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EXCLUSIVE: Fla. congresswoman meets with Cuban LGBT rights activists

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen met with Wendy Iriepa Díaz and Ignacio Estrada Cepero.

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Wendy Iriepa, Ignacio Estrada, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, House of Representatives, Republicans, Florida, Gay News, Washington Blade
Wendy Iriepa, Ignacio Estrada, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, House of Representatives, Republicans, Florida, Gay News, Washington Blade

LGBT advocates Wendy Iriepa Díaz and Ignacio Estrada Cepero meet with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) to discuss human rights in Cuba in the Rayburn House Office Building on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Wednesday met with two Cuban LGBT rights activists in her Capitol Hill office.

The Washington Blade had exclusive access to the majority of the meeting between the Cuban-born Republican who represents portions of Miami-Dade County and Wendy Iriepa Díaz and Ignacio Estrada Cepero that lasted more than half an hour.

Estrada, who founded the Cuban League Against AIDS in 2005, dismissed the Cuban government’s claims that people with HIV/AIDS receive free anti-retroviral drugs and other treatment under the island’s health care system. He and Iriepa, a transgender woman whom he married in a high-profile wedding in the Cuban capital of Havana in 2011, also criticized Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raúl Castro who is the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) that has publicly backed LGBT rights in the country.

Cuba has offered free sex-reassignment surgeries to trans Cubans under the country’s health care system in 2008.

Iriepa, who worked for CENESEX for seven years until she married Estrada, underwent the procedure herself in 2007. She told the Blade during an interview earlier this week that only 20 trans Cubans have received SRS since the law changed – and CENESEX determines those who will actually receive it.

Estrada and Iriepa arrived in D.C. on Monday and are scheduled to return to Miami tomorrow.

They are in the nation’s capital less than three months after Mariela Castro traveled to Philadelphia to receive an award from Equality Forum, an LGBT advocacy group.

Mariela Castro in May 2012 appeared on a New York City panel with Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Mariela Castro also met with LGBT rights advocates in San Francisco while she was in the U.S.

“With these international trips, with this amount of recognition she has undermined the work of the (Cuban) LGBT community,” Estrada told Ros-Lehtinen as he showed her posters of Pride walks and other events that he and other Cuban LGBT rights advocates organized independent of CENESEX. “You are seeing a broken policy.”

Ros-Lehtinen applauded Estrada and Iriepa at the end of the meeting.

“I feel very honored to be able to meet you,” she said. “I am grateful to you for filling this tremendous role inside of Cuba that is certainly not easy.”

“It’s very important for the U.S. community to understand what is the status of LGBT rights and the denial of rights in Cuba,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade after the meeting. “Mariela Castro, as part of the regime, has been on a propaganda tour internationally and here in the U.S. especially trying to sell this facade that is really non-existent in Cuba.”

A Cuban government representative did not immediately return the Blade’s request for comments about Estrada and Iriepa’s meeting with Ros-Lehtinen.

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Police describe Wilton Manors Pride incident as ‘fatal traffic crash’

Pickup truck driver identified as 77-year-old man

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A screenshot from a video taken at the scene by Joey Spears. (Image courtesy of @pinto_spears, via Twitter.) Screenshot used with permission from South Florida Gay News.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday released additional information about an incident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

A press release notes a 77-year-old man who was “a participant who had ailments preventing him from walking the duration of the parade and was selected to drive as the lead vehicle” was behind the wheel of a 2011 white Dodge Ram pickup truck that struck the two people near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday.

“As the vehicle began to move forward in anticipation for the start of the parade, the vehicle accelerated unexpectedly, striking two pedestrians,” reads the press release. “After striking the pedestrians, the driver continued across all lanes of traffic, ultimately crashing into the fence of a business on the west side of the street.”

“The driver remained on scene and has been cooperative with investigators for the duration of the investigation,” further notes the press release. “A DUI investigation of the driver was conducted on scene and showed no signs of impairment.”

The press release confirms the driver and the two people he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus.

Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue transported both victims to Broward Health Medical Center “with serious injuries.” The press release notes one of the victims died shortly after he arrived at the hospital.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department, which is leading the investigation, has not publicly identified the victims and the driver, but the press release describes the incident as a “fatal traffic crash.” The press release notes the second victim remains hospitalized at Broward Health Medical Center, but “is expected to survive.”

“While no arrests have been made, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department continues to investigate this incident and will not be releasing the names of the involved parties due to the status of the investigation,” says the press release. “The Fort Lauderdale Police Department asks anyone who may have witnessed this incident, who has not already spoken to investigators, to contact Traffic Homicide Investigator Paul Williams at (954) 828-5755.”

The pickup truck narrowly avoided U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade. Florida Congressman Ted Deutch was also nearby.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tragic accident that occurred when the Stonewall Pride Parade was just getting started,” said Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus President Justin Knight in a statement he issued after the incident. “Our fellow chorus members were those injured and the driver was also part of the chorus family.”

“To my knowledge, this was not an attack on the LGBTQ community,” added Knight. “We anticipate more details to follow and ask for the community’s love and support.”

Fort Lauderdale mayor initially described incident as anti-LGBTQ ‘terrorist attack’

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially described the incident as “a terrorist attack against the LGBT community,” without any official confirmation. Detective Ali Adamson of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Saturday confirmed to reporters that investigators are “working with” the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but stressed the “investigation is active and we are considering and evaluating all possibilities.”

“Last evening, at the start of what was to be a celebration of pride for the LGBT community and commemoration of our hard-won victories for equality, our community faced the worst of tragedies. The grief of our LGBT community — and greater Fort Lauderdale as a whole — is palpable,” said Trantalis on Sunday in a statement he posted to his Facebook page.

“I was an eyewitness to the horrifying events. It terrorized me and all around me. I reported what I saw to law enforcement and had strong concerns about what transpired — concerns for the safety of my community. I feared it could be intentional based on what I saw from mere feet away,” he added.

Trantalis added “law enforcement took what appeared obvious to me and others nearby and investigated further — as is their job.”

“As the facts continue to be pieced together, a picture is emerging of an accident in which a truck careened out of control,” he said. “As a result, one man died, two others were injured and the lives of two members of Congress were at risk. My heart breaks for all impacted by this tragedy.”

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One person dead after pickup truck hits Wilton Manors Pride parade participants

Vehicle narrowly missed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

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Stonewall Pride Festival in Wilton Manors, Fla., on July 19, 2021, hours before a pickup truck struck two parade participants. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

WILTON MANORS, Fla. — At least one person died on Saturday when a pickup truck ran over them during a Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Fla.

South Florida Gay News, WPLG and other South Florida media outlets reported the incident took place shortly before 7 p.m. after the Stonewall Pride Parade began on Wilton Drive.

Christian De La Rosa, a WPLG reporter, told his television station a white pickup truck that was lined up with other parade floats hit the accelerator and ran over two people. WPLG reported the vehicle narrowly missed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade.

“I want to thank our first responders for their heroic efforts as both police and emergency medical personnel stepped into action quickly,” tweeted the congresswoman after the incident.

“We’re praying for the victims and their loved ones as law enforcement investigates, and I am providing them with whatever assistance I can,” she added. “I am so heartbroken by what took place at this celebration. May the memory of the life lost be for a blessing.”

“This is a terrorist attack against the LGBT community,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told WPLG shortly after the incident took place, without any apparent confirmation. “This is exactly what it is. Hardly an accident. It was deliberate, it was premeditated and it was targeted against a specific person. Luckily they missed that person, but unfortunately, they hit two other people.”

Detective Ali Adamson of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department told reporters near the scene the “investigation is active and we are considering and evaluating all possibilities.”

“We owe it to our community to conduct a thorough and complete investigation,” she added.

Adamson confirmed her department is “working with” the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and is “evaluating all possibilities.” The pickup truck’s driver remains is in custody.

“We have to look at all the angles and that’s what we are doing,” said Adamson. 

Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus President Justin Knight told WPLG reporter Liane Morejon that the two victims and the driver who struck them were members of his organization. Knight in his statement also said to his knowledge the incident “was not an attack on the LGBTQ community.”

“We anticipate more details to follow and ask for the community’s love and support,” added Knight.

Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones, who is openly gay, in a tweet said he is “heartbroken and in shock over what has happened at Wilton Manors Pride.”

“Praying for and sending love to everyone there, including many friends,” he said.

Washington Blade Senior News Reporter Lou Chibbaro, who is currently on vacation in Wilton Manors, was along the parade route when the incident took place.

The Stonewall Pride Festival had begun earlier in the day. Chibbaro said Pride organizers cancelled the parade.

The incident took place a week after the 5th anniversary of the massacre at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this month signed a bill that bans transgender athletes from participating in high school and college sports teams that correspond with their gender identity and vetoed funding that activists say would have funded programs for Pulse survivors and homeless LGBTQ youth.

“We are heartbroken by the news of loss of life and multiple injuries at Wilton Manors Pride tonight,” said Equality Florida, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, in a series of tweets. “Our hearts go out to all those impacted. Our staff and volunteers at Pride are all safe and accounted for.”

“We are, with the rest of the community, awaiting additional info on whether this was a tragic accident or an intentional act of hate,” added Equality Florida.

Equality Florida also said “fears are heightened at a time when Gov. DeSantis and GOP legislators are fanning the flames of anti-LGBTQ hatred for political gain.”

“We can’t help but think of the awful bill passed this session enabling people to use vehicles as weapons against demonstrators. And, just days after the Pulse remembrance, we know dangerous rhetoric comes with real costs,” said Equality Florida. “But let us await the full story and send hope and healing to those injured and grieving tonight.”

The Blade will provide additional details as they become available.

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ACLU and Justice Department to jointly challenge anti-Trans laws

Recently passed anti-transgender laws in West Virginia and Arkansas violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

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U.S. Department of Justice, Robert F. Kennedy Building (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)

WASHINGTON – In court documents filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia and in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the U.S. Department of Justice, in Statement of Interest filings, joined the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU), arguing that recently passed anti-transgender laws in West Virginia and Arkansas violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The suits filed by the ACLU challenges an Arkansas law that bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth and a West Virginia law banning transgender youth from participating in school sports.

Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice with the American Civil Liberties Union LGBTQ & HIV Project, issued the following statement responding to the Department of Justice submitting a statement of interest in two federal courts supporting transgender youth;

“Today’s filings from the Department of Justice send a powerful message that discrimination against transgender youth is not just wrong, it is also plainly unconstitutional. These filings from the Department of Justice confirm what we have been telling legislatures all year: Banning trans youth from sports and denying trans youth health care violates the Constitution and federal law. We hope that state legislatures finally get the message.” 

Law and Crime reported that in the West Virginia case filing, the Justice Dept. argued that House Bill 3293, which bans transgender athletes at public schools from competing in female sports at the middle school, high school, and collegiate level, violates both the Equal Protection Clause and  Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by the parents of transgender girl who said their daughter was unlawfully prohibited from trying out for the school’s cross-country track team because of the measure.

In Arkansas, the Justice Dept. backed an ACLU-filed lawsuit challenging a state law (Act 626) which bans gender-affirming health care for transgender youths. The DOJ also claims that state ban violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Law & Crime reported.

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