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Immigration Equality chief to depart at year’s end

Eight-year career culminated with Supreme Court ruling helping gay bi-national couples

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Rachel Tiven, Immigration Equality, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Tiven, Immigration Equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Executive Director of Immigration Equality Rachel Tiven will depart the organization at the end of this year. (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, announced on Tuesday that she will depart the organization effective Dec. 31 after eight years there. The resignation comes just more than one month after the Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

During an interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday, Tiven said her decision to leave was independent of the Supreme Court’s ruling and something she had planned for some time.

“I felt for a long time that we were going to win this year for LGBT families and that would add to our past wins on lifting the HIV travel ban and our success at building LGBT asylum as a field,” Tiven said. “Honestly, if we had lost, I think the organization would have deserved new leadership who could bring a new vision for how to win.”

Tiven said the board of directors is launching a search to find the next executive director who has a vision for where Immigration Equality will head next, which she predicted would include expanded asylum work and ending unfair practices against LGBT immigrants in detention.

“I wanted to announce a nice, long time in advance so the board would have time to search and I’m sure they’re going to find someone great,” Tiven said. “It’s bittersweet because I really love my work, but I think it’s important to give the organization an opportunity to really think about new leadership and new vision.”

Following her departure, Tiven’s  immediate plans are personal. She plans to travel to Israel with family for a seven-month sabbatical so her kids can “have a different experience” for a while.

But in the months remaining with Immigration Equality, Tiven said she intends to focus on the work her organization has previously pursued. That includes additional interest in LGBT asylum seekers in Russia coming to the United States amid controversy over the country’s anti-gay propaganda law, especially because these applications generally face additional complications.

“We project our total inquiries from Russia to essentially double this year over last year,” Tiven said. “Interestingly, one of things that we’re seeing is that cases for LGBT asylum seekers from Russia are ‘referred’ — which is an immigration asylum law word that means not granted in the first instance, but rather referred for what is effectively an appeal in immigration court — much more often than cases in other countries. So, in a nutshell, it’s harder for Russians to win asylum in the U.S.”

Other priorities are helping to ensure Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform legislation and overseeing implementation in the post-DOMA world to ensure married bi-national same-sex couples, who were previously barred from applying for I-130 marriage-based green cards, have access to them.

“We hear every day from couples who are grappling with lots of different kinds of snafus,” Tiven said. “It’s challenging for people to navigate what is a very, very, very complicated system. There are couples who have been waiting for years, some of them for decades for their green card and they can’t get them soon enough.”

In the past year, one of Immigration Equality’s most prominent efforts was the pursuit of the inclusion of language along the lines of the Uniting American Families Act as part of comprehensive immigration reform. In May, Democrats working on the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to include the provision after Republicans voiced opposition, leaving the Supreme Court as the agency to take action on behalf of gay bi-national couples by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

After that vote, Tiven said the decision not to include gay couples as part of the larger bill is still a memory tinged with sadness.

“The Senate vote was a real low point in the immigration debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was otherwise a pretty inspiring show of support for future Americans and for the families who want to be full participants in our society,” Tiven said. “It really showed that as far as we’ve come, in a year in which we saw lots of progress, there is still a nasty anti-gay strand that is alive and well in American politics.”

Asked whether the court ruling against DOMA makes the Senate committee’s decision not to include gay couples in the immigration bill any more forgivable, Tiven replied succinctly, “No.”

Andrew Lane, a prominent New York-based gay donor, said he’s “entirely unsurprised” that Tiven is leaving Immigration Equality and said it’s predicated on the Senate’s failure to include gay couples as part of immigration reform.

“Her stewardship of IE, and her fundraising for the organization, were premised on permanent partners,” Lane said. “So when the Senate Judiciary Committee threw us under the bus, that landed on her shores — a profound failure. My involvement in queer immigration politics is limited, but I’m very clear about the degree to which IE marginalized itself in the most important reform conversations. And then Windsor happened, which rendered the controversy — and IE’s non-asylum work — moot.”

But members of Immigration Equality’s board said upon news of Tiven’s departure they’re happy with her work. In a statement, Joseph Landau, the organization’s board chair, credited her “wisdom, leadership and expertise” as the reason for Immigration Equality’s “unparalleled track record.”

“The board couldn’t be more proud of her success, which led to a series of historic victories for LGBT immigrants,” Landau said. “In addition, her ability to grow the organization’s budget to meet our expanding profile, hire incredible staff members, and manage two offices doing ground-breaking legal aid and policy work has made Immigration Equality one of the most respected organizations in the movement.”

Prerna Lal, another Immigration Equality board member and lesbian DREAM activist, told the Washington Blade news of Tiven’s departure was a “great loss” for the organization.

“Rachel has been at the forefront of so many great efforts of LGBT immigration and our asylum work as well as bi-national couples work,” Lal said. “That means she’s really been a tour de force in the immigration rights world as well as the LGBT world. It’s a loss for the organization, I feel like. I don’t know who’ll fill her shoes, but we’ll try very hard to do it.”

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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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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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Caitlyn Jenner releases campaign ad and social media reacts- ‘enough already’

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MALIBU – Former Trump presidential campaign manager Brad Parscale released the first campaign advert Tuesday for reality television celebrity Caitlyn Jenner who is running to replace California Governor Gavin Newsom in the recall election race.

The ad drew an immediate and overwhelmingly negative reaction for exasperated social media users, many who identify as LGBTQ, decrying the reality TV personality getting into politics.

Jenner, 71, who is Trans herself, had drawn a firestorm of criticism over the past few days after she was caught outside a Malibu coffee spot Saturday and made remarks to a reporter from celebrity tabloid media outlet TMZ, saying that she didn’t think it was fair to have trans women athletes competing in girls’ and women’s sports.

In Tuesday’s advert, Jenner claims to be a “compassionate disrupter” and offers to rebuild and reopen California while in imagery silently alludes that Newsom in conjunction with ‘big government’ has somehow destroyed the state.

“I came here with a dream 48 years ago, to be the greatest athlete in the world,” she says in the ad, noting her own history in the state. “Now I enter a different kind of race, arguably my most important one yet: to save California.”

Reaction to the ad has been brutal. (Sampling below)

Another challenger to Newsom also released a campaign video Tuesday Sacramento’s Fox affiliate KTXL reported.

California businessman John Cox, who has challenged Newsom previously for the governorship launched his Meet the Beast Bus Tour Tuesday morning at Miller Regional Park in Sacramento. Cox brought a live bear with him.

Throughout the news conference, Cox attacked Newsom’s handling of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, water management and strain on the power grid.

Cox lost the 2018 general election to Newsom by 23 points.

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National transgender military advocacy group elects new president

Bree Fram has been SPARTA member since 2014

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Lt. Col. Bree Fram (Photo courtesy of SPARTA)

SPARTA, the nation’s leading transgender military service advocacy organization, announced Saturday that it had elected Bree Fram as its new board chair and president of the organization.

She has been a member of SPARTA since 2014 and has served on the board of directors since April 2018, most recently as vice president. Fram is also a lieutenant colonel and astronautical engineer in the U.S. Air Force and will soon be recommissioning into the U. S. Space Force.

She is currently a student at the U.S. Naval War College with a follow-on assignment to the Department of Defense at the Pentagon.

“I’m honored and humbled to serve as SPARTA president on behalf of so many amazing transgender service member,” said Fram. “We will do our utmost to continue SPARTA’s a rich history of incredible dedication and progress. My heartfelt thanks go to the previous leaders of the organization, including Sue Fulton, Jacob Eleazar, Blake Dremann, and Emma Shinn, and all our members for the incredible achievements of the past eight years. Despite setbacks, their desire to make transgender military service possible is reality again as of yesterday as the new Department of Defense Policy went into effect.”

The immediate past president, Emma Shinn served through a challenging time as President Trump’s ban on transgender service went into effect in April 2019. Her leadership rallied the organization and ensured SPARTA remained dedicated to positive change.

With the January 2021 executive order from President Biden directing the Defense Department to re-implement open transgender service, she and the organization celebrated a major success that will benefit all members of SPARTA and the nation.

“Leading SPARTA for the past two years has been a tremendous honor and privilege,” stated Shinn as her time at the head of SPARTA came to an end. She continued, “I am confident that SPARTA will continue to help our military and nation recognize the value trans service members bring to the mission. I am thankful for the opportunity SPARTA has given me to work with leaders in the DoD, legislators, and partner groups to make open trans service a reality again. I look forward to continuing to work with this amazing group of people under Bree’s leadership. I am excited for the future of our organization and nation.”

In a press release the organization noted that Fram’s remarks highlighted the fact that SPARTA’s mission is not over. “Although transgender service members have already proven they belong on the battlefield and here at home,” she said. “We need to ensure they can’t be erased in the future by an administration set on turning back the clock. Beyond ensuring our members can thrive in their careers, my top priority is to ensure the opportunity to serve is enshrined in law.”

Fram spoke on additional goals for SPARTA during her tenure and listed the following:

·  Minimize the administrative burden and career impact of transition in the military

·  Advocate for inclusion of transgender voices in policy making

·  Push for inclusive policies regarding intersex and non-binary military service

“All Americans who are otherwise qualified to serve in the military should have the opportunity to do so,” Fram summarized. “This nation will be better and better defended with inclusive policies that enable the military to draw upon the best talent this nation has to offer.”

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