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Honduran gay leader appeals to U.S. for help

Palacios on U.S. tour raising awareness of 89 anti-LGBT murders

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Jose Pepe Palacios, gay news, Washington Blade
Jose Pepe Palacios, gay news, Washington Blade

Jose Pepe Palacios is scheduled to meet with members of Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s staff. (Photo courtesy Gay Liberation Network)

Jose Pepe Palacios says his mission is to inform the U.S. government and LGBT Americans that at least 89 LGBT people in Honduras, including gay rights advocates, have been murdered since military leaders ousted his country’s elected president in a 2009 coup.

Palacios, a resident of the capital city of Tegucigalpa, began a seven-city U.S. tour in Chicago on Jan. 30. He was scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, where, among other appearances, he was to speak on Friday at noon at a public gathering at the offices of the National Council of Churches at 110 Maryland Ave., N.E., on Capitol Hill.

He told the Washington Blade that he hopes to build support in the U.S. for a coalition of LGBT and progressive groups in his country that seek to peacefully challenge anti-democratic forces they believe are responsible for many of the murders.

“The Obama administration has said they will promote human rights and LGBT rights,” Palacios said. “And Hillary Clinton said that human rights are gay rights. So one of the reasons I’m doing this is to ask for support to pressure the Honduran government to investigate these cases and also to create awareness of the number of these cases.”

Palacios was scheduled to meet this week with members of the staff of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.).

Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network, which is one of the sponsors of Palacios’ U.S. tour, said human rights activists in Honduras believe many if not most of the LGBT murders following the 2009 coup were motivated by political retribution. According to Thayer, a majority of the LGBT community in Honduras has been supportive of a resistance movement that has opposed the post-coup government and participates in demonstrations against government leaders.

Palacios said that among the LGBT people murdered since the coup were gay activist Walter Torchez and gay candidate for the Honduran Congress, Eric Martinez Alvia, an organizer for the Liberty and Refoundation Party, or LIBRE, which represents many of the resistance groups protesting against the current government.

Palacios is a founding member of Diversity Movement in Resistance (MDR), an LGBT advocacy organization. He is also a member of the National Steering Committee of the Honduras National Front of Popular Resistance (NRP), which has staged protest demonstrations against the government.

Thayer called the LGBT murders “a systematic campaign of targeted hate crimes and political assassination.” He said that as the country gears up for its first contested election since the coup, set to take place in November, “many fear that the violence will get even worse.”

The LGBT murders come at a time when Honduras has the distinction of having the highest murder rate of any country in the world. The U.S. State Department’s country report on Honduras says many of the murders are related to warring drug cartels and abject poverty that forces desperate people to commit armed robberies often resulting in killings.

The report acknowledges that some of the murders are due to political rivalries. Human rights observers have said corrupt police officers or law enforcement officials allied with entrenched political factions are also believed to be responsible for some of the murders, including the slayings of LGBT activists.

Palacios said that of the 89 LGBT murders since 2009, 52 of the victims were transgender women.

“The United States is focused on helping the Honduran government combat impunity, resolve murder cases, reform the Honduran police, and strengthen human rights institutions,” said Evan Owen, press officer for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

The 2009 coup, which resulted in the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya, took place amid a constitutional dispute over whether Zelaya had authority to call a non-binding referendum to determine whether public support existed to hold a constitutional convention and make significant changes in the nation’s political system.

As an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Zelaya’s move toward constitutional changes alarmed the conservative factions in the country, who feared he would put in place a Chavez-style socialist government. Supporters, including many LGBT activists, believed Zelaya was seeking to make needed reforms to lift the majority of the country’s population from conditions of poverty and despair.

The Obama administration denounced the coup and called for an immediate restoration of the country’s democratic institutions. But activists in the U.S. and Honduras have said the U.S. appeared to have been privately supportive of the coup. Palacios said it is widely known in the country that Honduran military leaders, who took Zelaya into custody, flew him to a U.S. military base in Honduras before flying him to Costa Rica, where he remained in exile for several years.

Further suspicions of U.S. motives surfaced a few months later, when the U.S. gave its backing to elections called and arranged by coup leaders under supervision of international observers. The country’s current president, Porfirio Lobo of the conservative National Party, won that election.

Owen of the State Department declined to comment on allegations by activists that the U.S. support for the current government was giving tacit support for violence against gays and others by corrupt elements, including police, associated with the government.

“We strongly support the rule of law and respect for the constitutional separation of powers as well as a fair and transparent democratic process,” Owen said of the U.S. policy toward Honduras. He said the U.S., among other things, is providing assistance to the Honduran government to “strengthen its investigative capacity” to combat possible human rights abuses.

With that as a backdrop, the left-leaning LIBRE Party last year nominated through a primary election Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, as its candidate for president in the November 2013 election. In a development that has thrilled LGBT activists, including Palacios, the LGBT supportive Castro (who’s not related to Cuba’s Fidel Castro) has emerged as the leading candidate in a Gallup Poll conducted in January.

Her husband, who can’t run for president under the constitution’s term limit provision, is running for a seat in the Congress.

In what LGBT advocates consider a historic development, a transgender woman and an openly gay man ran in last year’s primary for congressional seats as LIBRE candidates. Both lost their races, but Palacios called their candidacies and the LIBRE party’s support for LGBT equality a major advance for his country.

With the candidates from the two longstanding “establishment” parties — the right-wing National Party and the center-right Liberal Party — trailing Castro in the polls, Palacios said he fears conservative forces will manufacture a “crisis” in an attempt to postpone or cancel the election. None of the other candidates have expressed support for LGBT rights, Palacios said.

“That’s why we are asking a number of organizations from the international community to go in delegations in November to observe the electoral process and make sure it’s a just process.”

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Local

No new mpox cases reported in Md., Va., and D.C.

Federal, local authorities continue to encourage vaccination

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A D.C. Department of Health mpox fact sheet at Trade in D.C. on May 25, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Public health officials in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. have not issued mpox advisories ahead of Pride month.

The Maryland Department of Health notes there were no reported new positive mpox cases reported in the state during the week of May 21. 

There were no reported new reported mpox cases in Virginia between May 21-27. The D.C. Department of Health on its website notes the last new mpox case in the nation’s capital was reported during the week of May 11.

“MDH (the Maryland Department of Health) has not issued any advisories for mpox,” Maryland Department of Health spokesperson Chase Cook told the Washington Blade on May 25. “We are still monitoring case counts and urging Marylanders at risk to protect themselves.”

“The Health Department is launching a statewide Pride-related sexual health campaign and working closely with festival organizers and local health departments to ensure health resources, including but not limited to mpox, are part of Pride events across the state,” added Cook.

Brandy Darby, the director of the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Epidemiology’s Division of Surveillance and Investigation, largely echoed Cook.

“The Virginia Department of Health continues to promote mpox awareness and share prevention messages with groups at greater risk of exposure,” Darby told the Blade. “We are sharing these messages through print materials, social media, media interviews, healthcare provider offices and community-based organizations. Additionally, our local health departments are encouraged to have a presence at Pride events within their communities this summer to offer mpox education and vaccination.”

The D.C. Department of Health has yet to respond to the Blade’s request for comment. Its website, however, contains information about mpox, transmission, prevention and vaccinations.

CDC issued mpox advisory on May 15

The World Health Organization on May 11 announced it no longer considers mpox a global emergency.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 15 issued a mpox advisory after the Chicago Department of Public Health reported 12 new confirmed cases between April 17-May 5. 

“Spring and summer season in 2023 could lead to a resurgence of mpox as people gather for festivals and other events,” reads the advisory. “The purpose of this Health Alert Network (HAN) Health Update is to inform clinicians and public health agencies about the potential for new clusters or outbreaks of mpox cases and to provide resources on clinical evaluation, treatment, vaccination and testing.”

“To help prevent a renewed outbreak during the spring and summer months, CDC is urging clinicians to be on alert for new cases of mpox and to encourage vaccination for people at risk,” it adds. “If mpox is suspected, test even if the patient was previously vaccinated or had mpox. Clinicians should also refamiliarize themselves with mpox symptomsspecimen collectionlaboratory testing procedures and treatment options.”

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health earlier this month urged groups at increased risk for mpox to get fully vaccinated ahead of Pride month.

Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the deputy coordinator for the White House’s national mpox response, on told reporters during a May 18 telebriefing that federal health agencies are working with state and local officials to offer vaccinations and implement prevention measures during Pride events. 

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Arts & Entertainment

Washington Blade, Dupont Underground spotlight D.C. LGBTQ Changemakers with new exhibit

‘The Ground We Stand On’ highlights 25 queer pioneers during Pride month

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The Washington Blade and Dupont Underground present “The Ground We Stand On: Past and Present DC LGBTQ Changemakers,” a new exhibit that highlights D.C. LGBTQ pioneers.

The exhibit, featuring 25 changemakers will be on view beginning Friday, June 2, through Sunday, June 25.

The inspiring exhibition will showcase the remarkable journeys of both past and present changemakers who have left an indelible mark on the tapestry of Washington, D.C. The exhibit underscores the enduring legacy of these remarkable individuals, serving as an inspiration for present and future generations. 

The exhibition opens on June 2 at 5 p.m., where all the living honorees will be present for the opening  reception, followed by Drag Underground starting at 8:30 p.m., featuring some of the best Drag Queens in DC such as Shi-Queeta Lee, Cake Pop, Jane Saw, and Destiny B Childs.

“By shining a light on their remarkable contributions, this exhibition aims to empower and encourage the continuous evolution of the D.C. LGBTQ+ community and its influence that transcends boundaries,” said Stephen Rutgers, director of Sales and Marketing for the Washington Blade.

“We are thrilled to highlight so many living changemakers who will visit us for opening night, and to honor the memories and work of those changemakers who are no longer with us,” said Ana Harvey, Dupont Underground CEO.

For more information about Dupont Underground, visit www.dupontunderground.org

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Delaware

Carper’s retirement opens historic possibilities in Delaware

Blunt Rochester likely to run for Senate; McBride could become first out trans member of Congress

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Sen. Tom Carper announced plans to retire last week. (Photo public domain)

As Delaware governor, he signed a bill that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman in 1996. Now, 27 years later, the Human Rights Campaign gives Sen. Tom Carper a perfect score on LGBTQ issues in Congress. 

That man, who turned from opponent of marriage equality to LGBTQ rights supporter, announced his retirement last week. Unlike other Senate races across the country, though, there is little doubt who will succeed him. 

He endorsed Delaware’s lone representative in the House, Lisa Blunt Rochester, as his successor in a news conference last week.  

“I spoke with her this morning, I said, ‘You’ve been patient, waiting for me to get out of the way, and I’m going to get out of the way, and I hope you run, and I hope you’ll let me support you in that mission,’” he said with a laugh. “And she said, ‘Yes I will let you support me.’ And so I’m going to.’”

Carper plans to serve out the remainder of his term, which ends in 2024. He serves as chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. Previously, he was chair of the Homeland Security Committee. He served as Delaware’s governor from 1993-2001 and represented Delaware in the House. 

The Human Rights Campaign has given Blunt Rochester a perfect score in the last two congresses, and an almost perfect one in the 2017-2018 congress based on her voting record on LGBTQ issues. It did not respond to a phone call and two emails to spokespeople but praised her and Carper in 2018.

 “Every time they take the train down to Washington, Senator Carper and Congresswoman Blunt Rochester carry with them the hopes of all Delawareans,” the organization wrote in a press release. “With the LGBTQ community under attack by the Trump-Pence administration, Senator Carper and Congresswoman Blunt Rochester have tirelessly fought to defend our progress and advance equality for LGBTQ people both in Delaware and around the nation.”

Blunt Rochester would be the first Black person and first woman to represent Delaware in the Senate. She has close ties to Delaware’s LGBTQ community and a record as a strong ally. She has served as keynote speaker at the Washington Blade’s annual Summer Kickoff Party in Rehoboth Beach three times, thrilling the LGBTQ crowd with her passionate support for equality.

She said she is “interested” in running, but neither she nor her spokesperson reached last week would say any more. 

“I don’t have a bad thing to say about her,” said longtime LGBTQ activist and Delaware lawyer Mark Purpura. It was responsible of Carper to retire, he added. 

Assuming she runs as expected, that would leave Blunt Rochester’s seat in the House open. Sarah McBride, the first openly transgender state senator in the U.S., could fill that seat. A source familiar with her thinking said she will “100%” run for Rochester’s seat. 

That would make her the first openly transgender member of Congress. Her run would be a “great opportunity” to showcase the Delaware Democratic Party’s diversity,” Purpura said. 

Peter Schott, secretary of the Delaware Stonewall PAC, agreed, noting that McBride is very popular and can raise a lot of money. 

McBride, who did not respond to an email and two calls to her office, is one of five openly LGBTQ lawmakers in the Delaware Legislature, a record number for the state.

“I think Sarah is absolutely wonderful,” said colleague Eric Morrison, a gay man who represents parts of Newark and other communities in his 27th district in the Delaware House. “I wish her well.”

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