Tom Mountain, the mask-denying vice chairman of the Massachusetts GOP’s governing body who attended a largely maskless Hanukkah party at the White House on December 9, has since infected four of his family members with COVID-19.
Mountain’s wife pleaded with him not to attend the party over fears that he’d get infected with the virus. He has since given her the virus as well as his son, his daughter-in-law, and his mother-in-law.
Regarding wearing face masks, Mountain said, “I was one of the naysayers,” adding, “I am no longer a naysayer,” and “My family tried to dissuade me. I didn’t listen.”
Mountain said he was “politically and morally obligated to go” to the party, but apparently didn’t think he was morally obligated to wear a facemask to avoid infecting his wife and elderly mother-in law.
He said of his fellow partygoers, “People would just leisurely and gingerly take off their mask to mingle, to schmooze. I don’t even think some people wore masks the entire time. And again, I was guilty as anyone else. I just wasn’t wearing a mask.”
The party also flouted COVID-19 prevention guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which encouraged small, limited gatherings rather than one with 100 or more people, like the White House’s Hannukah party.
Thoughts and prayers.
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Trump’s New Immigration Rules Will Kill Hundreds of LGBTQ and HIV-Positive Asylum Seekers
On Thursday, the Trump Administration’s Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice finalized rule changes that are supposedly meant to “streamline” immigration hearings to make legal proceedings occur much more quickly. In reality, the pro-LGBTQ immigration non-profit, Immigration Equality says, the rule changes make it much harder for LGBTQ or HIV-positive refugees to get asylum in the United States.
One rule change gives all asylum seekers one chance and only one chance to declare their LGBTQ or HIV-positive identity to an asylum hearing judge. If they don’t, they can never bring it up again or re-file a case stating that they’re seeking asylum to escape queer-phobic abuse or anti-HIV stigma in their home countries.
“The Proposed Rule guts the U.S. asylum system by rewriting asylum law without authorization from Congress and upending decades of legal precedent,” Immigration Equality said in a statement. “This unprecedented bar would require applicants to immediately and clearly articulate every cognizable PSG (particular social group) before the Immigration Judge or forever lose the opportunity to present it, even on a motion to reopen where an applicant relied on ineffective counsel.”
Persecuted queers and HIV-positive asylum seekers are often attacked by police, doctors and government officials in their home countries for revealing their identities. As such, many are often afraid to reveal these things to U.S. authorities for fear of further discrimination or abuse. Others will only reveal these personal details about themselves after months of feeling more comfortable and supported in the U.S. system.
Many refugees also lack the English-skills to articulate their membership within these persecuted groups, especially if their lawyer doesn’t encourage them to do so or doesn’t inform them that these particular social groups are eligible for asylum.
A second rule change says that asylum seekers have to prove that their treatment was systemic — that is, caused by a government policy or institutional discrimination rather than “personal animus and retribution” from an individual or group of individuals. They have to prove that the discrimination affected other members of their groups equally, which is difficult to substantively prove.
Furthermore, refugees can no longer list “gender” as a characteristic they were targeted for (something that would put transgender people particularly at risk) nor can asylum seekers say that they were persecuted for their “political opinions” or “cultural stereotypes,” a broad rule change that would exclude all manner of refugees, particularly queer ones who were harassed for their self-expression.
Lastly, refugees have to prove that they’ve already been persecuted — the mere threat of persecution would no longer be sufficient to get asylum — and that their persecution was pressing and “extreme.” Intermittent harassment and brief detentions no longer count as worthwhile factors for seeking asylum. Additionally, refugees must prove that they first tried to re-locate to a friendlier place inside of their home nation or tried to apply for asylum in whatever countries they crossed through before reaching the U.S., even if those countries are also anti-LGBTQ.
Judges can also now fast-track asylum hearings to quickly determine whether someone is eligible rather than holding a longer fact-finding discovery period to help develop a refugees’ reasons for seeking asylum in the United States. As such, these rule changes won’t just harm LGBTQ and HIV-positive people, but seem to have been crafted specifically to prevent thousands of refugees from getting asylum in the U.S., a longtime goal of the Trump Administration.
Trump Blocks CDC Head from Talking to Congress About the Dangers of Reopening Schools
On Friday, the Trump Administration blocked Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from testifying in front of Congress next week about the prospect of reopening schools during the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.
In a statement, an unnamed White House spokesperson said, “Dr. Redfield has testified on the Hill at least four times over the last three months. We need our doctors focused on the pandemic response.”
The move seems particularly alarming since the Trump Administration is pressuring schools nationwide to reopen in the fall even though coronavirus infections are much higher now than they were when schools first shut down.
In May, the Trump administration blocked the CDC from releasing a 17-page manual on helping schools re-open safely — CDC officials were told the guidelines would “never see the light of day.” Trump himself called it “not an acceptable answer” when infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said schools shouldn’t reopen in the fall.
Even though educators and teachers’ unions are worried about possible school outbreaks of COVID-19, and even though a recent study found nearly 70% of parents are worried about sending their kids back to school amid rising COVID-19 rates, Trump has said people only want to keep schools closed to hurt his re-election chances and has threatened to financially harm schools who don’t re-open.
His White House Press Secretary has even said that “science should not stand in the way” of schools reopening.
“It is alarming that the Trump administration is preventing the CDC from appearing before the committee at a time when its expertise and guidance is so critical to the health and safety of students, parents, and educators,” said Democratic Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, the chairman of the House Education & Labor Committee who invited Redfield to testify.
“This lack of transparency does a great disservice to the many communities across the country facing difficult decisions about reopening schools this fall,” Scott added.
Texas GOP votes to hold 6,000+ in-person convention in state’s COVID-19 hotspot
On Thursday night, the Texas Republican Party voted to crowd 6,000 people into its state convention from July 16 to 18. The vote came on the same day that Texas reported nearly 8,000 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19, its second highest-ever daily toll of new cases.
The convention will be hosted at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. Houston sits within Harris County, the Texas county that has the highest number of overall coronavirus cases. The Texas Medical Association and the Texas Brewers Guild have both withdrawn their support as sponsors as a result of the decision to hold a convention in-person rather than virtually.
CNN reports, “The Texas Republican Party said the convention will have multiple precautions and safety measures for attendees, including thermal scanners at entrances and hand sanitizer stations throughout the convention. Meeting areas will be “deep-cleaned thoroughly” between gatherings and there will be expanded seating allowing attendees to social distancing….Donated masks will be available.”
It’s unclear if state party leaders will require attendees to wear face masks as legally required by a July 2 executive order signed by Abbott that requires all Texans to wear face masks in public (or else to face a $250 fine). It’s unlikely though that Houston police would actively persecute the governor’s own party to enforce his order, even if it did mean potentially preventing a fresh COVID-19 outbreak.
During the 2020 meeting, state Republicans will likely draft a new state party platform. It remains to be seen whether they will keep the 2018 state platform planks that opposed same-sex marriage (three years after it became nationally legalized), supported so-called ex-gay conversion therapy, denying medical care and civil rights to transgender youth, repealing all hate crime legislation, and the right of “religious” businesses owners to refuse service to LGBTQ people without facing any legal consequences.
As of July 3, Texas ranks third among all U.S. states for the highest overall number of COVID-19 cases. Here are some Twitter reactions to the Texas GOP’s decision to host an in-person convention during a global pandemic.
5 days after attending his county party convention, this 75-year-old Texas GOP official was admitted to the hospital with COVID-19. He ultimately died. This is a warning sign for the GOP as it continues w large, mask-less indoor conventions and rallies. https://t.co/3vX1RKhlIW
— Atul Gawande (@Atul_Gawande) June 29, 2020
Texas Republican National Convention is coming to Houston in two weeks. Upwards of 6000 people are expected to be inside the George R. Brown convention center. GRB, run by Houston First Corp @HoustonFirst, says they can not mandate masks b/c it wasn't in the original contract.
— Anti Trump Texans (@AntiTrumpTexans) July 1, 2020
Among a huge surge in COVID-19 cases in Texas, Gov. Abbott (R) has no plans to ban indoor gatherings, including the Texas Republican Party’s convention in Houston.
— 🐾Angie K 💙🔬🧫 (@angie_keathly) June 28, 2020
— BDM 77007 (@ablondewun1) July 1, 2020
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