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Obama administration assures bathroom access for trans students

Document says trans discrimination prohibited under Title IX

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Gavin Grimm, gay news, Washington Blade
Gavin Grimm, Title IX, gay news, Washington Blade

Gavin Grimm is a transgender student who sued his Virginia school to use the restroom consistent with his gender identity. (Photo courtesy of Gavin Grimm)

The Obama administration is set to issue Friday sweeping guidance clarifying public schools are required to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity, including for the purpose of bathroom use.

First reported by The New York Times, the guidance spells out that treatment of transgender students contrary to their gender identity constitutes a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which could result in a loss of federal funds for schools.

The nine-page joint guidance comes from the Departments of Education and Justice and is signed by Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary of education for civil rights, and Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights.

“The Departments treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of Title IX and its implementing regulations,” the guidance says. “This means that a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity. The Departments’ interpretation is consistent with courts’ and other agencies’ interpretations of Federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination.”

The Obama administration issues the guidance at a time when bills are pending before state legislatures that would prohibit transgender students from using school restrooms consistent with their gender identity. The controversial anti-LGBT law in North Carolina includes a components requiring transgender students to use the restroom in schools consistent with their birth certificates and not their gender identity, even though many transgender people are unable to get gender marker changed on that document.

Under a heading marked “sex-segregated activities and facilities,” the guidance specifically spells out transgender students must be able to use school restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

“A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity,” the guidance says. “A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so. A school may, however, make individual-user options available to all students who voluntarily seek additional privacy.”

Education Secretary John King said in a statement the guidance is the educators seeking clarification from the Obama administration on application of Title IX for transgender students.

“No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus,” King said. “This guidance further clarifies what we’ve said repeatedly – that gender identity is protected under Title IX. Educators want to do the right thing for students, and many have reached out to us for guidance on how to follow the law. We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.”

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who on Monday filed a lawsuit against North Carolina’s House Bill 2, said in a statement the Obama administration won’t tolerate anti-trans discrimination.

“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” Lynch said. “This guidance gives administrators, teachers, and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies.”

The administration has indicated transgender students must be treated consistent with their gender identity in public schools in document on related topics and even assisted in litigation against schools discriminating against transgender students, including in restrooms use, but has never before issued guidance for the singular, explicit purpose of saying discrimination against transgender students constitutes a violation of Title IX.

Among those calling for the new guidance was a group of 40 Senate Democrats led by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) who sought the clarification in a letter earlier this month to the Department of Education.

Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she’s “thrilled” the Obama administration has “finally taken action to protect transgender students all over the nation.”

“Policies that treat transgender students equally, including when it comes to restroom access, have been successfully tried and tested for years in thousands of schools around the country,” Keisling said. “But even though many schools have been doing the right thing without any threats to anyone’s privacy or safety, too many transgender students continue to go to schools where they face discrimination, harassment and even violence. The Department of Education’s policy letter will be critical to protect the rights of all transgender students.”

Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for external affairs for the Center for American Progress, said in a statement the guidance is a welcome development for transgender students “who face bullying and discrimination every day in schools across the country.”

“On the heels of Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s important and moving statement earlier this week, the departments of Education and Justice have now made clear to transgender students nationwide that mistreatment of any kind will not stand, regardless of whether it is at the hand of a peer, a teacher, or even the student’s own state government,” Stachelberg said. “This guidance not only ensures equal access to a safe and high-quality education for transgender students, it will also undoubtedly help save lives.”

Denouncing the guidance as an overstep of federal authority was Penny Nance, CEO of the anti-LGBT Concerned Women for America.

“The Obama Administration once again overstepped legal boundaries by redefining the scope and reach of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and slapping the heavy hand of government on local schools,” Nance said. “Whether or not people who identify as transgender are indeed a protected class will get worked out in the courts. Meanwhile, schools all over this nation who have rightly worked on a case by case basis to accommodate kids struggling with gender dysphoria may be forced to violate the privacy of other students and perhaps even create trauma for the very kids Obama pretends to protect.”

In addition to issuing the Title IX guidance, the Department of Education’s Office of Elementary & Secondary Education also released a 25-page document titled “Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students,” a compilation of policies and practices that schools across the country are already using to support transgender students. The document answers questions on issues such as school records, privacy, and terminology in addition to explaining how some school districts have addressed them.

The guidance is made public on the same day the White House announced it won’t take federal dollars away from North Carolina at this time over enactment of House Bill 2. An estimated $4.5 billion in Title IX funds for the state’s schools was in jeopardy as result of the anti-LGBT law. An Education Department spokesperson said Thursday the department’s review of the law is ongoing.

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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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