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5 takeaways from Election Day

Obama’s marriage support was a good political move and other observations

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HRC, Human Rights Campaign, election 2012, Washington Blade, gay news
election 2012, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of the community celebrated President Obama’s reelection at the Human Rights Campaign election watch party at Eatonville on 14th Street. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Hailed as a watershed moment for the LGBT movement, Election Day yielded several milestones that political observers say will have a profound impact on the advancement of LGBT rights and marriage equality going forward.

Here are five takeaways from an evening that saw wins for marriage equality at the ballot and the election for the first time of an openly gay U.S. Senate candidate — not to mention the re-election of a U.S. president who endorsed marriage equality.

1. The sky’s the limit for gay candidates seeking political office

Lesbian U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin made history when she became the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate in a highly contested race against former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson. She’ll be part of a record number of as many as seven openly gay, lesbian and bisexual candidates elected to Congress and 121 candidates endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund elected to various offices throughout the country.

Baldwin’s sexual orientation was virtually a non-issue during the campaign. The only time it came up was when Brian Nemoir, a Thompson campaign official, circulated a video of her dancing at a gay Pride festival and told media outlets, “Clearly, there’s no one better positioned to talk ‘heartland values’ than Tammy.” The incident resulted in negative press for Thompson, who apologized for his aide’s action.

The glass ceiling broken by Baldwin could be a hopeful sign for other LGBT officials seeking office — such as lesbian New York City Council Chair Christine Quinn, who’s likely to run for mayor of the nation’s largest city in 2013 — that sexual orientation needn’t be a factor even when pursuing the highest offices in the nation.

Dan Pinello, who’s gay and a political scientist at the City University of New York, said Baldwin’s election “was a remarkable achievement” as was the the election of additional openly gay people to the House.

“An LGBT candidate no longer has to worry about facing his or her sexual orientation in terms of it being an impediment in running for public office,” Pinello said. “Tammy Baldwin most clearly demonstrates that, her being elected the first openly gay or lesbian senator.”

Some barriers have yet to fall. Gay Republican Richard Tisei failed in his bid to unseat incumbent Democrat Rep. John Tierney from a House seat in Massachusetts, which means the LGBT contingent in Congress will be entirely Democratic and an openly gay non-incumbent Republican has yet to win election to Congress. No transgender candidate has won election to Congress, although Stacie Laughton, a Democrat, was elected in New Hampshire as the first openly transgender person to a state legislature in the country.

Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, noted that 40 state legislatures will now have LGBT representation and said the priority for his organization over the next 10 years is to elect an openly LGBT person to each state throughout the country.

“That matters greatly at the state level; it matters greatly at the municipal level,” Dison said. “There are some states out there where there’s one out elected official, and that’s kind of a very tenuous position, and we want to make sure that we are building capacity — and that’s states that people don’t talk about very much: the Nebraskas and Kansas.”

2. Obama’s support of marriage equality was a good political move

At the time President Obama completed his 19-month “evolution” in May and announced his personal support for marriage rights for gay couples, many political observers feared a backlash against him at the polls.

Many predicted — as it turns out, correctly — that states once considered battlegrounds —Missouri, North Carolina and Indiana — would fall in the Republican column because of their large evangelical populations. Whether Obama would be able to make the difference in the Electoral College to reach 270 votes was unclear.

But the result was positive — most initially in terms of financing for the Obama campaign. According to an analysis from National Public Radio, donations to Obama nearly tripled in the immediate period after the announcement. The campaign took in nearly $9 million over three days, compared to $3.4 million in the three previous days. The Washington Blade reported anecdotally that while many major donors had already maxed out their contributions, Obama’s new support for marriage equality resulted in his supporters making more small donations to the campaign.

Richard Socarides, a gay New York advocate who pushed Obama to support same-sex marriage, said coming out for marriage equality helped Obama not only in terms of donations before the election, but energized LGBT voters to come to the polls.

“I think it excited Democrats and young voters and gay and lesbian voters,” Socarides said. “His margin of victory in the popular vote was less than his vote among gays and lesbians, so I think gays and lesbians turned out for him.”

Socarides pointed to exit polling showing gay voters made up 5 percent of the electorate and 77 percent of them voted for Obama — an increase from the 2008 election — as evidence the gay vote is significant and helped Obama claim victory.

The youth vote was also significant in the election. According to the early National Exit Poll conducted by Edison Research, Obama won 60 percent of the youth vote, compared to 36 percent for Romney. Voters from ages 18 to 29 represented 19 percent of the electorate, which is an increase of one percentage point from 2008.

Pinello said Obama’s support for marriage equality helped drive to the polls younger voters, who are generally more supportive of same-sex marriage.

“The Obama campaign used marriage equality as a means to target younger voters to turn out in greater numbers as has been the case in the past,” Pinello said. “I think that was probably fairly wise of the Obama campaign. I think they succeeded in strengthening and increasing the size of their base in doing so.”

3. LGBT support alone won’t save Republicans in moderate districts

Despite the apparent support that Obama won as a result of coming out for marriage equality, Republicans in office who were supportive of LGBT issues didn’t fare as well in the 2012 election.

In Massachusetts, Tisei was notable among those Republicans. Also of note is freshman Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, who lost to gay Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney; Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), who voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal even before the Pentagon report came out in favor of open service; and Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), who during her five terms in Congress voted against a Federal Marriage Amendment and in favor of ENDA and hate crimes legislation. U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon in Connecticut was also defeated; she supported Defense of Marriage Act repeal.

These Republicans were supported by gay GOP groups. The American Unity PAC, which was working to support pro-LGBT Republicans, notably spent a total of $420,000 in advertising to protect Bono Mack; $260,000 in Connecticut for McMahon; $540,000 in Biggert’s campaign; $530,000 in the Tisei race and $260,000 in ad buys on behalf of Hayworth. But each of these investments ended in losses.

Jeff Cook, senior adviser to the American Unity PAC, blamed the losses on the general poor showing by the Republican Party during the 2012 election and said the party as a whole needs to adapt to survive.

“It was a tough night for Republicans in most of the country,” Cook added. “The impact was particularly felt in moderate, swing districts where our party’s brand too often has limited our candidates’ appeal. It’s increasingly clear that there is a need to modernize the Republican Party, not only to win full inclusion for gay and lesbian Americans, but to ensure that the GOP can compete and win in the 21st century.”

Cook noted that Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), pro-LGBT Republicans who were also recipients of funds from the American Unity PAC, won re-election. These candidates weren’t in as highly contested races.

4. The national trend in favor of marriage equality is real

Four states yielded good news for supporters of same-sex marriage on Tuesday night: Maine approved a voter-initiated referendum legalizing same-sex marriage; voters in Maryland and Washington upheld same-sex marriage laws passed by the legislatures put up for referenda; and Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have restricted marriage to one man, one woman.

The wins were a remarkable turnaround after loses in years past, breaking a losing streak in 32 states where same-sex marriage lost at the ballot. Moreover, the wins also validate national polls showing a gradual rise in support for same-sex marriage, which has led to a bare majority supporting marriage rights for gay couples.

Lanae Erickson, a lesbian and director of social policy and politics for the moderate group Third Way, said the election demonstrated marriage equality is coming into the mainstream after having been a hot-button issue for many years.

“I think this election showed that marriage and LGBT issues are no longer going to be a divisive social issue in the way they have been in the past,” Erickson said. “It definitely shows that the losing season that we had is relegated to history and now we’re in a new season where we can win frequently if not most of the time, especially on marriage.”

The victories have spurred talk about which states will be next to legalize same-sex marriage as Illinois and Minnesota are in position to take action in 2013. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has said he would favor allowing a referendum on same-sex marriage, but LGBT advocates in the state have dismissed that option.

Pinello warned that the marriage equality side won by a slim margin in these states — in Washington State, for example, the marriage law was approved by 52 percent as votes continued to trickle in — and said LGBT advocates shouldn’t attempt to place the issue on the ballot in a year other than a presidential election when the youth and progressive turnout isn’t high.

“If activists were to decide then to try it again in other states like Oregon, for example, in 2014, an off-year election, I think it might be a mistake because, again, the part of the population who are LGBT friendly tend not to turn out as much in off-year elections,” Pinello said.

5. The influence of anti-gay groups is waning

The Election Day results were a disaster for social conservative groups trying to stop the legalization of same-sex marriage and elect Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The day after the election, the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown issued a statement saying the American public still favors marriage between one man, one woman, but his organization was up against “a huge financial advantage” from marriage equality supporters.

In an email message to supporters on Wednesday, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins dismissed the results at the ballot, saying, “And while homosexuals may be celebrating an end to our movement’s perfect record, they still have a long way to go to match the 32 states where Americans voted overwhelmingly to protect the union of a man and woman.”

Erickson said although NOM is a one-issue group and unlikely to change its tune even in the wake of its losses, social conservative groups may seek to veer away from demonizing LGBT people.

“I think a lot of the other social conservative groups will turn their attention toward other issues because they realize that the momentum on this one just is not in their favor,” Erickson said. “They’re pushing a lot, for example, to say, ‘Yeah, younger people are trending better on LGBT issues, but they’re more pro-life than their older counterparts and we can still get them on immigration and we can still get them on abortion.”

One question is whether heads will roll at these organizations as a result of their failures on Election Day. Will Brown and Perkins be forced to step down? The Huffington Post reported on Wednesday that a Republican operative said billionaire donors who contributed to the Republican Party are “livid” about the election results. Similar heat may be coming down on social conservative groups.

Pinello said conservative organizations will likely have more difficulty finding funds as donations dry up in the wake of their defeats.

“I think their momentum has been taken away; they’ve been deflated,” Pinello said. “They’re no longer guaranteed a win, so, donors, I think would be much more circumspect about whether this is the best place to put their money.”

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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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