Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin said in a press release that Mariela Castro, executive director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX,) several months ago accepted an invitation to speak on a panel at the University of the Arts on May 4. She was also scheduled to accept an award at the group’s annual dinner that will take place later that same day at the National Museum of American Jewish History.
Lazin said the State Department issued a visa to Castro that allowed her to attend meetings at the United Nations in New York City. He said the U.S. government refused to allow her to travel to Philadelphia to attend Equality Forum that will highlight Cuba.
Lazin told the Washington Blade on Thursday the Cuban government attached Equality Forum’s invitation to its application for a visa that would have allowed her to attend the event.
He said he reached out to a senior member of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to ask if the State Department could reverse its decision. Lazin told the Blade neither “that member of Congress nor Equality Forum has gotten a response to that.”
“Over the past 11 years, Equality Forum has invited leaders of the featured nation to attend. For those who needed a visa, all past visas have been approved,” he said in a press release. “It is shocking that our State Department would deny Ms. Castro travel to a civil rights summit — especially one held in the birthplace of our democracy that enshrines freedoms of speech and assembly.”
Mariela Castro, whose uncle is former Cuban President Fidel Castro, has spearheaded a series of campaigns over the last decade to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and promote acceptance of LGBT people on the island.
She successfully lobbied the Cuban government to begin offering free sex-reassignment surgery under the country’s national health care system in 2010. Mariela Castro has also spoken out in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Cuba.
Mariela Castro in May 2012 appeared on a panel with Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in New York while she and other Cuban scholars visited the United States. She also met with LGBT advocates in San Francisco during the trip.
In spite of this progress, those opposed to the Cuban government maintain LGBT rights advocates on the island continue to suffer harassment and discrimination.
Cubanet reported last September that Cuban security officials detained Leannes Imbert Acosta of the Cuban LGBT Platform, an umbrella organization of 12 of the island’s independent LGBT rights groups she co-founded in June, as she left her Havana home to deliver to CENESEX materials on a planned exhibit on forced labor camps to which the government sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military services during the 1960s. Cuba Archive, a New Jersey-based organization that documents the Cuban government’s human rights abuses, said during a panel on LGBT rights on the island it hosted in New York a few days after Imbert’s reported detention that authorities confiscated her materials and pressured her to cancel the planned exhibit before they released her.
Imbert claimed during the same event that CENESEX did not investigate the camps known as Military Units to Aid Production — or UMAPs in Spanish — as she said Mariela Castro had promised.
The Cuban government in 1979 repealed the country’s sodomy law, but Cuban-born poet Emilio Bejel and others who took part in the Cuba Archive panel stressed authorities continue to use public decency and assembly laws to harass LGBT Cubans.
Cuba also forcibly quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993.
Ignacio Estrada Cepero, a gay man with HIV who founded the Cuban League Against AIDS in 2003, stressed during the same Cuba Archive panel in New York those with the virus on the island continue to face discrimination. He also claimed some with HIV/AIDS remain in prison for what he describe as the crime of “pre-criminal social dangerousness.”
Observers have credited Cuba’s condom distribution campaign and sexual education curriculum for producing one of the world’s lowest HIV infection rates. Cubans with the virus have access to free anti-retroviral drugs, but Estrada complained during the Cuba Archive panel they don’t always reach those who need them.
“We don’t have access to medication and our rights are violated,” he said.
Lazin conceded that Cuba is not “a perfect nation,” but stressed “neither is the United States.”
“There are those who are being critical of necessary changes within Cuba [should be] given the right to express those views of both generally and to their government,” he told the Blade. “That to me is what freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is all about. As a country that has pioneered democracy and champions democracy, the fact that we would not allow Mariela Castro to come to Philadelphia for a civil rights summit and open herself to questions from the public and the press on LGBT rights in Cuba to me is a sorry day for the country I love.”
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on Equality Forum’s claim, citing the confidentiality of visa records under U.S. law.
CENESEX did not immediately return the Washington Blade’s request for comment.
Louisiana lawmakers fail to overturn Edwards veto of Trans sports bill
Edwards further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.”
BATON ROUGE – Louisiana lawmakers failed to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) veto last month of a bill that would have barred trans girls and women from participating on athletic teams or in sporting events designated for girls or women at elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools.
The measure, Senate Bill 156 authored by Sen. Beth Mizell titled the ‘the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ in the Governor’s eyes, “was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto statement;
“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana. Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue.
The Republican majority state House chamber failed to override the Governor’s veto after voting 68-30 to override it, according to the state legislature’s website.
The vote narrowly missed the 70-vote threshold needed in the lower chamber to override the veto.
Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must vote to override a governor’s veto, according to the local Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate.
The Governor reacted to the news that his veto withstood Republican efforts to overturn it in a press conference Wednesday.
Edwards noted that in his view he had “rejected a play” that had no place in Louisiana.
“I would rather the headlines going out from today be that Louisiana did what was right and best. We rejected a play out of a national playbook that just had no place in Louisiana. That bill wasn’t crafted for our state, I mean go read it and look at the arguments that were made. None of that applies here,” Edwards said.
He further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.”
“We have to be better than that,” Edwards said. “We have to be better than that.”
Federal court blocks West Virginia Law banning Trans youth sports
“It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A judge of the United States District Court, Southern District of West Virginia ruled Wednesday that 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson must be allowed to try out for the girls’ cross-country and track teams at her school, blocking West Virginia from enforcing a law that bans transgender girls and women from participating in school sports.
The ruling came in the lawsuit challenging the ban filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of West Virginia, and Cooley LLP.
“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” said Becky Pepper-Jackson, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed H.B. 3293 into law at the end of April. It was one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills pushed in state legislatures across the country in 2021. During legislative debate, it was not endorsed by any mainstream sporting or health organizations. A similar law in Idaho was blocked by a federal court in 2020, and a federal court in Connecticut recently dismissed a challenge to policies that allow all girls, including girls who are transgender, to participate on girls’ sports teams. Legal challenges are underway against similar laws passed in other states.
The Supreme Court recently refused to disturb Gavin Grimm’s victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where he prevailed in challenging his school’s anti-transgender discrimination against him. This decision — which is binding precedent in West Virginia federal court — said that federal law protects transgender students from discrimination in schools.
“This is great news for Becky, and while our work is not done yet, today’s ruling jibes with similar rulings in other courts across the country,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow, Lambda Legal. “It is our hope that courts recognize and address discrimination when they see it, and nowhere is it more visible than in these stark attacks against trans youth.”
“Becky — like all students — should have the opportunity to try out for a sports team and play with her peers,” said Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We hope this also sends a message to other states to stop demonizing trans kids to score political points and to let these kids live their lives in peace.”
“We’ve said all along this cruel legislation would not survive a legal challenge, and we’re encouraged by the court’s decision today,” said ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark. “We hope trans kids throughout West Virginia who felt attacked and wronged by the passage of this legislation are feeling empowered by today’s news.”
“We are extremely gratified — for Becky, and for all trans youth — at the court’s recognition that the law and the facts clearly support treating people who are transgender fairly and equally. Discrimination has no place in schools or anywhere else,” said Kathleen Hartnett of Cooley LLP.
Conservative groups attack proposed Alabama capital city’s LGBTQ law
Allege law requires Christians to violate their religious beliefs
MONTGOMERY – The Alabama capital’s City Council is being urged to reject a proposed ordinance that would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under the law. Matthew Clark, the Executive Director of the conservative Alabama Center for Law and Liberty sent a letter on behalf of his group and six allied organizations asking the Council to abandon a vote implementing the ordnance.
According to the letter, the groups allege that the law would require Christians to violate their religious beliefs or face fines under certain circumstances. Prominent among the other signatures is Mathew D. Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group.
The SPLC, which has its headquarters in Montgomery, writes; “The Liberty Counsel has also been active in the battle against same-sex marriage and hate crimes legislation, which it claimed in a 2007 news release to be “’thought crimes’ laws that violate the right to freedom of speech and of conscience” and will “have a chilling effect on people who have moral or religious objections to homosexual behavior.” In that same release, the Liberty Counsel falsely claimed that the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., had nothing to do with homosexuality, but instead was “a bungled robbery.”
In the letter Clark noted; ““As we read the ordinance, churches could be fined if they refuse to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, and they might be fined if they refused to let same-sex couples use their facilities for weddings,” Clark said. “They could also be fined if they declined to hire non-ministerial personnel, such as facility managers or secretaries, whose sexual orientation or gender identity contradicts the tenants of the church’s faith.”
“Christian schools, small business owners, and homeowners are also in the crosshairs. Schools could face liability if they decline to let transgender students use the locker rooms of their choice,” Clark said. “Small business owners like Jack Phillips [referring to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission] could face liability. And homeowners who list their homes on Airbnb could be fined if they declined to let a same-sex couple engage in sexual activities in their home that violate the tenants of their faith.”
Clark then warned the City Council that if it passes the ordinance, litigation could result and the City would likely lose.
The Montgomery Advertiser reported last month that City Mayor Steven Reed said a council vote in favor of the LGTBQ nondiscrimination ordinance that’s now being drafted in Montgomery would send a message.
“There are signals that communities can send, and this is an important signal not only to those residents that live here right now but people all over the country that have maybe one idea of Alabama and Montgomery, and we want to show them that there’s a different reality here,” he said.
Reed and his team have been working with the Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups to draft an ordinance that would expand protections for LGBTQ residents in the state’s capital city. The proposed measure, which would specifically target discrimination in government, employment and housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity the Advertiser reported.
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