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Advocates eye immigration, ‘tax’ parity in next Congress

Plans surface for incorporating LGBT language in non-LGBT bills



Jerrold Nadler, U.S. House of Representatives, congress, gay news, Washington Blade
Jerrold Nadler, U.S. House of Representatives, congress, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of the strongest allies of the LGBT community in Congress, is optimistic about possible advances for LGBT equality in Congress next year. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

With free-standing LGBT supportive bills having little or no chance of passing in Congress next year due to the Republican-controlled House, advocates are developing plans to push for inserting LGBT-supportive language in broader, non-gay bills that enjoy bipartisan support, according to Capitol Hill insiders.

One bill under consideration for inclusion in a broader, non-LGBT measure is the Uniting American Families Act, which would provide equal immigration rights to foreign nationals who are same-sex partners of American citizens.

Another bill under similar consideration is the Tax Parity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, which would allow domestic partners to obtain the same tax exemption for health insurance and other health benefits provided by employers that married opposite-sex couples now enjoy.

“There are lots of ways you can do this,” said Allison Herwitt, legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign, which is mapping strategy for LGBT-supportive legislation in the 113th Congress, which convenes in January.

“You can do it in committee. You could try to get it put in the bill as the bill is being written,” Herwitt said. “It’s always better to have the pro-equality language that we want put in the bill before it gets to the floor because it’s easier to protect your language from being stripped than it is to affirmatively add language.”

Herwitt and representatives with other LGBT advocacy groups say that despite the positive developments for the LGBT community in the Nov. 6 election, the makeup of Congress has remained largely the same in terms of the support for at least seven LGBT related bills.

Among them is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which calls for banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. DOMA defines marriage under federal law as a union only between a man and a woman.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for the national LGBT group Immigration Equality, said the group is “highly optimistic” that the Uniting American Families Act will pass in the first half of next year as part of a broader immigration reform bill.

Ralls notes that President Obama, most Democratic lawmakers, and some congressional Republicans support an immigration reform measure. With the Hispanic vote going overwhelmingly to Obama and Democratic congressional candidates in the election two weeks ago, Republican leaders are much more likely to go along with a comprehensive immigration bill that’s strongly supported by the U.S. Latino community, Ralls said.

He said Immigration Equality is confident that the Senate, under the leadership of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, will support the inclusion of language from the Uniting American Families Act in an immigration reform bill.

“I am very hopeful that by next summer we could have a very significant win on this,” Ralls said.

Herwitt said she is similarly hopeful that the House and Senate will go along with including the tax parity measure for employer health benefits aimed at same-sex partners within a tax-related bill expected to come up next year.

R. Clarke Cooper, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, has said an LGBT-related bill most likely to gain Republican support in Congress is one that would redress unfair taxation on Americans, including LGBT Americans.

While HRC and Immigration Equality expressed optimism over the strategy of seeking to add gay bills to broader non-LGBT legislation, gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who’s retiring from Congress in January, said he’s far less optimistic about the prospect of any LGBT legislation while Republicans control the House for at least the next two years.

“The Republicans continue to be opposed to everything,” he told the Blade. “Look at the Republican platform. We certainly can block any negative stuff they may try to do,” he said.

“But with the Republicans controlling the House there’s zero chance of anything good happening…They’re negative on everything. They voted 98 percent against us on everything that came up,” he said. “They voted 90 some percent to reaffirm the Defense of Marriage Act. So there’s zero chance of them allowing anything.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of the strongest allies of the LGBT community in Congress, while agreeing that the GOP majority in the House remains “fiercely opposed to LGBT rights,” is optimistic about possible advances for LGBT equality in Congress next year.

“On the heels of tremendous momentum nationally – with the recent victory of marriage equality in four states, the president’s explicit support for LGBT rights, the tide of federal court cases backing equal protection for LGBT Americans, and a rapidly growing acceptance of the LGBT community – we have a great deal of validation to take with us into the 113th Congress,” Nadler said in a statement to the Blade.

Nadler said he, too, is optimistic about the prospects passing the gay immigration and tax parity measures as part of broader bills.

“We must prepare to work together, with Democrats and our GOP allies, to use every tool available to us to advance pro-equality legislation now,” he said.

HRC’s Herwitt, however, points out that the breakdown in the House between LGBT supportive and anti-LGBT members in the 113th Congress will make it difficult to pass LGBT legislation in any form.

“If you look at the makeup of the 113th Congress, they are going in with about 225 members who are solidly anti-LGBT,” she said, noting that most in this group are Republicans but some Democrats. About 184 House members, most Democrats, are supporters of LGBT equality and are expected to vote for LGBT bills, Herwitt said.

The remaining 26 are “in the middle,” with HRC and congressional allies uncertain how they will vote.

With 218 being the magic number needed to pass a bill, an amendment, or a discharge petition that could force GOP House leaders to bring a bill to the floor for a vote, LGBT advocates are not too far away from reaching that number, Herwitt and other advocates said.

But even if they were to convince House GOP leaders to allow an LGBT bill like ENDA to reach the floor for a vote, supporters don’t think they have the votes now to pass such a bill.

“Clearly, what we need to do during these next two years is work like hell to change the hearts and minds of the voters to make sure we have the support we need in the next election in 2014,”said Maryland transgender rights advocate Dana Beyer.

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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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