A Trans Woman's Experiences at the Conservative Movement's Woodstock

In life, sometimes you come back to a place where, in many ways, you feel at home, while others in your tribe may feel fear and dread. Such a place may also be where, like Liam Neeson’s character in Taken, you have a “special set of skills” through which you can make positive change happen. Your skills and your uniqueness may bridge gaps that seem unbridgeable to others.

That is exactly what happened recently when three other transgender women and I attended the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. We each were there for four days to meet and network with our fellow conservatives and to advocate for transgender Americans and our broader LGBTQ community. For those unfamiliar with CPAC, it is the conservative movement’s annual Woodstock, with an expected 14,000 attendees coming from the United States and around the world.

None of us are wealthy, and all of us made our own way to CPAC without financial support from any political action committee, donor, advocacy group, or anyone else telling us what to do or how to do it. We ventured from across the country as happy rainbow warriors looking to network, exchange views, learn, and make inroads for the future as we represented our transgender community. We met fellow conservatives from red states, blue states, and purple states as well as from Europe, Australia, and Japan.

Our message was simple: “We are equals, we agree on many things (but not all), and if you aren’t already on board with LGBTQ liberty, freedom, and equality … let’s have a conversation!” We expected to have a lot of interesting discussions, but what we didn’t expect was to have about two dozen LGBTQ community members or their parents and relatives share a hug and introduce themselves as they thanked us for being there. In addition to interactions with these amazing, supportive folks, we received more hugs, fist bumps, high fives, and even a few kisses on the cheek as we engaged with our fellow conservatives in real discussions about our community. Many CPAC attendees asked us to pose for pictures with them and to come back next year.

To help make conversations happen, Adelynn Campbell, Jordan Evans, Gina Roberts, and I dressed in business attire and wore distinct handmade pins my wife had made that said, “Proud to Be Conservative … Proud to Be Transgender … Proud to Be American … #SameTeam.” To make sure that no was confused about our message, she also placed a Republican elephant with one-half of the inset being the great Transgender Pride flag. One thing I learned when I began my LGBTQ advocacy as the only openly transgender delegate at the massive Republican National Convention was that if you want to meet a lot of people and dispel any myths and fears they may have about our community, you need to advertise. Politely introducing yourself to people one by one is great, but being small in number won’t allow you to achieve critical mass. In addition to our loud and proud buttons, we also held my wife’s handmade signs with the same “Proud to Be…” slogan in large type to make sure no one missed us or the positive message that we sought to bring.

This wouldn’t be the first time that these special signs and buttons appeared at CPAC. Last year, my colleague Jordan Evans joined me to advocate for our transgender community and help hold a replica of our country’s original Gadsden (“Don’t Tread on Me”) flag from the American Revolution. It was quite effective in helping us capture the eyeballs of passersby last year and create great moments of conversation after CPAC attendees flashed surprise at two real-life transgender people being in their midst. This occurred the very day after President Trump’s administration rescinded the Obama guidance on accommodations that helped protect transgender schoolchildren in the United States. To say that Jordan Evans and I were unhappy about the Trump administration’s unwise decision would be a vast understatement, and as 2017 rolled along, we did everything we could to advocate against this action and others that followed.

Obviously, this past year has been a difficult one for our LGBTQ tribe and especially our transgender community. Even as Republicans and conservative Americans, we felt the sting and frustration of what seemed like an unrelenting round of announcements, press conferences, tweets, breaking news, and actual actions regarding our administration’s direction on the lives of LGBTQ Americans. We also had to contend with state-level discriminatory actions against transgender people around our country and campaign against them when they cropped up. So this year, I knew that we would need to go one better with our using an attention-grabbing flag representing  freedom, liberty, and equality. Fortunately, our colleague Gina Roberts graciously donated a rainbow flag with the famous Gadsden snake and “Don’t Tread on Me” emblazoned on it.

Each of us who advocated at CPAC realize that many in our LGBTQ community who don’t share our conservative and Republican perspectives may prefer that we demonstrate, display anger, or outwardly challenge our fellow CPAC attendees. For reaching our brothers and sisters in the conservative movement, that is not a winning strategy. In our collective opinion, to win any hearts and minds of this crowd and many other conservatives and Republicans around the country, one needs to be respectful, civil, and prepared to elicit questions and provide honest, fact-filled, yet heartfelt answers as needed. You must also share your own story over and over and over. Not through confrontation or name-calling.

There are many conservatives and Republicans who actually don’t hate or dislike LGBTQ people, nor reject others based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and who are embarrassed by what some others are doing in their name. They actually do support our community. However, as we have found at CPAC, many have never been offered the opportunity to meet or express their support to someone who is LGBTQ. Some conservatives have met a lesbian, gay, or bisexual person, but most have never met a transgender person before. By letting them meet us, we as advocates were given the chance to change their hearts and then, their minds — what I call the “Harvey Milk Rule.”

To paraphrase the great Harvey Milk: Maybe, just maybe, once they connect with us, they will become much less likely to vote against LGBTQ people instead of voting to help strip away our freedoms, liberties, and rights. In our case, the conservatives and Republicans we met would remember “those nice ladies from CPAC” before voting to hurt our community.

By being present at the Conservative Political Action Conference and inviting a conversation, we achieved our goal. We had the type of conversations that need to be had at this time. Over the many hours we stood with our rainbow Gadsden flag, message signs, GOP/Trans Pride buttons, and smiles and roamed CPAC, we spoke with hundreds of attendees. Many thousands more saw us as they walked back and forth between speeches and breakout sessions.

We worked hard to have those necessary conversations, minute by minute, hour by hour, with conservatives from all demographics and age groups. As one might imagine, we were more popular with millennials than with older generations. As a Gen X member myself, I know that most of my generation are supportive of LGBTQ people, but transgender liberty and freedom still seem to be a work in progress. Overall, millennial conservatives clearly have less issues with LGBTQ people than someone like Ben Shapiro would suggest.

After Shapiro’s appearance at CPAC, three of us were challenged to a debate by a group of young college men loaded for bear with talking points. Adelynn Campbell, Jordan Evans, and I held our rainbow Gadsden flag and our signs as defused their prepared arguments for denying our existence as transgender Americans. We also provided more than enough Trans 101 to destroy their myths about our community before a growing crowd for nearly 30 minutes. At one point in the debate, Jordan Evans and I switched places in order to tackle different questions from our debate opponents. By being at CPAC as fellow conservatives, we were able to counter and refute anti-transgender comments in speeches by Shapiro, Michelle Malkin, and France’s Marion Le Pen, live and in person. Nothing could stop us from taking questions and advocating for our community; not even a guy walking behind us with a crucifix a few times.

We were also able to offer a beacon of support to a number of LGBT conservatives who came to speak with us. We shared some of our experiences and were able to tell them things are getting better on our side of the aisle and that they too can be part of the change they want to see. It was wonderful to meet with them and to realize that the number of LGBTQ conservatives and Republicans is growing and that they already have a home in the fight to protect our community’s liberties, freedoms, and equality. I was honored to meet a quiet young gay man from North Carolina and learn about his desire to get more involved politically in his community and party. I’d like to think meeting some transgender women at CPAC may have made his decision and his journey a little easier.

However, some of our most meaningful conversations were with military veterans. Several veterans spoke with us to express their support for our using our right to free speech that they fought for in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other tough places. One Navy veteran said, “I may not understand everything about y’all, but I’m really glad you are here!” It was hard not to tear up through my smile as he slowly made his way to another speech. I would never try to convince Advocate readers that we changed the world, but I do think we are changing our little corner of it.

Two years ago, I attended CPAC 2016 alone in order to reintroduce myself to many old friends. Of the several dozen people whom I nervously reintroduced myself to, each one said that they were still my friend, but they all asked me the same question: “Are you still a conservative (or a Republican)?” Once I said yes, they were relieved at my answer. I saw great potential for the future in those quiet, friendly encounters where I shared my authenticity with my fellow conservatives. I learned that I could be a conservative advocate for my transgender/LGBTQ community on the right side of the aisle. Last year, one transgender conservative advocate at CPAC became two, and this year, there were four of us. I feel blessed to have had three more sisters from our community who happen to be conservative and Republican break with convention to advocate with me without any guarantee of a safe or successful outcome.

Now it is up to the rest of our greater LGBTQ community to keep the conversation going. We can achieve more by working together and engaging others whom too many not have given a chance in the past. No matter our political labels, ultimately we are in this fight for liberty and freedom together.

JENNIFER WILLIAMS is a transgender activist and was the first out trans delegate at the Republican National Convention.

Why Does the World Disregard LGBT People in Latin America?

LGBT advocates do not speak about Latin America very often. The region is home to 625 million people, and yet it is commonly disregarded in international conferences and reports on sexual orientation and gender identity. I think it has to do with the fact that, to most, Latin America seems to be doing “well enough.”

To be fair, “well enough” seems accurate to some extent. When compared to other regions of the world (primarily Africa and Southeast Asia), most countries in Latin America seems to be doing just fine in terms of liberties for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Same-sex activity is legal in practically all the countries of the region (eastern Caribbean islands aside). Same-sex marriage is recognized in Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, and Brazil. Some countries, like Argentina, have some of the most advanced legal gender recognition norms in the world. And every summer, tens of thousands fill the streets of Rio, Santiago, Montevideo, Mexico City, and many others, with joyful marches of Pride.

Behind this salubrious portrait, however, lies a lackluster reality.

The weak rule of law that persists in most countries renders their ultraprogressive legislation practically useless. In Brazil, a person is killed because of his or her sexual orientation every 25 hours. Mexico had over 1,000 homophobic murders in only two decades. And the region as a whole has four out of the five countries with the highest murder rates of trans and gender-diverse people in the world.

In practically all 33 countries, homophobia and transphobia continue to be widespread. In some, such as Barbados, Jamaica, Dominica, Grenada, and several others, it is encouraged de facto by the state. In the rest, it is allowed and often perpetrated by police officers, judges, politicians and civil servants.

LGBT activists in the region, however, are often left to put up the fight alone. With limited resources, multinational foundations and nonprofits often gear their international LGBT work toward Africa and Southeast Asia. The language barrier also limits the capabilities of small LGBT organizations in the United States and Europe, as they often do not have Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking staff.

Regional organizations also lack the capability to support the work of LGBT activists. At the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for example, the LGBT rapporteurship has one staff member, or sometimes two, if the rapporteurship is lucky enough to get a fellow or an intern that year. Yet the rapporteurship has 35 countries to cover (the U.S. and Canada included), each of them with a drastically different reality.

In the meantime, conservative organizations have mustered unprecedented resources and are orchestrating a powerful and coordinated backlash across the region. In the past three years alone, they managed to stop a presidential reform to recognize marriage equality nationwide in Mexico; they derailed a proposed LGBT-inclusive curriculum in Peru; and most recently, they have used deceitful campaigns in Ecuador, Chile. and Uruguay to launch a defense of the so-called traditional family against what they term “gender ideology.” LGBT rights were also under tough scrutiny last year in Brazil, where a judge rolled back a ban on“conversion therapy,” and in Chile, where the same-sex marriage bill remained stagnant in Congress.

Latin America is at a delicate tipping point. The significant progress that was achieved over the last decade could easily be lost if the region falls into complacency. LGBT advocates are working hard to impede setbacks, but they cannot do it alone. They have the courage, the will, and the inspiration, but they lack the advocacy skills, the financial resources, and the brand recognition that only international organizations can build and sustain.

The timing is right. In early January, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights published a landmark advisory opinion that signals the possibility to acknowledge marriage equality and legal gender recognition under the American Convention of Human Rights.

If the international LGBT rights movement supports the region and builds robust transnational networks to share information, resources, and strategies, not only will the area be able to deter possible setbacks; it can emerge as an example that may have a domino effect elsewhere in the hemisphere, and around the world.

We have to start caring about Latin America. We have to stop thinking that “well enough” is good enough for LGBT people in the region. And we have to do so now, before it is too late.

DANIEL BEREZOWSKY is an LGBT advocate from Mexico City. He is an HBO Point Foundation Scholar, currently pursuing a master’s degree in international affairs at Columbia University. During his studies, Daniel has interned at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and at the LGBT rights division of Human Rights Watch.

Protest at Harvard Over 'Ex-Gay' Speaker Jackie Hill-Perry


Hill-Perry speaks with Rev. Russell Moore at a 2014 religious conference

February 19 2018 12:27 AM EST

Peaceful protesters crashed a Friday lecture at Harvard from Jackie Hill-Perry, a Christian activist and poet who encourages people to ignore their same-sex attractions for Jesus’s sake.

At least two dozen people held LGBT-affirming signs during the talk from Hill-Perry, which was sponsored by a group called Harvard College Faith and Action.

Hill-Perry proclaims on her website that she was “saved from a lifestyle of homosexual sin.” In her talk at Harvard, she referred to queer people as “broken,” insisted no one is born gay, and encouraged people to deny themselves same-sex relationships.

“The model for how we are to deny ourselves, whether that applies to our greed, to our lust, self-denial is not optional for the Christian,” she said, according to the Harvard Crimson.

The protest included professors, some of which said Hill-Perry’s presence sent a hostile message that LGBT people and religion are incompatible.

“The history of this speaker and the things that she keeps promoting are things that basically alienate and threaten the existence of queer students on campus,” Divinity professor Ahmed Ragab told the Crimson. “I think it is a problem to have a speaker that promotes this kind of discourse.”

After her lecture, Hill-Perry told a Crimson reporter that she doesn’t support so-called conversion therapy, but believes LGBT people should suppress their feelings and desires because it’s what Jesus wants.

Female Journalists Shut Out Amid Shaun White Sexual Harassment Scandal

Snowboarder Shaun White nabbed the third gold medal of his 12-year Olympic career in PyeongChang Tuesday, but amid the cheers and tears of joy, there was no mention on NBC, the network covering the games, of the sexual harassment suit he settled last April. Furthermore, when the  International Ski Federation, the body that governs snowboarding, held a press conference about White’s medal win, the moderator skipped over female journalists with questions, USA Today reporter Christine Brennan, who had her hand raised, told CNN. 

While Brennan and ABC’s Amy Robach were passed over, one male reporter, Matt Gutman (from ABC), slipped one in about the sexual harassment suit and asked if it would “tarnish” White’s legacy. The decorated snowboarder responded flippantly, saying, “You know, honestly, I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not, you know, gossip, but I don’t think so. I am who I am, and I’m proud of who I am, and my friends, you know, love me and vouch for me, and I think that stands on its own.”

Gutman attempted a follow-up question, but White said he felt he’d answered the question, and the moderator reportedly moved on before any questioning got to the gritty details of the allegations in the suit against the Olympian. 

The suit, filed in San Diego by Lena Zawaideh, former drummer of White’s band Bad Things, alleged that he made repeated vulgar remarks to her, forced her to watch “sexually disturbing videos, including videos sexualizing human fecal matter,” and texted “sexually explicit and graphic images” of erect penises, which White later admitted to sending, according to USA Today

The complaint Zawaideh filed also alleged that “White stuck his hands down his pants, approached Zawaideh, and stuck his hands in her face trying to make her smell them. As the financier of Bad Things, White used his role to impose a strict regime over Zawaideh, going so far as to demand that she cut her hair, wear sexually revealing clothes and underwear, and refrain from wearing red lipstick.”

At a time when sexual harassers and abusers are being held accountable like never before, White course-corrected and apologized on Today for using the word “gossip” to describe the allegations that were made against him. 

I “was so overwhelmed with just wanting to talk about how amazing today was and share my experience,” White said of sloughing off the question about harassment. “I’ve grown as a person over the years. It’s amazing how life works and twists and turns and lessons learned. Every experience in my life I feel like it’s taught me a lesson. I definitely feel like I am a much more changed person than I was when I was younger. I am proud of who I am today.”

What White failed to mention while he was focused on discussing his accomplishments and how proud he is of the person he’d been given the opportunity to become is that he attempted to silence his accuser in 2016, suggesting she undergo a mental health examination when she admitted to suffering emotional stress because of what he’d allegedly done. He later withdrew the request, according to USA Today

As White attempts to focus on his accomplishments and the International Ski Federation turns away reporters, a growing number of voices on social media are calling for NBC and other outlets to not gloss over and avoid the horrific details in the suit against him. 

The Internalized Misogyny of Sarah Sanders

During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, several Democratic lawmakers watched stone-faced as Donald Trump touted the 2nd amendment, spoke of protecting religious liberty to the detriment of LGBT people, painted undocumented immigrants as murderers and, praised his administration for ending the war on “clean coal” (an oxymoron if ever there were one).

But White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders’s takeaway from those who didn’t agree with Trump was to invoke the sexist suggestion women have been subjected to for ages and suggest that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi “should smile” more. 

Trump’s apologetic mouthpiece appeared on CNN with Chris Cuomo shortly after the State of the Union, where she took the opportunity to add another quip to her growing list of statements that telegraph her deeply internalized misogyny. Referring to Pelosi’s less than enthusiastic expression, Cuomo said, “I’ve never seen Nancy Pelosi’s face like that.”

That’s when Sanders took the opportunity to bash Pelosi in terms that reek of sexism. 

“I’m going to be a little bit in disagreement with you. I think Nancy Pelosi looks like that all the time. I think she should smile a lot more often, I think the country would be better for it, she seems to kind of embody the bitterness that belongs in the Democratic party right now,” said Sanders, practically implying that Pelosi has “resting bitch face,” while also tossing in “bitter,” another dog-whistle term often used to belittle older, single, or childless women. 

Considering Sanders’s history of tone-deaf comments in defense of a man who boasted about having committed sexual assault, it’s not surprising that she would implore Pelosi to “smile more,” something too many women have heard throughout their lives while merely trying to walk down the street, ride public transportation, use a machine at the gym, and so on. 

A few of Sanders’s greatest hits include her defense when Trump called Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” while at an event ostensibly to honor “Navajo Code Talkers.” He spewed a racial term, but Sanders suggested that Warren, a woman, must have somehow cheated to get her position in the Senate. 

“I think what most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career,” Sanders said, deflecting away from Trump’s racism with her own brand of sexism. 

Less than six months into his reign, Trump attacked Morning Joe cohost Mika Brzezinski’s looks with a disgusting tweet that read, “I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”

When a reporter asked, “How do you feel about the President attacking another woman specifically for her looks and what does that show as an example to how men should be treating other women?” Sanders implied that Trump’s response was manly. 

“I don’t think you can expect someone to be personally attacked day after day, minute by minute, and sit back. When the president gets hit, he’s going to hit back harder,” Sanders said. “The American people elected a fighter; they didn’t elect somebody to sit back and do nothing. They knew what they were getting when they voted for Donald Trump,” although she failed to mention whether or not the 3 million more Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton knew what they were getting. 

Worse though, Sanders did actually bring up her gender in regard to the Brzezinski melee, but it was no way in solidarity with women. 

“Everybody wants to make this an attack on a woman. I’m a woman, and I’ve been attacked by this show [Morning Joe] multiple times, but I don’t cry foul because of it,” Sanders said, implying that women who are publicly criticized shouldn’t speak up or complain (but it’s ok if men fight back, clearly). 

One of Sanders’s most audacious defenses of Trump came in November amid the deluge of allegations felling sexual predators across industries when several of Trump’s accusers spoke out (there are 11 women in total). 

Responding to the sexual abuse allegations that had resurfaced about Trump, he deflected with his hackneyed “fake news” defense. 

“All I can say is it’s totally fake news. It’s just fake. It’s fake. It’s made-up stuff, and it’s disgraceful what happens, but that happens in the world of politics,” Trump said.

In a press conference with Sanders, a reporter said, “Last week, during a press conference in the Rose Garden, the president called these accusations ‘fake news.’ Is the official White House position that all of these women are lying?”

“Yeah, we’ve been clear on that from the beginning and the president’s spoken on it,” Sanders replied

Trump's State of the Union: Full of Platitudes, Questionable 'Facts'

Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address was subdued, coherent, if sometimes dull, marked by platitudes and dog whistles, and frequently fact-challenged.

The president spent 90 minutes Tuesday night talking about American unity and touting his administration’s purported accomplishments, including job growth and tax cuts, while promising to reform immigration, rebuild infrastructure, and more.

“We have gone forward with a clear vision and a righteous mission — to make America great again for all Americans,” he said early in the speech to a joint session of Congress.

“The state of our union is strong because our people are strong,” he continued. “And together we are building a safe, strong, and proud America.”

He pointed to the creation of 2.4 million jobs since his election, although, as National Public Radio  noted in a fact check of his speech, there were actually more jobs, 2.7 million, created in the prvious 14-month period. This slowdown is unsurprising, though, “since the economy is nearing full employment,” NPR reported. The network found his statements about record low black unemployment and near-record low Latino unemployment to be accurate, but added that those rates been declining since for years, just as the increase in manufacturing jobs, something else Trump touted, has been going on for several years. And no president can take complete credit or blame for changes in the job market.

He also promoted the tax cuts he recently signed into law, saying they will be of great help to ordinary Americans. He said the average family income will rise by $4,000 a year, something that has been contested by economists. The tax reforms stand to produce the greatest benefit to people with the highest income levels.

Trump boasted of eliminating regulations on business. “In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history of our country,” he said. However, much of that has come at the expense of environmental protection.

On energy, he said, “We have ended the war on American energy. And we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.” But as NPR noted, domestic oil and natural gas production were hardly suppressed during President Barack Obama’s administration; both industries saw a boom. He said the U.S. has finally become an exporter of energy, but that’s actually been the case for years, according to The Washington Post, which also fact-checked his speech. Moreover, “there’s no such thing as ‘clean coal,’” the Post reported; in ending the “war” on coal, Trump was likely referring to the repeal of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which recommended the use of fuels other than coal.

It went on like that. Some of his statements that sounded hard to argue with turned out, on deeper examination, to raise questions. Trump called for fixing American roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, a project that has bipartisan support, but there’s no plan to fund this, the Post reported. He did endorse a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought here as children, but he wants to have that border wall built. He blamed “chain migration,” the sponsorship of extended family members for immigration to the U.S., for bringing terrorists into the country, but the accused attackers in question appear to have been radicalized after they came to America. He evoked sympathy for people who had lost family members at the hands of undocumented immigrants, with the parents of victims in attendance, but ignored the data that indicates immigrants, documented or not, commit fewer crimes than the native-born.

Also in the audience were many other people who’ve unquestionably served or suffered heroically — members of the military, police and firefighters, and a man who endured torture in North Korea. Trump singled them out for recognition, and called, as expected, for further pressure on the North Korean regime and an increase in America’s nuclear arsenal.

There were, of course, the expected dog whistles on some issues — talk of standing for the national anthem, defending the Second Amendment, and protecting “religious liberty.” And Trump highlighted the appointment of “judges who will interpret the Constitution as written,” including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Many of Trump’s judicial picks are deeply hostile to LGBT rights, women’s rights, and minority rights.

In the Democratic response to Trump’s address, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts accused the president of setting some Americans against others. Trump is leading “an administration that callously appraises our worthiness and decides who makes the cut and who can be bargained away,” said Kennedy, who touched on some issues Trump wouldn’t go near.

“We are bombarded with one false choice after another,” he continued. “Coal miners or single moms. Rural communities or inner cities. The coast or the heartland. As if the mechanic in Pittsburgh and the teacher in Tulsa and the day care worker in Birmingham are somehow bitter rivals, rather than mutual casualties of a system forcefully rigged for those at the top. As if the parent who lies awake terrified that their transgender son will be beaten and bullied at school is any more or less legitimate than the parent whose heart is shattered by a daughter in the grips of opioid addiction.

“So here is the answer Democrats offer tonight: we choose both. We fight for both. Because the strongest, richest, greatest nation in the world shouldn’t leave any one behind.”

In addition to talking about transgender kids, Kennedy gave shout-outs to activists against sexual assault and racism. “You bravely say me too,” he said. “You steadfastly say that Black Lives Matter.” And speaking first in Spanish, then in English, he told the Dreamers, those undocumented immigrants brought here as children, “You are a part of our story. We will fight for you. We will not walk away.”

Late in the speech, in a statement that seemed pointedly aimed at Trump, he said, “Bullies may land a punch. They might leave a mark. But they have never, not once, in the history of our United States, managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future.”

LGBT and other progressive activists seemed distinctly underwhelmed by Trump’s address. “Managing to read a pre-written speech off a teleprompter does not make one presidential or lend a single ounce of legitimacy to Trump’s anti-LGBTQ agenda,” said a statement released by Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD. “Trump has spent the past year targeting vulnerable communities and surrounding himself with anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-women, and anti-LGBTQ activists with the goal of exacerbating discrimination and erasing LGBTQ Americans from the fabric of this nation.”

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, didn’t think much of Trump’s talk of religious liberty. “Trump clearly doesn’t know what the words ‘religious liberty’ mean if he thinks he’s taken historic action to protect it,” Moline said in a prepared statement. “His actions in his first year as president have in fact significantly undermined the rights of people of faith whose beliefs don’t align with the president’s allies in the religious right.”

And Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, issued this statement: “TelePrompter Trump may have delivered a coherent speech before a live studio audience, but the behind-the-scenes footage reveals his administration’s hostility toward civil and human rights. He touts the notion of one united American family, but his actions paint a different reality. Trump actively seeks to disadvantage, divide, and discriminate against women, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, those aspiring to join the middle class, and so many more.” She added that Trump does not have “a serious plan” for infrastructure and denounced Congress for “rubber-stamping” his judicial nominees. “If the president wants the state of our union to truly be strong, then he must stop stoking hate and sowing division among us,” she added.

Man Charged in Five Murders Reportedly Targeted Toronto's Gay Community

A suspect who appears to have targeted Toronto’s gay population has been charged with the murders of five men, most of whom had been missing for some time.

Bruce McArthur, a 66-year-old Toronto landscaper, was charged Monday with first-degree murder in the deaths of Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Marmudi, and Dean Lisowick, The Globe and Mail reports. He was charged January 18 with the murders of Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen. There could be more charges to come, as police said McArthur had links to other missing persons.

“Detectives believe Mr. McArthur was targeting members of Toronto’s LGBTQ community, but expect that the investigation may go beyond just that one community,” the paper reports. Dismembered skeletal remains of three people have been discovered in planters at sites where McArthur had done landscaping, but police have yet to identify them. “We don’t know how many more victims there are going to be,” Det. Sgt. Hank Idsinga said at a press conference Monday. Police did not offer details on how the victims were killed.

One of them, Kayhan, had been missing since 2012. He was well-known in the Gay Village, Toronto’s main LGBT neighborhood, The Globe and Mail reports. One friend of his told the paper Kayhan may have been in a romantic relationship with McArthur at one point.

In 2003, McArthur was convicted of assault after attacking a man with an iron pipe two years earlier, according to the newspaper. The victim lived in the same apartment complex as Kayhan, and McArthur was ordered to stay away from the building for two years.

Mahmudi was last seen in 2015. Lisowick “had no fixed address, and had not been reported missing,” the paper reports, but police said he had likely been murdered between May 2016 and July 2017. Kinsman and Esen both went missing last year.

McArthur was a user of the dating app Recon, going by the screen name Silverfox and seeking “submissive men of all ages,” according to an earlier Globe and Mail story. One man, Peter Sgromo, told the paper he had hooked up with McArthur via the app, but McArthur treated him violently, grabbing him roughly by the neck and pulling his head down to McArthur’s crotch.

“I wasn’t weirded out enough at that point to suspect that I was in any danger,” Sgromo said. “It certainly killed the mood for me. I was kind of surprised.”

Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith Calls Trump Out on Russia Lies

Donald Trump continues to falsely claim the Russia scandal is a Democratic hoax, but Shepard Smith is not having it.

Trump claimed on Wednesday there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, even though his team attended secret meetings with Russian officials, some that included the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trump often tries to flip the script and blame collusion on Clinton, ostensibly over an unflattering — and not yet unproven — dossier partly paid for by the former secretary of State’s presidential campaign. Trump also points to a 2010 uranium sale to Russia that Clinton signed on to; Smith has already debunked the conspiracy theory that Clinton had a nefarious role in the uranium deal.

When asked by journalists whether Trump would agree to meet with special counsel Robert Mueller, who’s investigating his connections to Russia, the president said he wouldn’t need to: “There was absolutely no collusion, everybody knows it. I’ve been in office for 11 months, for 11 months they’ve had this phony cloud over this administration, over our government, and it has hurt our government. It is a Democrat hoax that was brought up as an excuse for losing an election that frankly the Democrats should have won because they have such a tremendous advantage in the Electoral College.”

Smith put these lies to rest during the Wednesday broadcast of his Fox News show.

“The president again calling the Russia investigation a ‘Democratic hoax’,” Smith said. “It is not. Fox News has been reporting and will continue to report that two people have pleaded guilty.”

Unlike Tucker Carlson and the Fox & Friends crew, Smith is unflinchingly honest with his viewers, reminding them that the Russia investigation is, in fact, very real — and very likely to engulf this failing presidency.

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.”

U.N. Officials Condemn Mass Gay, Trans Arrests in Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Indonesia

United Nations officials have spoken out against what they see as a troubling global trend involving the mass arrests, detainment, and torture of LGBT people.

On Friday, officials said authorities in Azerbaijan, Egypt, and Indonesia had violated international law for committing such actions in recent weeks, reports the New York Times.

In October, authorities in Azerbaijan released around 83 gay bisexual, and transgender detainees, who had been arrested in September. While in detainment, some were subjected to torture such as beatings and shock treatments, said Rupert Colville, from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, at a Geneva press conference.

Authorities in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, claimed they detained these people for charges involving sex work, “hooliganism,” and “resisting a police order,” although lawyers dismissed these claims as pretext.

“Any arrest based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is by definition arbitrary and violates international law,” Colville said.

In September, Egyptian authorites detained at least 11 men for waving a rainbow flag at a concert, and for using gay meetup apps. Those arrested were subjected to forced anal examinations that are nothing more than torture, reports Amnesty International.

In Indonesia, police arrested around 50 men at a sauna earlier this month, the latest in a string of raids targeting LGBT people that have resulted in arrests, public flogging, and forced HIV tests.

Colville also challenged the truth regarding the charges of sex work — common in all three of these nations against LGBT people — noting that “in almost all cases the accused have denied such allegations or indicated that they were coerced into confessing involvement.”

U.N. officials demanded anyone detained due to their LGBT identity in Azerbaijan, Egypt, and Indonesia be released immediately.