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Meet the guy who basically made anti-gay job bias illegal

David Baldwin responsible for lawsuit enabling landmark EEOC decision

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David Baldwin, EEOC, gay news, Washington Blade
David Baldwin, EEOC, gay news, Washington Blade

David Baldwin is responsible for the lawsuit leading to a landmark EEOC decision in favor of gay rights. (Photo courtesy of David Baldwin)

David Baldwin is many things. He’s a 57-year-old New Orleans resident. He’s a former service member in the Navy. He’s in a seven-year-relationship with a same-sex partner he met through the Metropolitan Community Church.

He’s also responsible for the lawsuit that led the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to make clear anti-gay discrimination in the workplace is illegal in all 50 states and constitutes gender bias under existing civil rights law.

The plaintiff in the case of Complainant v. Foxx was kept confidential in the redacted decision from the agency. For the first time since the ruling, Baldwin makes his identity public in an interview with the Washington Blade.

“I am confident that this decision will be the deciding factor in saving countless jobs,” Baldwin said. “That anyone would lose their job simply because of whom they are is a travesty.”

Baldwin filed the lawsuit in 2012 against the Federal Aviation Administration when he learned he wasn’t selected for a permanent position as a frontline manager at Miami International Airport, alleging he experienced anti-gay harassment on the job.

For example, when talking with his co-workers about a trip he took to Mardi Gras with his partner, Baldwin’s supervisor allegedly said, “We don’t need to hear about that gay stuff.” On July 15, EEOC determined the law allowed Baldwin to bring a claim, ruling anti-gay discrimination was unlawful under gender provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Blade agreed to an email interview with Baldwin and his Miami-based attorney, Lowell Kuvin, on the basis that his litigation is ongoing. Although no information about the plaintiff was included in the EEOC decision, the agency and multiple parties confirmed Baldwin was responsible for it.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Baldwin’s achievement for the LGBT community is on par with an earlier decision from the EEOC determining transgender discrimination is unlawful under Title VII.

“Like Mia Macy before him, David Baldwin has made LGBT history by winning a tremendous legal victory that will benefit millions of LGBT Americans in all 50 states,” Almeida said. “Baldwin belongs in the LGBT history books with other brave plaintiffs who stood strong against harassment and discrimination. Now it’s time for more LGBT Americans to follow the lead of courageous people like Baldwin and Macy by filing claims under the sex discrimination bans in the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, and other existing federal statutes.”

Q&A with David Baldwin

Washington Blade: Who is David Baldwin and what is his life like with his partner?

David Baldwin: David Baldwin is a 57-year-old gay man from Richmond, VA. I grew up in a blue collar family in a semi-rural county with two brothers and a sister, and always knew I was “special.”

At 18, I joined the Navy to escape the bigotry and racism of my youth, and made a new life for myself as a young gay man. I trained as a Navy air traffic controller and traveled the world on two aircraft carriers, the USS Ranger and USS Nimitz.

In 2004 I accepted a position in Pensacola, Fla., as a frontline Manager at the FAA approach control serving the Navy flight training command.

I met my partner Keith in 2008 thru friends from Holy Cross MCC Church in Pensacola. Keith is a great guy and means everything to me. He’s Italian, has a big funny family, is my best friend, and I can’t imagine my life without him.

We made the decision to return to MIA in 2010 to finish out my career. We moved back to Wilton Manors, attended this great big gay church, the Sunshine Cathedral MCC and made lots of friends there. As things began to change for the worse in my FAA career at MIA, I found that this church and my partner to be a great source of personal strength that carried me through some really difficult times.

After I retired due to age 56 mandatory retirement in December of 2013, we decided to move back to New Orleans. We bought a big funky old house in desperate need of repair. It has two window units, four dogs, two cats and lots of fans blowing hot air around, and life has never been better. Currently, we are working on reopening a health club that closed in New Orleans last year.

Blade: Tell me about the discrimination you experienced and how that made you feel. At what point did you decide to take action?

Baldwin: There was a change in upper management at MIA. Without warning, I realized there was a huge difference in how I was regarded. At first, I was puzzled. At this point I had almost 18 years as a manager and had seen a lot. I thought it was just a phase at first but it became clear to me that having a gay supervisor at MIA was not going to happen. I am not one to be toyed with and I started to document what was going on around me. I simply let those that had it out for me implicate themselves. When I was passed over for a job that I was the clear choice for, I filed the appropriate paperwork and let the facts speak for themselves.

Blade: When you filed the lawsuit, did you have any idea the outcome would be as big as it was in terms of its implications for other gay people?

Baldwin: I have a great attorney. He looked at the facts, believed in me, and my case, and let me know this was going to be a long battle. My response, Bring It ON! I was pissed that as a gay man I wasn’t covered under Title VII. Why not challenge this? We knew it was a long shot, and never expected anything like this, but Lowell is really sharp and his arguments prevailed in the end. We are both in total shock at the magnitude of the outcome.

Blade: Were you involved in any kind of LGBT advocacy work before you participated in this lawsuit?

Baldwin: I worked as a volunteer for the New Orleans AIDS Task force for four years during the late 90’s before moving to South Florida.

Blade: Going forward, what do you hope the ruling in your case will mean for other gay people and do you think it’ll help pass the Equality Act?

Baldwin: I hope and pray that this decision will be the impetus to help move the Equality Act forward. It almost seems tailored for that end. I am confident that this decision will be the deciding factor in saving countless jobs. That anyone would lose their job simply because of whom they are is a travesty. The LGBT community was never looking for ANY special consideration. We simply want the exact same protections as every other American citizen under already existing laws. Nothing more, nothing less.

While our community waits for the Equality Act to pass, I really hope LGBT Americans who face workplace discrimination will file Title VII cases with the EEOC and in federal court. People should know that under these new EEOC rulings, we have protections now, and you can stand up for yourself if you’re being harassed or discriminated against.

Q&A with Lowell Kuvin

Blade: There’s no explicit federal law on the books against sexual orientation discrimination. What made you think Mr. Baldwin had a case?

Kuvin: The FAA does have a specific regulation that prohibits sexual orientation discrimination. However, after speaking with Mr. Baldwin and conducting some research it became very apparent to me Mr. Baldwin’s battle was going to be a difficult one. Mr. Baldwin understood his case could take months or even years to conclude and we both made the commitment to see it through to the end.

Blade: What are the next steps in Mr. Baldwin’s lawsuit? How long before it’s resolved and what do you expect that resolution will be?

Kuvin: After the EEOC decision came out Mr. Baldwin and I discussed several options available to him and the timeline as dictated by the EEOC and the procedural law for FAA discrimination complaints. The next step will most likely be to reach out to the FAA again and see if the Agency is willing to resolve Mr. Baldwin’s claims without litigation. I believe Mr. Baldwin’s demands are very reasonable and appropriate given the circumstances. I expect the FAA to do the right thing such as granting Mr. Baldwin’s promotion to the position he was denied retroactive, adjusting his back pay and retirement benefits accordingly, and compensating Mr. Baldwin for the humiliation and anguish he has experienced. If the FAA does not want to work to resolve the issues, then Mr. Baldwin will have no other option but to file the appropriate lawsuit. The amount of time it will take to resolve the issues is dependent on which path we are forced to take. Mr. Baldwin’s case could be resolved in six weeks or it could take six years. Regardless of the amount of time it takes, both Mr. Baldwin and my office are committed to seeing through to the end.

Blade: Would the additional sexual orientation and gender identity to federal non-discrimination workplace laws through means such as the Equality Act be a helpful tool, or are the existing protections sufficient going forward?

Kuvin: I believe that all employees need to be sufficiently protected against workplace discrimination and employees can never be “too protected.” I also believe that Title VII needs to be amended to specifically include LGBT employees because there are agencies in the United States that might “read around” the Baldwin v. Foxx decision and deny LGBT employees their equal rights. The Equality Act would be a logical place to start because the at the present time Baldwin v. Foxx does is not binding on courts throughout the United States, it is merely persuasive.

NOTE: This interview has been edited and condensed.

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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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