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Latin America ‘light years ahead’ of Caribbean on LGBT rights

Advocates seek repeal of anti-sodomy laws



Tracy Robinson, Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, Peru, gay news, Washington Blade

Peru, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT advocates from St. Lucia, Guyana, the Bahamas and Jamaica at a meeting of activists from Latin America and the Caribbean in Lima, Peru, on Sept. 6, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

LIMA, Peru — Advocates from English-speaking countries in the Caribbean who attended a meeting of LGBT activists in the Peruvian capital last week conceded the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in their region continues to lag far behind that in Latin America.

“Latin America is actually way ahead of us in terms of progress they have made in terms of laws that they’ve been able to change, in terms of the openness of the gay community, in terms of political leadership,” Carl Greams, a Guyanese LGBT advocate, told the Washington Blade during a Sept. 6 interview at Cayetano Heredia University in Lima’s Miraflores neighborhood where the meeting took place. “There’s a lot to take away there for us.”

Mark Clifford, co-chair of PRIDE in Action, a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group, agreed.

“Where as Latin America is at the point of discussing marriage and those kinds of rights, we know we’re far from that in the Caribbean,” he told the Blade.

Consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized in Jamaica and Guyana alongside Belize, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.

United Belize Advocacy Movement, a Belizean HIV/AIDS advocacy group, in 2010 challenged the Central American country’s anti-sodomy law. Javed Jaghai, a Jamaican gay rights advocate, last month withdrew his lawsuit that sought to decriminalize homosexuality on the island because of concerns over his personal safety and that of his family.

Erin Greene, director of advocacy for SASH Bahamas, a Bahamian LGBT advocacy group, noted Spanish-speaking Latin American countries are “significantly older in terms of independence” than many Caribbean nations.

The Bahamas became a country within the British Commonwealth in 1973. Peru, where last week’s meeting took place, declared its independence from Spain in 1821.

“When we’re looking at the Caribbean context, we have to understand that some of these states are light years ahead of us in terms of their political, social development concerning the LGBT community,” Greene told the Blade.

Clifford added the small size of many Caribbean countries poses another challenge.

“It’s very difficult within that space to carve out an LGBT space,” he said. “In a bigger space, particularly in the United States — it’s such a vast country — if you’re not happy in one community, you can move to another very easily and you can be anonymous. We don’t have that luxury in the Caribbean where everyone knows everyone else.”

Anti-LGBT U.S. Evangelicals ‘akin to terrorists’

LGBT rights advocates throughout the English-speaking Caribbean maintain discrimination and violence based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and expression remain pervasive throughout the region.

A report from the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays, a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group, notes at least 30 men were murdered on the island between 1997 and 2004.

A man stabbed J-FLAG co-founder Brian Williamson to death inside his home in Kingston, the Jamaican capital, in 2004. A group of partygoers outside Montego Bay in July 2013 killed Dwayne Jones after they discovered the 16-year-old was cross-dressing.

A man in Dominica was stabbed to death in 2010 because he was reportedly “watching” his killer in a public place.

Advocates maintain homophobic lyrics in reggae and dancehall music insights anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica and other English-speaking Caribbean countries. They have also criticized local religious officials who oppose efforts to repeal anti-sodomy laws.

Greene noted to the Blade post-slavery societies throughout the English-speaking Caribbean continue to provide the “foundation” upon which conservative religious beliefs influence politics.

“Our relationship to and the embodiment of religion in the Caribbean states versus Latin American states has manifested a major difference in the way we engage issues about the body politics with respect to politics and sexuality,” she said.

Bahamian LGBT rights advocates earlier this month cancelled a Pride event on the island of Grand Bahama because of what Greene described as a “fervent and vitriolic response” from local religious leaders that prompted people not to attend.

“We’re still dealing with the issue of simple visibility,” she said. “A lot of Bahamians are just not prepared to assume that level of visibility in attending the event.”

A 2013 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center notes the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute have sent lawyers to Belize to advise the group defending the country’s anti-sodomy law.

Piero Tozzi of the Alliance Defending Freedom is among those who spoke at a 2011 symposium in the Jamaican capital that focused on ways to keep homosexuality criminalized on the island. Brian Camenker of MassResistance and Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, have also traveled to Jamaica to support these efforts.

Scott Lively, a Massachusetts-based Evangelical Christian against whom the Center for Constitutional Rights in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a Ugandan LGBT rights group that accuses him of exploiting anti-gay attitudes in the East African country and encouraging lawmakers to approve an anti-gay measure, has also spoken out in support of Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law.

“They’re akin to terrorists,” Greene told the Blade as she criticized Lively and other anti-LGBT American Evangelicals. “They’re spiritual terrorists and its unfortunate that our respective states don’t regard them as such.”

’If we put the work in then things will change’

In spite of rampant anti-LGBT discrimination and violence, advocates in the English-speaking Caribbean have seen some progress in recent years.

Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Judi Buckley, a senator in the U.S. Virgin Islands, in May introduced a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the American territory.

Jowelle Taylor de Souza, a trans Trinidadian woman, late last month announced she will run in the country’s parliamentary elections next year.

Belizean First Lady Kim Simplis-Barrow last year spoke out against anti-gay discrimination and violence in a video that commemorated the annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller pledged during her 2011 election campaign that her government would review her country’s anti-sodomy law. She also said she would call for a so-called conscience vote that would allow parliamentarians to consult with their constituents on the issue.

Such a vote has yet to take place.

“Politicians can’t be neutral to tolerance and hatred,” Tracy Robinson, a Jamaican lawyer who chairs the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, told the Blade after she spoke at the Lima meeting. “They actually have to create an enabling and a supportive environment in which persons can undertake rights work on behalf of LGBTI persons.”

Tracy Robinson, Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, Peru, gay news, Washington Blade

Tracy Robinson, a Jamaican lawyer who chairs of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, second from right, sits on a panel at a meeting of LGBT rights advocates from Latin America and the Caribbean in Lima, Peru, on Sept. 6, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Two Trinidadian government officials were among those who attended an April reception in the country’s capital of Port of Spain with Dennis and Judy Shepard. Rihanna, who is from Barbados, two months earlier publicly backed the campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to Principle 6 of the Olympic charter.

“There’s a lot of work that we have to do for ourselves,” said Afifa, a Jamaican LGBT rights advocate who did not provide the Blade with her last name, during the Lima meeting. “If we put the work in then things will change. If we don’t it then will stay the same.”

Caribbean ‘lumped into Latin America’

Nearly 300 advocates from throughout the Western Hemisphere attended the Lima meeting the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute co-organized alongside LGBT advocacy groups from Peru and Colombia. The gathering is the latest event to take place as part of the LGBT Global Development Partnership, a public-private initiative the U.S. Agency for International Development launched last year that is designed to bolster advocacy efforts in developing countries.

The Caribbean advocates with whom the Blade spoke in Lima expressed frustration over what they described as the lack of representation of LGBT activists from their region during the meeting.

“The Caribbean usually gets marginalized,” said Clifford. “We get lumped into Latin America because nobody knows what to do with the Caribbean, so we kind of get tagged on anyway. We’re kind of used to it.”

Kenita Placide, co-executive director of United and Strong, a St. Lucian LGBT advocacy group, agreed.

“It’s a bit unfortunate that Caribbean participation seems to be so little,” she said. “Compared to the number of persons from Latin America, the Caribbean is pretty small.”

Placide and other advocates from the English-speaking Caribbean who attended the Lima meeting nevertheless said their Latin American counterparts can learn from them and their efforts, particularly those that seek to engage people of African descent.

“Most Caribbean countries are majority black,” noted Greene. “We can engage issues from a position that can increase awareness for Afro-Latin communities.”

“[The meeting] gives me personally an understanding of how Latin America is able to push through certain issues and how it’s also a fact that they’re more advanced than the Caribbean in terms of activism,” added Placide. “There’s a lot to learn from that and a lot to take home.”

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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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