Connect with us


Illinois Civil Unions go into effect today

Law that guarantees same-sex couples in Illinois 648 benefits and privileges of opposite-sex unions goes into effect today; lines at County Clerk’s office in Chicago out into the street.




Bernard Cherkasov, the C.E.O. of Equality Illinois, is beaming with pride today.

“It’s a fantastic day.” Cherkasov told the Blade over the phone from his desk at the Equality Illinois offices in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, “We’re celebrating civil unions [for same-sex couples in the state of Illinois]. There is something special about today. The weather is beautiful and people are just smiling. I woke up this morning, suddenly, with 648 new rights and benefits that i didn’t have yesterday. The phone has been ringing off the hook with people asking ‘is it really here?’ and I say ‘yes, civil unions are now actually law!’”

According to Cherkasov, some of the new rights guaranteed by the law are hospital visitation rights beyond visitor hours, emergency medical decision making powers, inheritance rights and the ability for same-sex parents who give birth to a child to have both parents on the birth certificate.

Advocates in Illinois won over both houses in the legislature during the lame duck session, in the last days the lawmakers were gathered in Springfield before the new year, in order to pass the Civil Unions law authored by openly gay Chicago representative, Greg Harris. Governor Pat Quinn, who won re-election in November, signed the bill into law early this year to the delight of families throughout Illinois.

“The downside for me is that I had to be up at something like five in the morning,” joked long-time gay civil rights activist and lead lobbyist in the push for Civil Unions last year, Rick Garcia.

“But this morning I went to Cook county, they opened the office up early, and they were brilliant at the way they had it all arranged and everything was phenomenal.”

Garcia was stunned at the turnout today for licences. “I walked in at a little before 7:00 A.M. and there was this huge line all the way from the Clerk’s office out to the street. I was completely overwhelmed and started to cry. I’ve been crying since six o’clock this morning!”

Garcia looked on as the first couple was given their license and Cook county Illinois conferred its first official Civil Union.

“I could barely see them through the tears in my eyes.”

Anthony Martinez, Executive Director of Illinois LGBT advocacy group, The Civil Rights Agenda, felt a surge of pride this morning as he witnessed couples being conferred legal Civil Unions for the first time in Illinois.

“I am Absolutely thrilled and excited to be witnessing the amazing amount of support and outpouring from the community for civil unions,” Martinez gushed. “These couples have been waiting for this for years and now they can go apply and get recognized. This drives our work at The Civil Rights Agenda, and we’re so thrilled for all of this.”

Martinez is also aware that challenges to these happy couples are still a major risk to be monitored. Last week, the opponents of the Civil Unions law, led by anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera of the conservative activist group, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, called for a voter referendum in the state of Illinois on an Amendment to the Illinois constitution barring recognition of any same-sex partnerships.

“There’s a battle between gay rights and religious freedom,” he told the Chicago Tribune this week. “We want to give Illinois voters the same opportunity other states have had.”

Martinez is doubtful that the group will be able to collect the 300,000 signatures needed to get the referendum on the ballot, but prefers to stay vigilant.

“in terms of what’s next, we take any attack on relationship recognition very seriously, especially with this marriage referendum. Though we don’t believe it will gain traction, we are watching it very closely, and want to make sure any attacks are addressed and that there is a plan and strategy in place to make sure those attacks are defeated.”

He’s also eager to concentrate on celebrating today’s victory.

“Friday we’re going to have sixty couples get committed at a mass civil union ceremony at 5:30 at the Chicago History Museum. Its going to be massive.”

Rick Garcia sees today’s victory as validation for years of hard work.

“One of the things I realized was that was where the rubber hit the road for me. On hot hot days like today in Springfield, you walk around the capital building, and its muggy, but today you see the fruit of your work. People who needed protections and benefits are getting what they deserved today.”

“I’m more thrilled than I thought I would be.”

“This has been a hard spring for us, because there have been six attempts to modify or scrap the civil unions bill. Had it not been for [Illinois LGBT advocacy group] The Civil Rights Agenda and the ACLU, today would have been much different. They stopped every piece of legislation that would attempt to gut this. I’m looking at these couples, together–some for a short time, some for a long time–waiting for this and never expected to see this day, and here it is!”

“That said,” Garcia continued, “separate is not equal. We deserve one set of rules; one yard stick for everyone. We’re going to celebrate for two days, today and tomorrow when ceremonies are allowed to take place for the first time; but the day after we have work to do and that work is equal marriage.”

At the Clerk’s office, Garcia was speaking off camera with several television reporters, one of of which remarked, “Oh my God, Rick you look like the proud father!”



Gay journalist murdered inside Philadelphia home

Josh Kruger’s death has left city ‘shocked and saddened’



Josh Kruger with his cat Mason (Photo courtesy of Josh Kruger's Facebook page)

An openly gay journalist was shot to death in his Point Breeze neighborhood home in the 2300 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia early Monday morning.

According to Officer Shawn Ritchie, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, 39-year-old Josh Kruger was shot at about 1:30 a.m. and collapsed in the street after seeking help. Kruger was transported to Penn Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:13 a.m.

Police said that Kruger was shot seven times throughout the chest and abdomen and that no weapons were recovered nor have any arrests been made. Homicides investigators noted that there was no sign of forced entry and the motive remains unclear.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement:

“Josh Kruger lifted up the most vulnerable and stigmatized people in our communities — particularly unhoused people living with addiction. As an openly queer writer who wrote about his own journey surviving substance use disorder and homelessness, it was encouraging to see Josh join the Kenney administration as a spokesperson for the Office of Homeless Services.

Josh deserved to write the ending of his personal story. As with all homicides, we will be in close contact with the Philadelphia police as they work to identify the person or persons responsible so that they can be held to account in a court of law. I extend my deepest condolences to Josh’s loved ones and to all those mourning this loss.”

WHYY reported Kruger had written extensively with bylines in multiple publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, WHYY, and Billy Penn.

CBS News reported that Kruger overcame homelessness and addiction to work for five years in city government, handling Mayor Jim Kenney’s social media and serving as the communications director for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.

He left city government in 2021 to return to journalism, according to his website.

“He was more than just a journalist,” Kendall Stephens, who was a friend and neighbor of Kruger’s, told CBS News. “He was more than just a community member. He was somebody that fought that great fight so many of us are not able to fight that fight because we’re too busy sheltered in our own homes wondering if someone is going to knock down our doors and kill us the same way they killed him. The same way they tried to kill me. And we’re tired of it.”   

Kenney said in a statement that he is “shocked and saddened” by Kruger’s death.

“He cared deeply about our city and its residents, which was evident in his public service and writing. Our administration was fortunate to call him a colleague, and our prayers are with everyone who knew him.”

The District Attorney’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee issued the following statement:

“Many of us knew Josh Kruger as a comrade who never stopped advocating for queer Philadelphians living on the margins of society. His struggles mirrored so many of ours — from community rejection, to homelessness, to addiction, to living with HIV, to poverty — and his recovery, survival, and successes showed what’s possible when politicians and elected leaders reject bigotry and work affirmatively to uplift all people. Even while Josh worked for the mayor, he never stopped speaking out against police violence, politicized attacks on trans and queer people, or the societal discarding of homeless and addicted Philadelphians.

We are devastated that Josh’s life was ended so violently. We urge anyone who has information that could lead to an arrest and prosecution for Josh’s murder to contact the Philadelphia Police or the DA’s Office directly. LGBTQ+ Philadelphians experience violence of all kinds every day; few people used their platforms to remind powerful people in government of that reality as effectively as Josh Kruger did. Josh and the communities he advocated for every day of his life deserve nothing less than justice and accountability for this outrageous crime.”

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017



(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

Continue Reading

State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs



The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade