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LGBT rights group honors Mariela Castro

Ros-Lehtinen calls her ‘standard bearer’ for ‘oppressive’ regime

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Mariela Castro, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade
Mariela Castro, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro spoke during a press conference in Philadelphia on May 4. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

PHILADELPHIA – An advocacy group on Saturday honored Cuban President Raúl Castro’s daughter for her efforts in support of LGBT rights in Cuba.

“I’m very honored that this organization, Equality Forum, invited me to participate in this event this year,” Mariela Castro said during a press conference with the group’s executive director, Malcolm Lazin, at the National Museum of American Jewish History before she accepted her award.

“She is truly an international hero for LGBT equality,” Lazin added, noting there have been what he described as “remarkable changes for LGBT Cubans” because of Mariela Castro’s work as executive director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX.) “We are really very honored to have her here in the United States in an open forum.”

Mariela Castro has spearheaded a number of campaigns over the last decade to promote acceptance of LGBT Cubans and to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS 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.

Observers have credited Cuba’s condom distribution campaign and sexual education curriculum with producing one of the world’s lowest HIV infection rates. Cubans with the virus also have access to free anti-retroviral drugs through the country’s health care system.

Mariela Castro, whose uncle is former Cuban President Fidel 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.

CENESEX has also scheduled a series of events across the country between May 7-18 to commemorate the annual International Day Against Homophobia.

“I am very proud of how we have advanced [LGBT rights in Cuba,]” she said during a panel at the University of the Arts earlier on Saturday that former GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios moderated.

Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas; Wilfredo Labiosa of the group Acceso and Philadelphia resident Ada Bella, who emigrated from Cuba to the United States in 1958 were the other panelists who joined Mariela Castro at the University of the Arts in Center City.

Mariela Castro, who has also spoken out in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Cuba, pointed out her mother, who directed CENESEX until she died in 2007, in the 1990s proposed an amendment to the country’s family code that would have defined marriage as a union between two people regardless of gender. She said during the panel that religious leaders and other Cubans questioned and even criticized her previous efforts to extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples.

Mariela Castro added she plans to continue to fight for these issues once she returns to Cuba.

“We want everybody to have the same rights,” she said. “I think that same-sex couples should have the same rights.”

Some Cuban LGBT advocates remain critical of the government and Mariela Castro herself in spite of these efforts.

Leannes Imbert Acosta of the Cuban LGBT Platform claims authorities detained her last September as she left her Havana home to bring materials to CENESEX on a planned exhibit on forced labor camps known as Military Units to Aid Production – or UMAPs in Spanish — to which the government sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military services during the 1960s. Ignacio Estrada Cepero, a gay man with HIV who founded the Cuban League Against AIDS in 2003, stressed during a New York City panel last year sponsored by Cuba Archive, a group that documents the Cuban government’s human rights abuses, that those with the virus on the island continue to face discrimination — including more than 500 people with HIV/AIDS he claims remain in prison for what he described as the crime of “pre-criminal social dangerousness.”

The Cuban government in 1979 repealed the country’s sodomy laws, but its critics continue to stress authorities use public decency and assembly laws to harass LGBT Cubans. Those with HIV/AIDS were forcibly quarantined in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

Fla. congresswoman blasts Mariela Castro

The State Department had initially denied Mariela Castro’s request to travel to Philadelphia, but Lazin on April 29 announced she had received the visa that allowed her to attend the event.

“Mariela Castro is the standard bearer for the oppressive Cuban dictatorship that has been wantonly violating people’s human rights for over 50 years,” Cuban-born Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement she released on Friday. “To allow her to come to the U.S. yet again so she can proliferate the Castro propaganda machine is appalling.”

Herb Sosa, a first-generation Cuban American who is president of the Miami-based Unity Coalition, an LGBT advocacy group, also blasted Equality Forum’s decision to honor Mariela Castro.

“To reward any element of the decades-old dictatorship, especially for positive efforts on human rights — is a sad joke,” he told the Washington Blade. “The daughter and niece of the Castro dictators have blood on their hands. Her marches and public spectacles are nothing more than photo ops for a willing and enabling media that does not seem to want to ask too many questions.”

Lazin interrupted this reporter when he started to repeat his question to Mariela Castro’s interpreter about her reaction to those Cuban LGBT rights advocates and others on the island who have criticized both her and her father’s government.

“Let’s keep the questions to the award that Mariela is here for tonight, which is the International Ally for LGBT Equality,” Equality Forum Communications Director Chip Alfred told reporters during the press conference at the National Museum for American Jewish History. “She’s not here to talk about the politics in Cuba.”

Labiosa earlier in the day applauded Mariela Castro and the Cuban government for what he described as their efforts to advance the island’s LGBT rights movement.

“They have been able to move it to the new century,” he said as he compared it to those in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries and territories. “We as a country, as a movement can learn and should be able to be open to learn from the Cuban government and also from the CENESEX and from the people.”

Mariela Castro, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro at University of the Arts in Philadelphia on May 4, 2013 (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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2 Comments

  1. Fausto Fernandez

    May 6, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I am a 73-yo gay man, born in Cuba, which I left for exile when I was 20. I must emphasize that there were no sodomy laws in pre-Castro Cuba; our penal code was based on the French Code Napoleon, in which sex between consenting adults in private is definitely not a matter of concern for the State. The Castro regime imposed sodomy laws, and has now abolished them.
    Mariela Castro has been an indefatigable defender of LGBT rights, and she has to be praised for this. The information I have, however, is that the Cuban police do whatever the hell they want and don’t pay attention to “that woman,” but it must be acknowledged that at present persecution of GLBT’s in Cuba is much much less than in the1970’s, the heyday of antigay persecution.

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Utah

VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights

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(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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Venezuelan man with AIDS dies in ICE custody

Pablo Sánchez Gotopo passed away at Miss. hospital on Oct. 1

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Pablo Sanchez Gotopo, who was living with HIV/AIDS, died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Mississippi on Oct. 1, 2021. (Courtesy photo)

A Venezuelan man with AIDS died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on Oct. 1.

An ICE press release notes Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, 40, died at Merit Health River Oaks in Flowood, Miss., which is a suburb of Jackson, the state capital. The press release notes the “preliminary cause of death was from complications with acute respiratory failure, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), pneumonia, acute kidney failure, anemia and COVID-19.”

ICE said U.S. Border Patrol took Sánchez into custody near Del Rio, Texas, on May 17. He arrived at the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss., four days later.

“Upon arrival to an ICE facility, all detainees are medically screened and administered a COVID-19 test by ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) personnel,” said ICE in its press release. “Sánchez’s test results came back negative.”

The press release notes Sánchez on July 28 received another COVID-19 test after he “began showing symptoms of COVID-19.” ICE said he tested negative, but Adams County Detention Center personnel transferred him to a Natchez hospital “for additional advanced medical care.”

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations staff in its New Orleans Field Office, according to the press release, “coordinated with hospital staff to arrange family visitation” after Sánchez’s “health condition deteriorated.” Sánchez was transferred to Merit Health River Oaks on Sept. 25.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” says the press release.

Venezuela’s political and economic crises have prompted more than 10,000 people with HIV to leave the country, according to the New York-based Aid for AIDS International.

Activists and health care service providers in Venezuela with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent years have said people with HIV/AIDS in the country have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs. Andrés Cardona, director of Fundación Ancla, a group in the Colombian city of Medellín that works with migrants and other vulnerable groups, told the Blade last month that many Venezuelans with HIV would have died if they hadn’t come to Colombia.

The Blade has not been able to verify a Venezuelan activist’s claim that Sánchez was gay. It is also not known why Sánchez decided to leave Venezuela and travel to the U.S.

ICE detainee with HIV described Miss. detention center as ‘not safe’

Activists and members of Congress continue to demand ICE release people with HIV/AIDS in their custody amid reports they don’t have adequate access to medications and other necessary medical treatment.

Two trans women with HIV—Victoria Arellano from Mexico and Roxsana Hernández from Honduras—died in ICE custody in 2007 and 2018 respectively. Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans woman with HIV who fled El Salvador, died in 2019, three days after ICE released her from a privately-run detention center.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center. The detainee said there was no social distancing at the privately-run facility and personnel were not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“It’s not safe,” they told the Blade.

The entrance to the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, a Natchez resident who supports ICE detainees and their families, on Wednesday told the Blade that she was able to visit the Adams County Detention Center and other ICE facilities in the Miss Lou Region of Mississippi and Louisiana from November 2019 until the suspension of in-person visitation in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

“Medical neglect and refusal of medical care has always been an issue in the detention center at Adams County,” said Grant-Gibson. “After the facilities were closed to public visitation, those problems increased.”

Grant-Gibson told the Blade she “worked with a number of families and received phone calls from a number of detainees, and I was told again and again that detainees were being refused the opportunity to visit the infirmary.”

“When they did visit the infirmary, they were given virtually no treatment for the issues they were presenting with,” said Grant-Gibson.

ICE in its press release that announced Sánchez’s death said fatalities among its detainees, “statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.” ICE also noted it spends more than $315 million a year “on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to detainees.”

“ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) ensures the provision of necessary medical care services as required by ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards and based on the medical needs of the detainee,” notes the ICE press release. “Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay. All ICE detainees receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care.”

An ICE spokesperson on Wednesday pointed the Blade to its Performance-Based Detention Standards from 2011, which includes policies for the treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS.

A detainee “may request HIV testing at any time during detention” and ICE detention centers “shall develop a written plan to ensure the highest degree of confidentiality regarding HIV status and medical condition.” The policy also states that “staff training must emphasize the need for confidentiality, and procedures must be in place to limit access to health records to only authorized individuals and only when necessary.”

“The accurate diagnosis and medical management of HIV infection among detainees shall be promoted,” reads the policy. “An HIV diagnosis may be made only by a licensed health care provider, based on a medical history, current clinical evaluation of signs and symptoms and laboratory studies.”

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Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’

Trans official sworn-in to U.S. Public Health Service

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For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

As part of her duties, Levine will lead an estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS,” Becerra said. “Adm. Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the Public Health Service and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

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