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Cuban LGBT activists cite progress, ongoing harassment

Authorities detained Leannes Imbert Acosta in Havanafor 12 hours on Sept. 11

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Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Cuba

Leannes Imbert Acosta (Photo courtesy of Cuba Archive)

NEW YORK– A leading Cuban LGBT rights advocate says that the country’s activists continue to suffer harassment and discrimination in spite of high profile pro-LGBT campaigns on the island.

“We are starting to understand how to organize in a more effective manner,” said Leannes Imbert Acosta, national coordinator of the Cuban LGBT Platform, an umbrella organization she co-founded in June of 12 of the island’s independent LGBT rights groups. She spoke during a panel on LGBT rights in Cuba at the Schomberg Center for Research and Black Culture in Manhattan on Saturday. “There is more societal tolerance, but discrimination still exists.”

The website Cubanet reported that two Cuban security officials detained Imbert Acosta on Sept. 11 as she left her Havana home to deliver to Mariela Castro, director of the country’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX.) materials for a planned exhibit on forced labor camps to which the government sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military service during the 1960s. Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, has said CENESEX would conduct an investigation into these camps, known as Military Units to Aid Production or by their Spanish acronym UMAPs, but Imbert and other activists maintain that Castro has refused to work with them on this issue.

Cuba Archive, a New Jersey-based organization that documents the Cuban government’s human rights abuses, said that authorities confiscated Imbert’s materials and pressured her to cancel the planned exhibit before releasing her 12 hours later.

Castro becomes public face of Cuba’s gay rights movement

Mariela Castro has spearheaded a number of campaigns designed to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and promote the acceptance of LGBT people on the island over the last decade.

Castro successfully lobbied the Cuban government to begin offering free sex-reassignment surgery under the country’s national health care system in 2010. She has also spoken out in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Castro appeared at the New York Public Library with Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in May while she and other Cuban scholars visited the United States. She also met with other LGBT activists in San Francisco during the trip.

“I honestly think that the activities of Mariela Castro and the CENESEX have been positive regarding the rights of LGBT people in Cuba,” said Emilio Bejel, a Cuban-born poet who immigrated to the United States in the 1960s. The government frequently imprisoned gays and lesbians until it repealed the country’s sodomy law in 1979, but activists and others maintain that authorities continue to use public decency and assembly laws to harass them. “The difference between the situation today and just a few years ago is considerable, but there is still a refusal from the Cuban government to give full rights afforded to LGBT people.”

Achy Obejas, a lesbian Cuban American writer and journalist from Chicago who immigrated to the United States from Cuba with her family when she was six, agreed.

“Mariela’s work has been, actually I think, very good in terms of getting non-queers to talk about queers,” she said. “We never needed Mariela for us to talk about us. What she’s done is sort of made the topic more accessible, more common in places where this conversation wouldn’t be happening unless there was a queer person present or a queer problem to contend with.”

Mabel Cuesta, a lesbian Cuban-born writer who is an assistant professor in the University of Houston’s Department of Hispanic Studies, noted that police continue to raid private gay parties — Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar and French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier were among the hundreds of people detained at a popular gay nightclub in Havana in 1997.

Independent LGBT rights groups and publications remain banned in Cuba, while the government requires officially sanctioned clubs to be heterosexual. Authorities arrested members of the Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians, an independent LGBT rights group, after the government shut it down in 1997.

Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Cuba

Ignacio Estrada Cepero (Photo courtesy of Cuba Archive)

Ignacio Estrada Cepero, a gay HIV/AIDS activist who founded the Cuban League Against AIDS in 2003, said from Havana that those with the virus in the country continue to face discrimination. Until 1993, the Cuban government forcibly quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria. Estrada, who is positive, noted that 577 Cubans with the virus remain in prison for what he described as the crime of “pre-criminal social dangerousness.”

Observers credit the country’s condom distribution campaign and sexual education curriculum for producing one of the world’s lowest HIV infection rates. Cubans with the virus have access to free anti-retroviral drugs through the country’s health care system, but Estrada complained that these medications do not always reach those who need them.

“What we’re confronting in Cuba is a situation where people with HIV/AIDS… are living without,” he said. “We don’t have access to medication and our rights are violated.”

Jafari Allen, assistant professor of anthropology and African American studies at Yale University who has conducted research in Cuba, was also on the panel.

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Local

Conservatives blame pro-trans policy after assaults in Loudoun schools

‘Gender fluid’ 15-year-old accused of attacking female students

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The Loudoun County, Va., public school system’s recently adopted policy of allowing students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity has come under fire over the past two weeks by outraged parents and conservative political activists following reports that a 15-year-old “gender fluid” boy allegedly sexually assaulted two girls in different high schools.

The parents of one of the girls released a statement through the Virginia-based Stanley Law Group blaming school officials for failing to put in place safeguards to prevent the boy, who they say was dressed in a skirt, from entering the girl’s bathroom to assault their daughter at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va., on May 28.

The statement accuses Loudoun County Schools officials and the Loudoun County Board of Education of failing to take steps to prevent the same 15-year-old boy from allegedly sexually assaulting another female student at Broad Run High School, also located in Ashburn, on Oct. 6 in a vacant classroom.

School officials acknowledge that the boy was transferred to the second school after law enforcement authorities released him from a juvenile detention facility following his arrest for the first case, in which the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said he was charged with two counts of forceable sodomy against his female victim. 

“The sexual assault on our daughter and the subsequent sexual assault by the same individual were both predictable and preventable,” the parents’ statement says. “Subsequent to the sexual assault on our daughter, Loudoun County Public Schools formalized the policy regarding restroom use that was easily exploitable by a potential sexual assailant,” the statement continues. 

“Because of poor planning and misguided policies, Loudoun Schools failed to institute even minimal safeguards to protect students from sexual assaults,” says the statement.

Loudoun County Schools Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler apologized at an Oct. 15 news conference for what he acknowledged was the school systems’ mishandling of the two sexual assault cases. He noted that school officials should have publicly disclosed the two cases or at least alerted parents at the time they occurred. But he said a federal civil rights law known as Title IX that mandates how schools must respond to cases of sexual harassment appeared to prevent Loudoun school officials from initially disclosing the two cases of sexual assault until they were investigated by law enforcement authorities.

Ziegler said the school system was revamping its disciplinary procedures and its interaction with the Loudoun Sheriff’s Office to ensure that parents and students are alerted to potential danger similar to the cases where the 15-year-old boy allegedly assaulted the two female students.

Meanwhile, school officials and the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Loudoun have pointed out that law enforcement officials have yet to confirm whether the 15-year-old boy charged in the two cases was actually dressed in women’s clothes during the first incident or whether he is trans or gender fluid.

Equality Loudoun’s president, Cris Candice Tuck, released a statement to the Washington Blade on Oct. 18 that she said was the first official known statement responding to the Loudoun school controversy from an LGBTQ organization.

“In light of the reporting of recent sexual assault allegations, the Board of Directors of Equality Loudoun wishes to extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of these heinous attacks and their families,” the statement says. “Equality Loudoun advocates for due process and justice for the victims regardless of whether the alleged perpetrator was a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” the statement continues. “Such actions have no place in our community, and Equality Loudoun does not condone any form of sexual violence, assault, or harassment,” it says.

“However, the accusations that the alleged perpetrator of these assaults is transgender or genderfluid have so far been unverified,” the Equality Loudoun statement asserts. “Attempts to shift blame of this incident to any individual, group, or policy – other than the alleged perpetrator – does a grave disservice to the victims of these crimes and already marginalized youth in our community.”

The statement adds, “We remind those advocating for change to the laws and policies that the initial assault predated any enactment of Policy 8040 by almost 4 months.”

The Equality Loudoun statement was referring to the fact that the Loudoun County School Board did not vote to approve the school system’s trans nondiscrimination policy until August of this year, more than three months after the first of the two sexual assault incidents occurred. 

The policy, among other things, allows transgender and genderfluid students to use the school bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. The policy also requires that teachers, school administrators and fellow students address a trans or genderfluid student by their chosen name and pronouns.

“Inadvertent slips in the use of names and pronouns may occur,” the policy states. “However, staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun are in violation of this policy,” it states.

The statement says that rumors of a bathroom “pilot” program that predated the official approval of Policy 8040 that would have allowed female trans or genderfluid students to use the girls’ bathrooms “are simply untrue” and were never put in place.

In a separate statement to the Blade, Equality Loudoun’s Cris Candice Tuck challenged claims by some parents and conservative political activists, some of whom are supporting Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAulliffe, that the trans nondiscrimination policy is placing students at risk for sexual assault.

“The adoption of nondiscrimination policies are in no way endangering students,” Candice Tuck said. “Across the country, sexual assaults have occurred in schools for decades before any transgender inclusive policies were passed,” she said. “And in those counties and states where such protections have passed in recent years, there has been no verified incidence of anyone abusing such policies to commit such attacks in schools.”

Candice Tuck added, “The focus should be on improving systems of reporting, coordination, and investigation, protecting the victims of these attacks, and creating safer school environments by creating modernized areas and bathrooms that increase protection for all students, including LGBTQ+ students who are statistically more likely to be the victim of such a crime.”  

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World

Jamaica man attacked after using gay dating app

Victim’s penis partially severed before he was set on fire

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A Jamaican and Pride flag fly on the beach in Montego Bay, Jamaica, on Oct. 15, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson's Facebook page)

An 18-year-old man in Jamaica remains hospitalized in critical condition after he was targeted on a gay dating app.

The Jamaica Gleaner reports the victim on Oct. 11 went to a neighborhood in Montego Bay, a resort city that is the capital of Jamaica’s St. James Parish, to meet the man with whom he was speaking.

The newspaper reports the man and two other men abducted the victim, robbed him and partially severed his penis before they set him on fire. Officials said the three men took his cell phone and used his bank card to withdraw money from his account.

“He is a very lucky young man because although they left him in a critical condition, he managed to make his way to a security checkpoint in the community where they assisted him to the hospital, where he was admitted in critical condition,” a local police officer told the Jamaica Gleaner.

The Jamaica Gleaner reported a 43-year-old man in St. James Parish disappeared in January 2020 after he went to meet someone with whom he had spoken on a gay dating website. Authorities later found the man’s body, and two men have been charged with his murder.

Violence against LGBTQ Jamaicans remains commonplace. Consensual same-sex sexual relations also remain criminalized in the country.

J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBTQ rights group, has condemned the latest attack.

“Like all well-thinking Jamaicans at this time, JFLAG is outraged at the recent attack on an 18-year-old man in St. James,” tweeted J-FLAG on Sunday. “His attackers must be brought to justice.”

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National

Colin Powell, leaving mixed legacy on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ dies at 84

Key figure once opposed gays in military, then backed review

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gay news, Washington Blade, Colin Powell, gay marriage
Colin Powell leaves behind a mixed legacy on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Colin Powell, the first ever Black secretary of state who served in top diplomatic and military roles in U.S. administrations, died Monday of coronavirus at age 84, leaving behind a mixed record on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The world continues to grapple with the pandemic and the public grows increasingly frustrated with its persistence as many remain unvaccinated despite the wide availability of vaccines. Powell was fully vaccinated, according to a statement released upon his death. Powell reportedly suffered from multiple myeloma, a condition that hampers an individual’s ability to combat blood infections.

Rising to the top of the military as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell supported in 1993 Congress moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that barred openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

During a key moment congressional testimony, Powell and other top military officials were asked whether or not allowing gay people in the military would be compatible with military readiness. Each official, including Powell,” responded “incompatible.” Congress would enact “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that year.

Things changed when President Obama took office 15 years later and advocates for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were eager to claim Powell’s voice among their ranks. After all, Powell was highly respected as a bipartisan voice after having served as secretary of state in the administration of George W. Bush and endorsing Obama in the 2008 election.

After the Obama administration in 2010 announced it would conduct a review of the idea of allowing gay people to serve openly in the military, Powell came out in support of that process. Advocates of repeal called that a declaration of reversal, although the statement fell short of a full support for gay people serving openly in the military.

“In the almost 17 years since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed,” General Powell said in a statement issued by his office, adding, “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.”

Congress acted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the policy was lifted in 2011. At the time, Powell was widely considered a supporter of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and publicly counted among supporters of repeal, although the Blade couldn’t immediately find any statements from him to that effect.

In 2012, Powell had similar vaguely supportive words on same-sex marriage, saying he had “no problem with it” when asked about the issue.

“As I’ve thought about gay marriage, I know a lot of friends who are individually gay but are in partnerships with loved ones, and they are as stable a family as my family is, and they raise children,” Powell said. “And so I don’t see any reason not to say that they should be able to get married.”

The Blade also couldn’t immediately find any statement from Powell on transgender people serving in the military. After the Obama administration in 2016 lifted decades-old regulations against transgender service, former President Trump issued a ban by tweet the following year. President Biden reversed that ban and allowed transgender people to serve and enlist in the military in his first year in office.

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