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‘Gay baiting’ poll targets lesbian D.C. Council candidate

Courtney Snowden endorsed by Washington Post



Courtney Snowden, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club endorsement forum, gay news, Washington Blade

‘The secret that was never a secret is out,’ Courtney Snowden said of her status as a lesbian. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Council candidate Courtney Snowden disclosed on Monday that a rival candidate appears to have commissioned a so-called “push poll” that has been asking city residents if her status as a lesbian would be a factor in whether or not they would vote for her.

Snowden is an executive for a prominent D.C. government affairs firm and former staff member to U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) prior to Baldwin’s election to the Senate. She’s running as an independent in a hotly contested 15-candidate race for one of two at-large seats on the Council up for election on Nov. 4.

News of the push poll, which she and her supporters are calling an attempt at “gay-baiting,” came on the same day that the Washington Post announced it has endorsed her and fellow independent candidate Robert White for the two Council seats.

“Well, the secret that was never a secret is out,” Snowden said in a campaign fundraising letter responding to the anonymous telephone poll.

“Yes, I am a sixth generation Washingtonian, yes, I was born in Ward 4, yes, I reside in Ward 7, yes, I am a graduate of D.C. Public Schools, yes I am a single mom, and — yes, I am a lesbian,” Snowden said in the letter sent via email.

Snowden said she learned about the poll from supporters who told her they talked to people who were contacted by phone to take the poll mostly in Wards 5, 7 and 8. The supporters reported that the poll was automated and used a recorded message rather than a live person to ask those reached by phone to push a number to answer several questions about Snowden’s candidacy.

Chanelle Blackwell, communications director for the Robert White campaign, told the Blade that supporters of White have also reported they heard about or were contacted to take the automated poll.

“We’re not sure who commissioned the poll or even sponsored it,” Blackwell said.

The only candidate known to have commissioned a poll in the crowded race is Elissa Silverman, an independent who received strong support from LGBT activists when she ran unsuccessfully for the seat as a Democrat two years ago.

The poll she commissioned was conducted by Public Policy Polling, a reputable polling firm, in the second week of September. It showed incumbent Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) far ahead, with 25.6 percent support from those reached by phone. The poll showed Silverman in second place with 17.5 percent and White in third place with 7.5 percent.

Snowden finished in fifth place with 6 percent, with 26 percent of the 768 “likely voters” contacted saying they were undecided.

Jim Williams, a polling analyst for Public Policy Polling, told the Blade on Monday that the poll he conducted that was commissioned by Silverman did not ask questions about Snowden’s sexual orientation.

“That question was not asked by us,” he said. “You’re not the first one to ask us that question.”

Snowden’s supporters have said they believe undecided voters are now breaking for her — more than a month after Silverman’s poll was conducted Sept. 12-14.

“News of this poll is very troubling,” said Angela Peoples, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which has endorsed Snowden and Bonds for the two seats.

Under the city’s election law, the two candidates with the highest vote counts are declared the winners of the two seats. A Democratic candidate is eligible for only one of the two seats under the election law.

“The District of Columbia has come a long way since the days when someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity disqualified them in the eyes of voters,” Peoples told the Blade. “Disgusting and cynical politicians willing to throw our community under the bus with a ‘gay-baiting’ poll shows just how vitally important it is that our community continue to have a voice on the D.C. Council to protect those gains.”

Peoples was referring to the fact that should Snowden lose her race for the at-large Council seat, the Council would be without an openly gay member for the first time in 17 years when its next session begins in January 2015.

Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), the first out gay to win election to the Council in 1997, is giving up his seat to run for mayor. Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who won election to the Council in 1998, lost his re-election bid in the April 1 Democratic primary.

Snowden received a +10 rating, the highest possible score on LGBT-related issues, from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. She also received the endorsement of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which has helped her raise funds for her campaign.

However, the latest filings with the Office of Campaign Finance show Snowden is trailing White and several other candidates in money raised as of Oct. 10.

In its editorial endorsing Snowden, the Post said that while it respects Bonds for her work on the Council, Snowden and White “have more to offer this year.”

“Ms. Snowden grew up in Ward 4, lives in Ward 7, works in Ward 2 and has a keen understanding of the need to connect neighborhoods if the city is to thrive,” the Post said. “She understands policy, is adept at building coalitions and is both smart and passionate about education reform.”

All 15 candidates running in the race, including gay Republican Marc Morgan, have expressed support for LGBT equality. GLAA’s ratings, which are on a scale of -10 to +10, ranged from the +10 it gave to Snowden to a “0” for candidates that failed to return a questionnaire.

The group has said that although nearly all candidates running for public office in D.C. express general support for LGBT rights, it gives higher ratings to candidates that show a depth of understanding on a wide range of LGBT-related issues through their questionnaire responses.

In the at-large Council race, GLAA gave Silverman a +8 rating and assigned a rating of +7.5 for Bonds and White.

The remaining candidates received the following GLAA ratings: Graylan Scot Hagler (I), +9; Kishan Putta (I), +6; Brian Hart (I), +5; Khalid Pitts (I), +5; Eugene Puryear (Statehood-Green), +4.5; Wendell Felder (I), +3; Michael D. Brown (I), +2; Marc Morgan (R), +2; Calvin Gurley (I), +1; Frederick Steiner (Libertarian), 0; Eric Jones, 0.

GLAA says Steiner and Jones did not return the questionnaire, resulting in their getting an automatic 0 rating because their positions and record on LGBT issues are unknown. Morgan also did not return the questionnaire, according to GLAA, but his record of support on some LGBT-related issues led to his receiving a +2 rating.

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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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