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State Dept. mum on next steps after India ruling

Spokesperson reiterates support for LGBT rights overseas

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Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade
Supreme Court of India, gay news, Washington Blade

Supreme Court of India (Photo by Legaleagle86; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki wouldn’t speculate Wednesday about how the U.S. might encourage India to repeal its law criminalizing homosexual acts when asked about the recent court ruling upholding the colonial-era law.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Psaki declined to speculate about the potential options to encourage additional steps in India after she reiterated the Obama administration’s commitment to LGBT rights overseas.

“That’s a decision that the Indian government would make,” Psaki said. “We, obviously, don’t make decisions on behalf of other governments and their legislation. So, I expressed our deep concern about any efforts around the world to not recognize that LGBT rights are human rights and that’s a message we’ll continue to make.”

Earlier in the day, the India Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling from 2009 that decriminalized the same-sex relations between two men, which was previously illegal under a colonial-era law known as section 377. With the law back in place, individuals found guilty of “unnatural offenses” in the world’s second most populous country could face 10 years in prison.

Psaki said the State Department is “aware of” the decision in response to a first question about the ruling from a reporter during her daily news briefing,

But Psaki responded to the decision initially only by speaking broadly about the Obama administration’s support for LGBT rights, referencing a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry on Human Rights Day.

“We oppose any action that criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct between adults,” Psaki said. “LGBT rights are human rights. That’s something you heard Secretary Kerry say and Secretary Clinton say before him. And we call on all governments to advance equality for LGBT individuals around the world.”

It took questioning from another reporter for Psaki to clarify that U.S. concern with anti-sodomy laws “whether it’s India, or any other country” applies to the recent ruling.

“Any action that criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct between adults, that doesn’t recognize that fundamental freedoms include their right to sexual orientation, those are issues that we certainly would be concerned about as we are here,” Psaki said.

Asked whether the State Department was planning to reach out to the Indian government about the issue, Psaki wouldn’t make any specific predictions, but said human rights issues come up in conversations.

“Well, we consistently bring up human rights issues with most countries we meet with,” Psaki said. “I don’t have any specific recent call or meeting to read out for all of you, but certainly that’s something we’re happy to express publicly and privately.”

Top U.S. officials just recently had the opportunity to speak with Indian officials.

As part of her initial response speaking generally about news related to India, Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry and other high-ranking State Department officials met on Tuesday with Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and agreed to an expansion of strategic partnerships.

“The United States and India agreed … to strengthen new U.S.-India cooperation on training U.S. peacekeepers to develop support for the department’s own peace operations initiative,” she said. “The United States also accepted India’s invitation to serve as a partner country for India’s technology summit and expo in New Delhi in the fall of 2014, further intensifying our broad scientific cooperation.”

Asked whether the Supreme Court decision came up during this discussion, Psaki said she believes it happened before the ruling was handed down. When another reporter mentioned other related meetings were taking place today, Psaki said she’d have to check to verify that and whether any discussions about the ruling took place.

“I don’t have any other comment for you on the Supreme Court case than what I just offered or any other expectations of steps,” Psaki said. “That’s obviously steps the Indian government would take.”

After a reporter pointed out that the State Department would make threats aimed at Ukraine after it used violence to stop peaceful protests, but that it won’t take similar action in the India case, Psaki said the situations were different.

“Obviously, the events in Ukraine, we expressed our deep concern and the reasons why,” Psaki said. “And, as you know, we don’t group every country and everything that happens into the same category. Every circumstance is different.”

A transcript of the exchange follows:

Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Department of State (Photo public domain)

QUESTION: Thank you. You must have seen the Indian Supreme Court decision criminalizing homosexuality, which has sent shockwaves in the global LGBT community. And it’s more important, because only yesterday, Secretary Kerry issued a statement on Human Rights Day, and in which he mentioned LGBT. So what is the reaction that – and especially because the Indian foreign secretary is in town?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, we, of course, are aware of the Supreme Court decision. The United States places great importance on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people. And as you saw and as you referenced in the Secretary’s statement yesterday, that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons around the world. We oppose any action that criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct between adults. LGBT rights are human rights. That’s something you’ve heard Secretary Kerry say, I believe Secretary Clinton say before him, and we call on all governments to advance equality for LGBT individuals around the world.

I know you asked me about the visit of the foreign secretary. I’m happy to give a readout of that, if that’s helpful as well. Secretary Kerry and Deputy Secretary Burns met yesterday with Indian Foreign Secretary Singh to discuss ways to deepen the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership and consult on regional issues. Foreign Secretary Singh also met with Acting Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal, and other senior officials.

The United States and India agree to joint principles to strengthen India-U.S. cooperation on training UN peacekeepers, developed with support from the Department’s Global Peace Operations Initiative. The United States also accepted India’s invitation to serve as a partner country for India’s technology summit and expo in New Delhi in the fall of 2014, further intensifying our broad scientific cooperation.

QUESTION: Thank you. Are you planning to reach out to the Indian Government to express your – directly about what needs to be done? Because if you see the atmosphere there, the political parties, the pressure, and – it is not just a vague Supreme Court decision.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have – we consistently bring up human rights issues with most countries we meet with, and I don’t have any specific recent call or meeting to read out for all of you, but certainly, that’s something we’re happy to express publicly and privately as needed.

QUESTION: Back on India —

QUESTION: Well, in that meeting between the top diplomat for the Administration and his Deputy and the Indian foreign secretary, this didn’t come up?

MS. PSAKI: That happened yesterday. I don’t – I’m not aware of when – I believe this decision may have been today, the Supreme Court decision.

QUESTION: But she still has a meeting today too in the building.

MS. PSAKI: Hmm?

QUESTION: She had a meeting today also. Was this issue brought up with her?

MS. PSAKI: Today? With – who was the meeting with today?

QUESTION: I don’t know, but I think she had —

QUESTION: But she’s in town.

QUESTION: — some meetings here today also.

MS. PSAKI: I have to check on that. I was under the impression that most of the meetings were yesterday, but I’m happy to check, and if there were meetings today, we can check if this issue came up.

QUESTION: All right. And then —

QUESTION: Yeah, but the question —

QUESTION: — in the initial – in your initial response, I didn’t hear you actually give any reaction to what the decision actually was. I’m presuming that you think it’s a bad ruling by the Supreme Court, but I didn’t hear you say that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we —

QUESTION: Can you go ahead – can you say that?

MS. PSAKI: I believe by saying we oppose any action that criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct between adults in general around the world, I think I was pretty clear about what our view is.

QUESTION: So what do you think about the – specifically about the Indian Supreme Court decision?

MS. PSAKI: I think —

QUESTION: I’m looking for something that’s got the word “India” in the answer, other than just —

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I’m not sure I have much more to add other than to convey that any legislation around the world, whether it’s India or any other country that criminalizes —

QUESTION: But this isn’t legislation.

MS. PSAKI: — I’m sorry – any action that criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct between adults that doesn’t recognize that fundamental freedoms of people include their right to sexual orientation – those are issues that we certainly would be concerned about, as we are here.

QUESTION: So you are expressing concern about the Supreme Court decision in India on this case?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Does the supreme —

QUESTION: Clarify it one more time.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You are opposed to the Supreme Court decision and you are going to raise this issue with the Indian Government, right?

MS. PSAKI: I think I expressed our concern about any cases along these lines. We are in regular touch about these issues and others with India. I don’t have anything specific to read out for you in terms of future meetings or conversations about this.

QUESTION: Yeah. Does the United States expect India to – the parliament – with respect to the parliament, does it expect the Indian parliament to repeal that law?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other comment for you on the Supreme Court case than what I’ve just offered or any other expectation of steps. That’s obviously steps the Indian Government would take.

QUESTION: Is there any actions at all the Supreme Court – is there any options at all the State Department is examining to encourage India to repeal that law?

MS. PSAKI: That’s a decision that the Indian Government would make. We obviously don’t make decisions on behalf of other governments and their legislation. So I expressed our deep concern about any efforts around the world to not recognize that LGBT rights are human rights, and that’s a message we’ll continue to convey.

QUESTION: Well, the only problem with that is that you’re threatening sanctions on Ukraine, or saying that they’re a possibility because they’re violating people’s human rights and not listening to the – not listening to the people. And yet here with India, it’s not even clear whether this has – has come up, will come up, or will ever come up with the Indian Government. And in fact, the meeting – the readout that you gave of the meetings yesterday said that everything with India is full speed ahead, and we’re intensifying our relationship, and —

MS. PSAKI: Those meetings were yesterday. I think I expressed pretty clearly our opposition to this. In terms of what steps would be taken by a government on a Supreme Court case, that’s not something I would have a comment on. Obviously, the events in Ukraine we’ve expressed our deep concern about, and the reasons why. And as you know, we don’t group every country and everything that happens into the same category. Every circumstance is different.

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Nellie’s agrees to $5,000 fine, 7-day license suspension over brawl

Penalty prompted by security guard dragging Black woman down stairs

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Nellie’s must pay a fine and face a seven-day license suspension over a June 13 brawl in which a Black woman was dragged down the stairs. (Blade file photo by Tom Hausman)

The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on Wednesday, Oct 20, approved a compromise agreement it reached with Nellie’s Sports Bar that calls for the U Street, N.W. gay bar to pay a $5,000 fine and serve a seven-day license suspension over a June 13 incident in which a Black woman was dragged down a flight of stars by a Nellie’s security guard during a brawl between Nellie’s customers.

The agreement calls for a license suspension of 24 days with 17 days to be suspended and seven days to be served “so long as the Respondent does not commit any violations within (1) year from the date of this Order,” the ABC Board declared in a three-page order confirming the agreement.  

The order states that the license suspension will be served from Dec. 20-26 of this year. It also states that Nellie’s must pay the fine within 120 days from the date of the order. If the fine is not paid during that time “its license shall be immediately suspended until all amounts owed are paid.”

As a final stipulation of the agreement, the ABC Board states that Nellie’s must file a “legally compliant security plan” within 10 calendar days of the Oct. 20 order.

The security plan requirement stems from an earlier finding by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration related to the June 13 incident that Nellie’s was in violation of several provisions of the city’s liquor law, including a provision that a security plan that meets the standards of the city’s liquor regulations is in place.

An ABRA investigation of the June 13 incident found, among other things, that “multiple assaults occurred inside the establishment while the licensee was engaged in a method of operation conducive to unlawful conduct.”

The action by the Nellie’s security guard, which took place during the city’s LGBTQ Pride weekend, was captured on video taken by one of the customers on their phone. The video went viral on social media, prompting a series of protests against the bar by LGBTQ activists and Black Lives Matter advocates.

Nellie’s issued an apology for the incident the following day and announced it had fired the private security company whose employee, who is Black, dragged Keisha Young, 22, down the stairs. Nellie’s also announced it would temporarily close for business to assess what had happened and develop plans for reopening as a safe space for all members of the community. It reopened 35 days later, with protesters continuing to assemble outside the bar for several more weeks.

 When the five-member ABC Board on Oct. 20 held a roll call vote to approve what is officially called an Offer-In-Compromise or OIC agreement with Nellie’s that includes the fine, license suspension, and other provisions, gay ABC Board member Edward Grandis voted against the agreement, becoming the only member to do so.

A video recording of the virtual ABC Board meeting available through YouTube shows that Grandis expressed general support for the decision by both the board and Nellie’s to reach a compromise agreement. But he said he objects to the license suspension requirement.

“In this particular regard, when the facts and the testimony indicate that the licensee on its own initiative without any knowledge, at least in the testimony, of prompting from the government or MPD or any party, to itself close for 35 days during – generally – the pandemic when so many companies lost their companies and their employees lost their jobs and the neighborhoods lost their establishments, I really believe that this particular situation shows that the licensee took this event seriously and accordingly in a manner that hopefully will prevent it from happening again or have better security measures to avoid this type of situation in the future,” Grandis told his fellow board members.

“And I just wanted the record to show I’m supportive of the OIC generally, but I don’t believe it was constructed in a way that indicates what this licensee has done since that incident,” Grandis said.

Nellie’s owner, Douglas Schantz, and Nellie’s attorney, Andrew Klein, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Klein, who spoke at the ABC Board hearing on Wednesday, said in response to a question by Grandis that Nellie’s reluctantly agreed to the fine and license suspension, which he called “excessive,” among other things, because Schantz wants to put the matter behind him and to “heal” and “move on” with the community.

The ABC Board’s action came one day after the Washington City Paper announced that Nellie’s Sports Bar finished in second place among its readers in its annual Best of D.C. contest for the category of “Best Gay Bar/Club/Lounge.”

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UDC hosts event recognizing LGBTQ support at HBCUs

Seven campuses participate in annual event

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The Human Rights Campaign Foundation created the annual Out Loud Day event three years ago to ‘celebrate LGBTQ+ people and develop innovative inclusion efforts.’ (Screen capture via YouTube)

The University of the District of Columbia on Wednesday, Oct. 20, hosted one of seven “Out Loud Day” events highlighting LGBTQ visibility and inclusion at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) on college campuses throughout the country.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the national LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that it created the annual Out Loud Day event three years ago to “celebrate LGBTQ+ people and develop innovative inclusion efforts” at the nation’s historically black colleges and universities.

“It is also a day to take stock of all the challenges that LGBTQ+ students face in their daily lives at HBCUs and to have discussions on how to foster even more inclusion on their campuses,” said Leslie Hall, the HRC HBCU Program Director in a statement.

“This is the third time that the Human Rights Campaign has hosted the day, and we couldn’t be more excited to continue to expand upon the LGBTQ+ inclusion work we have been doing for years alongside HBCU administrations and student leaders,” Hall said.

Rishard Butts, HRC’s HBCU Program Senior Manager, told the Washington Blade that the UDC event included in-person activities that began at 5 p.m. on its campus in Northwest D.C. Among the events were an open dialogue session covering LGBTQ topics of interest to student participants. He said another session focused on LGBTQ figures in history, including those who were Black, and their impact on historic developments locally or worldwide. 

He said a third session included a trivia contest in which student participants received small prizes for answering questions about LGBTQ topics of interest to the community.

Butts noted that the HBCU Out Loud Day event was taking place at UDC a little over two years after the university celebrated the grand opening of its Center for Diversity, Inclusion & Multicultural Affairs. At the time of its opening, the Center said it would provide services and a space to meet and socialize for “students of all sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions.”

According to Butts, the concept for Out Loud Day at historically black colleges and universities began, in part, as a response to National Coming Out Day, which he said is not something that all LGBTQ people of color could do.

“So, we flipped this day around and instead of putting the responsibility of someone coming out, we put the responsibility on everyone to celebrate everyone,” he said. “So, it’s HBCU Out Loud Day so everyone is ‘out loud’, and everyone is proud, and everyone is celebrating and uplifting the stories of LGBTQ people and it’s not just the responsibility of the person who is out or coming out.”

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Venezuelan man with AIDS dies in ICE custody

Pablo Sánchez Gotopo passed away at Miss. hospital on Oct. 1

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Pablo Sanchez Gotopo, who was living with HIV/AIDS, died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Mississippi on Oct. 1, 2021. (Courtesy photo)

A Venezuelan man with AIDS died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on Oct. 1.

An ICE press release notes Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, 40, died at Merit Health River Oaks in Flowood, Miss., which is a suburb of Jackson, the state capital. The press release notes the “preliminary cause of death was from complications with acute respiratory failure, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), pneumonia, acute kidney failure, anemia and COVID-19.”

ICE said U.S. Border Patrol took Sánchez into custody near Del Rio, Texas, on May 17. He arrived at the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss., four days later.

“Upon arrival to an ICE facility, all detainees are medically screened and administered a COVID-19 test by ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) personnel,” said ICE in its press release. “Sánchez’s test results came back negative.”

The press release notes Sánchez on July 28 received another COVID-19 test after he “began showing symptoms of COVID-19.” ICE said he tested negative, but Adams County Detention Center personnel transferred him to a Natchez hospital “for additional advanced medical care.”

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations staff in its New Orleans Field Office, according to the press release, “coordinated with hospital staff to arrange family visitation” after Sánchez’s “health condition deteriorated.” Sánchez was transferred to Merit Health River Oaks on Sept. 25.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” says the press release.

Venezuela’s political and economic crises have prompted more than 10,000 people with HIV to leave the country, according to the New York-based Aid for AIDS International.

Activists and health care service providers in Venezuela with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent years have said people with HIV/AIDS in the country have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs. Andrés Cardona, director of Fundación Ancla, a group in the Colombian city of Medellín that works with migrants and other vulnerable groups, told the Blade last month that many Venezuelans with HIV would have died if they hadn’t come to Colombia.

The Blade has not been able to verify a Venezuelan activist’s claim that Sánchez was gay. It is also not known why Sánchez decided to leave Venezuela and travel to the U.S.

ICE detainee with HIV described Miss. detention center as ‘not safe’

Activists and members of Congress continue to demand ICE release people with HIV/AIDS in their custody amid reports they don’t have adequate access to medications and other necessary medical treatment.

Two trans women with HIV—Victoria Arellano from Mexico and Roxsana Hernández from Honduras—died in ICE custody in 2007 and 2018 respectively. Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans woman with HIV who fled El Salvador, died in 2019, three days after ICE released her from a privately-run detention center.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center. The detainee said there was no social distancing at the privately-run facility and personnel were not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“It’s not safe,” they told the Blade.

The entrance to the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, a Natchez resident who supports ICE detainees and their families, on Wednesday told the Blade that she was able to visit the Adams County Detention Center and other ICE facilities in the Miss Lou Region of Mississippi and Louisiana from November 2019 until the suspension of in-person visitation in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

“Medical neglect and refusal of medical care has always been an issue in the detention center at Adams County,” said Grant-Gibson. “After the facilities were closed to public visitation, those problems increased.”

Grant-Gibson told the Blade she “worked with a number of families and received phone calls from a number of detainees, and I was told again and again that detainees were being refused the opportunity to visit the infirmary.”

“When they did visit the infirmary, they were given virtually no treatment for the issues they were presenting with,” said Grant-Gibson.

ICE in its press release that announced Sánchez’s death said fatalities among its detainees, “statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.” ICE also noted it spends more than $315 million a year “on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to detainees.”

“ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) ensures the provision of necessary medical care services as required by ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards and based on the medical needs of the detainee,” notes the ICE press release. “Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay. All ICE detainees receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care.”

An ICE spokesperson on Wednesday pointed the Blade to its Performance-Based Detention Standards from 2011, which includes policies for the treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS.

A detainee “may request HIV testing at any time during detention” and ICE detention centers “shall develop a written plan to ensure the highest degree of confidentiality regarding HIV status and medical condition.” The policy also states that “staff training must emphasize the need for confidentiality, and procedures must be in place to limit access to health records to only authorized individuals and only when necessary.”

“The accurate diagnosis and medical management of HIV infection among detainees shall be promoted,” reads the policy. “An HIV diagnosis may be made only by a licensed health care provider, based on a medical history, current clinical evaluation of signs and symptoms and laboratory studies.”

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