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Senate GOP filibusters nominee over pro-gay editorial

Aponte accused of promoting ‘the gay lifestyle’

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Mari Carmen Aponte (Photo courtesy State Department)

Senate Republicans successfully filibustered on Monday the confirmation of an ambassadorial nominee, citing a pro-LGBT editorial she wrote as one reason to vote against her.

The cloture vote to advance the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte for the position of U.S. ambassador to El Salvador failed by 49-37 on a mostly party-line basis.

Aponte has already been serving as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador through recess appointment. But to remain in effect, the nomination must be approved by Jan. 3.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a Tea Party favorite, said on the Senate floor that an editorial in favor of LGBT rights that Aponte wrote was a reason to withhold support for her.

“In her recess-appointed capacity as ambassador to El Salvador, Ms. Aponte has inflamed tensions in the very country where she should be improving diplomatic relations,” DeMint said. “Her decision to publish an opinion piece hostile to the culture of El Salvadorans presents even more doubts about her fitness for the job. This op-ed upset a large number of community and pro-life groups in El Salvador who were insulted by Ms. Aponte’s rhetoric.”

The op-ed, titled “For the Elimination of Prejudices Wherever They Exist,” was published on June 28 in La Prensa Grafica, a Spanish-language newspaper in El Salvador. The piece followed a call from the State Department to Foreign Services officers urging them to recognize June as the month of Pride overseas.

According to the Associated Press, Aponte wrote, “No one should be subjected to aggression because of who he is or who he loves. Homophobia and brutal hostility are often based on lack of understanding about what it truly means to be gay or transgender. To avoid negative perceptions, we must work together with education and support for those facing those who promote hatred.”

DeMint never specifically described the piece on the floor Monday as a pro-LGBT editorial. However, DeMint criticized Aponte’s remarks in a November article in the publication Human Events as “lecturing” El Salvador “on the need to accept and support the gay lifestyle.”

According to DeMint, a coalition of more than three dozen groups in El Salvador wrote to the Senate asking members to oppose Aponte’s confirmation following publication of the op-ed.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) defended Aponte on the Senate floor as “a qualified, talented Latina” and said Republican attacks on her op-ed were unwarranted because it was consistent with her country’s policy.

“The true irony of this trumped-up allegation is that the editorial, which Republicans assert stirred controversy and was rebuked throughout Latin America, mirrored a May 2010 decree by Salvadoran President Funes prohibiting discrimination by the Government of El Salvador based on sexual orientation,” Menendez said.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) were the only the Republicans who joined Democrats in support of Aponte. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) sided with Republicans in voting “no.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also cast a “no” vote, but doing so allows him to bring up the nomination again.

In a statement, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney slammed Republicans for filibustering the nomination as an example of Republicans choosing “to play politics with America’s national interests.”

“Today’s filibuster is one more example of the type of political posturing and partisanship the American people are tired of seeing in Washington,” Carney said. “Now is not the time for playing politics, it’s time for Congress to do the right thing for the American people.”

But the op-ed was only one issue that Republicans raised about Aponte. The GOP also took issue with a relationship she had with an insurance salesman named Roberto Tamayo that ended in 1994. In 1993, a Cuban intelligence defector accused Tamayo of being a Cuban spy and trying to recruit supporters. However, Tamayo was later reportedly said to have been an informant for the FBI.

On the Senate floor, DeMint accused the Obama administration of not providing enough information on this issue and Senate Foreign Affairs Chair John Kerry (D-Mass.) of not allowing enough discussion on these reports.

“For nearly a year and a half, Republicans have been continually denied access to Ms. Aponte’s full FBI record and other information, as the Obama administration has rebuffed our requests related to Ms. Aponte’s past,” DeMint said.

On the Senate floor, Menendez disputed the notion that anything in Aponte’s FBI file should detract from her ability to continue to serve as ambassador.

“Pursuant to precedent, one Democrat and one Republican reviewed that file,” Menendez said. “I was the Democrat. There was nothing in the file to substantiate the concerns raised by my colleagues.”

The issue of Aponte’s relationship came up before in 1994 when former President Clinton nominated her to become U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic. She asked that her nomination be withdrawn after her relationship became public.

A Senate aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said any justification the Republicans used to vote against Aponte was “just bullshit.”

“It was just this toss around,” the aide said. “They just floated those two things over and over again. I did not expect it to get traction, and it got traction. In fact, I think, at the end, they had problems with Democrats, I know they had only one [vote ‘no’], but I think they had more and they had to twist some arms.”

It’s unclear whether Reid will bring the nomination to the floor before Aponte’s recess appointment ends. For the cloture vote to be successful, Reid would need support from 11 more senators.

Asked whether the confirmation vote could still succeed, the anonymous aide expressed skepticism and said, “I don’t see where this is going anywhere.”

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Tatiana

    December 13, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Sen. Demented strikes again.

  2. frank

    December 13, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    this is really sad that we have [people who think like this in office in the first place one would think the passing of the bill AGAIST DADT WOULD HAVE CHANGED THINKING OF ALL IN THE END

  3. Customartist

    December 14, 2011 at 10:04 am

    We are sorely embarrassed by DeMint here in S. Carolina

  4. Tonic

    December 14, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Wow. DeMint’s talk is so un-Christian, unloving, almost inhuman… how did someone that psychotic get where did?

  5. The Tea Party At It's Best (or worst)

    December 18, 2011 at 12:48 am

    What can you expect from such closed minded thinkers? Stuck in the past and clinging to their money the tea party and other republicans are simply sick. Devoid of all human traits they stop at nothing to block virtually all progress sought by the democratic party. Ah, but wait ’til the shoe’s on the other foot. How they’ll cry when the democrats block their nominations. We’ll hear how the democrats are dirty low downs. How the tea party would never consider doing anything to block progress. Just wait and see. Those low life teapublicans will get the Presidency back some day and oh how they’ll pay.

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National

Activists demand ICE release transgender, HIV-positive detainees

Protest took place outside agency’s D.C. headquarters on Wednesday

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Jessycka Ckatallea Letona, an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who spent nearly two years in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, participated in a protest in front of ICE's headquarters in Southwest D.C. on Oct. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jessycka Ckatallea Letona is an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who fled persecution in her homeland because of her gender identity.

She asked for asylum in the U.S. in 2016 when she entered the country in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Ckatallea on Wednesday told the Washington Blade that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials placed her in a pod with 70 men at a privately-run detention center in Florence, Ariz. She also said personnel at another ICE detention center in Santa Ana, Calif., ridiculed her because of her gender identity and forced her to strip naked before she attended hearings in her asylum case.

Ckatallea spent a year and eight months in ICE custody before her release. She won her asylum case and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“It was a very traumatic experience,” said Ckatallea as she spoke with the Blade in front of ICE’s headquarters in Southwest D.C. “I came to a country thinking that it would take care of me, that it would protect me because of my gender identity.”

Ckatallea is one of the more than a dozen immigrant rights activists who participated in a protest in front of ICE’s headquarters that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention campaign organized. Ckatallea, Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron Morris and other protest participants demanded ICE immediately release trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from their custody.

The groups placed on the sidewalk in front of the building a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” to honor three trans women—Victoria Orellano, Roxsana Hernández and Johana “Joa” Medina León—who died in ICE custody or immediately after their release. The “ofrenda” also paid tribute to Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, a Venezuelan man with AIDS who died in ICE custody on Oct. 1.

Immigrant rights activists on Oct. 27, 2021, placed a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” outside U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Southwest D.C. that honored three transgender women and a man with AIDS who died while in ICE custody or immediately upon their release. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ckatallea, Morris and the other protesters approached the building’s entrance and presented security personnel with a petition that calls upon President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to “immediately release all transgender people, people living with HIV, and people with medical conditions from ICE custody.”

ICE has repeatedly defended its treatment of trans people and people with HIV/AIDS who are in their custody.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center, the same privately-run facility in which Gotopo was held until his hospitalization. The person with whom the Blade spoke described conditions inside the detention center as “not safe” because personnel were not doing enough to protect them and other detainees from COVID-19.

Congressman Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is among the dozens of lawmakers who have called for the release of all trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from ICE custody. The Illinois Democrat on Tuesday reiterated this call during a virtual briefing that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention Campaign organized.

“ICE’s clear inability to do better leads me to seek to end of ICE’s detention of all trans migrants,” said Quigley. “During both the Trump and Biden administration I led dozens of my colleagues to demand that ICE release transgender detainees and end its practice of holding trans migrants in custody. We had hoped that things would change with the new administration, so far I’m disappointed.”

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) also participated in the briefing alongside Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford and Sharita Gruberg of the Center for American Progress and others.

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Texas

Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott signs anti-Trans youth sports bill

“Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids & adults- the emails to the Governor to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law”

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Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott (Blade file screenshot)

AUSTIN – Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Monday H.B. 25, an anti-Transgender youth sports bill banning Trans K-12 student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. 

H.B. 25 is the 9th statewide bill signed into law this year banning transgender youth from participating in school sports and the 10th in the country. This bill also comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.

“We are devastated at the passage of this bill. Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids and adults, families and advocates, and the many emails and calls our community placed to the Governor’s office to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law,” Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, said.

“Most immediately, our focus is our community and integrating concepts of healing justice to provide advocates who have already been harmed by this bill with spaces to refill their cup and unpack the acute trauma caused by these legislative sessions. Our organizations will also begin to shift focus to electing pro-equality lawmakers who understand our issues and prioritize representing the vast majority of Texans who firmly believe that discrimination against trans and LGB+ people is wrong,” he added.

Earlier this month, the Texas state government was criticized for removing web pages with resources for LGBTQ youth, including information about The Trevor Project’s crisis services. The Trevor Project the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.

“Transgender and nonbinary youth are already at higher risk for poor mental health and suicide because of bullying, discrimination, and rejection. This misguided legislation will only make matters worse,” Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

To every trans Texan who may be feeling hurt and attacked by this legislation and months of ugly political debate — please know that you are valid, and you are deserving of equal opportunity, dignity and respect. The Trevor Project is here for you 24/7 if you ever need support, and we will continue fighting alongside a broad coalition of advocates to challenge this law,” Paley said.

********************

Additional resources:

Research consistently demonstrates that transgender and nonbinary youth face unique mental health challenges and an elevated risk for bullying and suicide risk compared to their peers.  

  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. 94% of LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health. 
  • A newly published research brief on “Bullying and Suicide Risk among LGBTQ Youth,” found that 61% of transgender and nonbinary (TGNB) students reported being bullied either in-person or electronically in the past year, compared to 45% of cisgender LGBQ students. TGNB students who were bullied in the past year reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not. And TGNB students who said their school was LGBTQ-affirming reported significantly lower rates of being bullied (55%) compared to those in schools that weren’t LGBTQ-affirming (65%).
  • A 2020 peer-reviewed study found that transgender and nonbinary youth who report experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity had more than double the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not experience discrimination based on their gender identity.
  • Trevor’s research has also found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (68%) had never participated in sports for a school or community league or club — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678.

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National

Ohio high school cancels play with Gay character after Pastor complains

The School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month until the play was canceled

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Hillsboro High School (Screenshot via Cincinnati ABC affiliate WCPO-TV)

HILLSBORO, Oh. — A Southwest Ohio high school’s play was abruptly canceled after Jeff Lyle, a local pastor from Good News Gathering, complained of a gay character. 

Hillsboro High School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month, until students learned the play would be canceled last week, reports Cincinnati’s ABC affiliate WCPO

The story follows a high school senior as she learns about her late sister’s life. It is implied throughout the play that her sister is gay, according to the news station.

The play’s cancellation comes a week after Lyle, a long-time voice of the anti-LGBTQ+ religious-right in Ohio, and a group of parents confronted the production’s directors at a meeting, according to Cincinnati CBS affiliate Local 12. Lyle denies pressuring school officials, but tells WCPO he supports the decision.

“From a Biblical worldview this play is inappropriate for a number of reasons, e.g. sexual innuendo, implied sexual activity between unmarried persons, repeated use of foul language including taking the Lord’s name in vain,” Lyle said. 

Some families say they believe Lyle did influence the school’s decision. 

“I think that’s wrong,” Jon Polstra, a father of one of the actors, told WCPO. “All they would have had to do if they objected to something in the play was not go to the play.”

In a statement to Local 12, Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Tim Davis said the play was canceled because it “was not appropriate for our K-12 audience.”

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that the school planned to perform a version intended for audiences as young as 11 years old. 

Students were “devastated” and “blindsided” by the news, according to WCPO. 

“It felt like we had just been told, ‘Screw off and your lives don’t matter,'” Christopher Cronan, a Hillsboro High student, said. “I am openly bisexual in that school and I have faced a lot of homophobia there, but I never expected them to cancel a play for a fictional character.”

Cronan’s father, Ryan, also voiced his frustration. 

“They want to say the town is just not ready, but how are you not ready? It’s 2021,” Ryan Cronan said.

Students have started a GoFundMe in hopes of putting on the production at a community theater in 2022.

“If we do raise enough money, I am going to be genuinely happy for a very long time, because that means people do care,” Cronan told WCPO.

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