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Black pastor against same-sex marriage admits NOM connection

Owens says Obama betrayed civil rights movement



CAAP, Coalition of African-American Pastors, logo

Black clergy members decried President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage during a news conference on Friday as a betrayal of the black civil rights movement as they admitted limited financial ties to the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.

Rev. William Owens, founder and president of the Coalition of African-American Pastors, held the conference standing along with a group of nearly 30 black religious leaders as part of the organization’s annual leadership summit, which this year took place at the Hyatt Regency in Arlington, Va.

“The president sold us out,” Owens said. “He is in the White House because of the civil rights movement and mainly because of the African-American community, who voted for him 97 percent to be president. He sold us out for money — no other way. The African-American community represents 13 percent of the population, the gay and lesbian community represents three percent. So it wasn’t for the votes; it was for the money. I called him Judas then, and I call him Judas now.”

Saying Obama was elected on the backs of slave laborers and the civil rights movement, Owens said any president who would be first black man in office and endorse same-sex marriage deserves to be kicked out. Later, under questioning from reporters, Owens said his organization wasn’t making an endorsement of any candidate in the election.

In the wake of internal documents from NOM leaked earlier this year, Owens was asked by CNN’s Dan Merica about having a connection with the anti-gay group. The pastor confirmed the anti-gay group compensates him.

“They pay my salary,” Owens said. “My wife … has an earned doctorate from Vanderbilt University and I have three degrees, we make a combined salary of $20,000 a year because they were kind enough to pick us up, because we did not have funds, and they said we can put you in the budget for $20,000. So we are in relationship with them and I’m very proud of it.”

Internal memos leaked earlier this year revealed the organization planned to divide blacks and gays within the Democratic Party using same-sex marriage as a “wedge” issue. Owens defended NOM against any wrongdoing.

“I read that; I know of the story,” Owens said. “But I work with the National Organization for Marriage and I’ll defend them, I will defend them, I will defend them. I don’t know what they said; I wasn’t there. But I know their hearts.”

In a follow-up question from CNN on whether he’s a tool for message, Owens replied, “I’m nobody’s tool. Bill Owens is nobody’s tool. They’ve never tried to use me as a tool. They have helped me because I asked for it. I went to them. They didn’t come to me. I went to them and asked them to help us because we needed help. I’m nobody’s tool.”

The news conference was held in coordination with NOM, but no one directly affiliated with the organization was before or near the podium. Brian Brown, NOM’s president, stood in the back the room as the news conference proceeded. Asked by the Washington Blade why Brown was absent from the podium, Owens said the conference was an opportunity to show that his organization is “black-led.”

Speaking with the Blade after the news conference, Brown denied that Owens’ motives for speaking at the news conference were financially based, but acknowledged his organization had donated to Owens about $20,000.

“It’s ridiculous,” Brown said. “Rev. Owens was already doing what was doing before he came to us and asked us for help. Obviously, as a coalition, we’re going to help as many partners as possible. The Human Rights Campaign does the same thing. But these folks were already out there. I’ve seen Bishop Owens at a number of rallies; we’ve worked together in the past and was already doing his thing before NOM ever got involved.”

The conference happened at the exact time as a news conference took place at the National Press Club in D.C. where other black clergy members — including Rev. Al Sharpton — spoke favorably about same-sex marriage and the need to uphold the same-sex marriage law at the ballot in November.

Asked by a reporter about Sharpton and whether good people of faith can disagree, Owens replied, “Of course, good people of faith, but I don’t think they’re disagreeing from a faith position. I wonder if they have any. … They faith in something, but I don’t believe it’s God.”

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, drew on the opposing conference at the National Press Club as evidence that the conference from the NOM-sponsored organization doesn’t reflect the views of black Americans.

“NOM continues to divide American along racial lines but the fact of the matter is that a growing coalition of Americans of all identities are coming to the conclusion that there’s no good reason to exclude gay and lesbian couples from marriage,” Cole-Schwartz said. “The array of African-American ministers speaking out for marriage equality in Maryland today is proof positive of the turning tide.”

During the news conference, Owens said he’s spoken out against same-sex marriage in every state for several years where it’s come to the ballot and announced a campaign starting in North Carolina on Oct. 7 where he would travel swing states in the presidential election — including Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania — to talk about limiting marriage to one man, one woman.

“In every state where it has been on the ballot, the African-American community has voted way ahead of the other population standing for marriage between a man and a woman,” Owens said. “Certain politicians have taken it on themselves to decide that it’s OK, it’s already for a man to marry a man and a woman to marry a woman, and we disagree, and we stand and we fight for what the Bible says.”

For Proposition 8, exit polls showed black California residents voted at a higher rate than other groups in favor of the measure, but those numbers have been refuted by reports that followed. While Owens touted the importance of the black civil rights movement, according to a report in The Huffington Post, little evidence exists suggesting he had a role in those efforts.

Pastors who were before the podium tied their to same-sex marriage to the economic challenges facing black people in the United States, which has been shown endure higher employment and lower education than others during the recession facing the economy.

Bishop David Hall, prelate of the First Jurisdiction of Western Tennessee and pastor of the Temple Church God of Christ, warned that “marriage and human sexuality should not be subject to or governed by the whims and feelings of special interest groups or politicians” while later speaking out against the economic plight of black Americans.

“The moral principles which represent God have been denigrated by political philosophies, special interest and weakened metaphors,” Hall said. “The godly morality has been replaced by political expediency. CAAP is tired of status quo and the statistical evidence that places blacks at the bottom. Blacks suffer from the lowest educational opportunities, highest recidivism, highest out of marriage pregnancies, etc. It is time for a revival. We need change in our homes, communities and institutions.”

Others who spoke at the news conference against same-sex marriage included Alveda King, the niece of the civil right leaders Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Lewis Ford, brother to former U.S. House Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee; and Rev. Dean Nelson, vice chair of the Frederick Douglass Foundation.

Pastor Stephen Broden, a Republican who once ran against incumbent Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), expressed concerned about the legalization of same-sex marriage for what he said was taking the country away from its religious roots.

“The definition of marriage is under assault by cultural progressive ideologues,” Broden said. “Make no mistake about it — this is an attempt to flip our nation away from its Judeo-Christian heritage and replace it with a godless paradigm that sourced in human secularism. These people seek to dispossess this nation of its Judeo-Christian values, and what we are witnessing is a titanic clash between two world views: the godless human secularism against Judeo-Christian Christianity. We can not, we must not sit quietly and allow these ideologues to determine our values.”

The Washington Blade noted the case of Loving v. Virginia, which allowed interracial marriage in the country, is often considered parallel to the efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, but Owens denied any similarities.

“There is no parallels because it was a racist scene; America was racist,” Owens said. “I had white friends when they first stated integration, and they were truly good people, and we were laughing, we were talking, but when they were around other white people, they’d acted like didn’t know me. So it was racist. This has nothing to do with race.”

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards



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



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



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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