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Bi congressional candidate accuses opponent of homophobic tactics

Critics dismiss Sinema’s charges as ‘preposterous’

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A former Arizona state lawmaker who could become the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress is accusing a Democratic primary opponent of telling potential supporters that she can’t win because of her sexual orientation. Meanwhile, LGBT supporters of her opponent have rushed to his defense.

Kyrsten Sinema, who was a state lawmaker for seven years, is competing in a three-way primary set for Tuesday with Andrei Cherny, a former chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, and State Senate Minority Leader David Schapira. The winner gets the Democratic nod to represent the state’s 9th congressional district in the U.S. House.

In a Washington Blade interview on Friday, Sinema had particularly harsh words for Cherny, whom she said has engaged in “very, very, very dirty” campaign tactics by telling potential supporters she wouldn’t be a good choice for the Democratic nomination because she’s bisexual and single.

“Unfortunately, his strategy every time he runs for office has been to really seek to tear down his opponent instead of putting forth his own positive ideas for the future,” Sinema said. “We’re seeing that same strategy again in this election.”

In one instance, Sinema said she was told by a union — which ultimately chose to endorse her — that Cherny said during an earlier endorsement interview that she couldn’t win because of her sexual orientation.

“I got a call from some union folks who support my campaign because of my long history of standing with working families,” Sinema said. “Apparently, he had told some of them in interviews that I couldn’t win the election and that I shouldn’t get the endorsement because I’m openly bisexual and can’t win a general election.”

Sinema said the union asked her later about her sexual orientation and she replied, “It’s true that I’m openly bisexual, I have been my entire adult life, and I’ve managed to win four elections, and, meanwhile, he’s lost two, so perhaps it was being straight that was the problem here.”

Before becoming chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, Cherny lost an election for California State Assembly in 2002 and lost an election to become Arizona state treasurer.

Additionally, Sinema accused Cherny and his wife of telling potential donors she wouldn’t be the right choice because she’s “not a family person.” While Sinema is single and has no children, Cherny is married and has two children.

“I spent nearly two decades as a social worker and an educator with kids,” Sinema said. “So, my whole life has been about helping middle-class families. So it’s just kind of a hollow argument to say I’m not a family person.”

However, Sinema said the strategy “backfired” and as a result of him allegedly making these comments to potential donors, she’s received phone calls from individuals offering help because they considered it “a distasteful strategy.”

Sinema declined to identify the union or the potential donors to whom Cherny allegedly made the accusations.

Seth Scott, Cherny’s campaign manager, responded to Sinema’s accusations by denying the charges and calling her a liar.

“Kyrsten Sinema’s false accusation is a dirty, desperate and slanderous lie,” Scott said. “Sinema’s willingness to make up such egregious lies tells us all we need to know about her own personal character, her standing in the polls and her fitness for office.”

It’s not the first time Sinema has accused Cherny of underhanded campaign tactics. In May, The Hill newspaper reported that Sinema and Schapira issued a joint statement criticizing Cherny for what they called “Karl Rove-styled attacks” from an earlier campaign as well as in the current primary.

According to The Hill, Sinema and Schapira criticized Cherny for his 2002 campaign for a seat in the California State Assembly. The mailer featured a photograph of a tattooed black male with a gun, suggesting voters would be unsafe under Cherny’s opponent. Further, Sinema and Schapira reportedly accused Cherny of circulating false information to right-wing publications, misrepresenting news articles and employing guilt by association to attack other Democrats. Cherny’s supporters reportedly said the other candidates were smearing him and Cherny was quoted as saying the 10-year-old flier doesn’t reflect the work he’s done over the past 15 years.

Sinema, who is known as an LGBT rights advocate in Arizona and led campaigns against state ballot initiatives prohibiting same-sex marriage, has been endorsed by major LGBT organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, said the campaign tactics that Sinema says Cherny is employing against her aren’t unusual in tight races involving LGBT candidates.

“It’s something we’ve seen before in races as they’ve come down to the wire and our candidates are in a good position,” Dison said. “Unfortunately, even in Democratic primaries, you see people start to play this ‘sexual orientation’ card. It’s particularly unfortunate that this is happening in a primary in a party that is supposed to beyond this type of politicking. But you see it from time to time, and it’s unfortunate that it is apparently happening now in Kyrsten’s race.”

Some prominent LGBT individuals in Arizona rallied behind Cherny in the face of the accusations, saying that they couldn’t believe he would make homophobic remarks and that Sinema was making accusations without offering proof.

Jim Kolbe, a gay Republican who formerly represented Arizona in the U.S. House, called the allegations against Cherny “preposterous” and said there’s no way the candidate would employ such campaign tactics.

“I’ve known Andrei for a number of years and there has never been anybody that is more open, more gay friendly,” Kolbe said. “It’s just inconceivable that he would try and make that charge. It’s ironic, I guess, a sign of times, that gay politics has come to this, where instead of accusing somebody of being gay, you accuse of maybe not being gay enough. But, obviously, that’s not true. I feel absolutely certain that’s not accurate.”

Neil Giuliano, a gay former mayor of Tempe, Ariz., and former head of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said he knows Cherny and there’s “nothing homophobic or anti-gay” about the candidate.

“I understand it’s been a really rough race between the three of them,” Giuliano said. “They’re all good people, but I’m compelled to weigh in on Andrei’s behalf because I just can’t, for the life of me, believe that kind of an accusation against Andrei Cherny. I just don’t believe it.”

According to Federal Election Commission reports, Giuliano has contributed a total of $1,500 to Cherny, but Giuliano said he otherwise has stayed out of the race.

Rebecca Wininger, a lesbian Phoenix, Ariz., activist, said she backed Cherny early in his campaign and doesn’t believe he would make homophobic comments because people within his family are members of the LGBT community.

“I’ve seen him interact with them with love and support, and I can’t believe the Andrei I know would make such statements,” Wininger said.

Wininger is board president of Equality Arizona, but she said she was speaking on her own behalf and not as part of any organization.

The three Democrats have been involved in a fierce fundraising battle with less than one week before the primary. The Washington Blade was unable to find any recent, independent polls reflecting the state of the campaign.

According to the most recent Federal Election Commission reports, Cherny has raised the most money, a total of $861,477 while spending $572,889 and having $289,088 in cash on hand. In comparison, Sinema has raised $747,403, spent $592,909 and has $154,495 in cash on hand. Meanwhile, Schapira has $237,889 in net receipts, spent $223,826 in expenditures, has $14,063 in cash on hand.

Besides making allegations about Cherny, Sinema said during the Blade interview she’s committed to LGBT issues and sees passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and second-parent adoption as priorities along with other initiatives if she’s elected to Congress.

“People actually do get fired for being gay,” Sinema said. “People do get refusals to promote or refused to hire because they’re gay or perceived to be gay. I see ENDA and second-parent adoption as being very practical. People need jobs and need to take care of their families. So those are high on my priority list.”
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Colorado

Five transgender, nonbinary ICE detainees allege mistreatment at Colo. detention center

Advocacy groups filed complaint with federal officials on April 9

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(Photo courtesy of GEO Group)

Five transgender and nonbinary people who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a privately-run detention center in Colorado say they continue to suffer mistreatment.

The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, the National Immigration Project and the American Immigration Council on April 9 filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Offices for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Immigration Detention Ombudsman and Inspector General and ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility on behalf of the detainees at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility near Denver.

Charlotte, one of the five complainants, says she spends up to 23 hours a day in her room. 

She says in the complaint that a psychiatrist has prescribed her medications for anxiety and depression, but “is in the dark about her actual diagnoses because they were not explained to her.” Myriah and Elsa allege they do not have regular access to hormones and other related health care.

Omar, who identifies as trans and nonbinary, in the complaint alleges they would “start hormone replacement therapy if they could be assured that they would not be placed in solitary confinement.” Other detainees in the complaint allege staff have also threatened to place them in isolation.

“They have been told repeatedly that, if they started therapy, they would be placed in ‘protective custody’ (solitary confinement) because the Aurora facility has no nonbinary or men’s transgender housing unit,” reads the complaint. “This is so, despite other trans men having been detained in Aurora in the past, so Omar is very likely receiving misinformation that is preventing them from accessing the treatment they require.”

Omar further alleges staffers told them upon their arrival that “they had to have a ‘boy part’ (meaning a penis) to be assigned to” the housing unit in which other trans people live. Other complainants say staff have also subjected them to degrading comments and other mistreatment because of their gender identity. 

“Victoria, Charlotte and Myriah are all apprehensive about a specific female guard who is assigned to the housing unit for transgender women at Aurora,” reads the complaint. “Victoria has experienced this guard peering at her through the glass on the door of her form. Charlotte, Myriah and the other women in her dorm experienced the same guard making fun of them after they complained that she had confiscated all of their personal hygiene products, like their toothbrushes and toothpaste, and replaced them with menstrual pads and tampons, which she knows they do not need.”

“She said something to them like, ‘If you were real women, you would need these things,'” reads the complaint. “the same guard told them that they had to ask her for their personal hygiene products when they wanted to use them, stripping them of their most basic agency.”

Victoria, who has been in ICE custody for more than two years, also says she does not have regular access to hormones. Victoria further claims poor food, lack of access to exercise and stress and anxiety because of her prolonged detention has caused has made her health deteriorate.

The GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates the Aurora Contract Detention Facility.

Advocates for years have complained about the conditions for trans and nonbinary people in ICE custody and have demanded the agency release all of them.

Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV, on May 25, 2018, died in ICE custody in New Mexico. Her family in 2020 sued the federal government and the five private companies who were responsible for her care.

Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans Salvadoran woman, on June 1, 2019, passed away at a Texas hospital four days after her release from ICE custody. Kelly González Aguilar, a trans Honduran woman, had been in ICE custody for more than two years until her release from the Aurora Contract Detention Center on July 14, 2020.

ICE spokesperson Steve Kotecki on Friday told the Blade there were 10 “self-identified transgender detainees” at the Aurora Contract Detention Center on April 11. The facility’s “transgendered units” can accommodate up to 87 trans detainees. 

A 2015 memorandum then-ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Thomas Homan signed requires personnel to allow trans detainees to identify themselves based on their gender identity on data forms. The directive, among other things, also contains guidelines for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for trans detainees and requires detention facilities to provide them with access to hormone therapy and other trans-specific health care.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is committed to ensuring that all those in its custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments,” said Kotecki. “ICE regularly reviews each case involving self-identified transgender noncitizens and determines on a case-by-case basis whether detention is warranted.”

The complaint, however, states this memo does not go far enough to protect trans and nonbinary detainees.

“ICE’s 2015 guidance has some significant flaws,” it reads. “It fails to provide meaningful remedies for policy violations. It does not acknowledge the challenges that nonbinary people face when imprisoned by ICE and the lack of such guidance explains why the needs of nonbinary people are largely misunderstood and unmet.”

“Further, the language used to describe people who are TNB is not inclusive and does not reflect terminology adopted by the community it is meant to describe,” adds the complaint. “Although this list is not exhaustive, it addresses some of the primary concerns voiced by the complaints.”

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The White House

Francisco Ruiz appointed director of White House Office of National AIDS Policy

Former CDC official is first Latino to run office

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Francisco Ruiz, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. (Photo public domain)

Francisco Ruiz’s appointment as the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy has elicited widespread acknowledgment across various sectors.

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health with a history of collaboration and strategic partnerships, assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director, underscoring a commitment to diversity and inclusivity in addressing public health challenges.

In response to his appointment, Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden underscored the Biden-Harris administration’s steadfast commitment to ending the HIV epidemic and enhancing the quality of life for people living with HIV. Ruiz himself acknowledged this sentiment, emphasizing that accelerating efforts to combat the HIV epidemic and improve the well-being of those affected remain a paramount public health priority for the White House.

Previously serving at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ruiz played a pivotal role in advancing national HIV prevention campaigns, particularly contributing to the goals of the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative. His experience in fostering strategic partnerships and ensuring sensitive prevention messaging has been noted as instrumental in reaching diverse communities across the country and in U.S. territories.

Ruiz in his new role will be tasked with accelerating efforts to end the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV. 

Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of the Hispanic Health Network, expressed confidence in Ruiz’s ability to advance the national strategy to end the HIV epidemic.

“Mr. Ruiz is a respected public health leader and a fitting choice to ensure that the Biden-Harris administration meets the goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States and U.S. Territories,” said Chacón.

“Francisco Ruiz’s appointment signifies a renewed focus on addressing health disparities and promoting health equity, particularly for historically marginalized and underserved communities,” he added. “As a person living with HIV and the son of Mexican immigrants, Ruiz brings personal insight and professional expertise to his new role, ensuring that strategies to combat HIV/AIDS are scientifically grounded and connected with the experiences of those most affected.”

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Federal Government

FDA plans to lift ban on gay, bisexual sperm donors

Ban has been in place since 2005

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

The Food and Drug Administration is planning to lift its ban on sperm donations from men who have sex with men, according to a report in the Wall Street JournalThe report also says the FDA would simultaneously lift the ban on donations of other tissues and organs from gay and bisexual men.

The Wall Street Journal report suggests that the FDA could put out a draft of the new policy for public comment by the summer, with a final rule in place by the end of 2024 or early 2025.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the FDA would not confirm the Wall Street Journal story, but acknowledged that, “the FDA routinely reviews approaches regarding donor screening and testing for donors of human cells, tissues and cellular and tissue-based products (HCT/Ps) to determine what changes, if any, are appropriate based on technological and evolving scientific knowledge.” 

The FDA imposed the sperm donation ban on men who have sex with men in 2005, as part of an expansion on existing prohibitions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men which were meant to mitigate the risk that HIV could be spread through donations.

The policies stemmed from an erroneous belief that gay men were more likely to carry HIV, regardless of their individual behaviors and risk factors.

Last year, the FDA finally ended the ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men, which had been in place since the early days of the AIDS crisis. The FDA now requires that blood donors are screened based on individual behaviors in a gender-neutral manner, in addition to the donations themselves being tested for HIV and other blood-borne illnesses.

Alice Ruby, executive director of the Sperm Bank of California in Berkeley, says the lifting of the blood ban should provide a template for ending the sperm ban.

“I’m hoping it’s similar to the blood donation screening, where it’s based on behaviour, rather than being part of a population,” she says. “We test donors repeatedly for HIV as required by the FDA.”

The Sperm Bank of California has served many lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and Ruby says that she’s often told her clients would like a queer donor, to ensure that the biological father won’t be someone who disapproves of queer families. The ban removes that choice from would-be mothers.

The Sperm Bank of California has been opposed to the gay sperm donation ban since the policy was first proposed 20 years ago and has advocated in tandem with the National Center for Lesbian Rights for the policy to be scrapped.

“People are pretty unaware that the ban exists. I think there’s a lot of gay men who would be happy to contribute in this way, especially since a large number of people using sperm donation are LGBT couples and single people,” Ruby says.

Sperm banks across the country have been experiencing shortages of donor sperm, especially from donors of color. Opening the donor pool to gay and bi men could help ease the shortage. Ruby has told the Blade that the Sperm Bank of California has had to turn away gay and bi donors every week, up to 400 men in a single year.

When the FDA releases its draft policy around sperm donation, there will be a public comment period before the regulation is made final. Ruby says anyone interested opening up sperm donation to gay and bisexual men should submit a comment to support the change.

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