Crime Museum Offers Visitors Rare Look Inside Surveillance Van, Joins Other Overlooked Gems at Alcatraz East

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People looking at exhibit

There’s a new artifact on display at Alcatraz East, but since its focus is on undercover work it might be hard to spot. The crime museum in Pigeon Forge is giving visitors a look inside the workings of law enforcement surveillance, with a van formerly used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a Georgia police department.

Beginning July 17, 2018, visitors can see how for agents on a stakeout, spending time in the cramped quarters of a van is not nearly as glamorous as made out to be on television.

“It’s not often that something like this comes along, that was actually used by federal and local law enforcement on criminal cases,” says Rachael Penman, director of artifacts and exhibits. “And it has not been stripped of its equipment, giving visitors a real insider look at how it all works.”

Surprising to most people is the close quarters for the agents to work. In fact, the van doesn’t even allow the undercover officers enough room to stand up straight. It also offers little privacy using the toilet inside. Officers could monitor suspects from four different camera angles, and would often spend hours in the tight space during a stakeout.

According to Lilburn, Georgia Police Chief Bruce Hedley, the van was used for several years in active criminal investigations, including drug crimes and burglary stake outs, such as in a neighborhood where there was a rash of car break-ins. From the Getaway Cars Gallery in the museum, guests will be able to see the camera perspective of a detective on a stakeout inside the van, viewing in real time as visitors come and go from the museum.

“I am very proud that the public can look at a very important piece of law enforcement equipment that we used to keep our community safe,” says Chief Hedley.

The surveillance van is not the only artifact in the museum that hides interesting details unseen from the public. The car belonging to the bank robber John Dillinger was involved in a shootout, and although the car was restored by a later owner, they kept one of the bullets visible, but only from inside of the car.

In the over twenty galleries in Alcatraz East, it can be easy to miss some of the most fascinating details of the hundreds of artifacts on view. For instance, the initial “ZT” carved in the brass railgun in the Pirates Gallery or the handwritten notes on the side of the Unabomber’s scale about its calibration. In the Mob Gallery hidden behind Mickey Cohen’s custom suit is his shirt, embroidered with his name. On the end of the sniper rifle used by the University of Texas Sniper are small numbers on a piece of tape, settings for the scope. There are other examples of objects that were designed to be hidden, like the dye pack inside a stack of $20 bills to ward against bank robberies.

Also going on display this week are the winners of Alcatraz East’s Graffiti Art Contest on June 2nd. First, second, and third place winners can now be seen on display, that is, if you’re paying attention. “The exhibit is a bit off the normal museum tour,” says Penman, “a reflection of where you often are when you see graffiti in real life, in alleys, abandon lots, by train tracks and other neglected spaces. We thought it was fitting to maximize our limited space and beautify our own “alleys.”

The museum is always adding to their collection and has a star-studded panel of experts who make up the Advisory Board, including those in law enforcement, collectors, a medical examiner, crime scene investigators, and others. The board includes Jim Willett, a retired prison warden, Anthony Rivera, a combat veteran and Navy SEAL chief, and Judge Belvin Perry, Jr., who is best known for the Casey Anthony trial. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit: alcatrazeast.com.

About Alcatraz East
Alcatraz East is the most arresting crime museum in the United States. Guests of all ages can encounter a unique journey into the history of American crime, crime solving, and our justice system. Through interactive exhibits and original artifacts, Alcatraz East is an entertaining and educational experience for all ages – so much fun it’s a crime! This family attraction is located at the entrance of The Island, located at 2757 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN. General admission tickets are $14.95 for children, $24.95 for adults. Group ticket sales are available. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., with the last ticket sold 60 minutes before closing. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit: alcatrazeast.com.

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Sharon Caples McDougle is somewhat of a “hidden figure”

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Sharon McDougle with Mae Jamison

Everyone knows that Dr. Mae Jemison was the first African American woman to travel into space – but many don’t know that an African American woman “suited her up”. McDougle was Jemison’s suit tech for the historic mission STS-47 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor September 12, 1992.

McDougle worked closely with her during her training leading up to launch, as well as actual launch day and landing of the space shuttle – taking care of all of her assigned crew escape equipment – her suit, helmet, writing utensils, even her diaper.

McDougle joined the NASA family through Boeing Aerospace Operations in 1990 where she worked as a Flight Equipment Processing Contract team member in the Space Shuttle Crew Escape Equipment (CEE) department. She began her career as a CEE Suit Technician and was responsible for processing the orange launch and entry suit (LES) assemblies worn by all NASA space shuttle astronauts. She was assigned to her first mission STS-37 within a year. McDougle was one of only two women CEE Suit Technicians and the only African American technician when she began her career.

In 1994 McDougle was promoted to the position of Crew Chief making her the first female and first African American Crew Chief in CEE. In her new position she was responsible for leading a team of technicians to suit up astronaut crews. She was responsible for leading her team and ensuring the astronaut crews were provided with outstanding support during suited astronaut training, launch, and landing events. In 1998, United Space Alliance (USA) absorbed the Boeing Aerospace Operations contract and McDougle continued in her position as a CEE Crew Chief employed by USA. She traveled to Kennedy Space Center quite often where she worked in support of many space shuttle launches. As Crew Chief McDougle had the honor of leading the first and only all-female suit tech crew supporting space shuttle mission STS-78.

In 2004 McDougle became the first female and first African American promoted to the position of Manager of the CEE Processing department. In this position, she managed the team of 25+ employees responsible for processing the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES) and related equipment worn by the astronaut crews aboard the space shuttle. Her team assisted the astronaut Sharon McDougle and Lt. Uhuracrews in donning/doffing the suit, testing the equipment, strapping the astronauts into the space shuttle before launch, and recovering the crew upon landing. She held this position until the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011. Sharon continued working until 2012 to help close-out the program, ending an illustrious 22 year career with the space shuttle program.

Other notable African-American astronauts McDougle has suited up: Charles Bolden, Frederick Gregory, and Dr. Bernard Harris.

During her career she was recognized with the Astronaut “Silver Snoopy” Award, Space Flight Awareness Honoree Award, USA Employee of the Month Teamwork Award, USA Employee of the Month Community Service Award, and the coveted Women of Color in Flight Award from Dr. Mae Jemison recognizing her career as the first and only African American woman suit tech/crew chief in her field. She absolutely loved her job and is proud to have been a part of our nation’s historic Space Shuttle Program.

McDougle was recognized by her home state as a 2018 Mississippi Trailblazer at the 16th Annual Mississippi Trailblazers Awards Ceremony and Black Tie Gala where she received two awards: the Calvin “Buck” Buchanan “FIRST” Award named for Mississippi’s first United States Attorney for the Northern District – honoring a Mississippian who holds the distinction of being the “first” in their profession and the Dr. Cindy Ayers “Legacy” Award honoring a Trailblazer whose singular work and contributions will leave a legacy long after their life has ended.

Most recently, McDougle received the Lifetime Achievement award from the Moss Point Visionary Circle during their 6th Annual Living Legends Ball for her military service and NASA career.

McDougle is also a United States Air Force (USAF) veteran, which is where she began her aerospace career in 1982 after graduating from high school. She served proudly in the Strategic Air Command (SAC) as an Aerospace Physiology Specialist at Beale Air Force Base, CA (1982-1990), reaching the rank of Sergeant (E-4).

During her enlistment she was a member of the Physiological Support Division (PSD). McDougle was responsible for training the SR-71 and U-2/TR-1 (“spy planes”) reconnaissance aircraft pilots on high altitude operations. She performed hazardous duty as an inside observer chamber technician and as a chamber operations team member during hypobaric (altitude) and hyperbaric (dive) chamber operations. During the hypobaric chamber flights crewmembers learned firsthand how hypoxia affects their judgment while flying an aircraft. The crewmembers were taught and practiced how they would handle these types of situations and the importance of wearing all equipment correctly.

McDougle also inspected and maintained flight equipment used for the SR-71 and U-2/TR-1 missions. The equipment included full pressure suit ensembles (helmet, gloves, boots, etc.), harness assemblies, and survival equipment (seat kits and parachutes, and emergency oxygen systems). She sized and fitted crewmembers’ pressure suits, assisted crewmembers in donning and doffing their suits, and performed functional tests before takeoff. She also loaded the survival seat kits and parachutes into the aircraft, strapped-in the crewmembers before take-off, and recovered the crew upon landing.

• 1982 – Graduated from Moss Point High School (Moss Point, MS)
• 1982-1990 – served in the United States Air Force as an Aerospace Physiology Specialist
• 1990 – Joined Boeing Aerospace Operations/Space Shuttle Crew Escape Equipment (CEE), becoming the first African American CEE Suit Technician
• 1992 – Suited up Dr. Mae Jemison, the first woman of color to travel into space (STS-47)
• 1994 – Promoted to Crew Chief, becoming first African American (male or female) CEE Crew Chief
• 1996 – Led the first and only all-female suit tech crew (STS-78)
• 2004 – First and only African American (male or female) promoted to the position of Manager of the CEE department

McDougle spent much of her enlistment on temporary assignment traveling abroad to Greece, Korea, Japan, and England, as well as stateside locations, in support of the SR-71 and U-2/TR-1 reconnaissance aircraft missions. She separated from the Air Force in 1990 with an honorable discharge. During her enlistment she was awarded the Humanitarian Service Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (2 devices), Good Conduct Medal (1 oak leaf cluster), Training Ribbon, NCO Professional Military Education Ribbon, Longevity Service Award, and was also recognized as Airman of the Month.

Remembering Robert Lawrence, The First African-American Astronaut

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On June 30, 1967, the U.S. Air Force selected the first African-American astronaut, Major Robert Lawrence, to train for a highly secretive mission to spy on the Soviet Union from space.

Lawrence, an accomplished jet pilot with a doctorate in physical chemistry, was selected for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program the day after he graduate from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot school in 1967. Publicly, the goal of the joint Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office project was to study whether crewed spaceflight could be useful for the military. Behind the scenes, however, MOL’s real goal was to keep an eye on the Soviet Union from low polar orbit.

From a series of small orbiting stations, two-man crews – composed entirely of Air Force officers – would spent 30 days at a time photographing Soviet operations around the world. Polar orbits are perfect for reconnaissance, because they can take advantage of the fact that the Earth rotates beneath the orbital path, giving a satellite the chance to view the entire planet at least once a day. A series of satellites, like those planned for MOL, would have even better coverage. The crews would launch and return to Earth in a modified version of the Gemini capsule that carried pairs of NASA astronauts into orbit in 1965 and 1966.

MOL astronauts trained to operate their orbital stations and take reconnaissance photographs, to work in pressure suits in case of an emergency in space, and to survive launch and re-entry in the cramped capsules. They practiced desert, jungle, and Arctic survival, but water survival was the most vital component of training. At the end of a mission, the capsule would splash down in the ocean, and the crew would have to survive at sea while they awaited pickup – which could take several days, according to astronaut Donald H. Peterson, who was part of the MOL program before transferring to NASA as a Space Shuttle astronaut.

The partially classified nature of the program meant that the Air Force announced its astronaut selections publicly, but the officers often travelled incognito for training. That presented some challenges when Lawrence’s status as the first African-American astronaut caught the attention of the public and the media.

“The rest of us were unknown, and we could travel on false I.D., and nobody knew – had any idea who I was. But they worried because the press learned to recognize [Lawrence]. In other words, they knew him on sight,” Peterson recalled in a 2002 NASA oral history interview. “And it becomes much harder to run a secret program when one of your guys is, a high interest to the media, and he really was for a while. He kind of shunned that, obviously to try to shut some of that down. We always worried that we’d show up at some place and somebody would recognize him and make a big to-do about it.” The Air Force and the NRO fully declassified the MOL program in 2015, releasing a massive archive of documents, video, and photos.

Lawrence was the perfect astronaut candidate. He’d been a cadet officer in the Air Force ROTC program during his undergraduate years at Bradley University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. At Ohio State University, he completed a doctorate in physical chemistry with a dissertation entitled The Mechanism of the Tritium Beta Ray Induced Exchange Reaction of Deuterium with Methane and Ethane in the Gas Phase. That made him the only MOL astronaut with a PhD.

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

WonderWorks Syracuse Holds WonderKids Event and School Visits with Astronaut

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SYRACUSE, New York – On June 16, 2018, WonderWorks Syracuse held an out-of-this-world WonderKids event, featuring a special guest and awarding students who had been nominated from area schools for their achievements. The event gave nominees who were picked for the WonderKids award and the public the chance to meet and greet with Dr. Donald Thomas, an astronaut who shared his experiences with the group of having completed four missions to space.

“This was a great event. Everyone who attended had a wonderful time, it was very exciting to meet Dr. Thomas and learn about  his missions to space,” says Nicole Montgomery, director of operations at WonderWorks Destiny. “We also get to recognize students in our area. We are very proud of their accomplishments and happy to honor them.”

Wonder Kids is an event that allows educators to recognize their students’ achievements throughout the year. Teachers were asked to nominate students who show extraordinary characteristics in and outside of the classroom.  All attendees receive prizes and free admissions to WonderWorks the day of the event, and are two grand prize winners selected for each category; the following were the winners of each category:

Academic Excellence:

Grade range 1st – 5th grades – Grace Mclean

Grade range 6th – 12th  – grades – Grace O’Neil

Service to Community:

Grade range 1st – 5th grades – Caitlyn Cook

Grade range 6th – 12th grades – Jose Mateo

Future Scientist:

Grade range 1st – 5th grades – Jacquelyn Gangemi

Grade range 6th – 12th grades – Tristan Ellerbruch

The WonderKids Program is held each year, honoring kids from the WonderWorks Destinycommunity who have been nominated by their teacher for various areas of  student achievement. There are three areas where kids will be honored, including academic excellence, service to community, and future scientist. All students receive a certificate for their achievements and bags of goodies from businesses that partner with WonderWorks. All nominees alsoget  free entrance into the WonderWorks the day of the event. Grand prize winners received large prize packages including items such WonderWorks annual passes, Destiny Day Passes, Comic-Con passes, Bears from Build-a-Bear, Dave & Busters prize packs, and more.

Dr. Thomas, who was the guest speaker at the event, also spent time visiting local schools on Thursday and Friday, June 14-15, 2018. He visited Huntington, Syracuse Academy of Sciences, Bellevue Elementary, Roberts, Delaware, and Syracuse Latin. His mission is to share his out-of-this-world experiences and inspire kids to learn more about STEM-related topics (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Selected by NASA in January 1990, he became an astronaut in July 1991. During his career there he spent time in the Safety, Operations, and Payloads Branches of the Astronaut Offices. He was also a spacecraft communicator for several shuttle missions, spent time in various other key roles, and went on four space flights.

“Lots of people got to meet Dr. Thomas and get their picture taken with him,” added Montgomery. “We are already looking forward to our  next WonderKids event.”

WonderWorks offers a variety of fun family friendly interactive activities to engage in, including a laser tag arena, 4D XD Motion Theater, Canyon Climb Adventure, and WonderZones – offering a variety of areas to explore, such as natural disasters, physical challenges, light and sound zones, imagination lab, and space discovery. They also offer a Sky Tykes ropes course. WonderWorks’ trademark is “I think, therefore I STEM.” They are focused on providing visitors with a variety of hands-on STEM-related activities.

WonderWorks DestinyAbout WonderWorks WonderWorks, a science-focused indoor amusement park located in Destiny USA, combines education and entertainment with over 100 hands-on exhibits. There is something unique and challenging for all ages. Adventures include: The Hurricane Shack, feel the power of 71 mph hurricane–force winds, The Bubble Lab, make huge, life–sized bubbles, The Astronaut Training Gyro, get the NASA treatment and experience zero gravity, Nail it by lying on the death–defying Bed of Nails. WonderWorks is also home to two indoor ropes courses, Canyon Climb, which is the world’s largest suspended indoor ropes course, and Sky Tykes, which is a confidence booster climb for small children. WonderWorks also hosts birthday parties and special events seasonally. Opens daily at 10 a.m. wonderworksdestiny.com.

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NGLCC Renamed “National LGBT Chamber of Commerce”, Reaffirms Mission as Business Voice of the LGBT Community

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The business voice of the LGBT community, formerly known as the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, has announced that the organization will formally shorten its name to its acronym “NGLCC” and be known as the, “National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.”This change, which is accompanied by an organizational visual rebranding, moves to better include the bisexual and transgender members of the LGBT business community for which NGLCC has fiercely advocated over the past 15 years.

As NGLCC marked its fifteenth anniversary at its 2017 National Dinner awards gala on Friday, November 17, NGLCC co-founders Justin Nelson and Chance Mitchell were joined on stage by transgender business leaders as they reiterated the organization’s pledge to advancing economic opportunities for all members of the LGBT community.

“The LGBT business community is stronger than ever and our organization must continue to evolve to be the best champion we can be for our businesses. That starts with ensuring every element of our brand demonstrates our commitment to all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender entrepreneurs, as our new moniker of ‘NGLCC: The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce’ shows,” said NGLCC Co-Founder & President Justin Nelson. “As we continue to assert our community’s presence and importance in the American and global economies, it is essential that NGLCC lead boldly with a vision for the future of LGBT business that is not only inclusive of all members the LGBT community but also celebrates diversity in all of its forms.”

Under its new name, NGLCC will continue to advance the interests of LGBT business owners, which now number at an estimated 1.4 million in the United States and boast a combined estimated economic impact of over $1.7 trillion, per NGLCC’s groundbreaking America’s LGBT Economy report.  Additionally, the NGLCC Global program will continue expanding the important connection between LGBTI human rights and economic opportunity around the world.

“In the fifteen years NGLCC has been increasing opportunities by certifying and networking LGBT business owners we have witnessed countless shifts toward greater inclusion and recognition of the diversity that makes our community so dynamic and vital.  While our name may change, our mission remains constant: ensuring economic opportunity and prosperity for the LGBT business community in the United States, and around the world,” said NGLCC Co-Founder & CEO Chance Mitchell.

NGLCC expects to see support for the LGBT business community continue to grow, particularly with the recent inclusion of LGBT-owned businesses as an application criterion for the Billion Dollar Roundtable and to a company’s survey on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. NGLCC recently certified its 1000th LGBTBE and plans to double that number by 2020.

Read more here

CMD-IT Announces 2017 Richard A. Tapia Award Winner Manuel Perez Quinones

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Today, CMD-IT announced the recipient of the 2017 Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award for Scientific Scholarship, Civic Science and Diversifying Computing is Manuel Perez Quinones, Associate Dean, College of Computing and Informatics and Professor, Department of Software and Information Systems, University of North Carolina, Charlotte. The Richard A. Tapia Award is awarded annually to an individual who demonstrates significant leadership, commitment and contributions to diversifying computing.

“Manuel Perez Quinones has a long history of leadership with diversity and inclusion in computer science” said Valerie Taylor, CMD-IT Executive Director. “In addition to his excellent work in human-computer interaction, Manuel has created and led impactful programs for African-Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ, Native Americans, and women students in his role as an academic leader.  Most recently he created a Corporate Mentoring Program at UNC Charlotte for women freshmen students, matching them with female corporate representatives. He continues to co-manage the Hispanics in Computing listserv that he founded, which has over 400 members. Manuel’s work on increasing diversity in computer science has a profound impact on thousands of students, academics and industry professionals.”

The Richard A. Tapia award will be presented at the 2017 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference. Themed “Diversity: Simply Smarter,” the Tapia Conference will be held September 20-23 in Atlanta Georgia.  The Tapia Conference is the premier venue to bring together students, faculty, researchers and professionals from all backgrounds and ethnicities in computing to promote and celebrate diversity in computing. The Tapia Conference is sponsored by the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) and presented by the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in IT (CMD-IT).

The Tapia conference sponsors include Platinum Sponsors Cornell Computing and Information Science, Cornell Tech, Georgia Tech, Microsoft, Mozilla, Stanford Engineering, and UC Berkeley. Platinum Government Supporters include the National Science Foundation, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory.  Gold Sponsors include Anita Borg Institute, GE Digital, GE Healthcare, IBM, Kennesaw State University, Lyft, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Northrup Grumman, Square, USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and Virginia Tech.

For more information and to register for the Tapia Conference, visit www.tapiaconference.org.

About CMD-IT

The vision of CMD-IT is to contribute to the national need for an effective workforce in computing and IT through inclusive programs and initiatives focused on minorities and people with disabilities. CMD-IT’s vision is accomplished through its mission to insure that underrepresented groups are fully engaged in computing and IT, and promotes innovation that enriches, enhances and enables underrepresented communities. For more information, please visit www.cmd-it.org.

Meet Your Lucky Stars: NASA Announces A New Class Of Astronaut Candidates

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Just as class lets out for the summer across the country, a new one has just been announced.

NASA has chosen 12 people from a pool of more than 18,300 applicants for two years of training before giving them the title of “astronaut.”

The space agency received a record number of applicants after announcing an open application in December 2015.

Jasmin Moghbeli, one of the dozen candidates, spoke with NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro from Houston’s Johnson Space Center, where she’ll undertake the training program starting in August.

Moghbeli, who says she’s wanted to be an astronaut since the sixth grade, talked about what kind of candidate it takes to earn the coveted spot.

“Start looking into science, technology, engineering, math, those kinds of fields,” the German-born, New York native says. But whatever you do, she says, love it.

“There were many other applicants that applied who were extremely qualified for this position that aren’t lucky enough to be sitting up here like I am,” she adds. “So make sure you’re doing what you love. If I did not get the call saying, ‘Hey can you join us here at NASA?’ I still would’ve been extremely happy in the career that I was in.”

The seven men and five women of the class bring an impressive resume to NASA: The astronaut candidates are an athletic crew and include former SpaceX employees, a marine biologist and half of them are military officers.

“You are the 12 who made it through, you have joined the elites, you are the best of us,” Vice President Mike Pence said at a ceremony introducing the candidates Wednesday. “These are 12 men and women whose personal excellence and whose personal courage will carry our nation to even greater heights of discovery.”

Continue onto NPR to read full biographies and catch up on interview highlights.

The LGBT Asylum Project

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The LGBT Asylum Project is non-profit organization exclusively dedicated to providing pro-bono legal representation for LGBT immigrants who are fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in the United States.

Immigration attorneys Okan Sengun and Brooke Westling founded the San Francisco based organization, which had its official public launch in June 2016.

The Board of Directors includes experts in immigration, law, business, finance, LGBT advocacy, and most recently, LGBT immigrants who have successfully completed the asylum process.

The organization was recently honored by BALIF (Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom) with the 2017 Legal Service Award. www.balif.org

Upcoming events include:

2nd Annual Friendraiser – Sunday, April 30 from 4:00-7:00 pm at Qbar, 456 Castro St., San Francisco. Celebrate our first year of success, learn more about what’s to come, and get to know our international LGBT community.

www.facebook.com/events/1174233019354821/

The LGBT Asylum Project will be a beneficiary of San Francisco’s premier Pride event, The Juanita MORE! Pride Party – Sunday, June 25 from noon to 10:00 pm at 620 Jones St., San Francisco. Purchase tickets or become a sponsor at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/juanita-more-pride-party-2017-tickets-31689106972?aff=es2

For more information about The LGBT Asylum Project, go to:

www.cipsf.org

Join The LGBT Asylum Project Facebook community at:

www.facebook.com/LGBTAsylumProject

The LGBT Asylum Project video:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzXtMSD9FJk