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Gay Obama official battling over Export-Import Bank

Hochberg leads fight to save FDR-era institution from shutdown by Tea Party



Fred Hochberg, Export-Import Bank, Human Rights Campaign, Washington Blade, gay news

‘We should not cede American jobs to China, Russia or other countries,’ said Fred P. Hochberg, the gay president and CEO of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Fred P. Hochberg, the gay president and CEO of the U.S. Export-Import Bank since 2009, has emerged as the Obama administration’s lead defender of the bank in the midst of efforts by Tea Party Republicans to shut it down.

Opponents are calling on Congress not to renew the bank’s charter, which expires Sept. 30.

The little-known bank was created by Congress in 1934 at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help U.S. companies sell products overseas at the height of the Depression. Among other things, it lends money to foreign companies to help them pay for American-made products and services.

Hochberg has been praised by the bank’s supporters for becoming a persuasive promoter and defender of the bank’s long record that Hochberg says has helped to create millions of American jobs during its 80-year history by enabling U.S. companies to sell more products abroad.

“The stakes could not be higher,” Hochberg told the House Financial Services Committee during a June 25 hearing. “We should not cede American jobs to China, Russia or other countries.”

But the mild-mannered Hochberg, himself a businessman who served as CEO of a home products company started by his mother in New York, has come under attack by critics of the so-called Ex-Im Bank from both conservative Republicans and environmentalists.

Tea Party activists and their allies in Congress have accused him and the bank of advancing what they call “crony capitalism” – a form of government handout, say the critics, to the largest and most politically connected U.S. corporations.

The GOP-leaning Heritage Foundation, the Club for Growth, and the ultra-right billionaire Koch brothers have all sided with this faction, saying the Ex-Im Bank should be closed and its lending role picked up by private banks rather than the U.S. government.

On the other side the of political spectrum, the Sierra Club has denounced both Hochberg and the Export-Import Bank for lending money to controversial coal mining projects in Australia and India. The Australian project has come under fire from environmentalists because it would require an expanded harbor near the mines to export coal. The harbor expansion, in turn, requires dredging that environmentalists say would threaten Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, considered a world ecological treasure.

“The U.S. Export-Import Bank and its president Fred Hochberg have never met a coal project they didn’t like,” Sierra Club official Justin Guay said in a 2012 statement.

Since that time Hochberg has pointed out that the Ex-Im Bank has lent money to dozens of foreign projects involving environmentally friendly renewable energy such as wind mills and solar energy facilities – all of which have purchased American-made equipment such as windmill blades and wind turbine generators.

The Sierra Club has since moderated its criticism, saying Congress should renew the Ex-Im Bank’s charter while directing the bank to put in place additional reforms to ensure it finances projects that don’t harm the environment.

Justin Nelson, president of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, said his organization strongly supports renewal of the Export-Import Bank’s charter. According to Nelson, LGBT-owned businesses throughout the country are working with the NGLCC to enter the export trade and stand to benefit greatly from the Ex-Im Bank’s work.

“We have been doing a series of educational workshops at our conferences over the last couple of years so LGBT business owners start to realize the opportunity in exporting,” Nelson told the Blade. “Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S. borders,” he said.

“So having an organization like the Ex-Im that can come in and can work with our small business exporters – LGBT-owned businesses and non-LGBT owned businesses – is a huge opportunity,” said Nelson.

Like other supporters of the bank, Nelson points out that claims that the bank favors large corporations over small businesses are at odds with the bank’s records showing that 90 percent of its transactions in 2013 were for U.S. small businesses.

Hochberg told the House committee hearing in June that the default rate for Ex-Im Bank loans to companies that buy American products has been less than one percent over the past five years and that the bank has brought in just under $2 billion in profit from the interest and fees associated with the loans it makes.

Rather than costing taxpayers money, Hochberg told the committee, the profit from the bank’s loans pays for its entire budget and returns money to the U.S. treasury.

“I am proud of the work our 400-plus employees do each day to empower U.S. companies and support American job growth,” he told the committee, whose chairperson, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), opposes renewing the bank’s charter.

“Since our last reauthorization in 2012, Ex-Im Bank has supported nearly half a million American export-backed jobs, while generating nearly $2 billion for the taxpayer and maintaining a low default rate of 0.211 percent as of March 31, 2014,” he said.

During the June House committee hearing, members of the committee, including Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), questioned Hochberg about a June 23 Wall Street Journal story reporting that four high-level Ex-Im Bank officials had been suspended or removed in recent months following allegations that they accepted gifts and kickbacks from companies doing business with the bank.

Hochberg said he could not provide details about the investigation while the bank’s Inspector General’s office was investigating the matter. However, he said the allegations of wrongdoing by the people under investigation came to the attention the Inspector General’s office by other bank employees who became suspicious of the actions of the people involved.

Congressional observers have said the allegations of possible misconduct by the Ex-Im Bank officials would likely complicate efforts by the bank’s mostly Democratic supporters to secure the renewal of its charter before the Sept. 30 deadline.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the ranking minority member of the House Financial Services Committee, praised Hochberg for his leadership of the bank and called on her fellow committee members to quickly approve a renewed charter for the bank.

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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.”

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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)

















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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness



Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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