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NAACP president: Marriage is ‘civil rights issue of our times’

Benjamin Todd Jealous described marriage as the “civil rights issue of our times.”

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NAACP, Benjamin Jealous, gay news, Washington Blade
NAACP, Ben Jealous, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous speaks at his organization's national headquarters in Baltimore on Monday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BALTIMORE – The leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stressed on Monday that his organization’s support of marriage for gays and lesbians is consistent with its broader mission to fight discrimination.

“We make this statement today because it is the legacy and responsibility of the NAACP to speak up on the civil rights issue of our times,” said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous during a press conference at the organization’s national headquarters. “We are both proud of our history and challenged by it—challenged to never allow threats to equality for all people under the law to go uncontested.”

Jealous’ comments came two days after the NAACP Board of Directors endorsed extending marriage rights to same-sex couples during their quarterly meeting in Miami. Jealous became emotional as he discussed his parents who had to get married in the District of Columbia in 1966 because Maryland did not allow interracial marriage—the U.S. Supreme Court struck down this ban in Loving v. Virginia the following year. He noted that Mildred Loving herself spoke out in support of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples before she passed away.

NAACP, Roslyn Brock, same sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

NAACP Board of Directors Chair Roslyn M. Brock defends her organization's support of marriage equality in Baltimore on Monday (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“We want to be on the record that the NAACP now firmly opposes all efforts to restrict marriage equality,” said Jealous. “We will oppose threats to the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal rights under the law in any state where this issue is raised.

Jealous dismissed reports that several board members voted against the marriage resolution. Roslyn Brock, chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors, said members had an “open, honest and candid conversation” about the issue during executive sessions.

“The conversation was dispassionate, it was respectful and it embraced and respected the views of all the members who sat around the table,” she said. “This is not a religious issue or a moral issue for the NAACP. That is not the role of the NAACP. On the constitutionality of the issue, the NAACP’s National Board of Directors voted overwhelmingly to support this issue.”

In spite of this support, Brock conceded that there are board members and other NAACP members whose positions on marriage continue to evolve.

“This conversation is one, as President Jealous has stated, is taking place or has taken place across the nation,” she said. “We will work together with our units and with our board to have the courageous conversations that are necessary around this issue.”

The NAACP’s endorsement of marriage rights to same-sex couples comes less than two weeks after North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Doctor William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, was among those who spoke out against the ballot measure before it passed by a 61-39 percent margin.

President Barack Obama on May 9 publicly backed the issue for the first time during a White House interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts.

“For the black community, the president of the United States is as close to Martin Luther King in terms of moral leadership,” said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, in response to a question about whether Obama’s support of marriage rights for same-sex couples prompted the NAACP’s position. “It’s not just amazing that we have a black president but that he exemplifies exceptional leadership. From a space of cultural connection more than anything else, the president stood up beyond popularity, beyond the norm, beyond status quo and took the courageous step on behalf of the LGBT community that many would have seen as a political risk. I see it as nothing less than courageous leadership.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in March signed a bill that will allow same-sex couples to marry, but state voters will likely face a November ballot referendum that would overturn the law that is slated to take effect on Jan. 1.

Fifty-two percent of respondents who participated in a Marylanders for Marriage Equality poll in March said they would vote for the same-sex marriage bill in the likely ballot measure.

Jealous stressed during the press conference that civil rights organizations remain united against the Maryland referendum and other similar measures across the country.

“Ballot measures like that on the ballot here in Maryland are intended to encode discrimination, codify discrimination into law and therefore stand apart from our nation’s recent decades and decades and decades and decades of using its constitution… to expand rights to people,” he said. “This is a cynical attempt to use a state constitution to restrict rights and we will oppose it as we have said in our statement.”

Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference NAACP, told the Blade after the press conference that his affiliate has not “had much discussion” yet on the likely referendum. He suggested, however, that the civil rights organization’s endorsement of marriage rights for same-sex couples will help black voters better understand ballot measure and its potential impact on LGBT Marylanders.

“We’re hoping that Maryland will understand that any person has a right to be protected under the law,” said Stansbury. “This is basically where we’re coming from. We’re supporting the national office and the national NAACP and taking the position that they have this weekend.”

Maryland Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) also welcomed the NAACP’s position.

“As a life long member, I am encouraged by this historic decision of national NAACP to transform their position which opposed efforts to ban civil recognition of same-sex unions to one which honors and is inclusive of our black LGBT community by supporting the struggle for full marriage equality for same gender loving couples,” she told the Blade. “For those African American people who were on the fence about the issue, the support of the NAACP and our president will help move the conversation forward.

Washington categorized the endorsement as an “important step” that bolsters the efforts of those fighting against the likely referendum. Lettman-Hicks stressed that the NAACP could play a crucial role in organizing opposition to the ballot measure much like it did in North Carolina.

“The same energy that we saw in North Carolina would be monumental to the state of Maryland,” she said. “I hope that the leadership the NAACP showed on the national level will manifest at the same magnitude in Maryland especially since they’re headquartered there.”

Washington conceded these efforts would not have much of an impact among white protestants and Roman Catholics who oppose marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“Our work in those communities should continue more vigorously now than ever before,” she 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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