democrats are seeking the nomination, while Davis, a former Democrat, is running for reelection as a Republican.

“I am running to restore the confidence of the people in our clerk’s office and because I believe that the leaders of our community should act with integrity and fairness, and they should put the needs of their constituents first,” said Ermold, 43, according to the paper. “My commitment to Rowan County is to restore professional leadership, fairness, and responsibility to the clerk’s office. I will build upon the successes of the past, and I will seek solutions for the challenges we may still face.” Ermold, 43, is an English professor at the University of Pikeville and director of Morehead Pride.

He and Moore were among the four couples, both gay and straight, who sued Davis in 2015 after she shut down all marriage license operations in the clerk’s office rather than serve same-sex couples after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, as she said same-sex marriage violated her Christian beliefs. A federal judge ordered her to resume issuing licenses, and still she refused.

Ermold and Moore tried to get a license both before and after the court order and were refused a license, although Davis herself was not present the first two times, and they filmed the encounters, They tried a third time and confronted the clerk.

Davis ended up going to jail for five days for contempt of court, and one of her deputies began issuing licenses to same-sex couples. The judge said that met the conditions of his order, and Davis was released. Eventually the state changed its marriage license forms so they did not bear the county clerk’s name. Ermold and Moore finally obtained a license and were married in November 2015.

Davis processed Ermold’s paperwork for his candidacy at the clerk’s office today, the Herald-Leader reports. They shook hands and she told him, “May the best candidate win.”

Davis has been Rowan County clerk since 2014 and worked for her mother, the previous clerk, before that. Her son works in the clerk’s office as well.

“The county clerk’s office has been in the hands of the same family for almost 35 years,” Ermold told the Herald-Leader. “I think there’s the potential they want to keep it in the family. But everyone should have a fair shot. It should not be something that’s handed down from mother to daughter and from daughter to son.”

LGBT Fans Warned to Use Caution at World Cup in Russia

With next year’s FIFA World Cup set to take place in Russia, fans are being advised that displays of same-sex affection may not be welcome in the nation.

Fare, a group that fights racial, anti-LGBT, and other forms of discrimination in the sport of soccer (usually known as “football” outside the U.S.), is preparing a guide on the threats fans may face in Russia, especially in light of the “gay propaganda law” adopted in 2013, essentially banning any positive characterization of LGBT identity in venues accessible to minors.

“The guide will advise gay people to be cautious in any place which is not seen to be welcoming to the LGBT community,” Fare executive director Piara Powar told the Associated Press. “If you have gay fans walking down the street holding hands, will they face danger in doing so? That depends on which city they are in and the time of day.

“The guide will also include some detailed explanations of for example the actual situation of the LGBT community in Russia. It is not a crime to be gay, but there is a law against the promotion of homosexuality to minors. Issues relating to the LGBT community are not part of the public discourse. Gay people have a place in Russia which is quite hidden and underground.”

Some fans have asked if it will be OK to display rainbow flags at games, but FIFA, the international soccer organization, hasn’t responded, Powar added.

Racial and ethnic discrimination is also a concern, Power said. There are extremist groups in Russia that have shown hostility to people of color or have embraced “far-right nationalism,” he said.

“Do go to the World Cup, but be cautious,” he advised.

The World Cup will be held June 14 through July 15, with games taking place in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, and other Russian cities. 

Hate Crimes Rose About 5 Percent In 2016, FBI Report Says

Hate crimes across the U.S. rose nearly 5 percent in 2016, according to the FBI’s annual tally, marking the first time in over 10 years that the country has experienced consecutive annual increases in crimes motivated by bias against race, religion, sexuality, national origin or disability. 

The FBI’s annual hate crimes report, published Monday, counted 6,121 hate crime incidents in America last year, up from 5,850 such incidents in 2015, a rise of 4.6 percent. 

About 58 percent of the hate crimes in 2016 were motivated by racial bias, with more than half of the race-based incidents targeting black Americans, the report said. Hate crimes targeting Latinos rose 15 percent, and hate crimes targeting Arabs and whites rose 38 percent and 17 percent respectively. 

Twenty-one percent of the hate crimes the FBI counted last year were motivated by religious bias. Of those religious-based incidents, 54 percent were anti-Jewish and 25 percent were anti-Muslim. 

There was a 3 percent increase in anti-Jewish incidents, and a nearly 20 percent increase in anti-Muslim incidents. (Last year, the number of anti-Muslim incidents rose 67 percent, increasing to levels not seen since the period directly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.)  

Nearly 18 percent of the hate crimes last year were motivated by sexual-orientation bias, 62 percent of those targeting gay men. The FBI also counted 105 anti-transgender incidents last year, a rise of 44 percent. 

The much-anticipated FBI report is the most comprehensive hate crime data available for the divisive 2016 election year, and backs up earlier evidence of rising hate in America. The Southern Poverty Law Center documented a wave of hate incidents in the months following the November 2016 election. 

“We now have an unbroken streak of presidential election year increases [in hate crimes] going back to 1992, around the time national data collection commenced,” said Brian Levin, a professor at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. 

But what makes 2016 stand out, Levin previously told HuffPost, is the steep rise in hate crimes around Election Day itself. Los Angeles, for example, saw a 29 percent increase in hate crimes in the last quarter of 2016, and New York City saw a five-fold increase in hate crimes over a two-week period around the election. 

Corey Saylor, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told HuffPost that “we cannot see such data and forget the humans whose lives were changed by an act of hate.” 

“Americans have to act to ensure that these hate crimes numbers go down by standing up to fear mongers,” he said.  

“It’s deeply disturbing to see hate crimes increase for the second year in a row,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement. “Hate crimes demand priority attention because of their special impact. They not only hurt one victim, but they also intimidate and isolate a victim’s whole community and weaken the bonds of our society.”

About 29 percent of hate crimes last year, according to the FBI, were acts of intimidation; 26 percent were acts of destruction, property damage or vandalism; 23 percent were simple assaults; and 12 percent were aggravated assaults. The FBI counted 4 murders in 2016 that it considered to be hate crimes. 

The FBI’s annual hate crime statistics, while the best measurement of hate in America, are deeply flawed. That’s because the FBI relies on local and state police departments to voluntarily report their hate crime numbers to the FBI, which over 3,000 law enforcement agencies don’t bother to do on a yearly basis. 

In 2015, of the agencies that did report hate crimes to the FBI, 88 percent reported zero. Moreover, federal law enforcement agencies like Customs and Border Protection and the Drug Enforcement Administration often fail to send their own hate crime statistics to the FBI, even though they are required to do so by law. 

A national survey by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of hate crime victims don’t report incidents to authorities at all. There were a staggering 250,000 hate crimes each year in the U.S. between 2003 and 2015, according to the survey. 

“FBI data showing 6,121 total hate crime incidents and 7 anti-Sikh hate crime incidents in 2016 represents the tip of the iceberg,” said Sim Singh, the Sikh Coalition’s national advocacy manager. “The only way to bridge the data gap is for law enforcement agencies to adopt mandatory hate crime reporting.”

“If law enforcement agencies fail to document the true extent of hate crimes against our communities, our nation will have a hard time mobilizing the political will and resources necessary to prevent and combat the problem,” Singh said. 

In a statement Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that “no person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are, what they believe, of how they worship.” 

He stated that the Justice Department’s Hate Crimes Subcommittee will continue to “explore ways to expand and improve training for federal, state, and local prosecutors and investigators; improve data collection of hate crimes; and to create even better partnerships with local law enforcement and affected communities.” 

Meanwhile, the hate crime numbers for 2017 aren’t looking great. Levin, the UC San Bernardino professor, conducted an analysis in September that found that 827 hate crimes had occurred so far this year in 13 large cities, a rise of nearly 20 percent compared to the same period in 2016 for those locations.

Of those crimes, 526 happened in America’s six largest cities, amounting to a 22 percent rise, Levin said.

7 Gays Against Guns Members Arrested After Die-In

Capitol Police arrested seven members of Gays Against Guns after the group staged an ACT UP-style die-in at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. on Monday. The protests occurred the day after yet another mass shooting, this time leaving 26 dead at a Texas church.

Members of the group today brought their disruption to the offices of Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who each have lost constituents in mass shootings but maintain ‘A’ ratings with the National Rifle Association.

“We knew we were risking arrest,” said Tim Murphy, a member of GAG NYC. “But we are holding them accountable as puppets of the NRA.”

Those arrested include Murphy, Mari Gustafson, John Grauwiler, Natalie James, Lewis Bossing, Michael Adolph, and John Becker.

Murphy tells The Advocate that protesters conducted a die-in at the atrium for the Hart building, and video shows the individuals writhing around like wounded gunshot victims, chanting “how many more have to die.” The disruption, which included protesters loudly shouting, “You’re killing us with money from the NRA,” went on for about 10 minutes before police asked protesters to leave. When the protestors refused to do so, arrests began. Murphy says GAG members did not resist arrest. Each one was detained for a matter of hours by police and charged a $50 fine before being released.

The group in advance had already made the decision to target Cruz for his extreme position on gun rights, but the failed presidential candidate became a priority focus after the nation’s most recent deadly shooting took place in Texas.

Rubio also drew the ire of GAG, with members noting the Republican represented constituents killed at Pulse last year in what remains the second deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history and the deadliest targeting LGBT Americans. The Pulse shooting inspired the creation of Gays Against Guns, Murphy says.

“We really felt as though we need to raise the volume and raise the stakes in the drum beat and demand for gun control legislation,” he says. “We are just so angry we have these mass shootings, always involving semiautomatic or automatic weapons.”

That’s why the group spoke out in favor of an expansion in background checks being sponsored by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and an assault weapons ban by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). While hand-delivering these demands to Cruz’s and Rubio’s offices, GAG members chanted “Background Checks Work.”

“I hope today’s action inspires the 94 percent of Americans who support background checks to hold their elected officials accountable in more demonstrative ways,” Grauwiler said.

This is the second time a protest calling for gun control measures resulted in arrests at a Rubio office. After the Pulse shooting, activists participated in a “Sit-In for the 49” honoring the 49 victims of the attack, and 10 individuals were arrested there. Some of that group would later found the Orlando chapter of GAG.

Calls to Rubio and Cruz from The Advocate have not been returned. Cruz has been visiting with families in Texas since the shooting, but put out a statement praising a gun owner who went after the shooter.

“Every law enforcement agent I talked to said the death toll could have been much, much higher,” Cruz said in the statement. “The reason this depraved gunman finally gave up, got in the car and fled and didn’t murder more is precisely because one individual demonstrated bravery and courage. We need to be celebrating that bravery and courage. We need to be celebrating that compassion, love, and unity. Evil, tragically, will always be with us, but so will good.”

Rubio tweeted prayers: “We pray for the Sutherland Springs community in this difficult time. So incredibly thankful to first responders.” 

Watch video of the die-in below.

Gays Against Guns, Others Demand #GunControlNow After Texas Shooting

In the aftermath of a deadly shooting at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Sunday that left 25 people dead (a number Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas confirmed with The New York Times) and about 20 more people injured, the hashtags #ThoughtsAndPrayers and #GunControlNow have begun trending while the group Gays Against Guns has condemned the tragedy, referring to the issue of mass shootings as a “public health crisis” on its Twitter account. 

People in the small town of Sutherland Springs, outside of San Antonio, were attending services at the First Baptist Church when a gunman walked in and murdered 25 parishioners and injured several more in the span of what witnesses said was about 15 seconds, according to the New York Times.

The gunman fled the scene and police chased him into the next county where he was shot and killed, although it’s not certain if police shot him or if he turned a gun on himself, Wilson County Commissioner Albert Gamez Jr., told CNN.

“My heart is broken,” Gamez said. “We never think where it can happen, and it does happen. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. In a small community, real quiet and everything, and look at this, what can happen.”

Meanwhile, Donald Trump and Paul Ryan sent prayers out to the victims and their families via Twitter while others on the social media site sent their “thoughts and prayers” before demanding better gun control. 

The group Gays Against Guns NYC posted on Facebook saying, “Our nation’s gun violence epidemic grows more and more virulent by the day,” before reminding readers that the country’s largest mass shooting in Las Vegas, which Trump said should not be politicized, occurred just over a month ago.  Gays Against Guns wrote on Facebook that the issue of gun control could no longer be dismissed: 

“If we stop to consider that recent studies predict the annual gun toll death will exceed 33,000 to 38,000 this year and that there is a mass shooting -where four or more die or are injured – once a day in this country and that our Republican-led Congress refuses to adequately address this health crisis but instead capitulate to the gun lobby and Second Amendments rhetoric, then our only question is not who will the next victims of gun violence be—as the intersectionality of gun violence is quite expansive—but when.”

There is currently no information available about the shooter. 

Why Did The Advocate Redact Kevin Spacey’s Name in 2001?

It began as a conversation between two out musicians.

In 2001, Rent actor Anthony Rapp and Dennis Hensley — a former freelance writer for The Advocate — were both promoting CD releases at the time. Hensley believed he asked the LGBT magazine’s then-editor in chief, Bruce C. Steele, for “a little online space” to help promote these projects.

In that era, an online article was not a medium for breaking important news, as it is today. There were no social media outlets like Twitter or Facebook. Print was still king, and online was seen as “the little stepsister,” Hensley recalled.

Nonetheless, Hensley was grateful for the opportunity. So, “over coffee at the Virgin Megastore in New York’s Union Square,” the two artists had a talk — not a formal interview, Hensley stressed. Topics included, as the description of the published article notes, “their full-on dedication to their music, being out, and whether Flashdance is better than Manilow.”

But at one point during the brief back-and-forth, Rapp broached the topic of closeted actors. And a bombshell dropped. “That makes me think of [a certain leading man] in [a certain award-winning film],” said Hensley at the time — the name and film were redacted in the final published article.

“It’s hard for me to evaluate his acting because I’m so angry at him,” Rapp responded. “I met him when I was 14 because we were both in plays and he invited me to a party at his house. I was bored, so I was in his bedroom watching TV and didn’t know everybody had left, and he came to the bedroom and he picked me up and lay down on top of me.”

“Oh, my God! What did you do?” Hensley replied.

“I squirmed away and went into the bathroom,” Rapp replied. “I came out and I excused myself, and he’s like ‘You sure you want to go?’ I always wonder if he remembers it, because he was pretty drunk. And he’s had so many.”

Then the conversation turned back to CDs.

Sixteen years later, Rapp retold the story of this encounter to BuzzFeed News, which published the name of Kevin Spacey, who was 26 at the time of the alleged 1986 encounter. In response, Spacey stated on Twitter that he was “horrified to hear his story. I honestly do not remember the encounter.” He also came out as gay in response to the news — a move that outraged prominent members of the LGBT community. George Takei accused him of using his coming-out as a “distraction.”

A lingering question, however, is why Spacey’s name was redacted from The Advocate’s 2001 online piece. For answers and context, The Advocate reached out to Steele and Hensley, who no longer work for the publication.

Hensley’s memory is fuzzy about the conversation with Steele, regarding how Spacey’s name was redacted. He said he may have been “seasoned enough” at the time to not even type Spacey’s name in his first draft, because he knew “it would never run” if he did.

“It just felt like a lot more of a legal mess than we’d want to get into. We weren’t doing a big exposé. We were just having a conversation about music and stuff. It didn’t seem like the time or the place to try to break that big nugget,” he said. Afterward, Hensley had forgotten that Rapp had told him Spacey’s name on the record — the pair knew each other casually, so he filed it away as a private conversation — until it was noted in the BuzzFeed article 16 years later.

“I cannot tell you for sure. I don’t really remember the conversation in any detail,” echoed Steele, regarding the editorial decision to scrub Spacey but keep the conversation about the encounter. “I think Dennis and I talked about whether we should include it at all, but there was never any question that we would name the actor. The question was whether we would go with a blind item, which is a thing that we didn’t really do then. But I think Dennis and I decided that it was in character of the piece to leave that story in there.”

Why was there “never any question” about naming Spacey? Steele pointed to The Advocate’s “no outing” policy — a long-standing rule that the publication would not reveal the LGBT identity of those in the closet. The policy is common in mainstream media as well. Today’s policy at The Advocate allows for outing whenever it’s relevant to stopping harm to others or when a person is hypocritcally acting against LGBT people, and The Advocate wouldn’t keep a celebrity closeted in media when they are otherwise out in public life.

Spacey’s homosexuality has been long described as an open secret in Hollywood. But because the House of Cards actor had never discussed his identity with the media, the media deemed the topic off-limits. This had led to the Hollywood phenomenon of the glass closet, in which high-profile actors may be out privately to friends and family but will only receive coverage of this part of their lives through tabloid innuendo and speculation.

“We cajoled, befriended, and pressured, but we did not report on anyone’s sexuality without their cooperation,” Steele wrote in a Monday op-ed in the Asheville Citizen-Times, where he is now planning editor. “Just as each of us had reached the decision to come out in our own time, celebrities needed the same opportunity, even if it took them years and years.”

“Of course, many close friends knew of Rapp’s encounter with the actor in the 1980s, including some of us in the media. But what could be done with that story? There were only two people in the room, they had never met again and no parade of additional accusers was forthcoming — so, right or wrong, we told ourselves we could not report it,” Steele said.

“Rapp understood the decision, and he didn’t share the story again via the news media until now,” he added.

To The Advocate, Steele clarified that he may have known of Rapp’s encounter with Spacey “years before we put it in the magazine,” as early as 1994. Many others did as well, he said. BuzzFeed confirmed that Rapp had told friends and partners as early as 1990.

Critics today may note that such a rule may be used to shield predators. For Steele, The Advocate‘s “no outing” policy had exceptions — but at the time, he did not consider Rapp’s case among them at the time.

“If the situation crossed the line from private sexuality to a hard news or criminal case, then yes, we would have reported on someone’s sexuality, the same way any other news outlet would have reported on someone’s sexuality,” Steele said.

Rapp’s case, he said, “did not” cross that line, he said, because “it was not treated at that time as a criminal case.” (The BuzzFeed article noted that although Rapp met with a lawyer, he was told the case was not worth pursuing.) Steele also said the publication “didn’t have any resources” to pursue a more thorough investigation into Spacey’s alleged misconduct against Rapp or others. 

Hensley also pointed to the media landscape as a factor — the 2001 article, even with the redacted name, would have reached far more eyes at a greater pace today. Another is the change in culture, which has seen accelerated LGBT visibility, acceptance, and rights in recent years. The #MeToo campaign, following myriad accusations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein, opened a door to reporting alleged misconduct that would not be possible without social media.

“It didn’t feel like a bombshell in the way it would now,” Hensley said. “It really was a different time. I mean, it was upsetting and provocative, but it wasn’t something you felt like you needed to do something about, you know? Which is one good thing about the way the culture’s changed.”

Both said they would have handled the situation differently today.

“If I had to advise Anthony over again, yes, I would have advised him to go public sooner. But at the time, that didn’t seem to be an option,” Steele said.

“Absolutely,” said Hensley. “I would feel differently today … I think we weren’t as cognizant then as we need to be now.”

Shortly after The Advocate’s interview, Hensley overheard two people sitting in a café discussing Kevin Spacey and questioning Rapp’s account. Then he reached out again to add one more comment.

“I felt awful after I spoke to you,” Hensley said. “And if I feel awful about talking about a conversation from 16 years ago, what must the person that it happens to carry with them?”

“Did I say the wrong thing? Did I do the wrong thing?” he wondered, regarding his 2001 piece. He heard from a mutual friend that his article may have helped Rapp document the timeline of his ordeal — he hoped that’s the case. And he hoped all survivors of sexual assault will find the justice they deserve.

Rapp has not yet responded to requests for comment.

5,000 Artists Sign Letter Condemning Artforum Publisher for Sexual Harassment

Hollywood, Silicon Valley, politics, and television journalism are just a few of the industries that have recently been upended by allegations of rampant sexual harassment and abuse. Now it’s time to add the art world to the list of industries rocked by survivors of sexual harassment and assault coming forward to name their abusers. More than 5,000 artists, writers, curators, art historians, and more signed an open letter condemning former Artforum publisher Knight Landesman, who resigned last Wednesday after a lawsuit was filed in which nine women alleged he’d sexually harassed them, according to The New York Times

The letter, begun by 10 members of a WhatsApp group that grew to 125 people within 24 hours, has been signed by luminaries including Cindy Sherman, Laurie Anderson, Lynn Nottage, Phyllida Barlow, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Tania Bruguera, and Jenny Holzer, whose work Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise is on the landing page for the letter, which reads:

We are not surprised.

We are artists, arts administrators, assistants, curators, directors, editors, educators, gallerists, interns, scholars, students, writers, and more — workers of the art world — and we have been groped, undermined, harassed, infantilized, scorned, threatened, and intimidated by those in positions of power who control access to resources and opportunities. We have held our tongues, threatened by power wielded over us and promises of institutional access and career advancement.

We are not surprised when curators offer exhibitions or support in exchange for sexual favors. We are not surprised when gallerists romanticize, minimize, and hide sexually abusive behavior by artists they represent. We are not surprised when a meeting with a collector or a potential patron becomes a sexual proposition. We are not surprised when we are retaliated against for not complying. We are not surprised when Knight Landesman gropes us in the art fair booth while promising he’ll help us with our career. Abuse of power comes as no surprise.

Since the lawsuit was filed last week and Landesman subsequently resigned, Artforum’s editor in chief Michelle Kuo has also resigned and the magazine staff wrote and signed their names to a note condemning his behavior. 

“We are committed to gender justice and to the eradication of sexual harassment in the art community and beyond. We are now gravely aware of the work that needs to be done at our own publication, and call on the publishers to work with us to create radical and lasting change,” the note from the Artforum staff read. “There is much more to be said, and in the future, we will be addressing these events in greater depth. Our intent right now is to state our position unequivocally.”

The lawsuit, filed in State Superior Court in Manhattan, “included accusations that he had harassed nine women, groping them, attempting to kiss them, sending them vulgar messages and, on occasion, retaliating against them when they spurned his advances,” the Times reporrs. The women who accused Landesman of harassing them ranged from employees of the magazine and women he met at art events, but all of them contended that he took advantage of them at “the start of their careers” when they were “economically and professionally vulnerable.”

Landesman, 67, who was not only the publisher of Artforum but a powerful player in the international art scene going back decades, according to the Times