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Gay U.S. ambassador brings hope to Dominican advocates

James ‘Wally’ Brewster is ‘from our community’

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James Wally Brewster, United States Department of State, Dominican Republic, gay news, Washington Blade
James Wally Brewster, United States Department of State, Dominican Republic, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster (Photo public domain)

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Dominican LGBT rights advocates remain hopeful that gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster will continue to generate more visibility around their nascent movement in the Caribbean country.

“In reality the Dominican LGBT community is not a rather large community,” Cristian King of Trans Siempre Amigas told the Washington Blade on March 7 during a meeting with nearly a dozen Dominican LGBT rights advocates at the home of Deivis Ventura of the Amigos Siempre Amigos Network of Volunteers in the San Carlos neighborhood of the Dominican capital. “[Brewster] is a person from our community. It is a big impact.”

King spoke with the Blade alongside Amigos Siempre Amigos Executive Director Leonardo Sánchez, radio host Franklyn Sánchez, Edward Tavarez da Silva of the website Zona VIP, Lorena Espinosa of the Woman and Health Colective, Marinela Carvajal of Republika Libre, Anyi Fermin of the Metropolitan Community Church of Santo Domingo’s Women’s Ministry, Pedro Mercedes, Stephanía Hernández of Gente Activa y Participativa, Dominic Rincon of University Students for Diversity and Marta Arredondo of Amigos Siempre Amigos. Ventura is among the seven Latin American LGBT rights advocates who visited the U.S. earlier this year as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

Espinosa told the Blade that Brewster “helps us a lot.” Carvajal added the gay U.S. ambassador has brought more visibility to the Dominican LGBT rights movement.

“There is more discussion of [LGBT] issues,” said Carvajal. “There has been an opportunity to highlight our issues.”

The U.S. Senate last November confirmed Brewster as ambassador to the Caribbean nation.

Brewster, who is a former member of the Human Rights Campaign board of directors, introduced his husband, Bob Satawake, in a video to the Dominican people shortly after his confirmation. The two men met with Carvajal, King and other Dominican LGBT rights advocates last month at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo.

The State Department said Brewster was unavailable to speak with the Blade in Santo Domingo. He and Satawake gave an exclusive interview to Ritmo Social, a society magazine published by Listín Diario, a conservative Dominican newspaper, in January.

“I was chosen by President Obama to represent his government and the American people as a reflection of our country, its diversity and its mission. I am committed to serving this ideal,” said Brewster. “President Obama was aware of our understanding of the Dominican Republic and knew that we were going to work diligently to advance the extraordinary relationship between our two countries and people.”

Brewster continues to face criticism from Dominican religious figures who oppose his ambassadorship because of his sexual orientation.

Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo last June referred to Brewster as a “maricón” or “faggot” in Spanish during a press conference. Rev. Luís Rosario of the Santo Domingo Youth Ministry last month said he feels the gay ambassador is a “bad example” for Dominican society and families.

Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, the Vatican’s envoy to the Dominican Republic, cited the country’s Constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman as the reason he declined to invite Satawake to a diplomatic reception with Dominican President Danilo Medina that was scheduled to take place in January. The event was cancelled after a number of ambassadors said they would not attend because Okolo did not invite Brewster’s husband.

Hernández noted to the Blade a group of Brewster’s opponents dress in black each Monday to protest “the homosexual ambassador.”

“We are defending a person who is homosexual, that is gay and has come to occupy his country’s public position in the Dominican Republic,” said Ventura. “We are defending the right that we have to occupy public positions equally as gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people. This is why we are defending Wally.”

LGBT Dominicans becoming more visible

The activists with whom the Blade spoke in Santo Domingo insist the country has slowly become more open and accepting of LGBT people.

Parque Duarte in Santo Domingo’s Colonial City remains Santo Domingo’s de facto LGBT community center. Hundreds of LGBT people gather on weekend nights in spite of López and some neighbors’ efforts to ban them from the square that is across the street from a church.

Listín Diario, which announced on Saturday that López will have a weekly column in the newspaper, in 2010 published an article with the headline “Parque Duarte is a center of promiscuity” that outlined “homosexuals, prostitutes and drug users have invaded it.” The newspaper also ran a picture of two trans women kissing.

A number of young gender non-conforming Dominican men on a recent Saturday night were dancing at Fogoo Discotec, a gay nightclub in Santo Domingo’s Colonial City that is across the street from the gay-owned Adam Suites Hotel. Middle-class Dominicans and visitors typically frequent Esedeku and other nearby gay and lesbian bars and clubs.

Listín Diario and Ritmo Social earlier this month published pictures of Brewster and Satawake at an Elton John concert they attended at Altos de Chavón near Casa de Campo on Feb. 28. King told the Blade that Dominicans are increasingly aware of their advocacy efforts because newspapers and other media outlets reach out to them for comment on LGBT-specific issues.

“We are in the press,” he said. “With any gay problem that has to do with the community, the press reaches out to us. We are the community’s spokesperson.”

Serious problems persist for LGBT Dominicans in spite of increased visibility since Brewster assumed his post.

Espinosa and other advocates with whom the Blade spoke pointed out López and others with close ties to the Catholic Church continue to discriminate against LGBT Dominicans, Haitians and other marginalized groups in the country.

“The Catholic Church constantly rebukes us,” said Hernández. “If you are gay, you’re discriminated against. If you’re trans, you’re discriminated against. If you’re poor, you’re discriminated against.”

Hernández told the Blade that trans Dominicans continue to suffer violence from the police and a lack of access to health care. She noted staff at a clinic frequently treats her as though she is a man, even though her gender identity is female and she lives as a woman.

“They call me by the man’s name that is on my documents,” said Hernández. “I make a scene. I reclaim my rights. But there are others who do not reclaim their rights. These people that need to go to a health service. What do they do? The don’t seek the service.”

LGBT advocacy groups receive the bulk of their funds from the U.S. and Europe through HIV/AIDS prevention programs and human rights initiatives.

Hernández and others noted the Catholic Church continues to block any efforts to expand access to condoms and contraception in the country. Dominican lawmakers in 2009 approved a constitutional amendment banning abortion that then-President Leonel Fernández introduced with the church’s support.

“The Dominican government does not give one peso to any LGBT group,” Ventura told the Blade.

Ventura added wealthy gay Dominicans who own businesses in Miami and other cities have also not contributed to Dominican LGBT rights organizations. One gay man with whom the Blade spoke at Esedequ said he was not familiar with their work.

“They are not going to donate a peso to the community,” said Ventura.

Parque Duarte, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, gay news, Washington Blade

Parque Duarte in Santo Domingo’s Colonial City remains a de facto community center for the Dominican LGBT community in spite of efforts from the city’s homophobic Roman Catholic bishop and others to remove them. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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Federal Government

EXCLUSIVE: Robert Garcia urges US officials to protect LGBTQ people during Pride Month

Gay Calif. congressman sent letter to top authorities on June 12

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Participants of the Capital Pride Festival in D.C. on June 8, 2024. Gay U.S. Congressman Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) has urged U.S. officials to ensure LGBTQ people are safe during Pride Month. (Washington Blade photo by Emily Hanna)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) on June 12 sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray to work to ensure LGBTQ people during Pride events.

“Over the last several weeks, your respective agencies and departments have issued stark warnings, and travel advisories to the public over potential threats from foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), and their supporters during this year’s Pride Month,” said Garcia in his letter. “I understand that these steps have come after deeply concerning increases in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, calls for targeted violence, and foiled violent plots.”

The FBI on May 10 issued an advisory that warned of potential violence at Pride events and other LGBTQ-specific events. The State Department on May 17 — the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia — announced a similar warning.

“Ensuring that people can peacefully and safely celebrate Pride and the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community is of utmost importance,” wrote Garcia, a gay man who represents California’s 42nd Congressional District that includes Long Beach.

June 12 also marked eight years since a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State, even though there is no evidence that suggests the extremist group ordered him to carry out the massacre. 

“This week marks the eight (sp) anniversary of the horrific Pulse nightclub Orlando shooting — during which the attacker deliberately and viciously targeted the LGBTQ+ community,” wrote Garcia in his letter. “It is important to put the recent escalation of extremist anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda and messaging in the context the Pulse nightclub shooter who was influenced by these same forces of extremism.”

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