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Nothing “Fair” about Fairness West Virginia’s Hostile Takeover of Pennsylvania LGBTQ Advocacy – Philadelphia Gay News

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Nothing “Fair” about Fairness West Virginia’s Hostile Takeover of Pennsylvania LGBTQ Advocacy – Philadelphia Gay News


Jason Landau Goodman speaks at a PA Values Press Conference.

Fairness West Virginia is soon planning to launch a statewide project that aims to take over LGBTQ advocacy in Pennsylvania, but there is nothing fair about West Virginians seizing political control of Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ communities.

When I heard an organization from West Virginia wanted to wrest statewide LGBTQ leadership away from Pennsylvanians, I immediately reached out to connect. I was among the first to meet with Fairness West Virginia’s Executive Director Andrew Schneider in 2022 on their proposed project.

As a longtime advocate in LGBTQ policy work across Pennsylvania, I wanted to learn more about Fairness West Virginia’s interest in our state. I earnestly listened and responded with multiple ideas about how they could work with LGBTQ Pennsylvanians instead of bulldozing over our commonwealth to take command. I met with numerous LGBTQ leaders to devise and suggest plans to work together. Outside LGBTQ groups have come into PA before on discrete projects, but never to dominate the entire advocacy space.

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All requests for collaboration went unanswered by Fairness West Virginia. That told me they have no interest in working with LGBTQ Pennsylvanians on the ground doing this vital work.

Still, through 2023, I would get calls from LGBTQ community leaders who were approached by Fairness West Virginia asking for money — not to collaborate but to subordinate under their efforts as a board member of their project. 

When I asked Fairness West Virginia’s Executive Director “why” they wanted to do this, there was never a substantial reason given. Over time, Fairness West Virginia’s entire approach has given me great pause and chilling concerns about what is to come.

The real challenge in Pennsylvania is getting more LGBTQ-affirming legislators elected — not an absence of leadership from nonprofit organizations until now. Having an out-of-state organization control a lobbyist in the halls of our state Capitol won’t really change that fundamental issue. However, it will confuse legislators and send needed resources out of state.

This may be a pet project for Fairness West Virginia, but the very lives of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians are at stake.

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We’ve seen this before

The last time a similar entity came to Pennsylvania was in 2015, in which massive amounts of money were squandered and led to burned relationships in the state Senate — it took years for us to clean up their mess.

I recently learned Fairness West Virginia is attempting to validate their Pennsylvania project because there is no full-time paid lobbyist for LGBTQ issues in Harrisburg and they believe there needs to be a successor organization to Equality Pennsylvania.

But the legacy of Equality Pennsylvania is not dissimilar to those in other states across our nation.

There was a mainstream statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization with a board composed of political donors from a few major cities who aimed to promote their relevance to receive funding and clout. When the time came for difficult decisions, they reverted to organizational preservation rather than community empowerment or effectiveness. Some groups betrayed those they purported to represent by lifting up individuals who harmed LGBTQ people or ran their organizations into the ground.

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Following the passage of marriage equality, many of the statewide LGBTQ organizations shut down in the Northeast. They weren’t connected to their communities and the engaged political class turned their resources elsewhere.

Recognizing that out-of-state organizations will continue to try to pilfer PA for their benefit, I helped the Pennsylvania Youth Congress create the Pennsylvania Coalition of LGBTQ Organizations in 2020. Over 50 LGBTQ organizations throughout the commonwealth have signed a joint statement of principles that invites outside organizations to work with LGBTQ Pennsylvanians and not around us.

In talking with national LGBTQ organizations since 2018, they often referenced that since there was no generalized statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, they might need to come in one day to create a “Pennsylvania coalition” — national organizations that each buy a stake in a new entity that would control LGBTQ messaging and actions in PA. We wanted it to be clear that there indeed are strong LGBTQ Pennsylvania organizations already in existence that are happy to be partners in the important work ahead.

Pennsylvanians are already doing the work Fairness West Virginia wants to do

It is patently false and egregiously insulting to imply that Pennsylvania doesn’t have LGBTQ advocates in Harrisburg — and that only with Fairness West Virginia’s expansion into Pennsylvania can there be success. 

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I have been a full-time registered LGBTQ lobbyist in Harrisburg and I am not alone in that job experience. There are statewide LGBTQ groups like Keystone Equality, the Pennsylvania Equality Project, the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, a governor’s commission, and other organizations already helping to keep our diverse communities across the state connected and advocating for them regularly in the Capitol. Many have long-standing, respected voices and power in legislative advocacy. 

Legislation and administrative policies have moved. Scores of policy wins in local and state government in Pennsylvania show how successful we are. We have more local LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances than any state in the nation. We’ve had at least a dozen rallies and lobby days in Harrisburg in recent years.

What exactly do they claim is missing? We have a robust statewide campaign for nondiscrimination protections called Pennsylvania Values backed by Fortune 500 companies, dozens of chambers of commerce, and nearly 50 colleges and universities. Pennsylvanians have been able to advance positive legislation — like hate crimes protections — and have stopped negative policies like bans on trans youth healthcare. Registered lobbyists are hired by LGBTQ organizations when needed. We’ve done all this and more without Fairness West Virginia’s intervention. 

It’s sad how many people will be deceived as Fairness West Virginia’s project is launched. I am gravely concerned about the impact a superimposed, out-of-state managed project will have on stunting real progress on LGBTQ policy in Pennsylvania.

While LGBTQ organizations across PA have ongoing advocacy efforts in Harrisburg, this new project from West Virginia will insert itself into legislative strategy meetings and actions to take credit to prove why they should exist. Since this entity is administered from West Virginia, advocates in Pennsylvania cannot influence what they direct their staff members to do. The decisions on making legislative deals or investing in types of public messaging will ultimately come from West Virginia through their Pennsylvania project’s board, at the calling of whatever entities are funding Fairness West Virginia. Despite having board members for their Pennsylvania project in our state, their website admits not a single one of them — including their project Chair — have current experience in a Pennsylvania LGBTQ organization. As they are not accountable as present leaders in LGBTQ organizations in Pennsylvania, the framework appears to be just as Equality Pennsylvania was: with individuals from political circles mostly in our cities who often make decisions not aligned with the long-term success of LGBTQ policy in our state.

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I believe Pennsylvania lawmakers and donors are smarter than Fairness West Virginia believes them to be — no amount of glossy public relations can conceal the reality that an approach to create an Equality Pennsylvania 2.0 operated by an out-of-state organization will not lead to results we hope for.

This organization won’t be Pennsylvania’s superhero

To state the issue clearly: LGBTQ advocates in Pennsylvania continue to push as hard as anyone can to move our issues forward. The reason we don’t have more laws enacted is a result of our state legislature’s composition. Fairness West Virginia coming in will siphon funding, resources, and power. 

They are not more likely to get results than any existing organization in Pennsylvania. In fact, if we look at WV’s landscape, it’s unclear how Fairness West Virginia is planning to manage a PA initiative when they cannot even secure basic LGBTQ policy wins across their own state.

Fairness West Virginia does not have untold millions of dollars to invest in PA or sage wisdom they can only pass along to us after they gain total control of LGBTQ advocacy in our state.

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The problem is that when push comes to shove, Fairness West Virginia will be leading their Pennsylvania project’s board and staff members to make calls that could be disconnected from Pennsylvania LGBTQ communities.

Political nonprofits do not largely have access to institutional foundation support as they don’t provide public services. When those groups aren’t deeply rooted in broader LGBTQ communities, they are forced to raise money from private political donor networks. They do this by messaging whatever is necessary with potential supporters. This is especially true of organizations with board members who don’t answer directly to the communities they pledge to serve. When Western PA LGBTQ leaders understand that a nearby board member of Fairness West Virginia’s Pennsylvania project is complicit in a decision to undermine LGBTQ advocacy in our state or take credit for other people’s work, what is their check and balance? There is none.

Vulnerable LGBTQ Pennsylvanians will be harmed when resources and power are less accessible. Marginalized LGBTQ Pennsylvanians will be hurt when decisions influencing lawmakers are not ultimately directed by Pennsylvanians but by an out-of-state nonprofit through an unaccountable project’s board. 

Over the coming months, Fairness West Virginia will need to demonstrate relevance in PA in order to justify their project as they introduce themselves to donors at bar fundraisers. That’s a divergent goal from helping people. Do we honestly think if an out-of-state manager is presented with a deal in Harrisburg that requires them to decide between chipping away at our existing rights and holding the line with vulnerable LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, they would be able to make the right decision?

As an advocate within Pennsylvania, there have been many times I’ve quietly helped stop anti-LGBTQ developments in the General Assembly. I could have easily blown up headlines to get myself in the newspaper. Maybe it would have raised money and prestige for the organizations I am part of, but that would have been a disservice to LGBTQ Pennsylvanians. Given how this project has come about and the individuals involved, I fear that a moral compass would always be secondary to their bottom lines of finding ways to be relevant and raising money. Nothing has been offered as evidence that despite this framework they will make more ethical decisions than Pennsylvania LGBTQ communities can be for ourselves.

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While they have yet to announce who they are planning to hire, I am concerned it will be someone who does not have deep roots in LGBTQ communities throughout the entire state, nor someone who would still be an active organizer embedded in state LGBTQ work years from now. That person, who may be personally nice or have some experience in Harrisburg, may more easily advocate for positions they are told to by Fairness West Virginia over LGBTQ Pennsylvanians. Every action they take will still be ultimately called by West Virginians.

Even as Fairness West Virginia eventually tries to distance itself from their Pennsylvania project, it’s clear to me how their current board and mission are the perpetual ingredients for a generalized LGBTQ organization to be adversarial to local LGBTQ communities and not effective collaborators in the long term towards our goals of equity and liberation.

We can speak for ourselves

The true intentions of Fairness West Virginia are stated right on their Pennsylvania project’s website. I hope people believe who they say they are: “Fairness Pennsylvania is the statewide civil rights advocacy organization dedicated to fair treatment and civil rights for [LGBTQ] Pennsylvanians.” They intend to be the organization for Pennsylvania — not a partner or one of many statewide stakeholders. Scroll to the bottom of the page and it instructs people to send their checks to Fairness West Virginia in Charleston.

Performative advocacy from political operatives and a couple of politicians at their events are not going to save the lives of LGBTQ youth. They might say they will, but how can they when vulnerable communities were never part of conceiving their efforts or have direct control over their operations? Self-determination of people in the advocacy impacting their lives is essential to success.

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As they launch and begin to attempt duplicating, dismantling and destabilizing decades of existing advocacy efforts in order to brand themselves as the one and only statewide LGBTQ organization in PA, I continue to hope they will course correct to stand behind LGBTQ Pennsylvanians — not speak on our behalf as the sole authority over our communities. There is still time for Fairness West Virginia to completely change direction. After all, their stated mission on their website is to be: “…the statewide civil rights advocacy organization dedicated to fair treatment and civil rights for [LGBT] West Virginians.” This objective says nothing about taking over neighboring states.

Where can we go from here?

Fairness West Virginia is demonstrating that their principles can reconcile with bulldozing over generations of LGBTQ work in Pennsylvania without blinking. Having tokenizing coffee meetings with several dozen LGBTQ people in 2023 to find board members for their project in Pennsylvania doesn’t count as a partnership.

What could Fairness West Virginia do at this point? They could issue a public statement apologizing for their actions — including how it is wrong for any out-of-state organization to claim to launch the new monolithic civil rights organization for all LGBTQ Pennsylvanians. They could divest their Pennsylvania project into a PA-based organization with LGBTQ community organization leaders on their board. They could identify true gaps in LGBTQ advocacy in Pennsylvania and send whatever resources they have raised so far to LGBTQ Pennsylvanians engaged around that area of work. They could promote LGBTQ organizations in PA or ask LGBTQ organization lobbyists in Pennsylvania today how they could help.

What can you do? When there is a fundraiser invite for Fairness West Virginia’s project in Pennsylvania: decline. If you know someone who said yes to being on their Pennsylvania project’s board, explain how this effort is inherently problematic. In general, if your local LGBTQ organizations are not universally co sponsoring an event with an outside enterprise like Fairness West Virginia’s Pennsylvania initiative, don’t lend your support.

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I join with many others in hesitating to share my thoughts publicly on these developments. It would be much easier to be off the record with a reporter. The last thing I want is for someone to think my perspective is just one of an advocate in a war of organizations related to ‘turf’ issues. That could not be further from the truth.

I was among the young advocates who decided in 2011 to raise awareness about the former Equality Pennsylvania engaging in conduct harming young LGBTQ advocates. While I was thanked by many for the courage to say something, some were not happy about my “airing community laundry.” It was the right thing to do then, and I believe this is the right thing to do now. I have spent my life caring deeply and successfully fighting for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.

The term “Fairness” is entirely subjective. Fairness does not mean justice, equity or liberation. What’s fair to you may not be fair to us. There is nothing ‘fair’ about West Virginia’s hostile takeover of LGBTQ advocacy in Pennsylvania.

Just because a state doesn’t currently have a mainstream LGBTQ group does not give a divine right for an outside group to come in to take us over when we didn’t ask for it. Is Equality Ohio going to start an Equality New York next? 

No matter how it’s dressed up, Fairness West Virginia is about to steamroll LGBTQ communities in Pennsylvania with a smile. Will we be smart enough to say no? The policy work ahead in PA is too important to remain silent.

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We’ve been here before in PA when outside organizations want to profiteer off of us. We will survive Fairness West Virginia’s project. I know that together as LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, we will succeed in the end because we are strong and resilient.



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Pennsylvania

Here's What You Need To Know About The Newtown Memorial Day Parade

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Here's What You Need To Know About The Newtown Memorial Day Parade


NEWTOWN, PA — The Newtown Memorial Day Parade, presented by American Legion Post 440, is scheduled to step off at 9 a.m. from the Newtown Commons, 642 Newtown-Yardley Road.

At about 9 a.m., the parade will pause for about 30 minutes at the Newtown Cemetery where veterans will lay wreaths at two gravesites to honor the fallen.

The parade will then continue into town, pausing at the World War I monument at the Newtown Library Company and then at the Newtown Borough Hall where guest speaker Matthew Allen, Bucks County’s director of Veterans Affairs, will deliver a keynote address.

The parade concludes at the Newtown Legion Morell Smith Post 440 at 41 Linden Avenue.

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Temporary no parking begins at 7 a.m. on the following streets:

  • South Elm Avenue between Washington Avenue and Centre Avenue
  • Centre Avenue between Lincoln Avenue and Congress Street South Congress
  • Street between Centre Avenue and Washington Avenue State Street between
  • Greene Street Street Centre Avenue

Closures begin at 8:30 a.m. and will impact the following roads:

  • Washington Avenue between Terry Drive and Sycamore Street
  • Lincoln Avenue between Greene Street and Penn Street
  • State Street between Jefferson Avenue and Centre Avenue
  • Centre Avenue
  • Congress Street
  • Richboro Road between the Newtown Bypass and South Sycamore Street
  • South Sycamore Street between Washington Avenue and Cambridge Lane
  • Newtown Yardley Road between Terry Drive and Elm Avenue



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Pennsylvania

Thunderstorms with pea-sized hail to hit part of Pennsylvania Sunday

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Thunderstorms with pea-sized hail to hit part of Pennsylvania Sunday


A weather alert was issued by the National Weather Service on Sunday at 9:45 p.m. for strong thunderstorms until 10:45 p.m. for Clearfield, Cambria, Blair, Huntingdon, Somerset, Bedford and Fulton counties.

The storms are expected to bring pea-sized hail (0.25 inches) and wind gusts of up to 55 mph.

“At 9:44 p.m., Doppler radar tracked strong thunderstorms along a line extending from 10 miles northwest of Nanty-Glo to near Portage to 15 miles south of Bedford. Movement was northeast at 40 mph,” states the weather service. “Gusty winds could knock down tree limbs and blow around unsecured objects. Minor hail damage to vegetation is possible.”

Locations impacted by the alert include Altoona, Hollidaysburg, Ebensburg, Bedford, Nanty-Glo, Portage, Breezewood, Northern Cambria, Warfordsburg, Roaring Spring, Clearville, New Enterprise, Martinsburg, Lakemont, Everett, Bellwood, Patton, Cresson, Gallitzin and Claysburg.

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According to the weather service, “If outdoors, consider seeking shelter inside a building. If on or near an area lake, get out of the water and move indoors or inside a vehicle. Remember, lightning can strike out to 10 miles from the parent thunderstorm. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. Move to safe shelter now! Do not be caught on the water in a thunderstorm. A Severe Thunderstorm Watch remains in effect until midnight for south central and central Pennsylvania.”

Preparing for approaching lightning: Expert safety advice

Lightning strikes the United States approximately 25 million times each year, with the bulk of these electrical discharges occurring during the summer months. Tragically, lightning claims the lives of about 20 individuals annually, as reported by the weather service. The risk of lightning-related incidents escalates as thunderstorms draw near, reaching its peak when the storm directly looms overhead. However, it gradually recedes as the tempest moves away.

To ensure your safety during a thunderstorm, consider the following recommendations:

1. Lightning safety plan:

  • When venturing outdoors, it’s crucial to have a lightning safety plan in place.
  • Stay vigilant by monitoring the sky for ominous signs and listening for the telltale sound of thunder. If thunder is audible, it’s a clear indication of nearby lightning.
  • Seek a safe place to shelter, preferably indoors.

2. Indoors safety measures:

  • Once you’ve found shelter indoors, abstain from using corded phones, electrical appliances, or plumbing fixtures, and refrain from approaching windows and doors.
  • These precautions help reduce the risk of electrical surges, as lightning can follow conductive pathways.

3. Wait for the all-clear:

  • After the last lightning strike or thunderclap, wait at least 30 minutes before resuming outdoor activities.
  • It’s important to remember that lightning can strike even when a storm seems to have passed, so exercise caution.

When indoor shelter isn’t available:

If you find yourself outdoors without access to indoor shelter during a thunderstorm, take these steps to maximize your safety:

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  • Avoid open fields, hilltops, or ridge crests, which expose you to greater lightning risk.
  • Steer clear of tall, isolated trees and other prominent objects. In wooded areas, stay close to lower stands of trees.
  • If you’re in a group, ensure that individuals are spaced out to prevent lightning current from transferring between people.
  • Camping in an open setting during a thunderstorm is strongly discouraged. If you have no alternative, set up camp in a valley, ravine, or other low-lying areas. It’s crucial to note that a tent provides no protection against lightning.
  • Do not approach water bodies, wet objects, or metal items. Although water and metal do not attract lightning, they conduct electricity effectively and can pose significant risks.

In summary, when facing the threat of lightning, vigilance and preparedness are your best allies. By following these guidelines, you can significantly reduce the chances of lightning-related accidents and prioritize your safety.

Navigating heavy rain: Essential safety measures for wet roads

When heavy rain strikes, safety is paramount. Equip yourself with these guidelines from the weather service to navigate wet roads and avoid hazards:

Beware of rapid water flow:

  • Avoid parking or walking in close proximity to culverts or drainage ditches, as the swiftly moving water during heavy rain can potentially carry you away.

Maintain safe driving distances:

  • Adhere to the two-second rule for maintaining a safe following distance behind the vehicle in front of you. In heavy rain, allow an additional two seconds of distance to compensate for reduced traction and braking effectiveness.

Slow down and drive with care:

  • On wet roads, reducing your speed is crucial. Ease off the gas pedal gradually and avoid abrupt braking to prevent skidding.

Choose your lane wisely:

  • Stick to the middle lanes to minimize the risk of hydroplaning. Outer lanes are more prone to accumulating water.

Prioritize visibility

  • Enhance your visibility in heavy rain by turning on your headlights. Watch out for vehicles in blind spots, as rain-smeared windows can obscure them.

Watch out for slippery roads:

  • The first half-hour of rain is when roads are slickest due to a mix of rain, grime, and oil. Exercise heightened caution during this period.

Keep a safe distance from large vehicles:

  • Large trucks and buses can reduce your visibility with tire spray. Avoid tailgating and pass them swiftly and safely.

Mind your windshield wipers:

  • Overloaded wiper blades can hinder visibility. If rain severely impairs your vision, pull over and wait for conditions to improve. Seek refuge at rest areas or sheltered spots.
  • If the roadside is your only option, pull off as far as possible, preferably past the end of a guard rail, and wait until the storm passes. Keep your headlights on and turn on emergency flashers to alert other drivers of your position.

By following these safety measures, you can significantly reduce risks and ensure your well-being when heavy rain pours down. Stay informed about weather conditions and heed advice from local authorities to make your journey safe and sound.

Advance Local Weather Alerts is a service provided by United Robots, which uses machine learning to compile the latest data from the National Weather Service.



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Pennsylvania

Fetterman claims credit for freeing American dad who was arrested in Turks and Caicos over ammo in his luggage

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Fetterman claims credit for freeing American dad who was arrested in Turks and Caicos over ammo in his luggage


A Pennsylvania dad made a triumphant return home on Friday after being arrested in February the Turks and Caicos over ammunition that he had accidentally left in his luggage when he traveled to the Caribbean islands.

Now, Sen. John Fetterman (D-Penn.) is taking credit for helping secure the release of Bryan Hagerich, 39, despite the Pittsburgh-native facing up to 12 years in prison for the stray rounds.

Fetterman was the only Democrat to travel to the British territory as part of a delegation of lawmakers who pushed for the release of five Americans detained there — all of whom were caught with ammo in their bags.

“When we met with [Turks and Caicos] officials a few days ago, they made clear that they wanted this situation resolved,” Fetterman said in a statement after Hagerich’s release.

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Bryan Hagerich hugs his children after returning home to the US. AP

“They recognized that Bryan and the other detained Americans are not gunrunners – they are just people who made a mistake.”

The Pennsylvanian senator met up with Hagerich after his return back to the US on Friday.

“From my family to yours…welcome home, Bryan,” Fetterman posted on X, with a photo of the Pennsylvanian.

Last Monday, Fetterman trekked to the island chain with Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), as well as Reps. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Penn.), Michael Cloud (R-Texas), Josh Brecheen (R-Okla.), and Bob Good (R-Va.)

They met with the American detainees and local government officials to plead for leniency, contending that the individuals there had made an “innocent” mistake.

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Hagerich, a former professional baseball player and father of two, had been arrested back in February.

Hagerich claims the stray ammunition in his luggage came from a prior hunting trip. He pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

On Friday morning, a judge in Turks and Caicos suspended his 52-month sentence and directed him to pay a $6,500 fine.

The other Americans held in Turks and Caicos include Sharitta Grier, 45, of Florida; Michael Lee Evans, 72, of Texas; Tyler Wenrich, 31, of Virginia; and Ryan Watson, 40, of Oklahoma.

Bryan Hagerich spoke with reporters after landing in Pittsburgh. AP

All five US citizens had slightly different circumstances but had violated the island chain’s laws on ammunition. Both Evans and Wenwich have also pleaded guilty to the charges against them.

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Evans was permitted to travel home for medical reasons but is supposed to return to the island chain.

Fetterman conveyed optimism that the others will be released soon as well.

Palmer Hagerich, 4, was excited to see his father return home. AP

“I’m hopeful that [Turks and Caicos] expedites the rest of these cases and that the other detained Americans will soon be released and reunited with their families as well,” he said.

Hagerich expressed gratitude for his freedom.

“It’s just amazing how, just in the matter of 12 hours, looking at 12 years to now,” Hagerich told reporters Friday, per Fox News.

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“My biggest concern is coaching my kids’ baseball games tomorrow, and that is such a relief.”



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