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White House to hold roundtable on bisexual issues

Closed event an apparent first for the administration

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The White House
The White House

The White House is set to hold a roundtable on bisexual issues (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The White House is set to hold a closed-door event next month exclusively dedicated to issues facing the bisexual community — an apparent first for the Obama administration.

In an email invitation dated Aug. 16 and obtained this week by the Washington Blade, White House LGBT liaison Gautam Raghavan refers to the event as a “a roundtable discussion on issues of importance to the bisexual community” and says it’ll take place Sept. 23 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House.

“Participants and administration officials will discuss a range of topics including health, HIV/AIDS, domestic and intimate partner violence, mental health, and bullying,” Raghavan writes.

The invitation was apparently sent to LGBT supporters of President Obama and explicitly says the meeting is “off the record and closed to members of the press.” A White House official confirmed the event would take place, but didn’t respond to further requests to comment on it.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization was invited and plans to participate, adding it’s the first exclusively bisexual event at the White House of which he’s aware.

“It’s a testament to this administration that they are focusing on all elements of the LGBT community and they should be applauded for hosting an event focused on some of the specific issues impacting bisexual people,” Cole-Schwartz said.

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Colorado

Five transgender, nonbinary ICE detainees allege mistreatment at Colo. detention center

Advocacy groups filed complaint with federal officials on April 9

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(Photo courtesy of GEO Group)

Five transgender and nonbinary people who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a privately-run detention center in Colorado say they continue to suffer mistreatment.

The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, the National Immigration Project and the American Immigration Council on April 9 filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Offices for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Immigration Detention Ombudsman and Inspector General and ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility on behalf of the detainees at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility near Denver.

Charlotte, one of the five complainants, says she spends up to 23 hours a day in her room. 

She says in the complaint that a psychiatrist has prescribed her medications for anxiety and depression, but “is in the dark about her actual diagnoses because they were not explained to her.” Myriah and Elsa allege they do not have regular access to hormones and other related health care.

Omar, who identifies as trans and nonbinary, in the complaint alleges they would “start hormone replacement therapy if they could be assured that they would not be placed in solitary confinement.” Other detainees in the complaint allege staff have also threatened to place them in isolation.

“They have been told repeatedly that, if they started therapy, they would be placed in ‘protective custody’ (solitary confinement) because the Aurora facility has no nonbinary or men’s transgender housing unit,” reads the complaint. “This is so, despite other trans men having been detained in Aurora in the past, so Omar is very likely receiving misinformation that is preventing them from accessing the treatment they require.”

Omar further alleges staffers told them upon their arrival that “they had to have a ‘boy part’ (meaning a penis) to be assigned to” the housing unit in which other trans people live. Other complainants say staff have also subjected them to degrading comments and other mistreatment because of their gender identity. 

“Victoria, Charlotte and Myriah are all apprehensive about a specific female guard who is assigned to the housing unit for transgender women at Aurora,” reads the complaint. “Victoria has experienced this guard peering at her through the glass on the door of her form. Charlotte, Myriah and the other women in her dorm experienced the same guard making fun of them after they complained that she had confiscated all of their personal hygiene products, like their toothbrushes and toothpaste, and replaced them with menstrual pads and tampons, which she knows they do not need.”

“She said something to them like, ‘If you were real women, you would need these things,'” reads the complaint. “The same guard told them that they had to ask her for their personal hygiene products when they wanted to use them, stripping them of their most basic agency.”

Victoria, who has been in ICE custody for more than two years, also says she does not have regular access to hormones. Victoria further claims poor food, lack of access to exercise and stress and anxiety because of her prolonged detention has caused has made her health deteriorate.

The GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates the Aurora Contract Detention Facility.

Advocates for years have complained about the conditions for trans and nonbinary people in ICE custody and have demanded the agency release all of them.

Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV, on May 25, 2018, died in ICE custody in New Mexico. Her family in 2020 sued the federal government and the five private companies who were responsible for her care.

Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans Salvadoran woman, on June 1, 2019, passed away at a Texas hospital four days after her release from ICE custody. Kelly González Aguilar, a trans Honduran woman, had been in ICE custody for more than two years until her release from the Aurora Contract Detention Center on July 14, 2020.

ICE spokesperson Steve Kotecki on Friday told the Blade there were 10 “self-identified transgender detainees” at the Aurora Contract Detention Center on April 11. The facility’s “transgendered units” can accommodate up to 87 trans detainees. 

A 2015 memorandum then-ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Thomas Homan signed requires personnel to allow trans detainees to identify themselves based on their gender identity on data forms. The directive, among other things, also contains guidelines for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for trans detainees and requires detention facilities to provide them with access to hormone therapy and other trans-specific health care.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is committed to ensuring that all those in its custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments,” said Kotecki. “ICE regularly reviews each case involving self-identified transgender noncitizens and determines on a case-by-case basis whether detention is warranted.”

The complaint, however, states this memo does not go far enough to protect trans and nonbinary detainees.

“ICE’s 2015 guidance has some significant flaws,” it reads. “It fails to provide meaningful remedies for policy violations. It does not acknowledge the challenges that nonbinary people face when imprisoned by ICE and the lack of such guidance explains why the needs of nonbinary people are largely misunderstood and unmet.”

“Further, the language used to describe people who are TNB is not inclusive and does not reflect terminology adopted by the community it is meant to describe,” adds the complaint. “Although this list is not exhaustive, it addresses some of the primary concerns voiced by the complaints.”

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Politics

First lady warns Trump is ‘dangerous to the LGBTQ community’ at HRC event

Jill Biden spoke in Arlington, Va., on Friday

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Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson introduces the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden at the Human Rights Campaign's Equality in Action event on Friday, April 12, 2024 in Arlington, Va. (Kevin Wolf/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)

Delivering a keynote address at the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality in Action event Friday, First lady Jill Biden warned former President Donald Trump is “a bully” who is “dangerous to the LGBTQ community.”

Her appearance at the three-day volunteer and board gathering at the Sheraton Pentagon City in Arlington, Va., comes as part of the Biden-Harris reelection campaign’s “Out for Biden” program, which aims to “mobilize LGBTQ+ voters, communities, and leaders across the country.”

“Today, this community is under attack,” Biden said. “Rights are being stripped away. freedoms are eroding. More and more state laws are being passed targeting this community. Just last month, we had to fend off more than 50 anti-gay amendments that Republicans tried to force into the government funding bill.”

“These were extreme measures aimed directly at this community — measures that would have limited health care and weakened protections for same sex couples,” she said. “And they served only one purpose to spread hate and fear.”

In a nod to her long career as an educator, Biden said, “History teaches us that our rights and freedoms don’t disappear overnight. They disappear slowly. Subtly. Silently.”

She continued, “A book ban. A court decision. A ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law. One group of people loses their rights and then another. And another. Until one day you wake up and no longer live in a democracy … This is our chapter of history and it’s up to us how it ends.”

Biden then highlighted some of the advancements for LGBTQ rights secured under the Biden-Harris administration.

“Thanks to President Biden, marriage equality is now the law of the land,” she said. “He ended the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood. He’s made it possible for trans Americans to serve openly and honorably in our military. And he’s standing firmly against conversion therapy.”

“Yes, there are forces outside these walls that are trying to erase these hard fought gains, trying to unwind all the progress that we’ve made,” Biden said. “They want to take our victories away, but we won’t let them. Your president will not let them — I will not let them.”

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South America

Man convicted of killing Daniel Zamudio in Chile seeks parole

Raúl López Fuentes in 2013 sentenced to 15 years in prison

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Daniel Zamudio (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Vera)

One of the four men convicted of murdering a young gay man in the Chilean capital in 2012 is seeking parole.

Raúl López Fuentes in 2013 received a 15-year prison sentence after he was convicted of killing Daniel Zamudio.

Zamudio was a young Chilean man who became a symbol of the fight against homophobic violence in his country and around the world after López and three other young men with alleged ties to a neo-Nazi group beat him for several hours in Santiago’s San Borja Park on March 2, 2012. Zamudio succumbed to his injuries a few weeks later.

The attack sparked widespread outage in Chile and prompted a debate over homophobia in the country that highlighted the absence of an anti-discrimination law. Lawmakers in the months after Zamudio’s murder passed a law that bears Zamudio’s name.

Patricio Ahumada received a life sentence, while López and Alejandro Angulo Tapia are serving 15 years in prison. Fabían Mora Mora received a 7-year prison sentence.

López has asked the Seventh Santiago Guarantee Court to serve the last three years of his sentence on parole. Zamudio’s family and Jaime Silva, their lawyer who works with the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, oppose the request.

Movilh represented Zamudio’s family after his murder.

Zamudio’s mother, Jacqueline Vera, during an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade said López’s petition “provoked all the anguish, all the commotion of his time.” 

“It was very cruel because in fact two days before we were at Daniel’s grave, where it was 12 years since his death and the beating,” said Vera. “He really does not deserve it.”

“We have gone through very difficult moments,” she added.

The mother, who later created a foundation to eradicate discrimination in Chile, was emphatic in indicating that she and her family “do not accept the release of this guy because he is a danger to society and a danger to ourselves.” 

“At the last hearing where they were sentenced, they told us that we are going to remember them when they get out,” said Vera. “They threatened us with death. There is a video circulating on social networks where they were in front of me and they laughed and made fun of me. They told me that I remembered that I had three more children.”

Daniel Zamudio’s mother, Jacqueline Vera. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Vera)

Regarding the possibility that the Chilean justice system will allow López to serve the remaining three years of his sentence on parole, Vera said “with the benefits here in Chile, which is like a revolving door where murderers come and go, it can happen.” 

“In any case, I don’t pretend, I don’t accept and I don’t want (López) to get out, I don’t want (López) to get out there,” she said. “We are fighting for him not to get out there because I don’t want him to get out there. And for me it is not like that, they have to serve the sentence as it stands.”

LGBTQ Chileans have secured additional rights since the Zamudio Law took effect. These include marriage equality and protections for transgender people. Advocacy groups, however, maintain lawmakers should improve the Zamudio Law.

“We are advocating for it to be a firmer law, with more strength and more condemnation,” said Vera.

When asked by the Washington Blade about what she would like to see improved, she indicated “the law should be for all these criminals with life imprisonment.”

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