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OAS holds hearings on LGBT rights in the Americas

Advocates from Latin America, Caribbean testified in D.C.



Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, gay news, Washington Blade

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, Irvin Umaña of Comunidad Casabierta in Costa Rica, Aldo Dávila of the Asociación Gente Positiva in Guatemala and Yonatan Matheus of the LGBTI Network of Venezuela speak after a hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in D.C. on March 17, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Organization of American States’ human rights commission this week held several hearings in D.C. that focused on LGBT rights in the Americas.

Aldo Dávila of Asociación Gente Positiva in Guatemala and Irvin Umaña of Comunidad Casabierta in Costa Rica on Tuesday during an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing highlighted the forced migration of LGBT people in Central America. The two men also discussed the persecution these migrants face because of their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

“When we leave our countries, we are not seeking the American dream,” Umaña told members of the commission. “We are not seeking professional success. We are looking to save our lives.”

Umaña and Dávila during the hearing played a recorded interview with Alex, a gay man from Honduras who fled to Costa Rica.

Alex said he left his homeland after numerous attempts on his life.

The gay Honduran said he had to beg people for money and food on the streets of the Costa Rican capital of San José in order to survive when he arrived in the country. Alex now has a job and access to housing.

“We are not seeking glory,” said Alex. “We are only seeking well-being and that we are given an opportunity to succeed.”

Umaña and Dávila during the hearing presented a series of recommendations to the commission. These include Central American countries ensuring the protection of LGBT rights advocates and tackling “the impunity of crimes against life that are committed” in El Salvador and Honduras.

“We are able to confirm that these states practice homophobia,” said Dávila, referring to anti-LGBT rights abuses in the two aforementioned countries and Guatemala where he lives.

Anti-LGBT violence in Venezuela schools ‘alarming’

Quiteria Franco and Yonatan Matheus of the LGBTI Network of Venezuela on Tuesday during a separate hearing spoke about what they described as the deteriorating LGBT rights in the South American country.

Quiteria noted homophobic rhetoric from Venezuelan politicians and other high-ranking officials reached “alarming levels” between 2009-2013. She further highlighted the lack of legal recognition of same-sex couples, anti-LGBT hate crimes and continued persecution of advocates.

Matheus during the hearing noted some of the 46 people who were reported killed as a result of anti-LGBT hate crimes in Venezuela between 2009 and August 2013 were beheaded, burned or thrown into holes. He also highlighted the case of a gay high school student in the state of Aragua who received third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body in October 2012 when he was doused with gasoline and set on fire.

“The rate of violence for being LGBT in schools is alarming,” said Commissioner Rosa María Ortíz.

Matheus and Franco presented a series of recommendations to the Venezuelan government. These include guaranteeing the anti-discrimination provisions within the country’s constitution apply to LGBT Venezuelans, passage of laws that extend marriage and other rights to LGBT people and the creation of a special rapporteur to monitor the implementation of these actions.

Representatives of the Venezuelan government who took part in the hearing were quick to dismiss the advocates’ criticisms. They nevertheless pledged to address anti-LGBT discrimination in the South American country.

“We will do everything possible to make this happen,” said María Alejandra Díaz Marín, who represents the Venezuelan government on human rights-related issues.

Díaz during the hearing repeatedly held a copy of the Venezuelan Constitution as she spoke.

“There is an opportunity to sensitize the population,” she said.

Trinidadian advocates discuss gay rights efforts

LGBT rights advocates from the South American country of Paraguay on Tuesday also took part in a hearing on anti-transgender violence in their landlocked nation. Representatives of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People on Monday spoke during a separate hearing on the rights of trans women in the region.

Colin Robinson of CAISO, a Trinidadian LGBT advocacy group, and other advocates from Trinidad and Tobago on Friday discussed their efforts to add sexual orientation and HIV status to their nation’s anti-discrimination law.

Trinidad and Tobago is among the Caribbean and South American countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

Representatives of the Trinidadian government did not attend Friday’s hearing.

“We’re deeply disappointed that representatives of the state are not here,” said Robinson.

Commissioner Tracy Robinson expressed a similar sentiment.

“I deeply regret the absence of the state,” she said. “The commission welcomes the response of the state in writing or engagement with us otherwise.”

LGBT rights hearings ‘important’

Tracy Robinson on Tuesday described the hearing on LGBT migration in Central America as a “groundbreaking moment for the commission.”

“We often think of migration going all the way north,” she told Umaña and Dávila. “It’s important to recognize the obligations of all the OAS member states, not simply the countries in the north when they are the receiving countries to fully observe the human rights of these persons.”

The Washington-based OAS created the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which seeks to promote human rights throughout the Americas, in 1959. The body works closely with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The commission’s Unit on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Persons formed in 2011.

“Politicians can’t be neutral to tolerance and hatred,” Tracy Robinson told the Washington Blade last September during a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean LGBT rights advocates in the Peruvian capital of Lima. “They actually have to create an enabling and a supportive environment in which persons can undertake rights and work on behalf of LGBTI persons.”

The hearings took place the same week the Caribbean Court of Justice heard a case that challenges immigration laws from Trinidad and Tobago and Belize that prevent gay men from entering their respective countries. New York Congressman Eliot Engel and five other members of the U.S. House of Representatives last week urged the U.S. Agency for International Development to fund LGBT advocacy efforts in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Dávila on Tuesday described the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing as “important.”

“They listen to us,” he told the Blade. “Hopefully the member states will take responsibility for migration.”

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D.C. mayor to lift all restrictions on bars, nightclubs on June 11

‘We will definitely be celebrating Pride’ next month



Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that she will fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a news conference on Monday that a continuing trend of significantly lower numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in the city has enabled her to fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21.

The mayor said bars and nightclubs will be allowed to increase indoor capacity from the current 25 percent to 50 percent on May 21, with all capacity restrictions for bars and nightclubs to be removed on June 11.

The mayor’s announcement came after representatives of the city’s nightlife businesses, including the city’s gay bars and restaurants, expressed concern that D.C. had yet to lift its capacity restrictions beyond 25 percent while surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia had already lifted most restrictions.

“On May 21, restrictions on public and commercial activity, including capacity limits, types of activities, and time restrictions, will be lifted,” the mayor’s directive says.

It says restrictions for bars and nightclubs would continue at a 50 percent capacity from May 21 through June 11. The directive says restrictions for large sports and entertainment venues would also continue from May 21 to June 11, which includes a requirement such events apply for a waiver of the restrictions on a case-by-case basis.

“On June 11, capacity limits and restrictions will be lifted on those venues that cannot fully reopen on May 21,” the directive says.

In response to a question at the news conference, Bowser said the June 11 date would essentially end all restrictions on nightclubs and bars, including the current requirement that they close at midnight rather than the pre-epidemic closing times of 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.

In a development that could have a major impact on plans for D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride events, the mayor’s revised health directive announced on Monday includes the lifting of all capacity restrictions on large outdoor and indoor sports and entertainment events beginning on June 11.

That change would remove restrictions that have, up until now, prevented D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance from holding its annual Pride Parade and Festival in June during Pride Month.

Capital Pride Executive Director Ryan Bos told the Washington Blade shortly after the mayor’s announcement that Capital Pride is assessing its options for expanding its current plans for in-person events in June.

“We will definitely be celebrating Pride in June,” Bos said. “We just received this information as well. So, we will be getting further information,” he said. “We have not been informed that they will be issuing any permits yet, so at this time we are moving forward with our original plans for doing things.”

Bos was referring to a city requirement for obtaining permits for street closings and use of other public spaces for events such as a parade or street festival. He said existing plans, among other things, call for an informal parade of cars and other vehicles on June 12 that will drive throughout the city to view homes and businesses that will be decorated with Pride displays such as signs, photos, and other symbols of Pride.

Those familiar with the city’s past Pride events don’t think there will be enough time for Capital Pride to organize the traditional large parade and street festival in time for June. But Capital Pride officials have talked about holding a possible parade and festival in October, and the lifting of the capacity restrictions announced by Bowser on Monday would likely make that possible.

In addition to lifting all capacity restrictions on May 21 for restaurants, the mayor’s May 21 timeframe for lifting restrictions includes these additional venues and events:

  • Weddings and special events
  • Business meetings and seated conventions
  • Places of worship
  • Non-essential retail
  • Personal services
  • Private at-home gatherings
  • Libraries, museums, galleries
  • Recreation Centers
  • Gyms and fitness centers
  • Pools
  • Office space
  • Schools
  • Childcare

“We’re very pleased that over the last several days, we have seen our case spread, our community spread numbers, venture out of the red into the yellow and fast approaching the green,” Bowser said in referring to a health department chart that shows the changes in coronavirus cases in the city.

“You might remember that our daily case rate peaked in January at 45.9. And today you can see it’s down to 6.6,” she said at her news conference on Monday.

“Throughout this process I have said how proud I am of D.C. residents and businesses who have responded, who have followed health guidance and have worked together to help protect our community throughout the pandemic. And we see it in these numbers today,” she said.

“Containing the virus will continue to require all of us to be focused on maintaining a robust health system,” the mayor said, adding that while over 200,000 D.C. residents have been fully vaccinated since December 2020, “many more thousands” still need to be vaccinated. “Vaccines are free and available on demand at walk-up sites across the District,” she said.

The mayor also noted that the city will continue to require residents and visitors to use a mask in accordance with existing and updated guidance set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mark Lee, coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, an association that represents restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues, said the mayor’s directive on May 10 leaves some details to be addressed but will open the way to bring nightlife businesses back to life.

“What we do know is that on Friday, May 21, businesses begin returning to normal operations and, three weeks later, on June 11, all restrictions for all businesses in the District will end,” Lee said. “It’s a day we’ve long awaited and one that will save much of our community enterprise from financial ruin.”

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Family code bill to be introduced in Cuban Parliament in July

CENESEX made announcement during May 4 press conference



Mariela Castro at a CENESEX press conference


Tremenda Nota is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba. A Spanish version of this story was published on May 6.

HAVANA — The National Center for Sexual Education on May 4 during a press conference in which it unveiled the program for the 14th annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia events in Cuba announced a bill to amend the family code will be introduced in Parliament in July.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro Espín said during a meeting with official and foreign media outlets at the International Press Center that this year’s events are part of the process of amending the family code.

She added that this legal change will reflect several rights guaranteed in the constitution, which is why it is necessary to sensitize and educate the Cuban population to avoid prejudice and discrimination.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference.

The official referred to the results of the National Survey on Gender Equality in Cuba, conducted in 2016 and published in 2019. According to this official study, 77 percent of the Cuban population between 15 and 74-years-old said that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people should have the same rights as any other citizen.

CENESEX’s director, however, did not use this information in the 2018 parliamentary debates sparked by Article 68 of the bill to amend the constitution. The idea that it was not the appropriate time to implement same-gender marriage in Cuba eventually won out.

Mariela Castro told Tremenda Nota a few days before the referendum in which Cuban voters approved the current constitution that she was aware of the survey, but she did not explain why she did not use the data it revealed as an argument (in favor of marriage equality.)

“It was a wasted tool that now we can only use in the next referendum,” then-MP Luis Ángel Adán Roble told Tremenda Nota during a February 2019 interview, as did Mariela Castro.

The moment that Adán Roble mentioned has arrived.

It became known during the May 4 press conference that the family code will be introduced in the scheduled parliamentary session in July. The Council of State on March 22 appointed a commission that will be in charge of preparing the bill, but the list of its members was not made public until April 30. None of them are openly LGBTI+.

Activists over the last few weeks have demanded that Parliament reveal the identities of those who make up the commission and the deadline they have to prevent the Family Code. The May 4 press conference resolved the last outstanding point.

The Cuban IDAHOBiT program

Mariela Castro and CENESEX Deputy Director Manuel Vázquez Seijido explained that numerous activities with the goal of making visible and fighting against all types of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will virtually take place from May 4 through May 30.

The IDAHOBiT events in Cuba have a program that includes academic dialogue, social activism and artistic presentations from virtual spaces.

Forum debates are among the activities. The Juventud Rebelde newspaper will host the first one with the theme “Deconstructing myths around same-sex families and partners” and Cubadebate will hold the second called “Constitution and Sexual Rights in Cuba: Progress and Main challenges.”

They also announced at the press conference the books “Paquito el de Cuba: A Decade of Online Activism” and “Non-Heteronormative Sexualities and Gender Identities. Tensions and Challenges for Human Rights” will be presented.

There will be virtual panels titled “Diverse Families: Histories of Non-Hegemonic Lives,” “National Program for the Advancement of Women: Opportunities to Confront Homophobia and Transphobia,” “Keys for Inclusive Communication” and “Sexual Rights and Religious Fundamentalisms.”

Castro Espín explained that CENESEX will use its social media accounts to promote the program, contribute to the sexual education of Cubans and the recognition of rights for all people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

A show against homophobia and transphobia that will officially end the events will be broadcast on social media and on television.

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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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