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Polis reintroduces Student Non-Discrimination Act

Legislation prohibits discrimination against LGBT students

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U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (center) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

One of the openly gay members of Congress on Thursday reintroduced legislation aimed to protect LGBT students against bullying and discrimination in school.

In the U.S. House, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo) introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act — as Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate — at a time when bullying of LGBT students is receiving considerable attention.

In a statement, Polis said “education is the right of every student” regardless of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

“It becomes more apparent with each case that this is a problem that is not going away — sometimes even teachers and administrators contribute to the problem,” Polis said. “The alarming increase in teen suicides has shown us just how far we are from making our children’s schools safe spaces.  We must take action to protect the safety of our students and enshrine the values of equality and opportunity in our classrooms.”

Modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Student Non-Discrimination Act would establish a comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination in public schools against LGBT students. Additionally, the measure would also forbid schools from discriminating against based on the sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibit them from ignoring harassing behavior.

If enacted into law, violating the Student Non-Discrimination Act would lead to the loss of federal funding and give victims a legal cause of action for discrimination in public schools.

The lawmakers introduced the legislation on the same day President Obama held a White House conference to speak out and devise strategies against bullying in schools. Earlier in the week, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act in the U.S. Senate, which would require schools to establish anti-bullying policies.

Bullying against LGBT students received renewed attention late last year when several young men who were gay or perceived to be gay took their own lives after they were reportedly bullied. Among them was Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student, who leaped off the George Washington Bridge in September after a video was posted online of him reportedly having a sexual encounter with another man in his dorm room.

In a statement, Franken decried the bullying of gay students and said he’s committed to passing legislation that would remedy the situation.

“Unchecked bullying of LGBT students is unacceptable,” Franken said. “The high suicide rate for LGBT youth — as witnessed across the country over the past year — shows that we are falling drastically short in our efforts to protect our kids,” Franken said.

First introduced in the 111th Congress, the Student Non-Discrimination Act currently has 99 co-sponsors in the House and 27 co-sponsors in the Senate.

In a statement, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised Polis and Franken for reintroducing the legislation in Congress.

“Every child deserves an equal education free from discrimination, harassment and bullying,” Solmonese said. “Unfortunately, LGBT students have historically been alienated, harassed, and bullied in their schools, with little or no intervention from school personnel. Far too many of these students have underperformed or dropped out in response to the lack of safety and support.”

Download a copy of the Senate version of the bill.

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39 Comments

39 Comments

  1. Tim

    March 11, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Unfortunately, this bill has almost no possiblity of passing, considering it sat around for two years with no action when the Dems controlled both houses of Congress. Now that the GOP runs the house it doesn’t stand a chance.

    • EC

      March 31, 2011 at 7:38 pm

      Good. This bill does nothing more than promote the homosexual lifestyle as “okay”….its not, its a perversion and should not be taught in school.

    • Human First

      April 13, 2011 at 4:31 pm

      I thank God that this biased legislation which attempts to inject more gender politics into the schools will not pass. … Double standards, forced acceptance of immorality, and rebellion against the laws of the universe. Continuing to push such things will undoubtedly create dire consequences in the very nature of our social fabric.

    • DD

      May 9, 2011 at 6:03 pm

      FORTUNATELY, the GOP and most Democrats see this issue as a polarizing, vote-losing, and totally unnecessary legislative solution in search of a perceived “problem” of a miniscule, but highly vocal, minority.
      To tie school-yard bullying to the LGBT and their radical agenda is like killing a fly with a 16-lb sledge hammer. To subject the entire hetrosexual school population by calling for action to ” . . . protect the safety of our students and enshrine the values of equality and opportunity in our classrooms” is just a smoke screen to promote, glorify, and litgitimize the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender life styles.

    • AW

      June 1, 2011 at 10:28 pm

      Kudos to the GOP Congress.

    • Geo

      April 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm

      The big issue here is that people…just as black americans were discriminated….yet they did not kill themselves…enslaved, raped, brutially abused emotionally and socially…and economically. The rejected and enslaved people learned to rise above the abuse…they did not kill themselves. Those who kill themselves, found an excuse…to carry out something beyond their sexual state. WAKE UP EVERYONE, If your gay…GROW UP, TOUGHEN UP, AND STOP THE PITY PARTY!!! Maybe they killed themselves, because they did not really love themselves…which in a nutshell, is why people kill themselves, not because other people disappove. SHOULD WE PASS LAWS ABOUT NOT LOVING OURSELVES? I am not decieved, neither should you.

  2. libhomo

    March 12, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Tim: It takes years to pass civil rights legislation. We need to fight for it now and keep fighting it until it does pass. It won’t be easy. It seldom is, but it is worth the effort.

  3. Kenny

    March 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    There’s a big difference between bullying of any individual, and an act whose basic intent is advance the radical homosexual agenda in America’s classrooms. Neither bullying nor perversity have any place in American edication.

    • A Waldhauer

      January 12, 2012 at 9:23 pm

      This is so funny! “Radical homosexual agenda?” It’s ridiculous.

      But I agree that bullying has no place in schools. We have stood up for people who are different or in a less powerful position — girls, members of minority groups, and so forth — and we need to make sure that this principle is maintained. The heretical aspects of the bullying aside (Who are we to question God’s creation of gays?) it is the only decent thing to do.

  4. J M

    March 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    This should not be passed…ever! The LGBT community constantly wants special treatment and privileges. As for the young students who committed suicide: Well ask yourself why did they actually kill themselves? If they did not want to be caught doing such acts then maybe they should have taken more precautions to not get caught. Not to mention they were obviously troubled and would have, more than likely, committed suicide at some point in their life. I have no sympathy for someone who does something, then gets caught and is embarrassed. Own your decisions people and stop being such whiners about everything in your life. If you are gay, fine but do not try and force your beliefs on everyone else, or other children. School is about education not about sexuality! What happens in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom. If somehow it “escapes” from the bedroom, then deal with the issue instead of running or taking the easy way out. Countless celebrities have had sex tape scandals and none of them have committed suicide over them, so obviously these students, at least to a certain degree, felt what they were doing was wrong or they would not have tried so hard to conceal it.

    • Rowan West

      March 25, 2011 at 5:39 am

      How is it “special treatment” to be able to go to school without fearing for your life or safety? As a straight person, you already have that privilege. Are you subjected to severe bullying because of the way you look, the way you dress, or the people you associate with? Do people steal your belongings, deface your property, chant demeaning slogans at you, or threaten you with bodily harm for the “crime” of being attracted to someone of a certain gender? LGBT people are not “forcing their beliefs” on us, they are just trying to live the normal life you take for granted. These students were driven to suicide–not because “they were caught”, but because of the constant harassment they had to deal with as a result of insensitive individuals such as yourself after they were “revealed” to be LGBT. If you could spend a year in their shoes–facing prejudice and discrimination from your classmates, your teachers, even your family, for something you had no control over–you would probably be contemplating suicide, too. (You do not “choose” to be gay, any more than you “choose” to be attracted to red hair. Attraction is caused by chemicals in your brain; if you’re wired slightly differently, you may find yourself attracted to blondes, or people with Asian features, or people of the same gender as yourself. It’s not something you can control.)

      The basic message of this Act is this: If a boy and a girl walk down the hall holding hands, no one looks twice. If two boys, or two girls, do the same, they become targets. This Act is trying to change that fact. Not to make people gay, not to force beliefs on anyone, not to give anyone special privileges. It’s not about sex. It’s simply about making our schools safer for ALL students, no matter who they love.

      • teachntwins

        May 6, 2012 at 11:08 pm

        I agree with you Rowen. And the idiot that replied to you…Yes my kids have been bullied for being Christians. Do they seek special treatment? NO. They have been teased and harrassed for quietly folding their hands and silently saying a prayer before lunch. YES some kids are teased because of the way they look, because of they way they dress and because of the people they associate with. (good arguement on your part). Children are teased for many reasons NOT just because they are gltb. My daughter befriended a child in her class they EVERYONE teased for being fat and being “sensitive” (a crybaby). Now my daughter suffers the ridicule of reaching out to this child. I’m proud of her that she stands up for this child and she endures the ridicule!!!!! She know’s in her heart she is doing the right thing. And yes being GLTB is a CHOICE. It’s called SIN and it goes back to biblical times….it was condemned in the bible. (as it should be). You make a choice. It’s called having self control and turning from sin no matter how difficult it is.

        Also a guy and a girl aren’t supposed to be holding hands in school…most every school I’ve been to has a policy of “NO display of public affection” So whether they are GLTB doesn’t matter. YES it is trying to change peoples beliefs and make us more “tolerant” of sin. If EVERYONE WAS GLBT THEIR WOULD BE NO MORE CHILDREN AND LIFE WOULD CEASE!!!!!!

        All children should be accepted, but their sexual desires SHOULD NOT BE PART OF SCHOOL!!!! We don’t send our kids to school for dating…they are their for an EDUCATION and only an education!!!!! Where’s the equality for ALL children? You scream seperation of church and state and tell me it’s a free country, but want GOD removed from everything. I can’t wear a shirt with religious implications on it, but you can openly flaunt your sexuallity?!!! Get informed and be consistant!!!! I”ll let you be “openly gay” but you let me bring my bible to school to read during my free time and allow me to wear my “Jesus freak” shirts.

    • Mark

      January 7, 2012 at 10:31 am

      Special treatment? Oh, you mean like equality! Yeah, I guess we do want equal treatment under civil law. However, I will tell you that there are many gay and lesbian children out there and they need to know that they are just as normal as anyone else. No one would actually be teaching sexuality, but the contributions gays and lesbians have made to society. Don’t you think that is important?

      • teachntwins

        May 6, 2012 at 11:09 pm

        NO IT”S NOT NORMAL!!!!! If it were then GLTB could procreat without special assistance!!!!!

  5. M D

    March 17, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    umm JM they thought it was wrong because we treat them that way.

    I don’t think it is actually special treatment to ask for basic rights that every school child should have.

    If we’re trying to teach our kids to act like adults, we need to hold them to higher standards. Standards that would be expected of them in the real world.

    Any good reason to harrass another human being out there? Certainly wouldn’t be allowed in my workplace.

  6. RN

    March 18, 2011 at 7:06 am

    When the Dem’s enact Sharia law, then the problem will take care of itself, half of the Dem’s will be gone.

  7. Elsie

    April 1, 2011 at 2:16 am

    These Congressmen should be ashamed of themselves for putting forth such a bill. Government cannot solve the develolpmental stages our children pass through while growing up. Only the children themselves can learn how to take care of themselves IF they are supported by a strong family behind them….whether gay or straight! It is hard growing up and learning how to handle yourself within your peer group. Each child must, with parental support, be allowed to find his or her own way. Parents have to learn how to support….not to remove the problem from the child…but allow the child to confront the problem and gain the self confidence of being able to take care of himself. Parents cannot make the world perfect for their children and CONGRESS….no matter how well intended….CERTAINLY CAN NOT!! My advice from 80 years of raising kids….and still raising grandchildren!
    P.S. I have known 4 homosexual children of friends, now grown, who weathered the storms of adolescents and peer groups and are confident, productive human beings who were allowed to settle their own problems, with support when needed, and only grew stronger and more confident as a result. Give kids some credit for their own solutions for life’s problems! Is Rep. Jared Polis just trying to get some publicity and recognition from his peer?

    • teachntwins

      May 6, 2012 at 11:20 pm

      Well said Elsie!!!!!

  8. Maddie

    April 1, 2011 at 10:44 am

    I believe that this law should be passed; but it should be broadened when considering who is being protected. It is true that the LGBT community is ridiculed very harshly, and this is well known because members of that community make the world aware of it. They are more vocal about their discrimination because they haven’t had any rights for a reasonable about of time. But this law needs to focus more so on a wider scale; this should stop all discrimination with students in all grade levels (elementary through college). There are students who are ridiculed at school on a daily basis because of the color of their hair, the clothes they wear, the way the walk, the way they talk and so on. Teachers and administrators (even some parents) see this and nothing is done about it. I know we have tried many times to stop bullying, but never has there been an instance where we have tried to make a law about it. It seems unfair to all of the other students who are being bullied for reasons other than their sexual orientation to try to pass a law just to keep this small fraction of students protected.

  9. PaulE

    April 12, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Please explain to me why we don’t go further in this and allow pedophiles to go into schools? Why not just registering sex offenders? There are standards of society. I absolutely don’t care what two consenting ADULTS do behind closed doors; however, trying to legislate your “morality” on the rest of us is just plain wrong.

    • Mark

      January 7, 2012 at 10:41 am

      Morality is subjective. What I find morally reprehensible, you may not. Example: I’m a vegetarian, and I find eating meat is morally reprehensible, but most people have no problem going through they drive-thru of McD’s or Burger King, but I happen to know that morals are subjective, so why should someone force their morals, by law, to those who don’t believe as you do?

      • Matthew

        March 1, 2012 at 1:57 pm

        OK, then we will discuss ethics, what is deemed acceptable by the majority. I know as well as you do that morals are subjective, but this bill is not just about keeping students and schools from discriminating against other students, that has just been pushed to the forefront seeing that it’s the easiest to defend. If you look into all the things this bill actually contains, you will find that it would mandate that homosexual behavior to be taught in sex-ed classes. I realize that I may be in the minority when I state that I believe sex-ed should be taught to children by their parents, but I definitely don’t think that the views of a few should be impressed upon our youth as normal acceptable behavior. You cannot tell me that every student in 5th grade is ready to learn about how the reproductive organs work and as my teacher stated that, “sex is messy.” Much less have activities described to them that the the majority deems unacceptable. These are direct attacks on many people’s religions and beliefs. In that case why don’t we just teach what the white supremacists believe, I mean they do believe that they are morally right and after all it’s just information, the students can do with it what they will. We cannot take this view on matters so pertinent to the future of our children. This bill will also protect LGBT’s from being punished for propositioning or coming on to other students, under their right of “freedom of self-expression”. There are countless other issues that this bill pushes, that are direct infringements on rights that are already established.

  10. Chelynne

    April 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    I think this bill should be revised…. Discrimination and bullying of ANYONE should not be tolerated, not just sexual orientation. There are fat kids, skinny kids, kids with zits, nerds and just regularly confused kids that are bullied and discriminated against for not being part of the “IN” crowd… To all out focus on LGBT children is ridiculous… Not only that but this bill allows for homosexual propaganda to be handed out and taught to our children in school ALONG with the already explicit sexual education.. How would that be for straight children who dont question their orientation be subjected to homosexual images and information… It would basically allow our children to be taught to BE homosexual…

    All children need to be protected from being hurt and discrimated against… It is NOT just homosexual children that commit suicide… They should focus more on counseling for the bullied victim and punishment for the bullier.

    REVISE THE BILL TO PROTECT ALL CHILDREN FROM “BULLYING” NOT SEXUAL HARASSMENT BECAUSE OF THE LIFESTYLE THEY CHOOSE. THE MOMENT THEY TEACH MY KIDS HOW TO BE HOMOSEXUAL WITH PROPAGANDA IN SCHOOL. MY KIDS WILL NO LONGER ATTEND!!!!!

  11. rooster

    May 18, 2011 at 8:26 am

    The bible says that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God. If we are going to shove this legislation down our kids throats, let’s not forget to give equal and fair time to the other side in our schools. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

    • Mark

      January 7, 2012 at 10:43 am

      No where in your bible does it say that. But let me inform you that loving the sinner and hating the sin, doesn’t absolve you from the sin of hate.

  12. Dean

    June 1, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Having just read the bill, I see no commitment to “teaching” homosexuality in our schools. The bill is merely focusing on protecting LGBT students from harassment and discrimination while they are presently are left out of federal statutes for protection. It is not special protection. It is merely the same as everyone else. I invite you to read the bill. It seems that several people posting ahead of me either haven’t read the bill or they have an agenda of hate that won’t be deterred.

  13. Emz

    June 2, 2011 at 6:07 am

    I wholeheartedly support this bill. Homphobia, bigotry, and discrimination should perish from schools.

  14. Emz

    June 2, 2011 at 6:07 am

    *homophobia

    • Joe Bones

      June 2, 2011 at 3:54 pm

      There is no such thing as homophobia! There is only Normal, Decent, Moral People Against Sexual Perversion, What’s next Special Rights and Protections for Child Molesters, are Child Molesters now a Down trodden Minority that Deserves to be elevated to the Status of a Minority, and if we are going down this road to Total Depravity why not give Every Group of Sexual Perverts and Deviants around the world Carte Blanche to do as They Want to Whom Ever They Want When Ever They Want, with No Laws or Penalties or Controls of anykind, just let them RUN AMOK!!!

  15. Joe Bones

    June 2, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    I don’t hate Homosexuals, But They Don’t Ever Have The Right To FORCE THEIR VIEWS ON ANYONE ELSE, AND THEY ARE DOING EVERYTHING IN THEIR POWER, WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE, TO MANDATE AND LEGISLATE THEIR BELIEFS ON ALL AMERICANS WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT, you can’t Force Immorality or something that is so disgusting and filthy on Normal People. The Government can’t pass enough laws to force me to accept homo’s or their lifestyle IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN, The more you try to Force people to accept Sexual Perversion the harder we will fight against it, NOBODY CAN EVER MAKE NORMAL, DECENT, MORAL PEOPLE ACCEPT SEXUAL DEVIANTS, FORCE NEVER WORKS, It will create a Huge BackLash against the very people The Government ( say’s ) they are trying to help, so let the government try, it will make things one hundred times worse for homo’s so I say, Go For it you Government Thugs, Go For it. Have a nice day.

    • David

      June 9, 2011 at 10:25 am

      I don’t hate homosexuals either. They can do what they want. Perhaps if they were not so vocal about their choice, they would not be bullied or harassed in schools. The gay lobby has been trying to get their agenda in schools for a very long time. That is what GLSEN is the “Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network”, and the guy who started this, Kevin Jennings is one of Obama’s right hand educational people.

      Obama is pro homosexual. That is more than evident with his support of this nonsense. He has held conferences in the last few weeks with the homosexual people/students, in secret I might add as no reporters were allowed in these conferences.

      I pity America as homosexuality and all perversion will destroy this once great nation.

    • David

      December 19, 2011 at 10:24 pm

      OK. But the common belief used to be that women can’t work or teach men, and that blacks shouldn’t intermarry or even share bathrooms with whites…so rude of them to force their beliefs on us after those pesky 60s. The contradiction in your argument is clear…gays are also part of “us”. Get over it.

    • Mark

      January 7, 2012 at 10:44 am

      No one is asking for your approval, we DEMAND equal treatment under civil law.

  16. Luke Letter

    June 9, 2011 at 10:24 am

    It makes me sick that the government is so blind. Students dont care about legislation. This will not prevent bullying. Bullying happens, and its a stage of social adjustment for youths. Bullys should be punished regardless of the nature of the bully and the victim. However, this bill prevents shools from talking about familys without also talking about same sex marriage familys. Is that really what we want in our schools? It hasnothing to do with bullying and suicide. If the only solution to youth suicide is to teach all children that gay relationships are normal, then I chose the youth suicide.

    • L La

      August 10, 2011 at 11:31 am

      Another attempt from the government and specifically the Department of Education under Arne Duncan to foist their version of morality on our children. Bullying will always be with us, it is human nature and will never change. I’m so sorry that two people committed suicide, but suicide is a choice and in most cases we will never know why the victim chose this path. To insinuate and then legislate this ridiculous attempt to promote the LGBT lifestyle is immoral and Un-American.The first thing I would cut and defund would be the DOE, absolutely useless waste of our tax dollars.

  17. dana

    October 25, 2011 at 9:36 am

    everybody gets bullied unless your ‘popular’ or whatever. Kids, coaches, teachers, parents, and administrators will bully a person for not being on a sports team or for having not grown into your ears yet. Whatever, the point is EVERYBODY gets bullied, so this bill need to NOT be geared towards the SMALL percent of school kids that claim they are LGBT. Many kids go through stages where they may be attracted to the same sex. that does NOT mean when they become adults they WILL be gay. growing up is about exploring. the more this LGBT crap is pushed on kids, the less straight people will be able to say anything!!!

  18. Erik

    April 16, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    It is already illegal to haze, harrass, or menace anybody for any reason, and therefore, this act is not necessary. Besides, the real reason for this act is not to discourage the behavior of bullies, but to try to force people, by law, to accept sinful and offensive sexual behavior. The Student Non-Discrimination Act constitutes attempted vandalism of our society, as it seeks to stifle those who are willing to speak the truth about homosexualtiy.

  19. Geo

    April 17, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Also, when I was in grammer school…I was beat up several times, by the same kids.
    I was white, they were black. My parents went to school to get help. Nothing but warnings. Then I took another beating for opening my mouth! Was I depressed, yes. However, one day when I was bullied and beat up again…I raised my fist and struck back…to let them feel pain as I had suffered. It all ended…no more problems. DId I kill myself…no. RESOLVE…if you kill yourself, you resolved it recklessly…you did not love yourself, which no one can do for you. And…Did I ask for a law to protect me? No. Will laws protect you…NO. People break them anyway. Does it help to pass laws, no.
    Children are still raped, women raped, people sold off as sex slaves. Moral clarity cannot be regulated by laws. God loves us, given us life…but do we have reverence for God? Here is our true issue…we sin against God and ourselves…and ask governments to protect us? Wake up.

  20. James

    April 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    OK looking over the law…mmmm I don’t see anything explicitly saying that any sort of ‘leftist’ ‘homosexual’ ‘sinful’ ‘sexual choice’ agenda will be forced down the kids throats… Nothing at all about the process of education, or the addition or removal or ban of any curriculum. It only really mentions that harassment, discrimination, or threats will not be tolerated and the victim has the ability to sue if normal means of remedy fail.

    Maybe I’m on another planet. But just because a group of people loudly trying to get a good bill that would protect all our kids in the end, should be killed with fire because the people in the group have different feelings about relationships? Heaven forbid us progressive and oh-so-free Americans shake off our puritan roots. Seriously, our ancestors placed boards between couples in bed and made them use silly wispier pipes… and burned various ‘witches’ and other sinners…we just gotta keep to those traditional roots boys…

    hmmm I’ll make a quick crazy conspiracy theory here…maybe many people don’t want to have this law passed because if it gives minority groups, and other put down groups, the ability to seek legal (Read: $$$$) action. Many school districts, teachers, students, and their families might be awash in lawsuits; since the problem is so widespread, we might see entire school districts close, or get absorbed into other districts. A huge wave of lawsuits could wash over the school system…

    hmmm that doesn’t seem so crazy now when you think of it…

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National

Locked up in the Land of Liberty: Part IV

Yariel Valdés González remained in ICE custody until March 4, 2020

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Yariel Valdés González in Miami Beach, Fla., on March 6, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Editor’s note: Washington Blade contributor Yariel Valdés González fled his native Cuba to escape persecution because of his work as an independent journalist. He asked for asylum in the U.S. on March 27, 2019. He spent nearly a year in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody until his release on March 4, 2020.

Valdés has written about his experiences in ICE custody that the Blade has published in four parts. The Blade has already published parts I, II and III.

Bossier vs. River (Jan. 13, 2020)

Only a few days outside Bossier confirmed my suspicions: I was being held at a military academy. The disciplinary regime and, above all, the treatment of those officers seemed more like training for a “Marine” than rules of an immigration detention center. I think that, together with many other negative aspects, precipitated our release from that prison. Previous inspections should have raised a red flag about Bossier.

My current detention center surpasses the previous one in every way. The food, for example, is much more abundant, better prepared and varied. I almost cried with joy when I saw a large quantity of chicken on my tray. At Bossier they only gave us a few shreds of chicken drowned in a dark peppery sauce.

There is also a thermos with constant soda and a cooler that never runs out. But that’s not the best thing. They gave me sneakers, socks, flip flops, gloves, pants, two blankets, a towel, a pillow, underwear, two sheets and a complete hygiene kit that includes soap, shaving cream, shampoo, toothpaste, brush and deodorant when I arrived. 

My comrades here say that I can request a toiletry item whenever I want. I don’t have to go to the small window under the television through which an officer watches us 24 hours a day. What you had to buy at abusive prices at Bossier is totally free here.

They also provide us razors. To request it, you just have to hand over your ID, and they will not return it to you until you return the blade in perfect condition. The Imperial Regional Detention Facility in Calexico, the first detention center to which I was transferred, had the same rule.

It is wonderful to be able to remove unwanted hair from your face again with the ease of a razor whenever you need it. I was forced to shave with commonly used clippers for months. Laundry service is every day and commissary prices are substantially lower.

But one of these benefits in particular left me totally stunned. We can order pizza and food from restaurants, an unthinkable option in Bossier and one that I had never experienced in previous prisons.

Those who clean the pod are paid $1 a day, as are barbers. Kitchen work is reserved for common prisoners, who reside in pods outside the main building, but within the prison itself.

Living conditions are considerably better, although the pod is much smaller and a bit overcrowded. The cable television has an infinite number of channels, and some of them are even in Spanish. A curtain provides some privacy from the bedroom to shared showers, and a fragrance tablet in the urinals maintains a pleasant smell in that area.

There are three microwaves for heating or cooking food that are available from 5 a.m. until midnight. Telephones and television are available during the same hours. The only thing I miss are the tablets and the screens where I could receive video calls, text messages and photos. River, instead, offers the possibility of having visits from lawyers, family or friends, a right prohibited in Bossier that they were probably violating.

My new comrades tell me access to the yard is one hour almost everyday, unless there is some inconvenience such as bad weather or another issue. It is spacious, with basketball and volleyball courts and a covered seating area.

I went there for the first time yesterday. I jogged for several minutes while listening to radio stations in the area. The radios in River, by the way, are free with a couple of batteries. A tiny radio at Bossier cost $35 and the two batteries were not included. They had to be purchased at a cost of $2.80. Luckily, I still have my radio in good condition. It is a door to the outside world that I can open whenever I want.

The migrant population is made up of Chinese, Cameroonians, Central Americans, Armenians, Nepalese and, of course Cubans. The atmosphere so far is quite calm. I have only made a few friends in the dorm. I was placed in Alpha, the first of the dorms, however, my closest friends were placed in Charlie.

The rest of the immigrants who remained in Bossier upon our departure were also relocated here. I already sent the warden a request to change pods and he came to see me today. He was not very committed to the move, but I still hope that in the next few days it will be possible. My only company so far is loneliness.

This afternoon I joined an exercise group in a corner of the pod in the hope that I would make some new friends. I sometimes play cards with some Central Americans, but it is not the same here. I miss the bullshitting nonsense too much and the level of empathy we had built.

There is also the possibility of a new transfer. Older residents say that immigrants whose cases have been appealed are quickly sent to another detention center because this place is reserved for those who are still attending court hearings.

Many of the judges who handled the cases at Bossier have jurisdiction here as well; including the dreaded Crooks, Brent Landis, Cole (the judge who granted me asylum) and a magistrate named Angela Manson. River is Bossier’s twin for immigration processes with a low rate of asylum attained and bail granted. Parole is still denied. What does make a huge difference is the treatment of the officers. Civilians, not policemen, guard us. There is an atmosphere of respect, kindness and even humor. The officers, men and women, joke and laugh with us as if we were their friends.

Yariel Valdés González‘s River Correctional Center ID (Photo courtesy of Yariel Valdés González)

Parole: Truth or myth? (Jan. 20, 2020)

This day started with an order that three ICE officers who unexpectedly killed the stillness of the morning slumber at 8 a.m. repeated. They invited us all to get up and listen to the information about parole they brought.

They gave us a notice about parole requests. They made us sign and place our right thumbprint on that document. They insisted that we all had to sign it, even those of us who were not entitled to it. They needed proof that they had informed us of the latest news concerning parole, a right they themselves had crushed.

“On Sept. 5, 2019, a federal district court ruled that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through its Regional Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement of New Orleans (NOLA-ICE) must ensure that all persons who are subject to that directive and who have been denied parole prior to Sept. 5, 2019, and are applying for parole are processed from according to various procedures,” the document reads. 

We had already seen the same document in Bossier a few weeks before, but the situation had not changed. We viewed the announcement at the time as an institutionalized mockery of us.

The paper said we had a right to parole that a federal court had upheld, but ICE refused to release anyone under that directive. This could be another diversionary strategy to make us believe that they are following the federal court’s orders. Over the last few days, however, I have heard that several immigrants here in Louisiana have been released on parole.

The lawsuit the Southern Poverty Law Center filed against ICE is apparently bearing some fruit. According to the information, the immigrants who have been released are in the appeals process, like me. I want to be positive about this news and I hope it doesn’t fade away, like so many others that have come to raise our spirits for a few hours.

I am right now trying to contact my attorney to submit a request for redetermination of my parole, denied a few days after my “credible fear” interview in Tallahatchie last April. I have letters of support from my family in this country, from my colleagues at the Blade and from other people and institutions who will support me and ensure my well-being if I manage to get out of this confinement.

Victory in my asylum appeal is the other way for my release. Today marks two months since the transcript of my final hearing was sent. I have waited 60 days for a decision from the Virginia court (the Board of Immigration Appeals), which generally takes that long or less to send a decision.

A friend a few days ago told me the answer is positive when an order takes longer than usual to be issued. I honestly don’t know what to believe, but the tension builds in my mind every day as I try to survive pessimism. I check the phone information system every afternoon in desperate search for a phrase that would once again bring me comfort, but nothing.

“Pending,” says the metallic voice through the earpiece and my heart sinks. 

An ICE officer with whom I discussed my case a few days ago gave me the same answer yesterday.

“What has your lawyer done for you?” the officer with Asian features asked me. 

I replied that I have no right to bail, that parole was closed in this state and I could only wait for the appeals court’s decision.

The officer suggested that my attorney should request a determination of my parole, now that new winds are blowing. The truth is that parole is presented to me with more signs of myth than reality. I no longer know if I am living in a fantasy world or in the real world.

A sketch that details life inside the River Correctional Center in Ferriday, La. (Courtesy photo)

Hugs between brothers (Feb. 1, 2020)

Michael came to see me as soon as he found out that he could visit me in my new “home.” Bossier, my previous detention center, blocked all physical contact with family and friends during the seven months I was there. It only allowed legal visits. They told us that we had video calls when we asked about the reason for the ban. Those were our visits, as if the screen of a tablet could be comparable to physical contact. The video calls did have their advantages, but they could never replace the warm hug of someone who loves you well.

Michael arrived for the afternoon visit between 1-3 p.m. The other visitation hours are between 8-10 a.m., always from Tuesday to Sunday. I did absolutely nothing. The procedure is usually very simple and accessible. They only require an ID from the visitor and that they come on the days and times available.

An officer searched me for anything illegal, including two envelopes with documents, which I intended to give to Michael, as I left the pod. The place for visits is a fairly large room with metal tables and benches, identical to the ones we have inside the pod.

It is decorated with two paintings on the walls: A poorly done lake scene was in front of me and a rather simple reproduction of the Last Supper was to my right. There are two vending machines with candy and soft drinks, which the visitor can buy for the person who they come to see, in one corner.

The room is near one of this prison’s three courtrooms and is also used to enter and leave. Michael was waiting for me at one of the benches. He received me with open arms and his eyes clouded with sadness. I have suffered through this confinement, and he has also experienced it as his own.

We greeted each other with a hug of brothers, because that is what we have become during this time. He is the older brother I never had and our ties are getting stronger every day. The excitement over the meeting exploded in him as he hugged me. I felt his sobs on my shoulder, while at the same time his strength made me feel like we were family again.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I told him, and we sat down to talk.

We spoke under the protection of that complicity that has always united us and under the guise an Latina officer. I think she is Puerto Rican. She sat close enough to us to eavesdrop on the conversation. She brought a notebook and wrote observations in it.

This is only the second time we’ve met in person. The first was in Tijuana more than a year ago, when we worked together in Baja California for the Blade. I met him at the pedestrian gate on the Mexican side of the border and this time I received him in a prison on the American side. I never imagined that our friendship would take such a dramatic turn, but what I always knew was that I had added an incredible human being to my life.

He updated me on my family, our mutual friends and mine who have followed every step of my process. He held my hands tightly when my emotions got the better of me. I don’t know how, but I could feel the pounding of his heart. 

“I’m here. Everything will be fine. We will win this battle soon,” he said encouragingly.

This meeting also made me smile, even though it brought tears to my eyes. Michael came ready to make me smile with his witty ideas. He told me that he had already made plans with some of his friends in Miami for after my release, including a big celebration. I really need a big party after all of this. I am, however, a realist and I don’t get too excited because disappointments can hurt more. First things first: Get out of ICE custody.

I brought him as a gift a custom-made bracelet made of black and white nylon because he came dressed in a black sweater over a white shirt. I also brought him a small handmade shoe that some comrades make here with bags of goodies. This one was specifically made with Maruchan soup wrappers of various flavors. It came out as a colorful souvenir, which he said will be an ornament on his Christmas tree.

I adore every detail that I gave him, which can never be compared with all the unconditional and selfless help from him. River officials did not allow him to take with him the two envelopes with the manuscripts of these chronicles and other articles. The spy officer was extremely efficient and had already consulted with her supervisor. They luckily allowed him to keep the shoe, the bracelet and a copy of the photo that they took of me when I arrived at this prison. I half-hid it so that my family and friends could see me, although the truth is more scary than pleasant.

We talked about me getting a tattoo in reference to this period in my life. Something so profound to push me to leave a permanent mark on my skin has not happened to me before. I have always believed that tattoos should be inspired by a significant event in someone’s life. It has arrived without a doubt.

I plan to write on my body the phrase “always be free” or something similar with rainbow colors, although my terror of needles still slows me down a bit. Michael, coincidentally, told me that he too wanted to get one with a reference to “freedom.” I learned in a call two days after his visit that he had the word “libertad” or “freedom” in Spanish tattooed on one of his arms in New Orleans.

I never thought he would do it so quickly. That tattoo is yet another proof of how important I am to him. The two-hour visit was too short. Time slipped through my fingers and I very quickly saw myself saying goodbye to my brother as I received him: With a sincere, deep hug and with the hope that it would be the last visit behind bars.

The bracelet that Yariel Valdés González gave to International News Editor Michael K. Lavers after their visit at the River Correctional Center in Ferriday, La., on Feb. 1, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Locked Up with Homophobia (Feb. 10, 2020)

Perhaps the most commonly word in my pod is “faggot,” as crude as it sounds. It was in Bossier and continues to be in the River. The word has no borders. It manages to cross languages, cultures and countries. Everyone, without distinction, learns it and uses it excessively, almost always as a “joke” between comrades.

Homophobia, however, is behind that “harmless” joke. I have personally never felt slighted for being gay in these detention centers, but the comments and conversations I hear on a daily basis are clear evidence of a less than tolerant environment.

When they say “faggot” to someone, it is with the intention of insulting them, as though being gay was the worst thing that could happen to someone. Some in here prefer to be rude, confrontational, vulgar and even a thief than a homosexual. While most say they have nothing against gays, their attitudes sometimes reveal otherwise.

There is even a Honduran in his 30s who pretends to be gay all-day long. He creates, at least for me, a completely offensive character. He uses specific phrases and imitates effeminate behaviors. It is sheer joy for the rest of them, especially when they talk about the “maricavirus,” a prison strain of the coronavirus pandemic that originated in China and is spreading everyday throughout the United States and around the world.

Someone may have been infected with the “maricavirus” if they are not “macho” enough. They say the danger of catching it inside here is high.

One can file a discrimination complaint in situations like this one. These institutions generally act by moving the aggressor to a different pod or they can take other actions, depending on the incident’s magnitude. I have made several friends who have been direct victims of homophobia, the evil from which they have been fleeing in their native countries. They find it ingrained here in some immigrants, especially those who are of Latino descent.

I have also met comrades who pretend to be gay for their asylum cases, and suffer from deep homophobia. They take advantage of the fact that they have arrived in a country where everyone’s rights — and especially where the freedoms and achievements of the LGBTQ community are respected after an intense struggle — are protected.

Just as there are people who despise us, others take advantage of our preference. Some believe that being gay means we are willing to provide “sexual favors” because of the stark isolation into which this confinement forces them. I have luckily never found myself in such a situation, but it happens. I treat everyone with great respect and receive the same from my comrades. I can only let my guard down with a few of them because we have a certain confidence with each other and joke about gay issues. One cannot always be so boring.

I lack a true friend with whom I can speak openly, although I have comrades with whom I have been for many months. I am too careful and I don’t usually expose my life or my feelings so easily.

They placed my gay friends in other pods once we arrived in River. They did not grant my request to live in the same pod with them. Most of them today are no longer in this detention center. They have been transferred as part of their deportation processes, while I feel more and more alone in this fight for my freedom that seems to never end.

A horrible possibility lurks on Monday (Feb. 24, 2020)

Nothing significantly important has happened to me during the approximately 15 days since I last wrote. My appeal remains “pending,” as does my life, frozen in this concrete cage, isolated from everything and everyone. Some things have changed over these days.

ICE granted parole to three people in this pod: A Cameroonian, a Cuban and a Mexican embraced probation to continue their process with their families, a possibility that is forbidden for me because, as my lawyer has explained to me, the cases that are on appeal always don’t qualify to obtain this benefit.  It doesn’t matter that I won my case and I don’t have a deportation order.

ICE is simply not interested and will keep me here until I get a response from Virginia. I must definitely adapt to that idea. They are not going to release me when they themselves do not consider that I deserve asylum. It will not happen.

My lawyer during her visit with me on Sunday asked my permission to propose the Southern Poverty Law Center file a lawsuit against ICE because of the injustice they are committing against me and other immigrants.

ICE’s own statutes, according to Lara, state an immigrant who is entitled to asylum must be released immediately, even if the government later requests that the Board of Immigration Appeals review the case. They are violating their own policies, but I am not surprised because they had done it before with parole and they are beginning to see some results after several months of legal battles. I can’t expect a short-term result from that lawsuit and I most likely won’t benefit from it, but it can help prevent future injustices. I will not refuse to cooperate.

I certainly never thought America was like this. The champion of human rights, fighter of injustices throughout the world, closes it’s doors to those confined within its borders, all because of the hatred and xenophobia that Donald Trump’s administration has imposed against us. It is doing everything possible to expel us from here, and nothing to help us.

Another development over the last few days came via a communication with Farook Sha, a Pakistani friend who is in the same situation as me. He learned through a brief exchange of messages that a friendly correctional officer facilitated that the Virginia court denied him asylum. He must once again go before a judge for a new decision in his case. He also let me know it is possible that he is eligible for protection in this country under the U.N. Convention Against Torture or a withholding of deportation, since, as I understood him, he cannot be sent back to his country of origin.

The news obviously shattered him and further deepened the fear of failure. It has now been three months after the delivery of the arguments of my appeal and there is still no decision. This uncertainty is wearing me down every day.

I check the automatic case reporting system in the morning and in the afternoon for some consolation, but the answer remains the same. I will be in detention for 11 months in a few days. It is easy to say, but it has been one of the most terrifying experiences of my life that I do not wish on the worst of my enemies, if I have any.

Lara has prepared me for the worst possible scenario: I lose the appeal and face deportation to Cuba, where the situation is increasingly suffocating for independent journalists. She said we would have to file another appeal at the federal level in that case and we will continue the fight. She must have seen my face of horror because she immediately stopped in her tracks to say, “of course if you are willing to continue.” I didn’t know how to answer her, I still don’t know. I try not to think about that horrible possibility.

Hopelessness and hope for a weekend (Feb. 28, 2020)

The phone system for detained immigrants finally gave a different phrase today. By pressing the appeal box, the respondent informs me that “there is no information about any appeal in your case.” (She previously stated that my appeal was “pending.”) The box on the judge’s decision also says “pending.” (The phone before today indicated that the magistrate had ordered my release.)

That change set off my alarms. It made me think of thousands of possibilities. The Board of Immigration Appeals had already made its ruling, but the phone system did not specify it. The information was extremely ambiguous, yet I began to think about the possibility of my release.

I contacted Michael to find my attorney, the only one who could shed some light on the situation. I received her interpretation a few hours later. Lara said the news was not very promising. That to her meant that the Virginia court agreed with some of the arguments DHS presented in reviewing my case.

The news, through Michael’s muffled voice, completely broke me. All my hopes were shattered and I felt as though darkness took hold of me. I was shattered when I hung up and my mind once again began to betray me, thinking of the worst: A deportation order. My attorney would meet with me tonight to talk more calmly about next steps.

Lara confirmed her suspicions during our visit, but she could not assure anything with absolute certainty because she had not received the board’s letter with the final decision. 

“We can’t know anything for sure without that document,” she said, trying to reassure me. 

She recommended that I calm down a bit until we see the document, which should arrive early next week.

Even so, I couldn’t hold back my tears after I heard her words. My world was once again reeling and it could perhaps be the final shock that would bring about a tragic ending. But all was not lost and I clung to that hope to overcome the days ahead, although my body could not completely erase that feeling of defeat. My head threatened to explode and at times I felt my heart beating like a wild colt. I lost count of how many painkillers I ingested in my desperation to silence the pounding of my brain, which was constantly agitated.

Despite everything, I received an unexpected visitor on Sunday who managed to cheer me up a bit. An immigrant support group came to rescue me from depression. My lawyer in a previous meeting had asked me to receive them. I honestly didn’t think they were coming so quickly. A woman named Elisabeth Grant-Gibson opened her arms to me, giving me a warm welcome. Feeling that a stranger gives you their affection so spontaneously is something that I did not expect these days, much less in this place.

“I’m not a lawyer, I’m not from ICE, I’m just human,” she said when she introduced herself, a phrase that made me realize how restorative this meeting would be.

I told her about my situation, about my family, about my fears in Cuba and she was shocked by everything through which I have been. She told me about this humanitarian work that she does with many other people in order to bring us a little familiarity and understanding.

The group to which Elisabeth belongs visits detention centers to talk with immigrants, providing them with emotional support and fighting alongside with non-profit organizations that fight to make sure our rights are not trampled on.

I fell apart while talking with Elisabeth, although her visit was an injection of energy and love that I did not expect, but one for which I was crying out. I left that place with a smile on my lips and with a recommendation that she left me at farewell. 

“Stay healthy from the body, but especially from here,” she said, pointing to her head, as she saw my despair. 

Maybe she doesn’t know how much good she did; making me feel supported, loved and welcomed in this country. She gave me a little confidence in this nation and its people.

(Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Grant-Gibson)

Justice delayed … but it comes (March 2, 2020)

A piece of mail with my name on it arrived. You have to leave the pod dressed in the green striped uniform to receive it. An officer outside opened the correspondence in front of me and I could see that it was the envelope with the Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision. My heart rate began to increase. Zero hour arrived. It was the moment of truth.

I hardly understood what I read on the first page, but the word “removed” left me in shock. 

“It can’t be, it can’t be,” I told myself and moved on to the rest of the document. The second sheet is more enlightening and contains the verdict, which states the DHS appeal has been dismissed.

“We contribute and affirm the decision of the immigration judge (…) Contrary to the arguments of the DHS appeal, we conclude that the favorable credibility found by the immigration judge that the applicant (that is me) is eligible for asylum as he has established that he has suffered past persecution and has a well-founded fear of persecution.”

It was all I needed to read. My legs began to shake and my heart wanted to jump out of my chest. I asked the officer if I could sit down because I felt that my legs couldn’t hold me for much longer. I reread the document. I could not believe it. It confirmed that DHS had lost the fight in my case and there could no longer be any doubts about my asylum.

The nightmare finally came to an end after a 5-month long appeals process and a total of 11 months in unjust ICE detention. Justice takes time, but it always comes for those who deserve it. I gave my captors 150 more days, but I will not focus my energies on that. I must look forward, although it will of course be impossible to forget everything I have gone through to finally be free.

I will be eternally grateful to this nation for protecting me from the Cuban dictatorship, even if it put me through hell first. Americans are a tough breed to crack. I understand that they must be very careful with those who they allow to cross their borders, but I disagree with their methods.

My old comrades came over to congratulate me once I reached the dorm. I could see sincere joy on their faces and that this news renewed their hope in their particular cases. I began to call my aunt and uncles to give them the good news, the news for which we had waited so long, but they did not answer the phone.

I managed to speak with Michael and I could hear how the emotion overwhelmed him, how the tears of joy barely let him speak and we began to make the plans that we had postponed for so long. He will come to rescue me from this prison and take me to my family in Miami.

I was able to speak with my aunt and uncles a few hours later. It took them a bit to understand, because I had told them the opposite a few days. I felt my voice crack when I managed to understand.

“We won, we won!” I repeated to them and I imagine that everyone exploded with joy on the other end of the line.

I would let my parents know and I recommended they, like Michael, not post anything on social media until he finally saw me breathing freedom on the outside. It has been an exhausting fight, one that has been frustrating at times and one that has inflicted a few emotional wounds that I trust will heal very soon. I still have to get used to the idea that I will have won my asylum twice and that I will soon start my new life.

Epilogue of a victory (March 4, 2020) 

I approached three ICE officers visiting the pods after I read to my attorney over the phone the contents of the letter from Virginia and verified that they were not my hallucinations. The officers — two men and a woman — arrived that morning and I showed the document that showed their defeat.

“What do you want me to do with this?” asked the officer, half annoyed after looking at the board’s order.

“I wanted to know when I’m getting out,” I said.

“Do you want to go?” she asked ironically.

“Of course,” I responded quickly

“Well, it seems that you have not read what the paper says in this part below,” she said

I began to get nervous. I sensed another dirty ruse to block my release. The officer said that my case had to go back to court with the judge who granted me asylum. It seemed completely absurd to me, because the Virginia court had agreed with Cole’s ruling and a change of decision was not necessary. But it is apparently the final step of my case, the closing of a long and harrowing process. ICE would prepare all the paperwork for my release with the judge’s order. One of the officers said the process could take a week or more.

I returned indignant and fearful, as is often the case every time I confront them. Those exchanges always leave me in a very bad mood. They returned a few minutes later to take my personal information: Future address, telephone numbers to contact me and to find out how I would get out of detention. I found out that the officers had, once again and this time for my benefit, lied to me.

An officer urgently asked for me while I was taking my last shower in prison. She said they were asking for me because I had a very important call. I thought it was Michael, who was on his way to pick me up, but no. They rushed me out of the pod, for I shouldn’t keep such a distinguished call waiting.

I suddenly found myself sitting in front of the immigration judge, who was in the same room where I had won asylum five months earlier. Lara, my lawyer, was on the phone and the voice in the background belonged to the government prosecutor in my case. It was like deja vu when a cyclical nightmare returns. The judge claimed to have received Virginia’s ruling, which upheld his sentence from months ago. He turned to the government attorney, who claimed not to have been notified of his defeat in the appeals court.

The DHS representative did nothing but stall until the last minute, but His Honor affirmed that everything was ready for my release. He asked if the officers had processed my exit documents and he wished me good luck before ending the hearing. I could perceive a certain feeling of joy in the judge, because his work was impeccable. I thanked him once again and breathed easy as I left the hearing.

Practically all of the belongings that I would take with me were packed when I returned to the pod. I had given things that I would not need to friends, especially those who still had a few months of anguish left. I was scheduled to leave at 2 p.m., and it happened.

Some Cuban and other friends came over to say goodbye when they came for me. It is highly unlikely that our paths will cross again. This time it was me who could see in their faces the joy intertwined with the pain of staying in confinement. They smiled, hugged me and congratulated me … it felt sincere.

It had been raining mercilessly outside from the early hours of the morning. Through the pod’s tiny windows I had seen how the grass could not soak up so much water from the storm, but nothing could darken this day, not even those clouds that turned the afternoon gray and threatened to soak me. I didn’t care!

The check-out process was easy. The officer in charge of my release gave me a laminated ID card with my personal information. The first photo they took of me when I entered this country 11 months ago was on the back. I asked about my passport, but that ID was the only thing ICE would give me with which I could travel. It would have to do! I finally shed that infamous green and white striped jumpsuit and felt human again when I adjusted my pants and long-sleeved shirt.

The clothes literally danced on my body. It was an unmistakable symptom of famine and all kinds of deprivation. I went through a door that I had never even approached and arrived at a small reception area where an officer verified my data. Everything was in order. My phone was dead, I couldn’t tell if it had survived the tragedy. The downpour outside the walls continued unabated, preventing me from running to be free for which I had so often longed.

My only option was to wait for Michael and I had to be patient. He told me during one of our telephone calls to confirm the details of my release that he had fallen in the morning. He was in the hospital with a broken arm, but insisted that nothing would stop him from rescuing me.

I hadn’t been waiting long when I saw him arrive. A giant t-shirt, which made it a bit difficult for him to walk, covered his arm.

We almost collided at the door. The storm outside had blinded him and we hugged tightly for a few seconds when he realized that I was the one who received him. We laughed and got excited. I finally crossed River’s threshold, never to return. We ran through the heavy downpour, which felt like a hurricane, until we reached the car. Michael started the car and I took a giant breath of air that tried to calm me down. I was free once and for all. I still didn’t believe it.

International News Editor Michael K. Lavers with Yariel Valdés González at Elisabeth Grant-Gibson‘s home in Natchez, Miss., shortly after his release. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Yariel Valdés González calls his family in Cuba after his release. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

From left: Yariel Valdés González hugs his aunt, María Valdés, at Miami International Airport on March 5, 2020. Valdés’ uncle, Julio Valdés, right, was also on hand when he arrived in Florida after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released him from custody. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Yariel Valdés González with Lara Nochomovitz in Jena, La., on July 29, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
Yariel Valdés González in front of the White House on July 2, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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More Americans personally know someone who’s transgender, non-binary: survey

42% know a trans person, 26% know someone using gender-neutral pronouns

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More Americans personally know a transgender person or someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns, according to new data from the non-partisan Pew Research Center.

A survey found 42 percent of Americans know someone who’s transgender, who is up from 37 percent who said so in 2017. Although most Americans, 57 percent, still say they don’t know anyone who’s transgender, that’s down from 63 percent five years ago.

Similarly, 26 percent of Americans say they know someone who uses non-binary gender pronouns compared to the 18 percent in 2018 who said they knew someone uses pronouns such as “they” as opposed to “he” or “she.”

At the same time, comfort levels with using gender-neutral pronouns – as well as their opinions on whether someone’s gender can differ from the sex they were assigned at birth – has remained about the same. Half of Americans say they would be either very or somewhat comfortable using a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to someone if asked to do so, compared to 48 percent who say they would not be comfortable. The numbers, according to Pew Research, are basically unchanged since 2018.

The survey found profound differences by age, party, and education in knowing a transgender person or someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns, although in both parties growing shares of Americans report knowing a person who’s transgender.

For Americans under age 30, some 53 percent say they know a transgender person, which is up from 44 percent in 2017. In the same age group, 46 percent of younger U.S. adults know someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns, compared to 32 percent in 2018.

The Pew Research Center conducted the survey of 10,606 U.S. adults between June 14 and June 17. The survey is weighted to reflect the U.S. adult population in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education, and other categories, according to Pew Research.

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U.S. Appellate Court rules against anti-LGBTQ website designer

In the 2-1 ruling, the court said Colorado had a compelling interest in protecting the “dignity interests” of members of marginalized groups.

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U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Byron White Courthouse Denver Colorado (Photo Credit - Library of Congress Collections)

DENVER – A three judge panel of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday ruled against a Lakewood, Colorado based web designer who sued to challenge the state’s anti-discrimination law, claiming that it would force her to design wedding websites for same-sex couples which violated her ‘Christian’ beliefs.

Lorie Smith, represented by anti-LGBTQ legal group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, (ADF)- listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ extremist hate group, claimed in court filings that the Colorado law violated Smith’s freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression.

In the 2-1 ruling, the panel said Colorado had a compelling interest in protecting the “dignity interests” of members of marginalized groups through its law.

The law that is being challenged by Smith and ADF is the same one that was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and decided in 2018, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al., Petitioners v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, et al., in the case of another Lakewood business and individual, Jack Phillips.

The high court in the Masterpiece Bakeshop case narrowly ruled in a 7–2 decision, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not acted employing religious neutrality. In the decision Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court majority on Monday, said it is “unexceptional” that Colorado law “can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions that are offered to other members of the public,” but at the same time, “the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”

The high court however did not rule on the broader intersection of anti-discrimination laws, free exercise of religion, and freedom of speech, and whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to LGBTQ people.

In a statement the ADF’s senior counsel, John Bursch noted that the group would appeal Monday’s ruling. “The government should never force creative professionals to promote a message or cause with which they disagree. That is quintessential free speech and artistic freedom,” Bursch said.

“This really isn’t about cake or websites or flowers,” Lambda Legal senior counsel Jennifer C. Pizer said in a statement. “It’s about protecting LGBTQ people and their families from being subjected to slammed doors, service refusals and public humiliation in countless places – from fertility clinics to funeral homes and everywhere in between.”

Lambda Legal, is a legal group that fights for the civil rights of LGBTQ people and had submitted a brief supporting the state’s anti-discrimination law in the case.

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson questioned whether Smith should even be allowed to challenge the law since she had not started offering wedding websites yet, the Associated Press reported.

But if she did, Olson said, her argument would mean she would refuse to create a website for a hypothetical same-sex couple named Alex and Taylor but agree to make the same one for an opposite-sex couple with the same names. He said that would be discrimination under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Judge Mark Beck Briscoe wrote in Monday’s majority opinion (303 Creative, et al. v. Elenis, et al.) that “we must also consider the grave harms caused when public accommodations discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. Combatting such discrimination is, like individual autonomy, `essential’ to our democratic ideals.”

In his dissent, Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich wrote that “this case illustrates exactly why we have a First Amendment. Properly applied, the Constitution protects Ms. Smith from the government telling her what to say or do.”

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