Connect with us


All in the ‘Family’

Family Equality Council looks to future with new executive director



Gabriel Blau, Family Equality Council, gay news, Washington Blade
Gabriel Blau, Family Equality Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Gabriel Blau (left) and his family. (Photo courtesy of Family Equality Council)

Family Equality Council Executive Director Gabriel Blau’s faith background has always proven an integral part of his LGBT advocacy.

He founded the God and Sexuality National Academic Conference at Bard College in 1998 that brought together scholars and advocates to present lectures and workshops on gender, sexuality and religion because he “wasn’t finding the kind of leaders and resources” he said he needed as an LGBT person of faith. Blau later led the $18 million campaign to raise funds that would allow Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, an LGBT synagogue in New York City, to move into a new location in Manhattan.

Blau told the Washington Blade during an interview at his D.C. office that his faith background has proven an asset in his new position.

“As a family organization, we’re one of the few that is not either just a right-wing group or a faith-based group,” he said. “The concept of family values has been so really tarnished by other family values groups, and often in the name of faith and often in the name of what’s right and what God wants. I think understanding that is critical to being able to fight it and to fight for real family values for valuing families.”

Blau joined Family Equality Council in January as its deputy director of strategic advancement. The organization’s board of directors in August appointed him to succeed long-time Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler, who resigned earlier this year to accept a senior administrative position at Smith College in Massachusetts.

Alan Bernstein, board chair of the Council, said in a press release that Blau represents a new generation of LGBT leaders in the country.

“One whose personal experiences and passion for social change can inspire our families and policy makers,” Bernstein said. “He is uniquely qualified to lead Family Equality Council at this pivotal moment in our organization’s history and in the LGBT movement. We look forward to having him lead the organization’s efforts from our nation’s capital where we can continue the progress we’ve made in being recognized as the leading national voice on issues related to LGBT family equality.”

Blau commutes between D.C. and New York where he lives with his husband Dylan and their 5-year-old son, Elijah. He also spends one week a month working out of the Family Equality Council’s Boston office.

Family Equality Council’s mission evolves, remains the same

Blau told the Blade his organization is more “important than we’ve ever been” since a group of gay fathers founded it in 1979, but in “different ways.”

The Family Equality Council signed onto amicus briefs in two cases that prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down California’s Proposition 8 and find a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. It also wrote the brief the Voices of Children submitted in the two cases.

The organization also meets regularly with members of the Obama administration and lobbies members of Congress to support a number of LGBT-specific measures. These include the Every Child Deserves a Family Act that would prohibit discrimination in the adoption or foster care system based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression or marital status.

Family Equality Council has also spoken out against a 2012 Virginia law that allows private adoption and foster care agencies to reject prospective parents based on their religious or moral beliefs. Blau last month criticized Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette after his office described marriage as a way to “regulate sexual relationships between men and women” in a brief it filed in a lesbian couple’s federal lawsuit that challenges the state’s ban on gay nuptials and same-sex second parent adoptions.

“We’re now in a world where we can achieve legal equality in ways that the people who first got together in 1979 could not have even imagined,” Blau says. “Having an organization that has that kind of history and is every day — day in and day out — thinking about family issues is critical to that conversation.”

Blau also spoke to the Blade about the controversy that erupted before last month’s Dallas Pride parade after organizers and local authorities warned participants against nudity and sexual conduct during the annual display.

“To make the parade more ‘family friendly’ and to accommodate comfort for the increasing number of attending heterosexuals and corporate sponsorship, participants are being asked to cover up,” local LGBT advocate Daniel Scott Cates wrote on his Facebook page as the Associated Press reported on Sept. 17. “The ‘queer’ is effectively being erased from our Pride celebration.”

Blau said he and his husband bring their son to New York’s annual Pride parade each year. He added his organization has worked with 20 Pride organizations so far this year to help them create what he described as family-friendly spaces.

“It’s healthy for every community to have a conversation about what it means to have a Pride celebration, what is the LGBT community in any given area,” Blau says. “When that community includes children, that community needs to figure out what that means for them. We as an organization do not in any way dictate what the answer is.”

Russia LGBT rights crackdown ‘scary moment in history’

Family Equality Council last month sharply criticized a Russian proposal that seeks to allow authorities to deny parental custody based on their sexual orientation. Blau also spoke with the Blade days after a video that claims gays and lesbians adopt children so they can rape them emerged.

“We’re not an international organization, but many families in Russia are fleeing and seeking asylum in the U.S.,” he says. “When they are here, they are part of our community.”

Blau said Family Equality Council supporters have contacted him to see what they can do to challenge Russia over its LGBT rights record that includes a law that bans gay propaganda to minors. He added his organization continues to monitor the situation and work with international LGBT organizations to respond to the situation.

“We have had the opportunities to speak directly with people who are directly affected by what is happening in Russia,” Blau says, without naming specific groups. “For many of us it is a very scary moment in history.”

Group seeks to ‘better’ use its resources

Blau says his organization has begun a six month review of its strategic plan that will reconsider its priorities as the LGBT rights movement continues to gain ground across the country.

In the meantime, he says Family Equality Council remains focused on its core mission and constituency while launching new efforts. These include its Outspoken Generation initiative that seeks to encourage children of LGBT parents to talk about their experiences.

“The landscape is changing on a weekly basis, which is a great thing, but it’s challenging,” Blau says. “We’re always looking at better ways to use our resources, to secure the parent-child relationship, to create not just equality in law but in culture and in society using the tools we have.”

Continue Reading


Biden administration to ban discrimination against LGBTQ patients



The Biden administration announced on Monday it would enforce civil rights protections under Obamacare to prohibit discrimination in health care against patients for being LGBTQ, reversing policy during the Trump years excluding transgender status as a protected characteristic under the law.

The Department of Health & Human Services declared it would enforce Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care on the basis of sex, and begin to take up cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement the Supreme Court has “made clear that people have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sex and receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

“Fear of discrimination can lead individuals to forgo care, which can have serious negative health consequences,” Becerra said. “It is the position of the Department of Health and Human Services that everyone — including LGBTQ people — should be able to access health care, free from discrimination or interference, period.”

The move is consistent with the executive order President Biden signed on his first day in office directing federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County to the furthest extent possible. Federal agencies were directed to comply within 100 days of the executive order, which is about now and a short time after Biden’s first 100 days in office.

The announcement with respect to Section 1557 comes on the same day as the hearing took place this morning in Bagly v. HHS, a case before a federal court in Massachusetts challenging Trump’s undoing of transgender protections under the law. An attorney with the U.S. Justice Department announced a new notice of proposed rule-making is coming with respect to Section 1557.

Sharita Gruberg, vice president for the LGBTQ Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement the change “assures LGBTQ people that their rights will be upheld at the doctor’s office, vaccine sites, and everywhere else they seek health care and coverage.”

“The administration’s announcement that it will enforce these protections are a critical step toward addressing vaccine hesitancy among LGBTQ people, a population that has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and seriously harmed by the previous administration’s attempts to permit discrimination against LGBTQ patients, Gruberg added.

The past three administrations have instituted policy on LGBTQ protections based on their interpretation of Section 1557. Each move had varying implications and directions for LGBTQ patients.

The Obama administration issued a rule in 2016 interpreting Section 1557 to apply to cases of anti-transgender discrimination and discrimination against women who have had abortions, which was consistent with court rulings at the time. However, that move was enjoined by a nationwide court order in Texas as a result of litigation filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The Trump administration, shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock, made final a regulation proposed last year rescinding the Obama administration’s transgender protections under Section 1557. Faced with criticism, the Trump administration defended itself by saying its move was consistent with the court order in Texas, although it seemed to ignore the decision from the higher court.

The new rule from HHS goes above and the beyond the Obama administration by instituting protections based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the proposed rule would be a new regulation entirely, or seek to modify the changes that were made in the two previous administrations. The Blade has placed a request seeking comment with HHS.

Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement the new HHS rule is a welcome change after the Trump administration rescinded protections for transgender patients.

“It’s unfortunate that such an obvious step had to be taken; the AMA welcomes this common-sense understanding of the law,” Bailey said. “This move is a victory for health equity and ends a dismal chapter in which a federal agency sought to remove civil rights protections.”

Discrimination in health care is an experience transgender people commonly report. The U.S. Transgender Survey in 2015 found one-third of responders said they had at least one negative experience in health care related to being transgender. Further, 23 percent of responders said they didn’t seek health care because they feared being mistreated and one-third said they didn’t go to a provider because they couldn’t afford it.

A Center for American Progress survey from 2018 had similar findings with respect to transgender people and patients with being gay, lesbian and bisexual or queer. Eight percent of responders said a doctor refused to see them because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, while 28 percent of providers said a doctor refused to see them because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Hospitals, especially religiously affiliated providers, refusing to provide transition-related care, including gender assignment surgery, is another frequently reported incident for transgender patients. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, has filed litigation against hospitals under Section 1557 for refusing to perform the procedure.

Rachel Levine, assistant secretary of health and the first openly transgender presidential appointee to obtain Senate confirmation, hailed the HHS rule change in a statement.

“The mission of our Department is to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. All people need access to healthcare services to fix a broken bone, protect their heart health, and screen for cancer risk,” Levine said. “No one should be discriminated against when seeking medical services because of who they are.”

Although the Biden administration’s announcement is a welcome move for LGBTQ advocacy groups, the change is not without critics.

John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University who declares himself a supporter of transgender rights, said the policy could have unintended consequences, which he said has become evident in the British health system.

“[Transgender] individuals with a penis but no vagina are being asked to have medical tests on their non-existent cervices, while [transgender] persons with a vagina and cervix will not be asked, under new guidelines which appear to place lives at risk and encourage a physically impossible medical exam on organs which simply do not exist,” Banzhaf said. “And, carrying this absurdity to its totally illogical conclusion, a patient with a penis and a full beard was offered a cervical test because, despite his clearly masculine appearance and style of dress, he registered himself as being gender neutral.”

Continue Reading

homepage news

Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards



Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade


A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

Continue Reading

homepage news

Undocumented LGBTQ immigrants turn to Fla. group for support

Survivors Pathway is based in Miami



Survivors Pathway works with undocumented LGBTQ immigrants and other vulnerable groups in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Francesco Duberli)


MIAMI – The CEO of an organization that provides support to undocumented LGBTQ immigrants says the Biden administration has given many of his clients a renewed sense of hope.

“People definitely feel much more relaxed,” Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli told the Washington Blade on March 5 during an interview at his Miami office. “There’s much hope. You can tell … the conversation’s shifted.”

Duberli — a gay man from Colombia who received asylum in the U.S. because of anti-gay persecution he suffered in his homeland — founded Survivors Pathway in 2011. The Miami-based organization currently has 23 employees.

Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli at his office in Miami on March 5, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Duberli said upwards of 50 percent of Survivors Pathway’s clients are undocumented. Duberli told the Blade that many of them are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking and victims of hate crimes based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Part of the work that we have done for years is for us to become the bridge between the communities and law enforcement or the justice system in the United States,” said Duberli. “We have focused on creating a language that helps us to create this communication between the undocumented immigrant community and law enforcement, the state attorney’s office and the court.”

“The fear is not only about immigration,” he added. “There are many other factors that immigrants bring with them that became barriers in terms of wanting to or trying to access the justice system in the United States.”

Duberli spoke with the Blade roughly a week after the Biden administration began to allow into the U.S. asylum seekers who had been forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the previous White House’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

The administration this week began to reunite migrant children who the Trump administration separated from their parents. Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

Duberli told the Blade that Survivors Pathway advised some of their clients not to apply for asylum or seek visa renewals until after the election. Duberli conceded “the truth of the matter is that the laws haven’t changed that much” since Biden became president.

Survivors Pathway has worked with LGBTQ people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in South Florida. American Civil Liberties Union National Political Director Ronald Newman in an April 28 letter it sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called for the closure of the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, the Glades County Detention Center near Lake Okeechobee and 37 other ICE detention centers across the country.

The road leading to the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami on June 7, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Survivors Pathway responded to trans woman’s murder in 2020

Survivors Pathway has created a project specifically for trans Latina women who Duberli told the Blade don’t know they can access the judicial system.

Duberli said Survivors Pathway works with local judges and police departments to ensure crime victims don’t feel “discriminated, or outed or mistreated or revictimized” because of their gender identity. Survivors Pathway also works with Marytrini, a drag queen from Cuba who is the artistic producer at Azúcar, a gay nightclub near Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

Marytrini and Duberli are among those who responded to the case of Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera, a trans woman and well-known activist and performer from Cuba who was murdered inside her downtown Miami apartment last November. Carey’s boyfriend, who had previously been charged with domestic violence, has been charged with murder.

“That was an ongoing situation,” noted Duberli. “It’s not the only case. There are lots of cases like that.”

Duberli noted a gay man in Miami Beach was killed by his partner the same week.

“There are lots of crimes that happen to our community that never gets to the news,” he said. “We got those cases here because of what we do.”

Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera was murdered in her downtown Miami apartment in November 2020. (Photo courtesy of social media)

















Continue Reading

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts