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Belize sodomy ruling could have sweeping impact in Caribbean

Barbados activist describes decision as ‘groundbreaking’

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Maurice Tomlinson, gay news, Washington Blade

Maurice Tomlinson, gay news, Washington Blade

Maurice Tomlinson filed a lawsuit against Jamaica’s sodomy law in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Activists across the English-speaking Caribbean say last week’s Belize Supreme Court ruling that found the country’s sodomy law could have implications throughout the region.

Donnya Piggott, director of Barbados Gays and Lesbians Against Discrimination, described the ruling to the Washington Blade as “groundbreaking and extremely promising.”

Barbados is among the countries in the English-speaking Caribbean in which consensual same-sex sexual conduct remains criminalized.

Piggott told the Blade that authorities earlier this year used the island’s sodomy law to charge a man who allegedly had sex with a 15-years-old. The colonial-era statute is rarely enforced, but the man could face life in prison if he is convicted.

“No change comes without initial backlash,” Piggott told the Blade, referring to the impact that the Belize Supreme Court ruling could have in Barbados. “So we have to brace ourselves for a stronger right-wing opposition, but apart from that I see (sodomy laws) tumbling like dominoes in the Caribbean.”

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago and in more than 60 other countries around the world.

“The Belize Supreme Court judgment positively and powerfully impacts efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex intimacy not only in Grenada, but worldwide,” Richie Maitland, co-founder of Groundation Grenada, a Grenadian human rights organization, told the Blade on Wednesday.

Will be ‘hard’ for Caribbean courts, lawmakers to ignore ruling

Caleb Orozco, a prominent LGBT rights advocate in Belize, filed a lawsuit against his country’s sodomy law in 2010.

Lawyers with the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project and AIDS Free World represented Orozco in the case. Belizean first lady Kim Simplis Barrow is among those who applauded the ruling.

“It’s a great day for Belize,” she said. “It’s a great day for human rights; one step closer to dignity and the respect we all deserve.”

Dane Lewis, executive director of J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group, also applauded the landmark ruling.

“We congratulate our brothers and sisters in Belize in this milestone,” he said.

“Criminalizing consensual intimacy between adults, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is an unwarranted breach of rights,” added Lewis. “It is truly heartening that a court within our region can recognize this.”

Maurice Tomlinson, a prominent LGBT rights advocate and lawyer who lives in Montego Bay and Toronto, last November filed a lawsuit against the island’s sodomy law with the Jamaican Supreme Court. Javed Jaghai withdrew his lawsuit against the statute in 2014, citing concerns for his personal safety and that of his family.

Tomlinson told the Blade on Monday during a telephone interview from Toronto that the Belize ruling is not legally binding in Jamaica or in any other Caribbean country. He nevertheless said it would be “highly persuasive.”

“It will be very hard for any Caribbean court or legislature to ignore this ruling,” said Tomlinson.

Tomlinson also echoed Piggott’s concerns about a potential backlash from religious fundamentalists.

The Southern Poverty Law Center noted in a 2013 report that three anti-LGBT religious groups from the U.S. — the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and Extreme Prophetic Ministries — support Belize Action, a group that opposed Orozco’s lawsuit against Belize’s sodomy law.

Liberty Counsel Chair Mat Staver and Dr. Judith Reisman, who publicly challenges Alfred Kinsey’s research on sexuality, are among those from the U.S. who have traveled to Jamaica in recent years and attended events organized by groups that oppose efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Scott Strim, an American evangelical who opposed efforts to repeal Belize’s sodomy law, and National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown both spoke at an anti-LGBT conference that took place in Barbados in April.

“I’m sure they are pulling out all the stops to reach out to their potential cronies to make sure that nothing happens,” Tomlinson told the Blade.

Repealing Trinidad and Tobago sodomy law not ‘principle target’

Colin Robinson, director of CAISO, an LGBT advocacy group in Trinidad and Tobago, told the Blade on Monday that the impact of the Belize ruling in his country remains unclear.

“The case builds our self-confidence that local and regional institutions can actually deliver justice for LGBTI people,” he said.

Robinson applauded the University of the West Indies, which has a campus in Trinidad and Tobago, for the role it played in the case. He nevertheless told the Blade that the country’s sodomy law “ought not be our principle target” because it is not enforced.

“There are easier litigation targets,” said Robinson, noting he and other activists are currently pushing the government to add sexual orientation to an anti-discrimination law and repeal a 2012 statute that criminalized sexual touching among children of the same sex with life in prison.

“The government is very well aware of both targets,” he added. “They’re very well aware of the priorities.”

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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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