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Gay candidates make final push for votes

Six gay men, two lesbians on D.C. ballot in Tuesday’s election

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Lateefah Williams, gay news, Washington Blade
Lateefah Williams, gay news, Washington Blade, gay candidates

Attorney general candidate Lateefah Williams is touting her grassroots appeal. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Attorney General candidate Lateefah Williams, an out lesbian, and Ward 1 D.C. State Board of Education candidates Scott Simpson and David Do, both of whom are gay, were putting the final touches on their campaigns this week ahead of the Nov. 4 D.C. election.

Williams, Simpson and Do are among a total of eight openly gay or lesbian candidates on the city’s election ballot on Tuesday.

With gay mayoral candidate David Catania and at-large City Council candidate Courtney Snowden, a lesbian, capturing more attention in the LGBT community than the other gay candidates, activists following these races have said it’s unclear how the LGBT vote will break down in the election.

Williams, an attorney who has spent most of her career representing grassroots, community-oriented clients, is running against four other attorneys who have worked mostly with law firms and have engaged in more court-related litigation than Williams.

This year marks the first time voters will elect the city’s attorney general, who represents the city in litigation and serves as prosecutor for criminal cases involving juveniles. Up until now, the attorney general has been appointed by the D.C. mayor.

“I am undeniably a grassroots activist,” Williams said in an Oct. 24 commentary in the Washington Blade. “In fact, I’m so identified with my work on behalf of LGBT rights, labor rights, and other social justice issues, that many people have erroneously assumed that I do not have traditional legal experience.”

Williams points out that she has been licensed to practice law for 11 years and has worked for several years on litigation with two small law firms representing dozens of clients on a variety of legal matters, including family law, insurance defense and personal injury.

Each of her four opponents – Karl Racine, Edward “Smitty” Smith, Paul Zukerberg, and Lorie Masters – has expressed strong support for LGBT rights during campaign events. Racine, Smith, and Masters have worked for large, prominent law firms in the city. Zukerberg, an outspoken advocate for legalizing marijuana, heads his own small law firm that has specialized in public interest law.

Racine, the city’s first African American to be named head of a large law firm, is considered the front runner in the race and has raised the most money for his campaign – more than $666,000 as of the Oct. 10 campaign finance reporting period.

Finance records show he has loaned more than $400,000 to his campaign. Masters raised just under $300,000 as of the Oct. 10 reporting period, with Smith closely behind her with $296,000. Zukerberg has raised $110,468 during the same period, with Williams trailing the pack in money raised with $21,496.

Williams acknowledges she has an uphill battle in the election but says her strong grassroots advocacy background sets her apart from the other candidates. She says she remains hopeful that voters will choose her as the more people-oriented attorney general.

In the Ward 1 school board race, Simpson and Do are among five candidates competing for the seat.

Simpson works as press secretary for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the nation’s largest civil rights coalition. Its president and CEO, longtime civil rights leader Wade Henderson, has personally endorsed Simpson in the school board race, saying Simpson has “proven to have the substance, skills and vision to help our schools meet their challenge of providing quality education to every student.”

Simpson began his career in D.C. working with students involved with the local LGBT youth advocacy group SMYAL. He has also been endorsed by Ward 2 school board member Jack Jacobson, who became the first out gay to win election to the school board two years ago.

Do is a former D.C. government official who’s currently serving as a teaching assistant and graduate student at the University of Maryland. As the son of an immigrant family from Vietnam, Do has said, among other things, he would push for school policies supportive of the large number of immigrant children living in Ward 1.

David Do, Scott Simpson, School Board, gay news, gay candidates, Washington Blade

On left, David Do and on right, Scott Simpson are both candidates in the Ward 1 school board race. (Photos courtesy of the respective campaigns)

Another candidate running in the race is Laura Wilson Phelan, a former middle school teacher and current official with a non-profit group that “helps teachers engage families in D.C. public schools,” according to a write-up on her campaign website.

Also running are longtime Ward 1 public school and Latino community advocate Lillian Perdomo and Ward 1 community and education advocate E. Gail Anderson Holness.

Records from the office of campaign finance show Phelan leading in fundraising, with $38,338 as of the Oct. 10 reporting period. Simpson was close behind her with $34,485 raised as of Oct. 10. Do came in third in campaign fundraising, with $16,165 during the same reporting period. Perdomo and Holness were trailing the pack with $4,583 and $1,175 respectively.

Among the lesser-known gay candidates on the ballot in Tuesday’s election is gay activist Bruce Majors, who’s running for mayor as a Libertarian Party candidate. Majors has acknowledged that one of his goals as a candidate is to draw attention to Libertarian principles, which he says would be of benefit to the LGBT community and the city as a whole.

But with those principles often at odds with the agenda of the city’s LGBT rights groups, Majors received only a +2 rating from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance on LGBT issues. GLAA gave fellow lesser-known mayoral candidate Faith, a former Broadway entertainer who plays the trumpet at campaign appearances, a +3.5 rating.  GLAA rates candidates on a scale of -10 to +10.

Majors and his supporters have expressed concern that organizers of the four main mayoral debates, which included two local TV stations, have barred Majors from participating in the debates. The organizations have said they chose not to include Majors and two other lesser-known mayoral contenders in the debates based on a policy requiring candidates to reach a certain threshold in campaign fundraising that would establish them as “serious” candidates.

Campaign finance records show Majors raised $7,389 for his campaign as of Oct. 10 compared to the more than $1 million raised by mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser.

The remaining two out gay candidates on the D.C. ballot are Marc Morgan, the Republican Party nominee running for one of the two at-large D.C. Council seats; and Martin Moulton, a Libertarian Party candidate running for the shadow U.S. Representative seat.

Morgan and lesbian contender Snowden are among 15 candidates running for the two at-large seats. Campaign finance records show Snowden has raised $110,450, which includes an $11,000 personal loan to her campaign, as of the Oct. 10 reporting period. Matt Thorn, Snowden’s campaign finance director, said her total amount raised as of Oct. 30 comes to $141,543. Morgan raised $19,116 as of the Oct. 10 reporting period, according his report filed with the Office of Campaign Finance.

At least 16 out gay or lesbian candidates are running for seats on the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, according to John Klenert, a D.C. representative for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which monitors LGBT candidates running for public office throughout the country.

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards

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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

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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

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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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