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After marriage ruling, push for fed’l religious freedom bill

Boehner non-committal on bringing legislation to a vote



John Boehner, Ohio, Republican Party, GOP, United States House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

John Boehner, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

House Speaker John Boehner was noncommittal on bringing the First Amendment Defense Act to a vote. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, Republicans in Congress who oppose gay nuptials are pushing for a religious freedom bill seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination, but for the time being congressional leaders have no plans to move forward with the measure.

The legislation, known as the First Amendment Defense Act, has the stated purpose of prohibiting the federal government from taking adverse action against individuals — defined broadly in the bill to include for-profit businesses — if they oppose same-sex marriage.

On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was non-committal on whether he would allow the First Amendment Defense Act to come up for a floor vote after the Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage.

“The Supreme Court decision on marriage raises a lot of questions,” Boehner said. “A number of members have concerns about issues that it raises and how they might be addressed, but no decision has been made on how best to address these.”

The office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) didn’t immediately to a request to comment on whether the Senate would be willing to consider the legislation.

The legislation was introduced last month by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) in the House and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Senate. Both participated in a news conference Thursday on Capitol Hill to make the case for the legislation in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling.

“Individual Americans, of course, may differ in their views about the definition of marriage; they may differ in their views about how this decision should have been reached,” Lee is quoted as saying in the Washington Post at the news conference. “But I do think Americans are overwhelmingly united in their belief that religious freedom needs to be protected and that neither a person nor any group of people ought to be subject to government retaliation against based on their religious beliefs…That’s why we’re pushing this bill.”

The legislation, which specifically addresses (but isn’t limited to) revocation of tax-exempt status by the federal government, isn’t as broad as other controversial religious freedom measures seen this year in state legislatures, such as those in Indiana and Arkansas. Still, LGBT advocates say the federal bill would nonetheless adversely impact LGBT people for a host of reasons.

For starters, even though President Obama signed an executive order last year barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, the bill would allow a company to continue to contract with the federal government if it engages in discriminatory practices and cites opposition to same-sex marriage as the reason.

The bill would also have the effect of gutting Obama’s memorandum requiring hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid to grant visitation rights for same-sex couples. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the measure would permit a federal employee to refuse to process tax returns, visa applications or Social Security if a same-sex couple’s paperwork appears on his or her desk.

Since its introduction in both chambers of Congress last month, the legislation has steadily risen in support in the Republican-majority Congress. In the House, the measure has 130 co-sponsors, including one Democrat: Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). Just this week, the bill gained 23 co-sponsors. Among them is anti-LGBT Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). In the Senate, the bill has 36 co-sponsors, all Republicans. Sens. John McCan (R-Ariz.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) signed on this week.

The number of co-sponsors doesn’t signify majority support in either chamber of Congress, but at a time when Republicans enjoy their greatest majorities ever since the Truman administration, passage is certainly possible if the measures come to the floor. It’s possible for supporters of the legislation, which could be cast a compromise measure in lieu of U.S. constitutional amendment against the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling, to introduce the bill as amendment to another legislative vehicle.

The White House didn’t respond to a request to comment on whether Obama opposes the bill and would veto it if it reached his desk. It’s customary for the administration to withhold comment on legislation until a vote is about to take place.

For a short time this week, legislative action on the First Amendment Defense Act seemed imminent. The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement saying the House Committee on Government Affairs would hold a vote next week on sending the legislation to the floor.

“Once again, House Republicans are pursuing an extreme agenda that is designed to harm LGBT families under the guise of religious freedom. The right to believe is fundamental. The right to use taxpayer dollars to discriminate is not,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Religious freedom is valued by all Americans, but this bill has nothing to do with the First Amendment.”

But each of the committees with jurisdiction over the legislation told the Blade they had no plans to move forward with the bill. In the House, the bill was referred to two committees: the House Committee on Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Ways & Means. In the Senate, the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

M.J. Henshaw, a spokesperson for the House Committee on Governmental Affairs, said “we will not be marking it up next week.” The panel is “still reviewing” the legislation and has no plans to act on it before August recess, she said.

Asked whether there were initial plans to move forward with the bill that were later cancelled, Henshaw said the committee hasn’t even announced which bills it will take up next week. The committee is set to consider seven or so bills, she said, but not the First Amendment Defense Act.

Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said he had heard House Republicans planned to vote on the bill in committee, but they’ve “have now cancelled the markup.”

Neither the office of Lee or Labrador responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether the lawmakers expect a vote on the First Amendment Defense Act either before August recess or at a later time.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said even within the Republican caucus, the bill is inspiring division among House lawmakers.

“There is definitely no unanimity among the House GOP caucus, and if the bill is taken up unamended it would cause division among House Republicans,” Angelo said. “There is language currently in the bill that is reasonable, and other language that is a cause for definite concern. We have met with and will continue to meet with House Leadership to about FADA.”

If the legislation does see movement in Congress, LGBT advocates are likely to sound the alarm to stop the measure in its tracks and may seek help from business allies who helped derail similar measures in Indiana and Arkansas.

Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Freedom for All Americans, said in a statement the bill “does nothing to advance religious freedom, but it does attack the economic well-being of LGBT Americans all across this country.

“Every American should have the freedom to live their lives without fear of discrimination,” McTighe said. “At a time when a supermajority of Americans want to move forward with comprehensive protections for their LGBT friends and loved ones, it’s disheartening to see that some lawmakers are still aggressively pushing legislation that singles out hardworking Americans for harm.”

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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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