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4 years later, Clinton’s LGBT Geneva speech hailed for impact

‘Put the human rights of LGBT people on the international stage’



Hillary Clinton a speech in favor of international LGBT rights four years ago.

Hillary Clinton gave a speech in favor of international LGBT rights four years ago.

Four years ago, Hillary Clinton delivered a high-profile speech in Geneva positioning the United States as a leader in the fight to protect LGBT human rights overseas. Now, on the anniversary of the address on Sunday, international LGBT rights advocates say it had a meaningful impact in countries like Uganda where the lives of LGBT people have been in jeopardy.

Clinton, who’s now seeking the Democratic nomination for president, delivered the 30-minute speech on Dec. 6, 2011, before the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, in her capacity as secretary of state.

“To LGBT men and women worldwide, let me say this: Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone,” Clinton said during the speech. “People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face. That is certainly true for my country. And you have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.”

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, was in the audience in Geneva during the address and said it was clear Clinton “was welcoming us into a new era.”

“Before the speech, hostile states plotted, often successfully, to keep LGBT issues off of the U.N.’s human rights agenda,” Bromley said. “After the speech, they still fight to bury our issues on procedural grounds, but they can’t deny their significance as one of the most significant human rights concerns of our day.”

Among the accomplishments in LGBT rights Bromley cited since that time was the adoption of resolutions and expert studies on sexual orientation and gender identity at the United Nations.

“I think it’s fair to say that for those of us who were there that day, and for countless others around the world, we will always look back at the speech as a decisive moment, one when the world changed a little and we suddenly found ourselves in a new era,” Bromley said. “The world looked different after that speech, indeed the State Department acted differently, and while there is still so much to accomplish to recognize the fundamental rights of LGBT individuals globally, it’s a different era.”

Clinton is credited during the speech with coining the phrase, “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” She actually first used that phrase publicly in 2010 during another speech at a Pride celebration with State Department LGBT employees, although those words resounded more strongly after the Geneva address. After that time, they became a favorite phrase for Obama administration officials to express solidarity with the LGBT community.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement to the Washington Blade those words alone were enough to elevate the role of the United States in supporting international LGBT rights.

“With those powerful yet simple 11 words four years ago, Secretary Clinton boldly put the human rights of LGBT people on the international stage,” Griffin said.

The Clinton campaign marked the fourth anniversary of the speech with a video highlighting portions of the address as well as another speech in favor of LGBT rights at the State Department and this year before supporters of the Human Rights Campaign. Interspersed in the video is footage of same-sex couples who support Clinton, including former U.S. ambassador to Romania Michael Guest and his partner.

LGBT advocates cite the speech’s impact on derailing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda as significant. Initially, the “kill the gays” bill had a provision that would have instituted the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” which under the legislation was defined as repeated homosexuality, but that provision was later removed.

Although Uganda President Yoweri Museveni promised U.S. officials he would oppose the legislation, he signed the measure into law in 2014. The courts would later strike down the measure on procedural grounds.

Wade McMullen, managing attorney of the International Strategic Litigation Unit at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, said Clinton’s speech articulated principals that led to international efforts against the law and proposals in other countries similar to the measure.

“After Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality Law, President Museveni initially thought he could get away with signing it into law with little international repercussion,” McMullen said. “But the U.S. would go on to place travel bans on a whole range of human rights abusers, including those who violated the rights of LGBT people, to redirect U.S. aid away from harmful homophobic groups like the Inter-Religious Council and to cancel a joint military exercise with the Ugandans. This follow-through on the ideals and commitment first articulated by Hillary Clinton in Geneva, changed the game in Uganda and made other homophobic legislators on the continent stop plans of their own to follow in Uganda’s footsteps with similar anti-LGBT legislation.”

Sharita Gruberg, senior policy analyst for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, said the speech had an impact on Uganda, which she said “definitely backpedaled as a result of the international pressure.”

“There seems to be an acknowledgement that countries that have a relationship with the U.S. are going to have to make a decision here,” Gruberg said. “Do they continue to take these actions that scapegoat minority populations? Starting with her speech, it really sent a message to our partnership in the world that this is a priority, and that there is a risk that countries are taking if they’re going to persecute LGBT people as far as their relationship with the U.S. goes and how the U.S. sees them as a global partner.”

The speech coincided with a memo from President Obama establishing LGBT human rights would henceforth be a priority for U.S. agencies doing work overseas. Mentioned by Clinton in her speech, the memo, among other things, instructs the Departments of State and Homeland Security to ensure LGBT people seeking asylum in the United States have equal access to assistance and instructs U.S. agencies overseas to work with international organizations to counter anti-LGBT discrimination.

Clinton also took the occasion of the speech to announce the launch of the State Department’s Global Equality Fund, which is funded by governments, businesses and civil society groups across the globe to advance LGBT rights. According to the State Department, within its first three years, the Global Equality Fund provided more than $20 million in assistance to civil society groups in more than 50 countries.

Government members of the fund include Chile, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United States and Uruguay. Organizations supporting the fund are the Arcus Foundation, the John D. Evans Foundation, LLH: the Norwegian LGBT Organization, the MAC AIDS Fund, Deloitte LLP, the Royal Bank of Canada, Hilton Worldwide, the Human Rights Campaign and Out Leadership.

In August, the fund awarded $350,000 to the LGBT group in South Africa known as NGO OUT Wellbeing, which offers medical, legal and mental health services to people in addition to promoting awareness of LGBT rights.

Ty Cobb, director of HRC Global, said Clinton’s speech “in and of itself was groundbreaking,” but concrete action followed such as the establishment of the Global Equality Fund.

“The fund, which HRC joined earlier this year, brings together governments, corporations, foundations, and civil society organizations to work toward a world where LGBT people can live free of violence and discrimination,” Cobb said.

LGBT advocates outside the United States said efforts to advance LGBT rights were underway in other countries before the address, but maintained in many other ways the speech had an impact.

Esteban Paulón, president of the LGBT Federation of Argentina, told the Blade the importance of LGBT rights was ingrained in media and society and same-sex marriage legislation was advancing, but the speech “undoubtedly” helped.

“I think the speech itself has had a strong impact on the entire region,” Paulón said. “A powerful voice like hers, at the time in her role as secretary of state, has been historic for the global agenda of human rights of LGBT people.”

Björn van Roozendaal, programmes director of the European coalition LGBT group ILGA-Europe, said the speech “sent a clear signal” to U.S. embassies around the world: LGBT rights are a foreign policy priority.

“This has led to visibly increased engagement, for example, the prominent participation of U.S. embassies in Pride parades,” Van Roozendaal said. “Here in Brussels, the tangible impact has been that we have discussed policy issues on a more frequent basis with the U.S. embassy to the E.U. Her speech was visible evidence that the U.S. was finally catching up with other countries who had been publicly pioneering the defense of LGBTI human rights years earlier, such as Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway and others.”

LGBT advocates also expressed the sense the impact of the speech would be amplified in the future if the woman who delivered it becomes president in 2017.

Gruberg said “we could definitely assume” the power of the speech would be bolstered in posterity based on the power of the words and the way Clinton used it to position herself as an LGBT rights leader.

“It sets the tone for how she sees LGBT rights globally,” Gruberg added.

For Bromley, the impact of the speech would be amplified “if the president who follows President Obama believes in strong U.S. leadership on human rights, and I think there are certain candidates who do and some who don’t.”

Asked if Clinton was among those individuals who do, Bromley replied, “Yes, absolutely.”

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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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