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Gay assemblyman introduces N.Y. marriage bill

Anti-gay group launches attack ads opposing measure

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New York Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell (D-Manhattan) (photo courtesy of O'Donnell)

New York Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell (D-Manhattan), the gay brother of TV personality Rosie O’Donnell, introduced a bill this week to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.

O’Donnell’s action appears to have broken ranks with New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, who promised to introduce marriage equality legislation but has hesitated in doing so just weeks before the state legislature is scheduled to adjourn for the year.

Cuomo, a strong backer of same-sex marriage, reportedly has persuaded a coalition of LGBT advocacy groups campaigning for a marriage bill to support his plan to hold off on introducing the bill until enough votes could be lined up to pass it in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

“It is with great pride that I am introducing the Marriage Equality Act,” O’Donnell said in a statement. “Since the Assembly last passed the bill in 2009, there has been an overwhelming groundswell of support for marriage equality across our state.”

The Democratic-controlled Assembly has passed a same-sex marriage bill three times since 2007, and this is the fourth time O’Donnell has emerged as the lead sponsor of the bill. But the bill lost in the Senate in 2009 by an eight-vote margin at a time when Democrats controlled the body. It was the first time the Senate had taken a vote on the measure.

Josh Vlasto, a spokesperson for Cuomo, told the New York Times on Tuesday that the governor remains committed to seeing the bill pass before the legislature adjourns at the end of June.

“The question has never been the Assembly,” Vlasto told the Times. “The question has always been whether there are the votes in the Senate, and that remains the question.”

Vlasto’s comments came at a time when many political observers in the state were hopeful that between four and six Republican senators would join as many as 28 Senate Democrats to secure the bill’s passage. Most observers expect the Assembly to once again approve the bill.

Republicans have a 32-30 majority in the 62-member Senate.

Supporters, led by a coalition of LGBT groups, including the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) and the Human Rights Campaign, have pointed to a recent public opinion poll showing that 58 percent of New Yorkers support the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Advocates for the bill also note that Cuomo, who has a high public approval rating, is aggressively lobbying both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to vote for a marriage equality bill that he says he wants to personally introduce.

“We think the environment is strong,” said ESPA Executive Director Ross Levi. “To have such a popular governor so forcefully behind it, to have the public so solidly on our side at 58 percent, to have the LGBT community and so many strong allies working closely and coordinated together creates a good environment to work on this and achieve victory,” he said.

In a development that was long expected, the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage announced this week it is launching a $500,000 TV ad campaign to defeat the marriage bill. The group has also vowed to spend $1 million to defeat any Republican lawmaker who votes for the bill and to support the re-election of any Democratic legislator who votes no on the bill.

NOM President Brian Brown (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“It’s become quite clear in recent days in New York that Gov. Cuomo and same-sex marriage advocates are targeting a select number of Democrat state senators, as well as some Republicans, in their desperate attempt to coerce legislators to support their agenda,” said NOM President Brian Brown.

“We want to be sure those courageous Democrats and Republicans who cast their vote of conscience in favor of traditional marriage will have a strong supporter if the radical gay activists come after them in their next election,” Brown said.

Similar to its practice in other states, NOM’s TV ad opposing the bill, which aired on TV stations this week, claims that legalizing same-sex marriage would result in elementary schools teaching children about gay marriage and how it benefits society.

The Human Rights Campaign has responded by launching its own campaign to challenge the NOM ads, saying the group is falsely linking marriage equality to school curricula.

“We’re fighting for loving committed gay and lesbian couples going down to the courthouse to get married, which has absolutely nothing to do with what is taught in schools,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “The ad is a piece of fiction,” he said. “School districts determine what is taught in schools.”

NOM’s Brown argues that the “message” it conveys in its TV ads has resonated in all states in which same-sex marriage bills have come before voters in a referendum. He said NOM’s campaign against same-sex marriage also has been successful in states where gay marriage surfaced in legislatures.

“In Maryland and Rhode Island we just won great victories for marriage,” he said. “Our opponents tried to claim that same-sex marriage was inevitable in both states. They were wrong. Once our message got out and legislators heard from their constituents, same-sex marriage was stopped dead,” he said. “We expect the same to happen in New York.”

Levi said the New York coalition working to pass marriage equality legislation has learned from mistakes made by advocates in other states, including Maryland.

The coalition, called New Yorkers United for Marriage, includes ESPA, HRC, Freedom to Marry, and Log Cabin Republicans. It has launched its own TV ads in support of the marriage equality bill in all parts of the state, according to Levi.

He said more than 1,200 LGBT advocates and their allies descended on the state capital in Albany on Monday in an ESPA-led rally in support of the marriage bill. Participants, among other things, visited the offices of senators as Assembly members to urge them to vote for the measure.

HRC, meanwhile, has been releasing a series of videos in the state featuring testimonials in support of the bill by celebrities, including actors Julianne Moore and Sam Waterston and President George W. Bush’s daughter, Barbara Bush. Former President Bill Clinton issued a written statement supporting the bill last week.

New York Rangers star hockey player Sean Avery surprised the sports world by agreeing to appear in one of HRC’s videos expressing strong support for the marriage bill, becoming one of the nation’s first major sports figures to embrace a gay rights issue.

Levi said the timing of introducing a same-sex marriage bill in the New York Legislature isn’t as important as securing the support from the speaker of the Assembly and the majority leader of the Senate, who have full control over which bills come up for a vote. The Assembly speaker has long been supportive of the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skellos (R-Long Island) has said he would allow the bill to reach the Senate floor for a vote even though Skellos announced he would vote against it.

According to Levi, the November 2010 election in New York resulted in at least two more senators who have publicly committed to voting for the marriage measure. But Levi was cautious about predicting the outcome of a Senate vote, saying he was optimistic that the bill would pass.

“We’re not taking anything for granted and we’re working carefully in both chambers, particularly talking to new legislators about why this issue is important,” he said. “We’re doing that in both the Assembly and the Senate.”

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Biden administration to ban discrimination against LGBTQ patients

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The Biden administration announced on Monday it would enforce civil rights protections under Obamacare to prohibit discrimination in health care against patients for being LGBTQ, reversing policy during the Trump years excluding transgender status as a protected characteristic under the law.

The Department of Health & Human Services declared it would enforce Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care on the basis of sex, and begin to take up cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement the Supreme Court has “made clear that people have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sex and receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

“Fear of discrimination can lead individuals to forgo care, which can have serious negative health consequences,” Becerra said. “It is the position of the Department of Health and Human Services that everyone — including LGBTQ people — should be able to access health care, free from discrimination or interference, period.”

The move is consistent with the executive order President Biden signed on his first day in office directing federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County to the furthest extent possible. Federal agencies were directed to comply within 100 days of the executive order, which is about now and a short time after Biden’s first 100 days in office.

The announcement with respect to Section 1557 comes on the same day as the hearing took place this morning in Bagly v. HHS, a case before a federal court in Massachusetts challenging Trump’s undoing of transgender protections under the law. An attorney with the U.S. Justice Department announced a new notice of proposed rule-making is coming with respect to Section 1557.

Sharita Gruberg, vice president for the LGBTQ Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement the change “assures LGBTQ people that their rights will be upheld at the doctor’s office, vaccine sites, and everywhere else they seek health care and coverage.”

“The administration’s announcement that it will enforce these protections are a critical step toward addressing vaccine hesitancy among LGBTQ people, a population that has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and seriously harmed by the previous administration’s attempts to permit discrimination against LGBTQ patients, Gruberg added.

The past three administrations have instituted policy on LGBTQ protections based on their interpretation of Section 1557. Each move had varying implications and directions for LGBTQ patients.

The Obama administration issued a rule in 2016 interpreting Section 1557 to apply to cases of anti-transgender discrimination and discrimination against women who have had abortions, which was consistent with court rulings at the time. However, that move was enjoined by a nationwide court order in Texas as a result of litigation filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The Trump administration, shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock, made final a regulation proposed last year rescinding the Obama administration’s transgender protections under Section 1557. Faced with criticism, the Trump administration defended itself by saying its move was consistent with the court order in Texas, although it seemed to ignore the decision from the higher court.

The new rule from HHS goes above and the beyond the Obama administration by instituting protections based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the proposed rule would be a new regulation entirely, or seek to modify the changes that were made in the two previous administrations. The Blade has placed a request seeking comment with HHS.

Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement the new HHS rule is a welcome change after the Trump administration rescinded protections for transgender patients.

“It’s unfortunate that such an obvious step had to be taken; the AMA welcomes this common-sense understanding of the law,” Bailey said. “This move is a victory for health equity and ends a dismal chapter in which a federal agency sought to remove civil rights protections.”

Discrimination in health care is an experience transgender people commonly report. The U.S. Transgender Survey in 2015 found one-third of responders said they had at least one negative experience in health care related to being transgender. Further, 23 percent of responders said they didn’t seek health care because they feared being mistreated and one-third said they didn’t go to a provider because they couldn’t afford it.

A Center for American Progress survey from 2018 had similar findings with respect to transgender people and patients with being gay, lesbian and bisexual or queer. Eight percent of responders said a doctor refused to see them because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, while 28 percent of providers said a doctor refused to see them because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Hospitals, especially religiously affiliated providers, refusing to provide transition-related care, including gender assignment surgery, is another frequently reported incident for transgender patients. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, has filed litigation against hospitals under Section 1557 for refusing to perform the procedure.

Rachel Levine, assistant secretary of health and the first openly transgender presidential appointee to obtain Senate confirmation, hailed the HHS rule change in a statement.

“The mission of our Department is to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. All people need access to healthcare services to fix a broken bone, protect their heart health, and screen for cancer risk,” Levine said. “No one should be discriminated against when seeking medical services because of who they are.”

Although the Biden administration’s announcement is a welcome move for LGBTQ advocacy groups, the change is not without critics.

John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University who declares himself a supporter of transgender rights, said the policy could have unintended consequences, which he said has become evident in the British health system.

“[Transgender] individuals with a penis but no vagina are being asked to have medical tests on their non-existent cervices, while [transgender] persons with a vagina and cervix will not be asked, under new guidelines which appear to place lives at risk and encourage a physically impossible medical exam on organs which simply do not exist,” Banzhaf said. “And, carrying this absurdity to its totally illogical conclusion, a patient with a penis and a full beard was offered a cervical test because, despite his clearly masculine appearance and style of dress, he registered himself as being gender neutral.”

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards

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Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade

 

A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

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Undocumented LGBTQ immigrants turn to Fla. group for support

Survivors Pathway is based in Miami

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Survivors Pathway works with undocumented LGBTQ immigrants and other vulnerable groups in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Francesco Duberli)

 

MIAMI – The CEO of an organization that provides support to undocumented LGBTQ immigrants says the Biden administration has given many of his clients a renewed sense of hope.

“People definitely feel much more relaxed,” Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli told the Washington Blade on March 5 during an interview at his Miami office. “There’s much hope. You can tell … the conversation’s shifted.”

Duberli — a gay man from Colombia who received asylum in the U.S. because of anti-gay persecution he suffered in his homeland — founded Survivors Pathway in 2011. The Miami-based organization currently has 23 employees.

Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli at his office in Miami on March 5, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Duberli said upwards of 50 percent of Survivors Pathway’s clients are undocumented. Duberli told the Blade that many of them are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking and victims of hate crimes based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Part of the work that we have done for years is for us to become the bridge between the communities and law enforcement or the justice system in the United States,” said Duberli. “We have focused on creating a language that helps us to create this communication between the undocumented immigrant community and law enforcement, the state attorney’s office and the court.”

“The fear is not only about immigration,” he added. “There are many other factors that immigrants bring with them that became barriers in terms of wanting to or trying to access the justice system in the United States.”

Duberli spoke with the Blade roughly a week after the Biden administration began to allow into the U.S. asylum seekers who had been forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the previous White House’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

The administration this week began to reunite migrant children who the Trump administration separated from their parents. Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

Duberli told the Blade that Survivors Pathway advised some of their clients not to apply for asylum or seek visa renewals until after the election. Duberli conceded “the truth of the matter is that the laws haven’t changed that much” since Biden became president.

Survivors Pathway has worked with LGBTQ people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in South Florida. American Civil Liberties Union National Political Director Ronald Newman in an April 28 letter it sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called for the closure of the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, the Glades County Detention Center near Lake Okeechobee and 37 other ICE detention centers across the country.

The road leading to the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami on June 7, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Survivors Pathway responded to trans woman’s murder in 2020

Survivors Pathway has created a project specifically for trans Latina women who Duberli told the Blade don’t know they can access the judicial system.

Duberli said Survivors Pathway works with local judges and police departments to ensure crime victims don’t feel “discriminated, or outed or mistreated or revictimized” because of their gender identity. Survivors Pathway also works with Marytrini, a drag queen from Cuba who is the artistic producer at Azúcar, a gay nightclub near Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

Marytrini and Duberli are among those who responded to the case of Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera, a trans woman and well-known activist and performer from Cuba who was murdered inside her downtown Miami apartment last November. Carey’s boyfriend, who had previously been charged with domestic violence, has been charged with murder.

“That was an ongoing situation,” noted Duberli. “It’s not the only case. There are lots of cases like that.”

Duberli noted a gay man in Miami Beach was killed by his partner the same week.

“There are lots of crimes that happen to our community that never gets to the news,” he said. “We got those cases here because of what we do.”

Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera was murdered in her downtown Miami apartment in November 2020. (Photo courtesy of social media)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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