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High hopes for Obama’s second term

LGBT advocates seek continued advances in coming years



Barack Obama, inauguration, gay news, Washington Blade
Barack Obama, inauguration, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama will have two swearing-in ceremonies next week for his inauguration. (Public domain photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN)

Amid festivities from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other, President Obama will officially begin his second term on Monday while LGBT advocates have high hopes for the actions he might undertake in the next four years.

There will be two swearing-in ceremonies for Obama. On Sunday, the president will be sworn into office by Chief Justice John Roberts in the Blue Room of the White House, where he’ll place his hand on the Robinson family Bible when he takes the Oath of Office. A public ceremony will take place on Monday at the Capitol Building, where Obama will place his hand on two Bibles: one from President Lincoln, the other from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Following the public ceremony on Monday, Obama will deliver his inauguration speech before an anticipated crowd of 500,000 to 800,000 people on the National Mall. The inaugural parade will begin at 2:30 p.m. and will proceed down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.

The area for non-ticketed viewing is between Fourth Street Northwest and the Washington Monument on the National Mall, which can be entered on Constitution Avenue at 7th, 9th or 12th streets, N.W. and also on Independence Avenue, S.W. at 7th and 12th streets. In addition to the obvious closure of Pennsylvania Avenue, both the Third and 12th Street tunnels will be closed as well as the Memorial Bridge.

Obama begins his second term after noteworthy accomplishments for the LGBT community — including coming out in favor of marriage equality and repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — and expectations remain high for administrative actions to advance LGBT issues in the next few years.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said Obama “got off to really rough start” by taking some controversial actions — such as withholding support for marriage equality and issuing a legal brief in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act that was riddled with anti-gay language — but noted an “increasingly productive tone” by the end of the his term.

“If you look at the very early on rough start and then how far the administration and President Obama came within that four years, it is significant,” Carey said. “To go from in the very first months huge missteps around, in particular marriage, to his last year of this term coming out publicly as the first president in support of our marriages, it’s a huge shift.”

Richard Socarides, a gay New York-based advocate, said Obama “delivered in a major way” during his first term on LGBT issues, but will be expected to build on the progress right away at the start of his second term.

“All indications are that the president has the opportunity to very strongly build on a great first term record,” Socarides said. “Obviously, there was some tension along the way, but people feel good about what he was able to accomplish in the first term. But on the eve of the second term, the big issues are going to come up right away.”

Administrative action is seen as the way forward for many LGBT issues because the Republican-controlled House is expected to block any meaningful legislation from passing Congress.

The requests from the LGBT community are already well-established and many of them must be undertaken within a few weeks after Obama is sworn in for his second term. A list of some of the more prominent requests follows:

• the reaffirmation from defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel during his Senate confirmation hearings on Jan. 31 that he’ll support LGBT military families and extend partner benefits and non-discrimination protections upon the taking the helm at the Pentagon;

• the filing of a friend-of-the-court brief by the Justice Department before the Supreme Court prior to the Feb. 28 deadline to assert same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the U.S. Constitution as justices consider the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8;

• signing an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation to continue receiving federal awards, a move that would cover between 400,000 and 600,000 LGBT workers;

• the appointment of LGBT officials to prominent positions in the administration, such as Cabinet-level positions or G-20 ambassadorships — particularly with prominent vacancies at the head of the Commerce Department, Labor Department and Department of the Interior;

• holding in abeyance the marriage-based green card applications of married bi-national same-sex couples to ensure these families aren’t separated before the Supreme Court makes a final determination on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

But Carey cautioned that some of the advances to come may be more low-key internal changes within the administration — such as the inclusion of LGBT questions on the hundreds of federal surveys conducted each year.

“The results for those surveys determine the flow of money and the flow of attention from the federal government to communities around the country,” Carey said. “Currently, our community is basically rendered invisible when it comes to those surveys, which means that our community is not getting the funding for our community-based organizations, for youth services, for any number of services around the country.”

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, responded to calls for continued attention to LGBT issues by noting progress made in the first four years.

“President Obama is proud of the many accomplishments he’s achieved on LGBT equality during his first term, and he looks forward to building on that progress in the months and years to come,” Inouye said.

Already, Obama was faced with a controversy over the choice of an inaugural speaker.  In 2009, Pastor Rick Warren of the California-based Saddleback Church was selected to give the inaugural benediction — and remained in place — despite outcry over his support for Prop 8.

This time around, things are different. Pastor Louie Giglio of the Georgia-based Passion City Church said he would “respectfully withdraw” from the same duties after an anti-gay sermon from the 1990s came to light in which he advocated for widely discredited “ex-gay” therapy and urged Christians to stop the “homosexual lifestyle” from being accepted in society.

In his place, the committee has selected Rev. Luis Leon of the D.C.-based St. John’s Church near the White House, to deliver the benediction. His church, which is often attended by Obama, is known for its pro-LGBT atmosphere. According to The Huffington Post, it has had openly gay, non-celibate priests and a gay bishop in addition to announcing this summer that it would bless same-sex partnerships and ordain transgender priests. Leon also gave the inaugural benediction for President George W. Bush in 2005.

Carey said replacing Giglio as the inaugural pastor — as opposed to allowing Warren to stay on in 2009 while including gay Rev. Gene Robinson at another event hosted by HBO — certainly “feels like” a promising shift in terms of the expectations of tone that will be seen from the Obama administration on LGBT issues over the next four years.

“It feels like it, and I hope that tone continues,” Carey said. “For the inaugural committee and the administration to reverse course on someone they had already publicly announced as a key participant of the swearing-in day, I think, was not only a significant victory for our community, but it absolutely showed that this administration has moved in its understanding that prejudice coming from the inaugural swearing-in podium will not be tolerated in this country.”

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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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