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Papal visit prompts calls for LGBT-inclusive church

Francis spoke at World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia



Jeannine Grammick, New Ways Ministry, Dignity, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeannine Grammick, New Ways Ministry, Dignity, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Sister Jeannine Grammick, co-founder of the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, speaks to Michael Tomae from Owning Our Faith, left, and Stephen Seufert of Keystone Catholics at the John C. Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia on Sept. 26, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

PHILADELPHIA — LGBT Catholics and their allies who gathered in Philadelphia this weekend used Pope Francis’ visit to the city as an opportunity to highlight their efforts to make the church more inclusive.

Equally Blessed Families, a coalition of groups within the church that support LGBT-specific issues, and New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based organization that advocates on behalf of LGBT Catholics, held a series of workshops at Arch Street Methodist United Church on Saturday that coincided with Pope Francis’ arrival to the city. The event was originally scheduled to take place at a local parish, but the Archdiocese of Philadelphia last month announced it would not allow the church to host the event.

Keystone Catholics, a group that describes itself as an “online advocacy organization dedicated to promoting social justice and the common good,” organized a picnic that took place at the John C. Anderson Apartments, a housing complex in Center City for LGBT seniors. Former Philadelphia City Councilman Jim Kenney, who is running for mayor, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, are among those who spoke at the event.

Margie Winters, a former teacher at a Catholic school in suburban Philadelphia who lost her job in July because she married her partner, said she hopes Francis will publicly speak out against the way she and other LGBT educators have been treated by church officials.

“My firing, as too many others like it, has touched the core of who we are as people of faith,” said Winters. “We’re Catholic. It’s about Catholic identity within the church.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, a group of LGBT Catholics, during an interview with the Washington Blade expressed disappointment that Francis did not speak out against anti-LGBT violence and the criminalization of homosexuality while addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Duddy-Burke also criticized the Argentine-born pontiff for referring to “ideological colonization” and “behaviors that are not human” and “unnatural” during his speech.

“I don’t think that LGBT people heard the message of greater inclusion that we were looking for,” she told the Blade.

Vatican spokesperson: Marriage ‘unites’ man and woman

Francis repeatedly highlighted the family in his homilies and public statements during his five-day trip to the U.S. that began on Sept. 22.

The pontiff during his speech to Congress said the “very basis of marriage and the family” is being “called into question.” Francis on Sunday during the Mass he celebrated on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway referenced “the alliance between one man and one woman…generates life.”

Francis on Sept. 22 during a meeting with a group of families in the Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba said spaces for families “are shrinking.”

Maykel González Vivero, an independent Cuban LGBT rights advocate and journalist, expressed concern over the meeting. He noted to the Blade that Archbishop Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez of the Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba made a reference to “other” families.

“(The meeting) had unfavorable implications for families headed by same-sex couples,” González told the Blade.

Francis on Sept. 23 called for a “tolerant and inclusive” society as he spoke on the South Lawn of the White House. Retired New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson was among more than 10,000 people who were on hand for the event. The pontiff in 2013 told reporters that gays and lesbians should not be marginalized.

“The vision of the pope and of the church of the family is the family that is built by a man and a woman,” Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, told reporters on Sunday in response to a question about why the pontiff chose not to focus more time on highlighting the church’s definition of family while in the U.S. “The Christian family has the sacrament of marriage that unites the man and the woman.”

Francis ‘reminding us of the basics’

Delfin Bautista, a transgender man who attended the Equally Blessed Families workshops on Saturday, largely welcomed Francis’ tone and focus on economic justice and other non-LGBT issues.

“Jesus didn’t get bogged down about teachings or in doctrine,” said Bautista. “Jesus talked about love and the pope is reminding us of the basics.”

Bautista wore a skirt to the World Meeting of Families that coincided with Francis’ visit, which created “issues of safety, emotionally” because people were staring. Bautista also stopped attending Mass on a regular basis, in part, because of the Vatican’s anti-trans rhetoric.

“Sometimes we take a step forward, then two steps back and then sideways,” Bautista told the Blade.

Duddy-Burke said several of the speakers who took part in the World Meeting of Families engaged in “fear-mongering” to attack marriage rights for same-sex couples and gays and lesbians who are raising children. She told the Blade that men with the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Families and Property, a Pennsylvania-based group, who were collecting signatures for a petition in support of “traditional marriage” began yelling at her wife on the street after telling them she would not sign it.

Two men from the same group were collecting petition signatures on Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday ahead of Francis’ Mass.

American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, Philadelphia, Pope Francis, gay news, Washington Blade

Two men with the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, a Pennsylvania-based organization, stand on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia on Sept. 27, 2015, with a petition that urges Pope Francis to call for the church to defend ‘traditional marriage.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

They plan to present them next month during a gathering of Catholic bishops in Rome during which a vote on a document that specifically addresses the family will take place. LGBT organizations have sharply criticized the Vatican over leaked drafts of the document that reiterate its opposition to unions between same-sex couples.

“It’s (been) a very intense week,” Duddy-Burke told the Blade on Saturday.

Pontiff meets with sex abuse victims

Francis’ trip to the Americas began in Havana on Sept. 19.

The pontiff faced criticism for not meeting with Cuban dissidents, especially after authorities on Sept. 20 detained a member of the Ladies in White and three other critics of the island’s government who had approached his Popemobile before he celebrated Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square. Francis’ comments about the sex abuse scandal within the church also sparked outrage among advocates and their supporters.

Pope Francis, gay news, Washington Blade

A sign in Havana welcomes Pope Francis to Cuba. (Photo by Pedro Luís García Macías)

Francis on Sunday met with three women and two men who were sexually abused by what a Vatican spokesperson described as “clergy, family members or teachers.”

Emails leaked to a Chilean newspaper earlier this month show two cardinals from the South American country conspired to prevent Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay man who is among the hundreds of people abused by a local priest over more than three decades, from being named to the commission that Francis created in response to the crisis.

Cruz, who now lives in Philadelphia, described Francis’ meeting with victims of sex abuse as a “gesture.”

“But he called bishops courageous on how they have dealt with this scandal,” Cruz told the Blade in an email. “Victims are an after thought.”

Lombardi on Sunday during his daily press briefing declined to comment about the cardinals who blocked Cruz’s nomination to the sex abuse commission when the Blade asked about it.

Papal visit placed Philadelphia under ‘martial law’

Another issue surrounding Francis’ visit to Philadelphia that caused criticism was the level of security.

Large swaths of Center City were closed to vehicular traffic.

Jersey barriers, 8’ high security fences, metal detectors and barricades were placed throughout the area. Banks, drug stores and other businesses along Market Street were either closed during the papal visit or changed their hours because of the security measures.

One person with whom the Blade spoke on Saturday said Philadelphia was under “martial law” during the papal visit.

Philly Cupcake, which is on Chestnut Street in Center City, is among the myriad businesses that placed signs in their windows that welcomed the pope to Philadelphia. A man a few blocks away on Saturday afternoon was selling “pope soap-on-a-rope” to passersby.

Eric Jaffe, a performer at Tavern On Camac, a gay bar in Camac Street in Center City, is among the Philadelphia residents who celebrated Francis’ visit.

Jaffe on Saturday wore a papal miter and a gold cape to the bar. He also blessed patrons as they walked up the stairs leading to the dance floor.

“The city is overcome by the pope,” Jaffe told the Blade. “I decided to set a little something together.”

Philadelphia, Pope Francis, gay news, Washington Blade

People gather outside Philadelphia City Hall on Sept. 27, 2015, to watch Pope Francis’ Mass on the nearby Benjamin Franklin Parkway from jumbotrons that had been set up. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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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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