Scarlett Johansson has faced a wave of criticism this week over a new interview in which she claimed, "I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal." The star, who has faced past casting controversies, is speaking out — explaining her comments were taken out of context.

 

"I recognize that in reality, there is a wide spread discrepancy amongst my industry that favors Caucasian, cisgender actors and that not every actor has been given the same opportunities that I have been privileged to," Johansson said. Her response concerns a July 11 interview published in As If magazine.

In it, the "Avengers: Endgame" actress explained she believed she should be permitted to play any role, "because that is my job and the requirements of my job." She added that "there are a lot of social lines being drawn now" and "a lot of political correctness is being reflected in art." 

The comments reminded some of her previous high-profile casting scandals. Last July, she dropped out of the film "Rub & Tug" amid ongoing backlash for her plans to play the lead role of a transgender man. Transgender actors and advocates immediately criticized the production for not casting a trans actor in the role.

She also faced outrage for her role in the live-action 2017 remake of anime classic "Ghost in the Shell." Critics condemned the filmmakers and the studio, Paramount, for casting Johansson in a traditionally Japanese role as the character Motoko Kusanagi. While promoting the film, Johansson made it clear that she thought the allegations of whitewashing were unfounded.

Many took to social media to share their frustration with her statements. "Pose" star Indya Moore, who identifies as transgender and non-binary, tweeted, "Why Compare trans people and poc to trees and animals..." Twitter user @niceonefransi posted an image of a tree and joked, "OMG I can't believe I just met Scarlett Johansson!! what an honor!!!"

Johansson issued a statement Saturday amidst the wave of criticism, according to The Associated Press: "I personally feel that, in an ideal world, any actor should be able to play anybody and Art, in all forms, should be immune to political correctness."

She also claimed the comments were edited in other publications for "clickbait."

The House approved an amendment Thursday to the defense policy bill that would allow transgender individuals to serve openly again in the U.S. military.

The measure, sponsored by House Armed Services personnel subcommittee chair Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, was inserted into the House's version of the National Defense Authorization bill, which the chamber is expected to vote on Friday.

Ten Republicans joined Speier and 241 other Democrats to support the amendment, which would allow those who meet gender-neutral military standards to serve, regardless of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity.

"Courageous transgender service members continue to fight for our country despite the president's hateful ban and deserve to know we stand with them," Speier said in arguing for the provision. "Our country has a shameful history of preventing people from serving based on bias, ignorance and malice."

Speaking against the amendment, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Missouri, said she objects to it because it seems to let anyone serve if they meet military standards without taking into account any medical conditions now considered incompatible with military service.

Noting that the Defense Department changed the rule to bar potential recruits or troops with gender dysphoria -- the diagnosis for those who suffer anxiety or mental health issues as a result of the gender they were born with -- Hartzler said the "military is under no obligation to accept individuals who do not meet the medical criteria for service."

"Military service is a privilege. It is not a right. It would be unwise for us to make exceptions to service for one specific entity who could not meet medical standards," she said.

A policy went into effect earlier this year that bars persons or troops with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria from serving. Under the policy, those diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who have initiated treatment or swapped genders are no longer able to join the U.S. military, in most cases.

The fate of the House defense policy remains to be seen, with some progressive Democrats voicing their objections to the bill and Republicans universally opposing it. But with the Democrats' large majority, it is expected to pass.

The Senate has approved its own version of the legislation, but it contains few of the personnel policy provisions contained in the House version, including the transgender service measure; an effort to end the penalty military survivors pay when receiving posthumous checks from the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments; and a provision that would allow the families of service members injured as a result of medical malpractice to sue the federal government.

“I decided to come to the U.S. to save my life,” says Luz, a transgender asylum seeker, in Sylvia Johnson’s short documentary Luz’s Story. In Honduras, Luz was shot multiple times by alleged gang members who targeted her for her trans identity. She barely emerged with her life. As soon as she was released from the hospital, she was transferred to a Honduran prison on charges of defending her identity. Upon her release 10 months later, after being abused in prison, several gang members again threatened her life.

Luz entered the United States via an official port of entry and asked for protection through political asylum. She was promptly imprisoned. “I had already been imprisoned [in Honduras] and didn’t want to experience another situation like what I had been through,” she says in the film.

Later, Luz would learn that her Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility, New Mexico’s Cibola County Correctional Center, had previously been a criminal correctional prison. In October 2016, it was shut down due to inhumane conditions that resulted in several inmate deaths. Shortly thereafter, ICE offered a contract of $30 million a year to the same facility. It reopened in January 2017. Since early 2018, Cibola has incarcerated more than 180 women in its “transgender pod”—the only known ICE-run detention facility for transgender-identifying women. According to Johnson, the incarcerated women, such as Luz, were seeking protection from violence and persecution they had suffered in their home country.

Luz says she spent three excruciating months in Cibola—two of which were in solitary confinement. “It was really, really horrible for me,” she says. “I went into a depression that made me want to hurt myself.”

Johnson, who works part-time at the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, told me that the women in the trans pod face extraordinary hardships and obstacles to winning their cases. “While in custody, they face a shocking lack of medical and mental-health services,” she said. “They are put in abusive solitary confinement, they experience high levels of sexual assault, and they face discrimination from the government and the corporation that detains them.” Johnson cited the deaths of Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez in 2018 and Johana Medina Leon this year as grave evidence of ICE’s inability to detain trans women safely.

Luz’s Story, a collaboration between Johnson and the photographer Eduardo Montes-Bradley, is just one horrific account of the trauma experienced by many trans asylum seekers.

“I was completely blown away by the resilience of Luz’s spirit and how vivacious she is despite what she has gone through,” Johnson said. “Luz has been through things that no human being should ever have to experience, and she is warm, kind, full of life, and unafraid to speak her truth.”

Transgender activist Sarah McBride is running for the Delaware Senate in 2020.

The 28-year-old Wilmington native announced Tuesday morning she will try to replace Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington North, who is retiring at the end of his term.

McBride rose to national prominence in 2016 when she became the first openly transgender person to speak at the Democratic National Convention.

Long involved in politics, she is the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ civil rights advocacy group in the U.S. She plans to stay in that position part-time during her campaign, but would leave to be a full-time legislator if she wins, she said.

McBride first made headlines in 2012, when she came out publicly as transgender at the end of her term as American University student body president.

A transgender person identifies as a different gender than the one they were identified as having at birth. For example, someone who was born female but identifies as a man would qualify as transgender man.

Transgender lawmakers have been elected to other state legislatures, including Virginia's, in recent years.

"I don't intend on serving as a transgender state senator," McBride said. "I intend on serving as a senator who happens to be transgender."

McBride has previously worked for former Gov. Jack Markell and the late Attorney General Beau Biden.

For many in Legislative Hall, McBride is a familiar face. She advocated for passage of the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act, which Markell signed into law in 2013.

She's recently rallied with the local branch of Moms Demand Action, a group pushing for stricter gun laws in Delaware in the wake of mass shootings across the country.

Her Senate bid will likely focus on issues such as health care, paid family leave and criminal justice reform.

"Policies that impact people the most are handled at the state level," McBride told The News Journal. "That's where I believe I can make the most difference.

McDowell is retiring after more than four decades of lawmaking.

North Carolina has seen widespread support for the progress of the LGBTQ community.

A poll from Public Policy Polling conducted in June, which was declared Pride Month by Governor Roy Cooper, shows that 67 percent of voters in North Carolina support legislation that protect the rights of LGBTQ people.

Director of Public Policy Polling Tom Jensen says it is one of the few issues that voters across the aisle tend to agree upon.

“We talk so much on so many issues about how polarized the state is and how Democrats and Republicans have completely opposite views about pretty much everything under the sun,” says Jensen. “We found on the issue of these laws protecting LGBT people against discrimination that Democrats by 65 points, Independents by 57 points and Republicans by 18 points all support those kinds of laws.”

Still, a disconnect between what voters want and what party leadership actually does has kept a lot of this legislation from being passed.

Jensen says this can be seen particularly among Republicans, and it may not change until their constituents start to vote differently.

“I think the point at which you would actually see Republican politicians really change their behavior on that kind of stuff is if they start losing primaries because of it,” says Jensen.

The poll can be found in full at publicpolicypolling.com

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