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Sessions tapped as AG despite anti-LGBT views, charges of racism

Alabama senator called ruling on marriage ‘unconstitutional’

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Jeff Sessions, United States Senate, Alabama, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President-elect Donald Trump has selected as his attorney general an Alabama Republican who not only was once denied a seat on the federal judiciary for allegedly making racist comments, but has been hostile to LGBT rights over the course of his career.

On Friday, Trump announced in a statement Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), an early supporter of the president-elect during the Republican presidential primary, would be his choice for attorney general.

“It is an honor to nominate U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as Attorney General of the United States,” Trump said. “Jeff has been a highly respected member of the U.S. Senate for 20 years. He is a world-class legal mind and considered a truly great attorney general and U.S. attorney in the state of Alabama. Jeff is greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him.”

Prior to his tenure in the U.S. Senate starting in 1997, former President Reagan nominated Sessions in 1986 for a seat on the federal judiciary in Alabama, but his nomination was rejected over accusations of racism.

Among the lawyers who testified against Sessions at the time said Sessions called the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” and said they “forced civil rights down the throats of people.”

Thomas Figures, a black assistant U.S. attorney, testified Sessions said the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” (Sessions said he was joking, but apologized for the remark.) Figures also said Sessions called him “boy” and that Sessions advised him to “be careful what you say to white folks.” Sessions was also reported to have called a white civil rights attorney a “disgrace to his race” for defending black clients.

Sessions denied the allegations, said his remarks were taken out of context or meant in jest. He also said that groups could be considered un-American when “they involve themselves in un-American positions” on foreign policy.

Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said in a statement his organization would “flatly reject” any assertion from Sessions the ACLU is “un-American and communist.”

“His positions on LGBT rights, capital punishment, abortion rights, and presidential authority in times of war have been contested by the ACLU and other civil rights organizations,” Romero said. “As the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, the attorney general is charged with protecting the rights of all Americans. In his confirmation hearings, senators, the media, and the American public should closely examine his stances on these key issues to ensure we can have confidence in his ability to uphold the Constitution and our laws on behalf of all Americans.”

Decades later during his tenure in the U.S. Senate, Sessions resisted LGBT rights advancements. In each of the Human Rights Campaign’s congressional scorecards, Sessions has generally scored “0” for each Congress in which he served. (The one exception was the 112th Congress, when Sessions obtained a score of “15” for voting to confirm U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken, who became the first openly gay male to serve on the federal judiciary.)

Among his earlier votes in 2004 and 2006 in the Senate were for a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage nationwide and prevented the U.S. Supreme Court last year from ruling in favor of marriage equality.

A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sessions was among those most outspoken against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). During a Senate hearing in December 2010 as Congress debated repeal, Sessions called the issue a “difficult discussion.”

“It was predicted it would have some disruptive effect on the military,” Sessions said. “I believe it probably has. It’s probably not been good for morale and problems have arisen from it, and I’m inclined to the personal views that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ has been pretty effective and I’m dubious about the change, although I fully recognize that good people could disagree on that subject.”

Upon the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide, Sessions told WKRG-TV in Alabama he opposed the decision because “if a court can do that on a question of marriage then it can do it on almost any other issue.”

“I think what this court did was unconstitutional,” Sessions said. “There’s nothing in the Constitution that requires such a result. No mention of marriage in the Constitution.”

More recently, Sessions voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when it came before the Senate in 2013 and became a co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act, a federal “religious freedom” bill that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

Notably, last year when the Pentagon announced it would initiate a review that would lead to the end of its ban on openly transgender people in the U.S. armed forces, Sessions had no comment. Asked by the Washington Blade on Capitol Hill about the development, Sessions said, “I saw that, but I’m not aware of any of the details.”

Asked whether the change sounded like something he could support, Sessions replied, “Well, I’d like to see what the military says about it. I have not done that.”

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council, said in a statement Trump made “another wise selection” with the choice of Sessions as attorney general.

“President-elect Trump has surrounded himself with solid advisers, and his selection of Sen. Sessions for attorney general increases my confidence that the Trump administration will be one that cherishes the Constitution and its protection of our freedom from government oppression,” Perkins said. “Sen. Sessions understands the importance of all of our God-given rights, respects the rule of law, and will be a vital part of restoring our nation to its greatness.”

Sessions’ appointment is subject to Senate confirmation. Under the rules instituted by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) when he served as a majority leader of the chamber, ending a filibuster on confirmation would require a bare majority of 51 votes. Another 51 votes are necessary to confirm him to the seat.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement the attorney general is “the chief protector of civil rights and civil liberties for everyone,” which he said is especially important at a time “when hate crimes have spiked across the country, especially against Muslim and LGBTQ Americans.”

“Sen. Sessions and I have had significant disagreements over the years, particularly on civil rights, voting rights, immigration and criminal justice issues,” Leahy said. “But unlike Republicans’ practice of unprecedented obstruction of President Obama’s nominees, I believe nominees deserve a full and fair process before the Senate. The American people deserve to learn about Senator Sessions’ record at the public Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.”

If the Senate confirms Sessions, he would immediately be given the opportunity to rescind ongoing actions at U.S. Justice Department on behalf of LGBT rights.

Likely the first to go is joint guidance from the Justice Department and the Education Department under the Obama administration instructing that discrimination against transgender students, such as barring them from the restroom consistent with their gender identity, contravenes federal law. Trump made rescinding that guidance a campaign promise.

Also on the chopping block is a lawsuit U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch filed against North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which bars transgender people from using the restroom consistent with their gender identity. Even if that were the case, litigation in federal court filed by Lambda Legal and the ACLU against the statute would remain ongoing.

If the Obama administration files a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court on behalf of a Virginia transgender student who’s challenging his school for barring him from using the restroom consistent with his gender identity, the Justice Department could withdraw that filing.

Sessions could also reverse the memo from former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder declaring the Justice Department interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as applicable to “discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status.” That memo has served as the basis for Justice Department actions against transgender discrimination, such as a lawsuit filed against Southeastern Oklahoma State University alleging anti-trans discrimination in the workforce.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Trump’s selection of Sessions as attorney general is troubling.

“It is deeply disturbing that Jeff Sessions, who has such clear animus against so many Americans — including the LGBTQ community, women and people of color — could be charged with running the very system of justice designed to protect them,” Griffin said. “When Donald Trump was elected, he promised to be a president for all Americans, and it is hugely concerning and telling that he would choose a man so consistently opposed to equality as one of his first — and most important — cabinet appointees.”

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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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