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White House to unveil report on int’l LGBT efforts

U.S. agencies at work six months after Clinton’s high-profile speech

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The Obama administration is preparing to unveil a report summarizing the progress U.S. agencies have made in combating LGBT human rights abuses overseas, according to the White House.

“The reports were submitted by agencies as required by the president’s memorandum, and we will issue a summary in the near future,” Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson for the White House National Security Staff, told the Washington Blade.

On Dec. 6, the same day that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a high-profile speech in Geneva, Switzerland, saying LGBT people across the world “have an ally in the United States of America,” President Obama issued a memorandum calling on all U.S. agencies doing work overseas to step up efforts promoting international LGBT rights. Six months later, has the U.S. government heeded the call for more action?

All agencies working in foreign countries had to prepare a report within 180 days of the date of the memorandum — and each year afterward — on their progress toward advancing these goals. The agencies were directed to submit their reports to the State Department, which in turn was directed to compile the reports to transmit to the White House.

The memorandum was issued on Dec. 6, which means that agencies would have had to submit their reports by June 6 to meet the deadline of 180 days.

Daniel Baer, who’s gay and the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor, confirmed in a Blade interview that the State Department submitted its contribution, but deferred to the White House about the status of the compiled reports.

Baer said his department’s submission was a “highlights reel” of recent work on LGBT human rights — such as U.S. embassies’ work in holding events, reaching out to LGBT communities advocating to foreign governments — which when all tied up will “show a picture of increasingly across the board engagement on these issues.”

“Advocating for the human rights of LGBT people is becoming part of the daily work of our embassies and officials here in Washington and is very much a central part of overall human rights policy,” Baer said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. embassy in Kenya hosted a Pride event in which MaqC Eric Gitau, general manager of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya gave remarks. Another Pride celebration took place earlier this month at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo. Also this month, the U.S. embassy in Albania hosted a regional LGBT conference.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

For the domestic audience, Clinton issued a video in honor of June as Pride month, saying in her remarks, “United States embassies and missions throughout the world are working to defend the rights of LGBT people of all races, religions, and nationalities as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy.”

Baer declined to comment on the content of the reports other agencies have submitted. According to the memorandum, among them are the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, Health & Human Services and Homeland Security as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Millennium Challenge Corp., the Export-Import Bank and the U.S. Trade Representative.

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said he looks forward to reviewing the reports to evaluate the progress U.S. agencies have made on the policy announced last year.

“But clearly the State Department has taken this effort very seriously,” Bromley said. “The number of embassies around the world that have hosted Pride festivities or sponsored conferences or discussions with local LGBT communities during Pride month this June is an example of that.  The effort now is to be sure that the goodwill of our embassies abroad is used as productively as possible to provide a venue and support for local LGBT voices and does not drown them out or overpower them.”

The White House prepares to unveil the compiled report as the issue of international LGBT rights continue to make headlines in the United States and draw the attention of public officials.

  • In a letter dated June 26, 84 members of Congress — led by gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — wrote to Clinton urging the State Department to press the Honduran government to investigate and resolve reports of continued violence against LGBT people in the country. In particular, lawmakers asked about the case of Walter Trochez, a prominent LGBT activist, and opponent of the 2009 coup, who was murdered in a drive-by shooting.
  • In an earlier letter dated June 21, 50 members of Congress — led by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) — wrote to Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban in objection to anti-Semitic and homophobic positions supported by the far-right political party, Jobbik. According to the letter, the party introduced a bill calling for the imprisonment of those who “promote” homosexuality and the ouster of Robert Alfoldi, the director of the National Theater, based on his presumed homosexuality. Lawmakers called on Hungary’s leaders to take a firm stand against these positions.
  • Last week, Uganda reportedly banned 38 non-governmental organizations that it accused of promoting homosexuality and recruiting children into becoming gay.
  • An anti-homosexuality bill that would institute the death penalty homosexual acts is also set to move through the Uganda legislature. Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokesperson, reiterated the Obama administration’s opposition to the bill last week, saying, “We are resolutely opposed to the bill. We think it’s inconsistent with Uganda’s international human rights obligations, and this just sets a bad, bad precedent in the neighborhood.”

One of the initiatives announced by Clinton during her Geneva speech last year was a Global Equality Fund geared toward supporting the work of organizations on LGBT issues around the world. The secretary announced the United States had contributed $3 million to the fund. Baer said the money is still in the process of being allocated.

“We trying to make sure that we’re focusing on ways to get resources and support and expertise to those small NGOs wherever they are in these smaller capitals around the world,” Baer said. “We’ve actually engaged our embassies to help us identify opportunities to do small grants programs.”

Still, some projects have already received funding. Baer said the Global Equality Fund helped finance a project working with local groups in a region of four or five countries helping to train participants in documenting incidents of abuse and violence and give them technical assistance to store and share that information securely. According to Bear, the multi-year contribution was between $300,000 and $500,000, but he didn’t want to disclose more details because he doesn’t want to expose the project to additional scrutiny.

Prior to the establishment of the fund, Baer said the State Department established another partnership with an LGBT organization in Mongolia where the U.S. embassy issued a small grant under $30,000. The Mongolia-based group designed a public advocacy campaign meant to be a tolerance promotion campaign using TV and radio.

Additionally, Baer said the State Department is looking for private organizations and foreign countries to contribute more resources to the fund, but declined to identify any particular organization or country because nothing has yet been made final.

“I’m not worried that we’re going to run out of money and there won’t be any resources to dedicate to this; I think there’s an institutional commitment,” Baer said. “But I think the fund also serves obviously a public purpose in highlighting that commitment and also giving us a chance to partner with particularly other governments that are interested in not only making a resource contribution, but a symbolic contribution to demonstrate a shared commitment to this area.”

At the same time, USAID was set this month to announce the creation of an LGBT Global Partnership. According to a notice, the initiative was set to advance LGBT equality by providing “a greater voice in civil society and political processes, increased access to services including police and justice systems and improved economic security.” USAID didn’t respond to multiple requests to provide more information about the initiative.

 

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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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