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Congressional forum focuses on anti-trans violence

Advocates call for more action to combat discrimination



transgender, gay news, Washington Blade
Jared Polis, transgender, Lala Zannell, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) shakes Lala Zannell‘s hand before a congressional forum on violence against the transgender community on Nov. 17, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Tyler Grigsby)

The newly formed Transgender Equality Task Force kicked off on Capitol Hill on Tuesday with a forum dedicated to transgender issues amid a record number of trans murders throughout the country.

The two-and-a-half-hour long, two-panel event touched on a range of trans issues, but the murders of at least 21 trans people in 2015 alone was the primary focus of discussion for lawmakers and trans advocates who testified.

Representing the New York-based Anti-Violence Project was trans advocate and community organizer Lala Zannell, who said “hate crime prosecution will only go so far” and Congress must prohibit anti-trans discrimination.

“Putting someone in jail in Los Angeles for a hate crime is not going to stop a transgender woman from being killed in Philadelphia,” Zannell said. “Housing and a job might.”

Catherine Hyde, regional director of Mid-Atlantic PFLAG, was emotional as she delivered testimony about the challenges she faced raising a trans daughter, including at one point fearing her child was dead when she went missing.

“We need comprehensive legislation to protect our children, in school, at work and in public places,” Hyde said. “Legislation engenders education and replaces ignorance with understanding. And it is understanding that will help keep our kids safe, and allow them to grow into the productive members of society that we all want them to be.”

Kylar Broadus, executive director of the Trans People of Color Coalition, said the lack of trust within the trans community for law enforcement officials remains a significant problem.

“Trans people are arrested just for carrying condoms and automatically profiled as sex workers,” Broadus said. “I have represented many trans people in various situations in our criminal justice system and the system is never favorable in any way to trans people either by denying access to hormone or other trans-related care, including appropriate attire, besides the abuse that occurs behind the locked doors.”

A common theme among the witnesses was frustration over the lack of federal data on the U.S. trans population, which trans advocates say would enhance visibility.

Harper Jean Tobin, policy director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the federal government “has been almost entirely negligent” in determining the number of trans people in in the U.S. or the murder rate within the population.

“Because of this lack of federal research, not only do we not know the extent of the violence problem against us, we don’t even know the nature of the problem,” Tobin said. “The murder victims who have been discussed today, and many others who have survived violent attacks have been victims of bias crimes, domestic and intimate partner violence. Some have been targeted as sex workers, and others in other situations. But we do not know the extent of each because the federal government has not studied it.”

Other LGBT advocates who don’t identify as trans also testified and presented concrete policy steps Congress could take to aid the trans community.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin testified on the second panel saying anti-trans violence is “an epidemic that’s raging across the country and ravaging our communities.”

“We must end this violence and work together to provide meaningful answers that ensure a better today and a brighter tomorrow — a day when transgender kids grow up living full lives, free to be who they are without fear of discrimination or violence,” Griffin said. “A day when they don’t simply have an opportunity to survive, but the opportunity to thrive.”

Griffin called on Congress to pass the Equality Act to make clear anti-trans discrimination is prohibited in addition to updating anti-bullying laws to include trans students, ensuring homeless trans youth access to safety by passing the Runaway & Homeless Youth & Trafficking Prevention Act and requiring mandatory reporting of bias-motivated crime data.

Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external affairs at the Center for American Progress, said although recent statistics demonstrate an overall drop in violence against the LGBT community, anti-trans violence in on the rise.

“The 22 lives lost to anti-transgender violence so far this year, as well as the countless others who experience non-fatal violence, should serve as a sobering reminder that much work remains ahead of us,” Stachelberg said.

Among the actions Stachelberg said she’s seeking from Congress is lifting the congressionally imposed bed mandate requiring immigration officials to detain 34,000 people a day, a policy she said has “trapped many transgender people in unsafe situations.”

“We urge Congress to use its legislative authority to remove that quota and lower the risk that a transgender person seeking refuge in our country is traumatized while in our care,” Stachelberg said.

Other advocates who testified were trans writer and advocate Joanna Cifredo; Maj. Irene Burks, assistant inspector general of the Prince George’s County Police Department; Isa Noyola, program director for the Transgender Law Center; and Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition.

Lawmakers who are among the nine members of the Transgender Equality Task Force — and some who aren’t — offered views on advancing trans rights and questioned witnesses.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) made an unscheduled appearance at the forum and offered thoughts on the significance of the occasion, invoking the words of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Content of character: That is the only test in America,” Hoyer said. “We must ensure its the only test in America.”

Jared Polis, Mike Honda, transgender, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) at a congressional forum on violence faced by the transgender community held on Nov. 17, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Tyler Grigsby)

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) chairs the Transgender Equality Task Force and chaired the first of the two panels for the forum. Honda, who has a trans granddaughter, said a key for advancing trans rights would be “wordsmithing” on the issue.

Honda said the forum itself wouldn’t be the last word of the task force, noting, “We’re going to have more of these. We’re going to have hearings and more hearings so that this can get out more into the community.”

The California lawmaker cited upcoming actions, including a resolution designating November as Transgender Acceptance Month, a letter to the administration seeking action on anti-trans violence, a letter to the Federal Trade Commission seeking a ban on widely discredited conversion therapy and a letter to the Census Bureau for enhanced data collection.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who’s gay and a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, chaired the second panel, emphasizing the importance of trans inclusion within the LGBT community.

“Transgender Americans face discrimination and violence at levels that many other communities in our nation cannot imagine,” Takano said. “We call it our combined community, the LGBT community, but it is clear that even as we make progress in advancing equality for ‘L,’ for ‘G’ and ‘B,’ too often the rights of ‘T’ have been left behind.”

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who advocates on behalf of immigrants, said he attended the forum out of a sense of solidarity with the LGBT community.

“When the community I represent — including the LGBTQ community — is under attack and threatened with violence, I expect people to stand up,” Gutierrez said. “Just as I expect people to stand up and stand with us when the Puerto Rican community is under attack, when Latinos and immigrant communities are under attack, and when the words of public figures and so-called leaders incite or provoke people to violence.”

Other lawmakers present at the hearing were Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Alan Lowenthal (D-N.Y.).

The event was a congressional forum, which isn’t technically the same thing as a congressional hearing. A formal congressional hearing on trans issues would be unlikely in the Republican-controlled Congress.

According to the LGBT Equality Caucus, a forum looks like a hearing because testimony is collected and members ask questions, but the discussion isn’t entered automatically into any congressional record.

The questioning also wasn’t as rigorous, as House members generally adhered to a rule of holding to one question each. But Gutierrez evoked interesting responses among the witnesses when he noted Congress is unlikely to act on transgender rights given its current makeup and asked which cities in the United States were taking the lead in advancing trans rights.

Griffin responded by saying Gutierrez is correct the current environment in Congress is challenging and cited San Francisco, New York and Chicago as examples of model cities.

Still, Griffin said federal protections should be the goal because “these issues affect folks regardless of party affiliation or region of the country from which one comes.”

“At the end of the day, these vital protections, these common sense human and civil rights protections should come from our federal government because when they don’t we’re left to the whims of political campaigns like we just saw in Houston, Texas,” Griffin said.

Lettman-Hicks said she would echo Griffin, but added other cities exhibiting best practices are D.C. and Berkeley, Calif. — in addition to the Justice Department. But on the specific issue of law enforcement, Lettman-Hicks said she “wouldn’t say anybody” is where they need to be and Congress echoing the Justice Department “would go a long way.”

Broadus said he shares those views, adding Los Angeles would be an example of a model city, but added Congress can do more to ensure uniformity of training everywhere.

“I know it may not be now, but we have to try,” Broadus said. “I think that’s what we have to work for, it’s explicit federal protections or we’re not going to have people protected.”

transgender, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Tyler Grigsby)

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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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