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New group joins fight against workplace discrimination

Freedom to Work seeks passage of ENDA in two years

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Tico Almeida (photo by Scott Henrichsen)

A new group has formed to push for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and its leaders hope to disband after achieving their primary legislative goal in just two years.

The organization, called Freedom to Work, is headed by Tico Almeida, a civil rights litigator who served as ENDA’s lead counsel on the U.S. House Education & Labor Committee from 2007 to 2010.

In an interview with the Washington Blade, Almeida, who’s gay, said he’s personally committed to the passage of ENDA because he’s worked on workplace discrimination issues for several years and cares deeply about the problem.

“My legal career has been about workplace justice issues — not just for LGBT people — but on wage and hour issues, on immigrant workplace issues,” Almeida said. “My passion lies in workplace fairness and that’s what I want to be working in the next few years.”

Joe Racalto, Freedom to Work’s vice president for public policy and development, comes to the organization after working as a senior policy adviser for more than a decade for gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

“Few, if any, issues have dominated my professional and personal life like ENDA,” Racalto said. “I am joining the team at Freedom to Work because I don’t want LGBT workplace issues to get left behind any longer.”

Discriminating against workers — or even firing them — is legal on the basis of sexual orientation in 29 states and on the basis of gender identity in 35 states.

As it currently stands, ENDA would provide federal protections against this kind of discrimination in most situations against LGBT people in the private and public workforce. The legislation is sponsored by Frank in the House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate.

Almeida said the first step for Freedom to Work before the start of the next Congress over the course of the next 14 months is building up its speaker’s bureau of LGBT people who’ve experienced workplace discrimination.

The personal stories of these people in the workplace, Almeida said, will help match statistics and studies showing the problem of workplace discrimination “with compelling stories to personalize the issue.”

“We don’t have that many recent compelling stories to tell — especially compared to the successful advocacy that there was done to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in which dozens and dozens of service members were telling their stories to national media, to newspapers both local and national throughout the course of the year to build up toward repeal,” Almeida said.

Jarrod Chlapowski, development and outreach director for Servicemembers United, said educational and personal stories helped in the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and should contribute to the campaign to pass ENDA.

“In every movement, real momentum begins when the political climate is not so favorable and transformational figures choose to lay the basic educational groundwork from which a critical mass for change can be achieved,” Chlapowski said. “This was the model used by Servicemembers United in the movement to repeal [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’], and I am pleased and exhilarated that lessons and tactics learned in the [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] repeal fight are finally being utilized in the movement for full workplace equality.”

Chlapowski is a member of Freedom to Work’s national advisory board and said he’s honored to be part of the organization as it “moves forward with its ambitious vision.”

The organization already has one LGBT individual as a member of its speaker’s bureau who’s experienced workplace discrimination and is calling for passage of ENDA.

Ronald Crump, a sergeant for the Los Angeles Police Department, is a founding member of the bureau and says he experienced discrimination while on the job as a police officer.

After his supervisor targeted him with anti-gay harassment and insults, Crump complained to his superiors, but they responded with further retaliation.

“I was retaliated against and received a transfer that amounted to a demotion after I complained to the L.A.P.D. that my direct supervisor was harassing me for being gay,” Crump said.

According to Crump, he was told by his supervisor: “I was a religion major at Liberty University — Jerry Falwell would roll over in his grave if he knew I hired you.”

Because such discrimination is illegal under California state law, Crump was able to take his claims to a jury in a Los Angeles courthouse and prevailed earlier this year. However, the same legal action wouldn’t be possible in many places in the country.

“I am grateful that earlier this year I got my day in court to prove my case of retaliation, and a jury of my peers agreed with me and awarded a significant verdict,” Crump said. “That was possible only because California laws guarantee LGBT employees the freedom to work without discrimination. If I had worked as a police officer in Philadelphia, Miami, St. Louis or Houston, I never would have gotten my day in court. That’s why we need ENDA.”

Highlighting these stories is what Freedom to Work is focusing on over the course of the 112th Congress. Almeida said he thinks passing ENDA before the end of next year will be a “Hail Mary” and the work for the time being will be on spreading personal stories “so that we start the next Congress much better prepared.”

“And by telling those stories, we think we will change hearts and minds and convince even more Americans — who already overwhelmingly support the bill — but even more Americans that this is the right policy and convince more lawmakers that they should vote ‘yes,'” Almeida said.

Asked when he thinks ENDA will become law, Almeida made a pledge for his organization: Freedom to Work will dissolve after ENDA has been passed into law and is hoping to do so before its two-year anniversary.

“We will exist for the sole purpose of increasing public education about LGBT workplace discrimination and for passing ENDA, and will disband after the statute goes into effect,” Almeida said. “So, it is our goal and would be an enormous success if we dissolve Freedom to Work by our two-year anniversary in the fall of 2013.”

Almeida acknowledged that passage of ENDA might not happen by that time, but said he thinks passage would be a “solid accomplishment” even if it occurred at a later time.

“If it took three years or four years, I still think that would be a solid accomplishment and we would still be very happy with the outcome and dissolve the organization that way,” Almeida said.

Any oversight role that would be needed after ENDA is passed, Almeida said, would be fulfilled by the private bar and other LGBT groups.

“It will always be the case for all civil rights statutes that courts will roll back advances, and Congress may have to come out and fix or improve statutes, and there are a large number of civil rights groups within the LGBT community, outside of it, lawyers’ groups that monitor those things and work on enforcement,” Almeida said.

One issue with ENDA that has instigated discussion — even heated conflict — within the LGBT community is the inclusion of gender identity language in the legislation.

In 2007, Frank dropped the gender identity protections in the legislation after he determined the votes were lacking in the 110th Congress to pass an inclusive version of the legislation.

The House passed the measure 235-184, but the removal of the language caused a firestorm in the LGBT community. The legislation never saw action in the Senate.

Almeida called the inclusion of both sexual orientation and gender identity language “absolutely essential” ingredients.

“It’s a matter of fairness, it’s a matter of unity and solidarity in our community and it’s the best policy,” Almeida said.

Concurrent with the goal of passing ENDA, Freedom to Work also aims to convince President Obama to take administrative action to address workplace discrimination against LGBT people.

Along with other advocates, the organization is pushing for an executive order prohibiting federal money from going to contractors and suppliers that don’t have their own non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“In the next year, one of our main policy areas of focus will be encouraging the Obama administration to create and amend the executive order for federal contractors,” Almeida said. “We will do public education through op-eds, blogs, other social media to increase awareness about how such an executive order will save U.S. taxpayer money and protect LGBT Americans’ freedom to work for federal contractors.”

The order has been seen as an interim alternative to passing ENDA as long as Republicans remain in control of the U.S. House, but Almeida said the legislation and the order are “completely complementary.”

“That is a goal worth pursuing in and of itself because the executive order will have real enforcement powers that the Department of Labor can use on behalf of real life victims of workplace discrimination even before ENDA passes, and even after ENDA passes,” Almeida said.

Having both the order and law in place would provide two avenues for LGBT people seeking remedies for discrimination they’ve experienced in the workplace.

The directive would provide recourse through the Department of Labor while ENDA would provide recourse through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Other workers — including racial minorities and women —have both options to protect them.

Almeida added the order will “build political momentum” and raise the visibility of LGBT workplace discrimination issues to “make getting ENDA through Congress even easier.”

The Obama administration hasn’t said whether it would be open to issuing such an executive order. Still, Almeida said he’s “optimistic” the administration will come through with the directive before the end of the Obama’s first term.

“I’m optimistic because of the Obama administration’s strong record on LGBT issues in the past three years and I’m optimistic because this politically is far easier than some of the things they have already done,” Almeida said.

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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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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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