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NATIONAL Aimee Stephens, GNC teen murdered, Katie Hill, Amazon
by Windy City Times staff

This article shared 1249 times since Sun Dec 27, 2020
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A consent decree ordered that Michigan business Harris Funeral Homes—which fired the late Aimee Stephens for being transgender and led her to sue the business in litigation that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court—must pay $250,000 as a result of a settlement stemming from the landmark case affirming anti-transgender discrimination is illegal under the law, The Washington Blade reported. U.S. District Judge Sean Cox, the George W. Bush-appointed judge who adjudicated the case after the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the court, signed the consent decree, bringing a case to an end that had been rising up in the judiciary for more than six years. Stephens died at age 59 in May 2020—just weeks before justices rendered their decision in Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC.

Newsweek reported that the murder of a gender non-conforming teen at a holiday party in Prichard, Alabama, was broadcast live on Facebook in December, according to the victim's family. Jaheim Pugh—a 19-year-old who used both male and female pronouns—was in attendance at the party when gunfire erupted. The video broadcast on social media showed Pugh lying on the floor as other partygoers declined to offer assistance. According to Pugh's mother, Tiffany, a person on the video could be heard saying, "If he wasn't wearing that dress, he would still be alive." James Lee James Jr. was booked and charged with Jaheim Pugh's murder in Mobile after turning himself in to authorities; a court hearing is set for February.

Former U.S. Rep. Katie Hill is suing her ex-husband and the media outlets Daily Mail and RedState, accusing them of "nonconsensual dissemination and publication of her intimate images," HuffPost reported. In the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Hill alleged that ex-husband Kenneth Heslep provided "sexually graphic" photos of her to the news outlets, which published them online in multiple articles last year. Once a rising star in the Democratic Party, the then-freshman congresswoman from California resigned last year after the House opened an ethics investigation following a story on RedState. The conservative news site accused Hill of having extramarital affairs with a female campaign staffer and a male congressional aide. (Hill is a member of the LGBTQ community, media outlets have reported.)

A new report found that at least 40 anti-LGBTQ+ organizations are benefiting from Amazon's AmazonSmile program, which has raised $215 million since its launch in 2013, The Hill noted. Eight of these groups, according to the open Democracy investigation by authors Lou Ferreira and Claire Provost, have been partners of the controversial World Congress of Families network. Another is a "state affiliate" of the American Family Association (AFA). Both are considered by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as "anti-LGBT hate groups." The report is at

President-elect Joe Biden tapped Gautam Raghavan—a gay man who previously served as a White House staffer in the Obama administration—to serve as deputy director of the Office of Presidential Personnel, Metro Weekly reported. In his new role, Raghavan will be tasked with identifying, recruiting, and vetting more than 4,000 political appointments across the federal government. In a press release, LGBTQ Victory Institute President & CEO Annise Parker said, "Gautam's appointment demonstrates the President-elect's long-term commitment to building an administration that is reflective of America. He believes a diverse administration best serves the President and our nation and will ensure appointing qualified LGBTQ people, women and people of color at every level of government remains a priority for the next four years."

Houston-based Lakewood Church—the largest megachurch in the country and led by a man (Joel Osteen) who once called on gay people to "change" their sexuality—received a $4.4 million loan from the federal coronavirus relief program, PinkNews noted,. Osteen's net worth is estimated to be $100 million, and he lives in a 17,000-square-foot mansion with an estimated value of $10.5 million. His church swept up a huge bailout loan in the throes of the pandemic, records show.

Tiger King star Joseph Maldonado-Passage (aka Joe Exotic) sued the Department of Justice in his latest attempt to receive a presidential pardon from Donald Trump after he was convicted in a murder-for-hire plot, reported. Maldonado-Passage is currently serving the first year of a 22-year prison sentence for plotting to kill animal-rights activist Carole Baskin, among other charges. The office typically makes recommendations for a president on possible pardons, though that is not legally necessary: A president can pardon any federal convict on his own—and media reports noted that Trump has already done just that, pardoning several well-connected supporters (such as Roger Stone) last week.

Wyoming legislator Cyrus Western recently came under fire for congratulating his state's first Black sheriff, Albany County Sheriff Aaron Appelhans, on his new appointment by tweeting a GIF with racist overtones, Queerty noted. The GIF was from the movie Blazing Saddles and featured actor Cleavon Little, playing a Black sheriff, asking, "Where the white women at?" After deleting the tweet, Western issued an apology, calling his actions "dumb and uncalled for" and saying he left Appelhans a voicemail apologizing for it. Last year, Western—who said he stands for "family values"—voted against a bill that would protect LGBTQ workers from discrimination.

After a long battle with cancer, Joan Dressen—co-founder of the first Minneapolis chapter of PFLAG and a champion of LGBT rights—died at age 86, reported. After Dressen learned her son was gay in the early 1980s, she immediately started looking for resources. Finding none, she and husband Roger became part of a group that started the first Minneapolis chapter of PFLAG: Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Dressen's children said their mother was elated when same-sex couples were finally allowed to marry and secured other rights.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser stated at a press conference that a request by at least 10 local LGBTQ organizations that she not cut any city funding next year for LGBTQ related social services programs is "an unsustainable point of view," The Washington Blade reported. In response to a question from the Blade, Bowser said she was working with her budget team and city agency directors to develop a required balanced budget "with substantially less" money due to revenue shortfalls the coronavirus pandemic caused.

In New York City, Brooklyn Democrats, at a Dec. 20 meeting, moved one step closer to allowing gender non-binary people to run for the borough party's lowest rung of elected office, Gay City News reported. The party's Task Force on Gender Discrimination and Representation voted unanimously to remove gender requirements from county committee seats, which currently have to be evenly split among male and female members. The regulations are based on a 1938 state Constitution amendment, originally intended to encourage more women to enter the political fold, but presents a barrier to those who don't identify with these gender designations.

A North Carolina venue denied a same-sex couple a chance to have a wedding there, citing its "Christian values," The Charlotte Observer reported. Backlash erupted online after a screenshot posted to Facebook appeared to show the rejection from The Warehouse on Ivy, an event center in downtown Winston-Salem. North Carolina is one of 27 states with no "explicit statewide laws" offering protection from discrimination against the LGBTQ community, according to the website for the nonprofit Freedom for All Americans.

In October, South Carolina school Clemson University debuted the My Story Matters program, which used the various social-media platforms of the school's athletics department to amplify voices of LGBTQ+ athletes and coaches, according to . The women's basketball team had the greatest representation of any sport, with one assistant coach, Shimmy Gray-Miller; and two players, Tylar Bennett and Shania Meertens. In total, nine athletes and coaches shared their stories via videotaped interviews. For more information, visit

LGBTQ voters and others were stunned when Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon announced that, in addition to several other sweeping reforms, he'd be ending sentencing enhancements for criminals, including those found to have committed hate crimes, reported. After taking a call with LGBTQ advocates Dec. 17, Gascon amended the directive, saying he would now "allow enhanced sentences in cases involving the most vulnerable victims and in specified extraordinary circumstances. These exceptions shall be narrowly construed." Hate crimes became part of the national conversation in 1998, when 21-year-old University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, pistol-whipped, tortured and left to die in near-freezing temperatures because he was gay.

Police in New York City are seeking a man they believe punched a teen in the face while shouting anti-gay statements such as "I hate gay people" on a bus last month, LGBTQ Nation reported. The attack allegedly occurred on the M23 bus in Chelsea on Nov. 23. The 19-year-old victim said that he was riding the bus when an older man that he does not know approached him and started harassing him.

Virginia removed its statue of Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee from the U.S. Capitol, NPR reported. "This is a historic and long-overdue moment for our Commonwealth," U.S. Reps. Donald McEachin and Jennifer Wexton, both Democrats from Virginia, said in a statement. "The Robert E. Lee statue honors a legacy of division, oppression, and racism—a dark period in the history of our Commonwealth and our country." The statue is to be expected to be replaced by a statue honoring civil-rights activist Barbara Johns. Virginia's other statue, of President George Washington, is remaining.

Jake Jacob is an out gay doctor who recently looked back on his "life-altering" decision to walk away from the Mormon church—an institution widely known for its anti-LGBTQ policies and attitudes, Queerty noted. In an emotional Instagram post, Jacob wrote about the day he decided to no longer wear his "magic underwear," which those in the church would call "temple garments." He also talked about dealing with "years of conversion therapy."

John Mara Jr., son of New York Giants owner John Mara, has gotten engaged to boyfriend, George Sholley, Outsports noted. Sholley popped the question at the Nobska Lighthouse on Cape Cod, Massachusetts; no wedding date has been set. The elder Mara (who's also the uncle of actresses Rooney and Kate Mara) spoke out against North Carolina's anti-LGBTQ law in 2016.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis pardoned a couple who were convicted of staging the "balloon boy" hoax that captivated the nation more than a decade ago, NBC News noted. Richard and Mayumi Heene reported that their 6-year-old son had floated away in a homemade, duct-taped silver helium balloon shaped like a UFO above Fort Collins in 2009. The son was later discovered unharmed, hiding in the attic of his family's home in Fort Collins, about 60 miles north of Denver. Richard Heene pled guilty for attempting to influence a public servant and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, while wife Mayumi Heene pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for filing a false report and was sentenced to 20 days in jail.

Former U.S. Rep. and 2012 presidential contender Michele Bachmann will soon lead Regent University's school of government, where she said she plans to expand the Virginia Beach-based Christian university's "biblical worldview," The Chicago Tribune noted. Bachmann is known for championing ultraconservative causes—the banning of abortion even in cases of rape or incest, the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in public school and blocking same-sex marriage.

And Marcus Bachmann—the husband of Michele who has been accused of practicing conversion therapy at his so-called Christian counseling clinics—has been named by President Trump to the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, noted. Other notable appointees included Pam Bondi, who, as Florida attorney general, fought hard against marriage equality, to the board of trustees for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; and gay conservative Richard Grenell, former ambassador to Germany and briefly acting director of national intelligence, to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.

Eric Coomer—an executive for a voting machine company that has been the target of conspiracy theories in the aftermath of Donald Trump's 2020 election loss and been baselessly accused of swinging the results against the president—is suing his campaign and conservative media figures for defamation, reported. The lawsuit names as defendants the Trump campaign, Rudy Giuliani, Trump adviser Sidney Powell, conservative media outlets One America News Network and Newsmax Media, the right-wing website Gateway Pundit and Colorado businessman/activist Joseph Oltmann, among others.

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