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LGBT issues discussed at first-of-its-kind U.N. meeting

Funders of global gay initiatives met in NYC, Kerry signs onto declaration

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Rajiv Shah, USAID, United Nations General Assembly, gay news, Washington Blade

Rajiv Shah, USAID, United Nations General Assembly, gay news, Washington Blade

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is among those who attended a meeting of global LGBT funders on September 24 during the U.N. General Assembly in New York. (Photo courtesy of USAID.)

Global LGBT advocacy efforts were among the issues discussed during the U.N. General Assembly this week in New York.

USAID, the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency (SIDA,) the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and the Ford Foundation on Tuesday hosted a meeting of funders of global LGBT advocacy efforts.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, SIDA Director General Charlotte Petri Gornitzka and former Planet Out CEO Megan Smith, who is now vice president of Google[x], attended the gathering alongside high level officials from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Swedish, the United Kingdom, the U.N. Development Program, the State Department and the World Bank.

Representatives from the American Jewish World Service, the Arcus Foundation, the Fund for Global Rights, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, the Dutch foundation Mama Cash, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Open Society Foundation and the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights are among the other groups that took part in the meeting. Organizers said it drew 85 percent of groups around that contribute to global LGBT efforts.

“It was a seminal moment in history because it is the first global meeting where public and private donors for LGBT equality came together to discuss priorities, programs and potential collaboration for ways forward,” senior USAID advisor Claire Lucas told the Washington Blade on Friday.

USAID in April announced the LGBT Global Development Partnership with the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, (SIDA) and other groups will contribute $11 million over the next four years to advocacy groups in Honduras and other developing countries. The initiative’s first two trainings took place in the Colombian cities of Cartagena and Bogotá late last month and in the spring respectively.

Denis Dison of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute added his organization remains “proud” to “partner in this work” with USAID and Astraea as he discussed Tuesday’s meeting with the Blade.

“This meeting was an important step in recognizing the truly global effort to advance LGBT human rights, and the leadership role now being played by the U.S. is a remarkable turnaround from just a few years ago,” he said.

Funders of global LGBT initiatives met in New York two days before Secretary of State John Kerry and representatives from 10 countries issued a declaration that calls for an end to anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.

Members of the LGBT Core Group at U.N. that includes the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and ministers from Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway declared their “strong and determined commitment to eliminating violence and discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“We reaffirm our conviction that human rights are the birthright of every human being,” the statement reads. “Those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) must enjoy the same human rights as everyone else.”

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Affairs Dean Pittman told the Blade during an interview from New York on Friday the meeting and the declaration underscores the U.N. and the U.S. are committed to “pursuing and advancing LGBT rights around the world.”

“Everybody’s reinforced the idea that everyone deserves human rights,” Pittman said. “It shouldn’t be a decision of who you are, who you love, what your gender is.”

Pittman further categorized the statement as “really strong, powerful.”

“This really has a ripple effect that sort of goes out through LGBT communities around the world who see this as sort of a vote of confidence,” he told the Blade. “[It] sort of gives them the ability to go into their own communities with the backing of a global organization like the U.N. to pursue some of these human rights issues in their own countries.”

The meeting took place two months after the U.N. officially launched a public campaign that seeks to increase support for LGBT rights around the world. It’s been endorsed by singer Ricky Martin and others.

More than 70 countries around the world continue to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts in spite of a 2011 resolution in support of LGBT rights the U.N. Human Rights Council passed. Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on Friday said in his speech during the U.N. General Assembly that homosexuality is among the three “biggest threats to human existence” as the Associated Press reported.

85 countries have also backed a U.N. General Assembly declaration in support of LGBT rights.

President Obama earlier this month met with two Russian LGBT rights advocates during the G-20 summit. Both he and Kerry have also criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin over his country’s LGBT rights record, which includes a law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

Pittman declined to say whether Kerry discussed Russia’s LGBT rights record during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday during the U.N. General Assembly. He said Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, briefed Kerry and other ministers on the country’s gay propaganda law before they issued their declaration.

“This is an issue we’ve raised with the Russians at many levels and repeatedly,” Pittman told the Blade. “It’s obviously unacceptable.

Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley welcomed the meeting and the resolution.

“One would expect Syria and Iran to be on the agenda, but not necessarily human rights for LGBT people,” he told the Blade, referring to the U.N. General Assembly. “For a group of committed foreign ministers to come together during this time, including Sec. Kerry, to pledge collective action to respond to human rights abuses directed at LGBT communities worldwide is unprecedented.”

Chris Johnson contributed to this article.

John Kerry, United States Department of State, LGBT, United Nations General Assembly, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participates in an LGBT ministerial event in New York on Thursday during the U.N. General Assembly. (Photo courtesy of the State Department.)

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Maryland

Lesbian candidate loses Hyattsville City Council race by 17 votes

Final results show low turnout in special election to fill vacant seat

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Lisbeth Melendez Rivera lost her race by just 17 votes.

Lesbian activist and diversity consultant Lisbeth Melendez Rivera lost by just 17 votes in a three-candidate special election on Tuesday to fill a vacant seat on the Hyattsville, Md., City Council.  

In what it said on Wednesday afternoon were the final certified results, the Hyattsville Board of Supervisors of Elections posted on its website that candidate Emily Strab had 280 votes, Melendez Rivera had 263 votes, and candidate Kelly Burello had 152 votes. Three votes were cast for write-in candidates, the election board posting said.

The Ward 2 seat on the 10-member Hyattsville Council in the Prince George’s County suburban city became vacant when the incumbent Council member, Robert Croslin, won election as mayor.

Melendez Rivera currently operates BQN Consulting, a firm she created to provide support services related to organizing, training and capacity building, according to the firm’s website. The website says that from 2014 to 2017 she served as Director of Latinx & Catholic Initiatives for the Human Rights Campaign, the D.C.-based national LGBTQ advocacy organization.

“I congratulated Emily,” Melendez Rivera told the Washington Blade Wednesday morning.

At that time, she said she remained hopeful that just a small number of mail-in ballots that may not have been counted on Tuesday night might emerge in her favor when the election board conducted its final tally of the votes later in the day on Wednesday or early Thursday.

But the final count released Thursday afternoon was identical to the preliminary count released Tuesday night, with winning candidate Strab receiving just 17 more votes than second-place finisher Melendez Rivera.

Melendez Rivera said she portrayed herself as the most progressive of the three candidates running for the nonpartisan City Council seat in a city that many consider to be one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the Washington metro area. Residents starting at age 16 and non-citizen immigrants are allowed to vote in local elections.

Like Melendez Rivera, Strab, a former teacher and school administrator, and Burello, who has worked as a workplace diversity trainer, each expressed support for Hyattsville’s diverse population, including racial minorities and immigrants.

The 698 total votes cast for the candidates plus what the election board lists as 3 “under votes” brought the total vote to 701 in the special election. That’s considered a low turnout for the Ward 2 election district that has a little over 2,000 registered voters.

Melendez Rivera said she plans to run again for the Ward 2 Council seat. The Hyattsville Council consists of two members for each of the city’s five wards. The second of the two Ward 2 Council seats is up for election in 2023, but Melendez Rivera said she will not run if the incumbent, Danny Schaible, decides to run for re-election.

“But I will definitely run in 2025,” she said, against then incumbent Strab, if Strab runs for re-election in 2023.

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National

Biden announces pardons for thousands convicted of federal marijuana possession

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana.  It’s time that we right these wrongs”

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(Photo courtesy of NORML)

President Biden traveling in New York state on Thursday announced that he was granting a pardon of all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana.

Taking aim at federal conviction rates for marijuana possession, Biden noted in a statement released by the White House, “while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

This announcement by the president comes roughly a month before the midterm elections that will decide whether the president’s party can hold on to control of Congress. Democratic and progressive candidates have pushed the administration for action on this issue which which many Democratic activists have long called for.

The White House estimates will affect more than 6,500 people and in conjunction with his action today Biden is asking that all Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses.

Statement from President Biden on Marijuana Reform

As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.  Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.  And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.
 
Today, I am announcing three steps that I am taking to end this failed approach.
 
First, I am announcing a pardon of all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana.  I have directed the Attorney General to develop an administrative process for the issuance of certificates of pardon to eligible individuals.  There are thousands of people who have prior Federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result.  My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.
 
Second, I am urging all Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses.  Just as no one should be in a Federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.
 
Third, I am asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.  Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances.  This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic. 
 
Finally, even as federal and state regulation of marijuana changes, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and under-age sales should stay in place.
 
Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana.  It’s time that we right these wrongs. 

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Local

Comings & Goings

Conner promoted to manager of Scott Circle Communications

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Robert Conner

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Robert Conner, promoted to manager of Scott Circle Communications. On his promotion Conner said, “I’m proud to be promoted to manager of Scott Circle Communications. Our clients are all mission-driven. I am fortunate to use my expertise to help clients communicate complex and urgent information to the public in order to help people learn about new research relating to their health, and the society around them. As an activist fighting for equality and LGBTQ causes, my daily work at Scott Circle Communications aligns with my overarching life goal of using communication to benefit the greater good by writing clearly to bridge misunderstandings.” 

Conner previously worked at SKDKnickerbocker in D.C. Prior to that he had been an intern in the office of Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).  He has had a number of speaking engagements with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and received a bronze Bulldog Award for Best Media Relations Campaign 2022. He served as chair of the volunteer engagement committee of the Human Rights Campaign in Greater Philadelphia.

Conner earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pa.

Congratulations also to Christopher Rudolf who joined Atlantic Shores Sotheby’s International Realty in Ocean City, Md. Rudolph is a licensed Realtor in Maryland and Delaware specializing in the beaches and coastal areas of Worcester County, Md., and Sussex County, Del. He said, “I have been assisting buyers and sellers of real estate in our area since 2015. I thoroughly enjoy helping people achieve their dreams of coastal property ownership. The Maryland/Delaware seashore is a very cool place that I like to call home, and teaching people about the history and attractions of the region is a lifelong passion of mine.”  

In addition to real estate in the warm months, Rudolf works part-time as a manager at The Kite Loft of Ocean City. He was appointed to the Ocean City Board of Zoning Appeals in 2013 by Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, and recently was elected chair of the board.  

He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Salisbury University in Maryland.  

Christopher Rudolf
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