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McConnell assumes control of Senate

Republican obstruction may doom pro-LGBT bills

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Dick Durbin, Mitch McConnell, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke on the Senate floor on the first day of the 114th Congress. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

The 114th Congress officially kicked off on Tuesday, marking the first time that Republicans have controlled the U.S. Senate in eight years following the party’s massive gains on Election Day.

The changing of the guard included brief speeches from new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.), who’ll now control the floor of the chamber, and Assistant Minority Leader Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), who was filling for now Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as he recovers from injuries.

Staying true to his stated goal in a Washington Post interview this week of making the Republican Party seem less “scary” ahead of the presidential election, McConnell was brief and non-descript about his plans for the 114th Congress.

“We recognize the enormity of the task before us, we know a lot of hard work awaits, we know many important opportunities await as well,” McConnell said. “I’m really optimistic about what we can accomplish, but I’ll have much more to say about that tomorrow.”

As a result of the election, Republicans began the 114th Congress with an additional nine seats in the U.S. Senate, giving them 54 total in the chamber. In the House, Republicans expanded their majority to 246 members, their largest caucus in the chamber since the Truman administration. The party lost one vote when Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) resigned after pleading guilty to tax evasion charges.

In contrast to McConnell, Durbin offered a more distinct vision for the 114th Congress, wishing the Republican majority the best and recalling the tenure of another senator from his state of Illinois, Sen. Everett Dirksen, a moderate Republican who served as minority leader in the 1960s.

“He famously said, and I quote, ‘I am a man of fixed and unbending principle, the first of which is to be flexible at all times,’ end of quote,” Durbin said. “That may sound comical, even contradictory, but Sen. Dirksen’s ability to be flexible in tactics affirm what principles helped produce historic legislation, such as the Civil Rights of 1964, one of the greatest achievements in our nation’s history.”

Drawing on the example of Dirksen, Durbin made a call for working together in the spirit of compromise on behalf of the country.

“The American people need for us to work together to solve problems and create opportunities, and for their sakes, let’s all try to remember that what we are about is honorable compromise,” Durbin said. “The Constitution of the United States and the Senate itself are the results of just such a compromise.”

Presiding over the chamber was Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who that day was elected as Senate president pro tempore, or the most senior member of the majority party.

Moments before the speeches, Vice President Joseph Biden, in his capacity as president of the Senate, joined for the swearing in the 33 newly elected or re-elected senators in groups of four. Those senators then signed the Oath Book, which contains the names of all U.S. senators.

Ian Sams, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, said the change in leadership within the Senate likely means an end to progress on LGBT bills.

“Under a Democratic majority, the U.S. Senate made historic gains for LGBT Americans — from repealing ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ to showing record support for marriage equality to passing ENDA, an LGBT hate crimes prevention bill and HIV/AIDS care legislation,” Sams said. “We hope that the new Republican majority will continue this progress, but if the House Republican majority of the past few years is any indicator, we won’t hold our breath.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said the change of control in the Senate represents the loss of “one of the greatest roadblocks to legislative progress” with the departure of Reid as majority leader.

“I expect we’re going to see a lot of vetoes now that Reid can no longer run defense for the president and refuse to put the bi-partisan legislation passed by the House on the Senate floor,” Angelo said.

The Human Rights Campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment on Tuesday about the implications of the change in power in the U.S. Senate.

Any spirit of moving things forward in an expedited manner in the Senate was diminished as soon as the initial speeches ended when Durbin objected to proceeding with McConnell convening a Senate panel on Wednesday under special rules with the goal of approving the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“Nobody’s rights would be in any way impaired by going forward a day early,” McConnell responded. “We’re going to pass the committee resolutions tomorrow. We all know that one of the things the Senate is best at is not doing much. I hope we can work this out so we can get started.”

Just moments later, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced during his routine briefing that President Obama would veto the proposed measure on Keystone XL if it reached his desk, citing the “well-established process” underway at the State Department evaluating whether to construct the pipeline.

In terms of LGBT issues, it remains to be seen what impact GOP control will have on a planned comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination bill covering the areas of employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, education and federal programs. On the same day the new Congress convened, Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Respect for Marriage Act, which would ensure same-sex couples would be eligible for the federal benefits of marriage regardless of whether or not their state of residence recognizes their union.

But an impasse could be a boon to LGBT people if social conservatives move forward with anti-gay bills or federal “religious liberty” legislation to refuse services to same-sex couples amid continued wins for marriage equality.

For Angelo, the divided government and new Republican majorities represent a challenge and opportunity for the LGBT movement to broaden its messaging.

“From an LGBT perspective, advocates are going to be forced to think like conservatives if legislation like ENDA or similar LGBT civil rights legislation is going to grow in co-sponsorships,” Angelo said. “Liberal messaging and lobbying from the left or even center-left simply won’t work. For Log Cabin Republicans, this means we have a tremendous opportunity to not just be a part of the fight for LGBT equality in the new Congress, but to lead it.”

In the lower chamber of Congress, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made a call to work together in a bipartisan fashion before taking the oath of office to represent Ohio’s 8th congressional district in the U.S. House.

“We’ll begin our work on this common ground, taking up measures to develop more North American energy; restore the hours of middle-class workers; and help small businesses hire more of our veterans,” Boehner said. “Then we’ll invite the president to support and sign these bipartisan initiatives into law.”

Despite plans from a handful of conservative Republicans to oust Boehner as speaker, he was re-elected as presiding officer by 216 votes, although 25 members of his caucus dissented and voted for other lawmakers, such as anti-gay Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).

Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser for the pro-LGBT Republican group known as the American Unity Fund, said “a thoughtful and respectful bipartisan strategy will be more important” with Boehner and McConnell running the show.

“With Republicans in control of both chambers, it will be critical for Republicans to play a leadership role in advancing pro-freedom legislative priorities — and they are poised to do so after every single pro-marriage and pro-ENDA Republican legislator running for reelection won on Election Night,” Cook-McCormac said. “With our allies, American Unity Fund will continue to lead the fight to build more Republican support for LGBT freedom.”

 

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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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