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Migrants, many from Haiti, line up to receive food at an improvised refugee camp at a sport park in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021,

AC Pride group's new initiatives aim to celebrate Atlantic City's gay history

A new nonprofit, AC Pride, is working to commemorate the LGBTQ community’s history and impact in the area, as well as revive the community’s presence.

“It was a big deal back in its heyday, which was really the 1970s. Everybody from Philadelphia, New York and DC all came to New York Avenue,” said Laurie Greene, associate professor of anthropology at Stockton University, AC Pride board member and author of a book about the Miss’d America drag pageant. “It had 15 to 20 gay clubs, boarding houses, restaurants, a pool, Grand Central Resort and it all catered to gay clientele, but others as well.”

Greene said New York Avenue, as far back as the 1930s, has been the city’s “gayborhood — a place where people gathered.”

At a recent meeting of the Atlantic City Planning & Development Committee, AC Pride proposed a plaque to commemorate the LGBTQ community’s contributions to New York Avenue. If approved, the sign will read, “New York Avenue: Where The Party Began.”

Councilman Kaleem Shabazz expressed his support for the plaque and other initiatives. Paperwork is being prepared to make it official.

“Most people don’t know the history of the street,” Greene said.

In the 1920s, Louise Mack, known as the “mother” of the scene, owned and operated The Entertainers Club, which catered to gay men and was set along Westminster Avenue, better known as Snake Alley. More businesses catering to gay clientele opened up in the years to come.

John Schultz, a prominent figure in the local gay community and a former city councilman, at one point owned nine bars and clubs in the resort that mainly catered to the LGBTQ community.

The advent of casinos and other factors led to a period of decline of the “gayborhood.” New York Avenue and the surrounding area was dubbed an economic “dead zone.”

But four years ago, a yoga shop called the Leadership Studio opened on Tennessee Avenue and served as a catalyst for businesses such as the Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall and Rhythm and Spirits to open on the street.

Hayday Coffee, Bourré and Anchor Rock Club now occupy space on New York Avenue, where gay bars and clubs such as Chez Paree, Rendezvous and Saratoga used to stand.

Evan Sanchez, owner of Hayday Coffee, is one of the people who spearheaded the revitalization of the Orange Loop, named for its location along the streets that occupy the orange spaces on a traditional Monopoly board. A commercial real estate and housing developer, Sanchez bought a number of his properties in the area from Schultz.

As a native of Atlantic City, Sanchez has family members who bore witness to the former thriving LGBTQ hub around New York Avenue and Snake Alley, and he hopes to see some of that come back.

“Before casinos, around the New York Avenue area was a major gay community,” said Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News and longtime summer resident of Atlantic City. According to Segal, in the 1970s, Atlantic City was such a huge market that his publication distributed an Atlantic City supplement paper.

Segal has seen how the impact of development in an LGBTQ neighborhood can reverse years of decline. He’s seen it in his own community in his native Philadelphia.

“Up until about six years ago, the gayborhood had a lot of empty, vacant buildings. It was on the decline,” he said. “An LGBT building raised the prices of land in the area. There are very few pieces of land left in that neighborhood, so that sparked new interest in the area.”

AC Pride hopes to help the city capitalize on its past as a thriving gay scene and, like in Philadelphia, spur development and growth.

“What’s really happening now is the land prices are reasonable,” Schultz said. “When the casinos were building, the land was really expensive, but now everything’s kind of stabilized. This valuable land between Pacific Avenue and the beach has become practical to buy.”

AC Pride’s ally program will allow businesses to pay a fee and join as members. Using this information, the organization hopes to create a directory of LGBTQ-friendly businesses in the city that will be linked to the city’s official webpage.

In addition to installing a plaque, the nonprofit is looking to paint the rainbow flag colors on the arch that serves as the entrance to the Park Place beach on the Boardwalk.

Khoa Boi, a community health educator at the Oasis Drop-in Center and board member of AC Pride, was born decades after the gayborhood’s heyday. But colleagues and community members have recounted their experiences to him.

“When I look through pictures of my neighbors and coworkers, they show me really lovely photos of a harmonized community,” Boi said.

Despite the generational gap, the plaque still holds meaning to him.

“It’s a way for us not to erase our existence. We were here, on this avenue, this is what we were known for. We are going to continue being visible and possibly at that location again,” he said.

Greene, who wrote the book “Drag Queens and Beauty Queens: Contesting Femininity in the World’s Playground,” which focuses on the city’s Miss’d America drag pageant, knows the importance of preserving and telling a community’s story.

Another focus of AC Pride will be to establish a gay elders project, “collecting video diaries and narratives from older people in the gay community to talk about their experiences,” she said.

“Part of the reason that’s so important as restorative history is one, because marginalized communities don’t often get to tell their history, but also because AIDS wiped out a good part of the generations here in the city and there’s a sort of hole in younger gay people’s knowledge about their community and the contributions it’s made,” Greene said.

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Local schools crack down on destructive TikTok trend

The “devious lick” trend encourages kids to steal items from schools and destroy property while filming themselves committing the crimes.

While some have stolen things such as bottles of hand sanitizer or wall clocks, the pranks have recently escalated with kids removing toilets, urinals and sinks from bathrooms, forcing schools to shell out thousands of dollars for repairs.

The videos are then posted for others to share and gain ideas from.

The trend reportedly started when a user posted a video of disposable masks being stolen.

Egg Harbor Township High School Principal Patricia Conner said the bathrooms were vandalized last week.

“On Wednesday we had some destruction of toilets, sinks, towel dispensers, hand sanitizing and soap dispensers,” Conner said in a note home to parents. “We had to lock a bathroom so that we could assess and report a need for repairs,” Conner said. “(On) Friday, students went into half of our bathrooms (both male and female) and vandalized them as well.”

Due to the vandalism, several of the school’s 18 bathrooms are closed for repairs.

“This (the repairs) will take time and money as materials need to be ordered and shipped,” Conner said. “There will be several bathrooms open that all students will have to go to where we will have teachers there to monitor activity. As we fix the bathrooms, they will reopen again, but for now some will remain closed for some time for repair work.”

Conner is asking parents to discuss the potential consequences of the challenge with their children.

“If they share anything with you that can help find out who came to school to disrespect and destroy, please ask them to share confidentially with their assistant principal,” Conner said. “I will assure you that we will continue to investigate this matter and get to the bottom of this terrible challenge.”

While social media spawned the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for Lou Gehrig’s disease research, it also led to a rash of poisonings several years ago when teenagers swallowed pods of laundry detergent for the “Tide Pods challenge.” The latest trend follows closely after a viral challenge to walk on stacks of milk crates.

A spokesperson said TikTok was removing “devious licks” content and redirecting hashtags and search results to its guidelines to discourage the behavior, adding it doesn’t allow content that “promotes or enables criminal activities.”

Administration at the Egg Harbor City Community School also sent a letter to parents informing them of the trend.

“Please let them know the seriousness of these actions and stay away from these ridiculous challenges,” Principal Jack Griffith said. “I encourage you to talk to them about respect, school pride and the severe consequences like suspension, police involvement and restitution.”

Griffith said he’s challenged students to start their own trend of filming random acts of kindness or treating the custodial staff respectfully and helping keep the school clean.

At Mainland Regional High School in Linwood, school officials reported that since the beginning of the school year, students have removed multiple soap dispensers from the boys bathrooms and tried to remove a sink.

“Furthermore, we have had items shoved into toilets causing damage in the boys lavatories, that also require repair,” officials said in a statement Tuesday. “In addition, the visitor bleachers in the football stadium were vandalized at Friday night’s game.”

Schools nationwide are experiencing trouble with the trend.

At Lawrence High School in Kansas, several bathrooms were forced to close after students ripped soap dispensers off the walls. Students then tried to steal the “closed” signs, forcing staff to guard the bathrooms.

“Some of them were to the point where they were borderline unusable,” said Lawrence High School Student Cuyler Dunn, 17. “Locks on stalls had been taken off.”

In southern Alabama, Robertsdale High School’s principal said a student there is facing criminal charges after he was caught on surveillance cameras swiping a fire extinguisher. He also was suspended from school.

Police in Bartow, Florida, said they arrested a 15-year-old student who vandalized a new building’s bathroom by tearing off soap dispensers and leaving one in a sink.

“He said he did it because of this TikTok challenge and he wanted to be cool,” police Chief Bryan Dorman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Ocean City field hockey team plays Mainland Regional High School, in Linwood, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 (VERNON OGRODNEK, FOR THE PRESS)

Biden boosts COVID vaccine donations

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that the United States is doubling its purchase of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots to share with the world to 1 billion doses as he embraces the goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population within the next year.

The stepped-up U.S. commitment marks the cornerstone of the global vaccination summit Biden convened virtually on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, where he encouraged well-off nations to do more to get the coronavirus under control. It comes as world leaders, aid groups and global health organizations have grown increasingly vocal about the slow pace of global vaccinations and the inequity of access to shots between residents of wealthier and poorer nations.

“Global health security until now has failed, to the tune of 4.5 million lives, and counting,” UN Secretary General António Guterres told the summit, referring to the confirmed global death toll from the coronavirus. “We have effective vaccines against COVID-19. We can end the pandemic. And that is why I have been appealing for a global vaccination plan and I hope this summit is a step in that direction.”

The U.S. purchase of another 500 million shots brings the total U.S. vaccination commitment to more than 1.1 billion doses through 2022. About 160 million shots supplied by the U.S. have already been distributed to more than 100 countries, representing more donations than the rest of the world combined. The remaining American doses will be distributed over the coming year.

“To beat the pandemic here, we need to beat it everywhere,” Biden said. He added that with the new commitments, “For every one shot we’ve administered to date in America, we have now committed to do three shots to the rest of the world.”

The latest purchase reflects only a fraction of what will be necessary to meet a goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population — and 70% of the citizens of each nation — by next September’s U.N. meeting. It’s a target pushed by global aid groups that Biden threw his weight behind.

Biden is pressing other countries to do more in their vaccine sharing plans.

“We need other high-income countries to deliver on their own ambitious vaccine donations and pledges,” Biden said. He called on wealthy countries to commit to donating, rather than selling the shots to poorer nations, and to provide them “with no political strings attached.”

The European Union committed to donating 500 million doses — a slight increase from its earlier announced plans — according to a joint statement between the bloc and the U.S. “We call for nations that are able to vaccinate their populations to double their dose-sharing commitments or to make meaningful contributions to vaccine readiness,” the statement said.

They also committed to working with the U.S. to bolster global vaccine supply.

Biden, in his remarks, said the U.S. would also increase its funding to global aid groups that are administering shots.

The American response has come under criticism for being too modest, particularly as the administration advocates for providing booster shots to tens of millions of Americans before vulnerable people in poorer nations have received even a first dose.

“We have observed failures of multilateralism to respond in an equitable, coordinated way to the most acute moments. The existing gaps between nations with regard to the vaccination process are unheard of,” Colombian President Iván Duque said Tuesday at the United Nations.

More than 5.9 billion COVID-19 doses have been administered globally over the past year, representing about 43% of the global population. But there are vast disparities in distribution, with many lower-income nations struggling to vaccinate even the most vulnerable share of their populations, and some yet to exceed 2% to 3% vaccination rates.

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera said the “triumph” of speedy vaccine development was offset by political “failure” that produced inequitable distribution. “In science, cooperation prevailed; in politics, individualism. In science, shared information reigned; in politics, reserve. In science, teamwork predominated; in politics, isolated effort,” Piñera said.

The World Health Organization says only 15% of promised donations of vaccines — from rich countries that have access to large quantities of them — have been delivered. The U.N. health agency has said it wants countries to fulfill their dose-sharing pledges “immediately” and make shots available for programs that benefit poor countries and Africa in particular.

COVAX, the U.N.-backed program to ship vaccines to all countries has struggled with production issues, supply shortages and a near-cornering of the market for vaccines by wealthy nations.

Also on Wednesday, the General Assembly pledged to redouble its efforts to combat racism around the world, commemorating a landmark but contentious 2001 anti-racism conference by holding an anniversary meeting once again riven with divisions.

Looking back on the two decades since the conference in Durban, South Africa, the assembly adopted a resolution that acknowledged some progress but deplored what it called a rise in discrimination, violence and intolerance directed at people of African heritage and many other groups — from the Roma to refugees, the young to the old, people with disabilities to people who have been displaced.

At a meeting focused on reparations and racial justice for people with African heritage, the assembly pointed to the effects of slavery, colonialism and genocide and called for ensuring that people of African descent can seek “adequate reparation or satisfaction” through national institutions.

“Millions of the descendants of Africans who were sold into slavery remain trapped in lives of underdevelopment, disadvantage, discrimination and poverty,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told the gathering via video.

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Egg Harbor City man charged in 1996 sex assault faces new charges in 2003 Galloway case

The Egg Harbor City man who was charged last week in a 1996 sex assault on a 10-year-old girl in Brigantine is facing additional charges from Galloway Township police in a 2003 assault case, acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Cary Shill said Wednesday.

Brian Lee Avis, 59, is charged with sexual assault of a juvenile, endangering the welfare of a child and burglary in an incident involving a 5-year-old girl in Galloway.

On Friday, Avis was charged by Brigantine police and State Police with aggravated sexual assault of a child under 13, sexual assault of a child under 13, burglary and endangering the welfare of a child in the 1996 incident.

Avis is currently being held at the Atlantic County jail. A detention hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, but the new charges led to separate hearings for each case to be scheduled for Monday.

The latest charges are a result of Galloway Detective Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Goehringer receiving correspondence Monday from the State Police Automated Fingerprint Identification System Lab regarding a delayed fingerprint hit, Shill said in a news release. The evidence linked Avis to a sexual assault and burglary that occurred July 18, 2003.

Avis’ fingerprints were taken by Brigantine police when he was arrested Sept. 13 in the 1996 assault.

In the 2003 case, Galloway police were dispatched to the 400 block of Willow Avenue at 11:43 p.m. for a report for a burglary. Upon arrival, the mother of the girl said she saw a man hastily exiting the home. The mother told police when she encountered her daughter, the child’s pajama bottoms were pulled down, police said.

On July 19, 1996, Brigantine police responded to a report of a sexual assault at a home on East Evans Boulevard. Avis allegedly broke into the residence in the middle of the night and sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl while she was sleeping. When the victim woke, the suspect fled, police said.

Both victims are now adults.

In January of this year, the State Police Cold Case Unit and Brigantine police reopened the assault case of the 10-year-old, working with the State Police Office of Forensic Sciences and a private company specializing in investigative genetic genealogy, the release states. The evidence was resubmitted to the forensics unit, and a more robust DNA sample for the suspect was obtained.

The DNA was then submitted to a private lab July 26, where it conducted a microarray single nucleotide polymorphisms test in an attempt to identify genetic relatives of the suspect based on the DNA sample from the scene. Through various investigative means, police said, detectives were able to identify Avis as the suspect.