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Samantha Power on the global struggle for LGBT rights

Advocates laud outgoing U.N. ambassador as ‘powerful ally’

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Samantha Power, HRC Equality Convention, gay news, Washington Blade
Samantha Power, HRC Equality Convention, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power speaks at a Human Rights Campaign conference in D.C. on March 12, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power and Vice President Biden were walking into the auditorium where the U.N. LGBT Core Group was about to meet on Sept. 21, 2016, when they saw Caleb Orozco, an LGBT rights activist from Belize.

Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin of the Belize Supreme Court less than two months earlier ruled the country’s colonial-era law against which Orozco and his group, the United Belize Advocacy Movement, filed a lawsuit in 2010 is unconstitutional.

Biden placed his hands around Orozco’s face as they and Power walked into the U.N. LGBT Core Group event. Orozco became overwhelmed after the vice president thanked him for “what you did” in Belize.

“It was so beautiful,” Power told the Washington Blade on Jan. 5 during a telephone interview from New York, recalling what Biden said to Orozco.

The promotion of LGBT rights abroad has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy during President Obama’s second term.

Obama in 2011 directed agencies that implement U.S. foreign policy to promote LGBT rights abroad. Power, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author who previously worked at the National Security Council, has been a vocal champion of these issues since she assumed her ambassadorship in 2013.

The U.S. voted for two pro-LGBT resolutions the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted in 2011 and 2014 respectively. The U.S. also supported the creation of the U.N.’s first-ever LGBT watchdog that the U.N. Human Rights Council approved in 2016.

The U.S. and Chile in 2015 co-hosted the first-ever U.N. Security Council meeting on an LGBT-specific issue that focused on the so-called Islamic State’s persecution of LGBT Syrians and Iraqis. Subhi Nahas, a gay man from the Syrian city of Idleb who has received asylum in the U.S., is among those who spoke.

Subhi Nahas, Syria, ISIS, Islamic State, gay news, Washington Blade

Subhi Nahas, a gay Syrian refugee who now lives in the U.S., in August 2015 spoke at a U.N. Security Council meeting on LGBT rights that focused on the Islamic State and anti-LGBT rights abuses committed by the Sunni militant group. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The U.N. Security Council last June condemned the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

This condemnation marked the first time it specifically denounced violence based on sexual orientation. Power took more than a dozen other U.N. ambassadors to the Stonewall Inn in New York in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre in order to hold a meeting of the U.N. LGBT Core Group.

Power has met with LGBT and intersex activists from around the world who OutRight Action International, a global advocacy group, invites to the U.N. each December for International Human Rights Day.

She has spoken at events organized by the Human Rights Campaign and the Council for Global Equality.

Caitlyn Jenner met with Power in 2015 to discuss ways that she could work with the U.N. to promote transgender rights around the world. Power also brought 17 U.N. ambassadors to a performance of “Fun Home,” a Broadway play that focuses on a young girl who comes out as a lesbian, in March 2016.

Samantha Power, Caitlyn Jenner, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, left, meets with Caitlyn Jenner in New York on Nov. 10, 2015. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Mission to the U.N.)

“People are suffering terribly around the world simply because of who they love and who they are,” Power told the Blade. “Their own horizons are bounded. Their own travel plans are constricted because these rights are violated so blatantly and so brutally around the world.”

“That fight has to be waged internationally and a very efficient way to touch a lot of countries in a concerted way and in an aggressive way is the United Nations,” she added. “Moreover, through history the United Nations has played a very important role in norm-setting standards against which each of us is judged.”

Ban Ki-moon’s support of LGBT rights ‘unfailingly moving’

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in more than 70 countries. Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Iran are among the handful of nations in which those found guilty of homosexuality face the death penalty.

Power said at a 2015 Council for Global Equality luncheon in D.C. that the U.S. “methodically and aggressively” fought Russia’s unsuccessful efforts to overturn then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s directive to provide spousal benefits to gay U.N. personnel who are legally married.

She described the repeated efforts to suspend Vitit Muntarbhorn, the U.N.’s first-ever LGBT rights watchdog, as “so gross.” Power nevertheless told the Blade that U.S.-backed efforts to keep the position in place were successful.

“If you had told me in 2009 when I joined the Obama administration that we could mobilize at the ambassadorial level dozens of ambassadors in countries around the globe where this issue (of LGBT rights) remains relatively toxic … and that those ambassadors would march in and see the foreign ministers of those countries, it’s incredible,” she said. “The U.S. government, the foreign service itself changed by these campaigns we run here at the U.N.”

“It’s a repudiation,” added Power. “We will outlast them. We will care more.”

Power also praised Ban for supporting LGBT rights during his tenure.

Ban joined Biden, Orozco, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders at last September’s U.N. LGBT Core Group event.

Ban, who is from South Korea, said during a 2015 speech in the Indian capital of New Delhi that anti-sodomy laws “breed intolerance.” The U.N. in 2013 launched the “Free & Equal” campaign that seeks to promote LGBT and intersex rights around the world.

Power described Ban’s personal journey in support of LGBT and intersex rights as “unfailingly moving.”

“Every time I hear him talk about it I find it moving,” Power told the Blade.

Ban Ki-moon, United Nations, gay news, Washington Blade

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks in New Delhi, India, on Jan. 12, 2015. He said laws that criminalize homosexuality “breed intolerance.” (Photo by Mark Garten/U.N.)

She also conceded that Ban has taken a lot of “grief” over his support of the issues.

“If you haven’t been yelled at by a Russian diplomat you maybe just can’t know how fierce that can be,” said Power. “He just takes it and he knows it’s right and he’s pushing it.”

She also noted current U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres supports LGBT and intersex rights.

“He’s very strong on these issues,” said Power. “It’s very important that he carries this forward.”

Power’s LGBT mandate ‘very important’

Orozco told the Blade this week that Power “speaks with an urgent intensity to remind the world that violence is unnecessary” and “humanity cannot be allowed to erode when innocent people suffer.” Other LGBT and intersex advocates around the world expressed similar sentiments.

“Samantha Power’s mandate at the U.N. in relation to LGBTI rights has been very important,” LGBT Federation of Argentina Vice President Esteban Paulón told the Blade on Tuesday.

Ricky “Ricki” Nathanson of the Sexual Rights Center’s Trans Research, Education, Advocacy and Training (TREAT) program in Zimbabwe met Power last month when she was in New York to attend OutRight Action International’s annual summit.

Nathanson told the Blade she “found her to be a powerful ally in fighting the battle for equal rights for the global LGBTI community.” OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern echoed this sentiment.

She told the Blade in an email that Power last month learned that a group of homeless gay men and trans women with HIV had been shot and beaten in Jamaica. Stern said the ambassador sent a text message to her Jamaican counterpart at 5 a.m. “to find out what he was doing to ensure their safety.”

“You can’t make this up,” Stern told the Blade. “It is a rare public official who personally contacts another government at the break of dawn about LGBT people’s safety and dignity.”

“The history books will write about Samantha Power’s transformative leadership for LGBT rights over her years as U.S. ambassador to the U.N.,” she added.

Scott Long, a former Human Rights Watch staffer, has a far different take on Power’s legacy at the U.N.

Long accused Power of pandering to American LGBT voters and advocacy groups “with publicity gestures that mask the absence of results.”

“Meeting with Caitlyn Jenner, or doing a PR tour of the Stonewall Inn regrettably does nothing to empower queers in Cairo or Kampala,” Long told the Blade on Monday.

Long criticized Power for “her appalling refusal to criticize ghastly (LGBT rights) abuses” in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries that receive U.S. aid. He also questioned the impact of the U.N. Security Council’s meeting on ISIS, noting the Obama administration has “made no real effort to provide protection for queers in Syria or Iraq who would be further endangered and exposed.”

Reports indicate ISIS militants have publicly executed dozens of men in Syria and Iraq who were accused of committing sodomy. Long said these reported executions increased in the months after the U.N. Security Council meeting.

“If the goal was to save lives, the evidence suggests it may well have been counterproductive,” he told the Blade.

The Blade has not been able to substantiate Long’s claims that execution of men accused of sodomy by ISIS increased after the U.N. Security Council meeting. It has also received information that contradicts his account.

No regrets

Power has had a chance to speak with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who President-elect Trump has nominated to succeed her at the U.N.

Power told the Blade she will leave her post with no regrets about the way she advocated for LGBT rights.

“If someone could dream and I could see a pathway we would do it,” she said. “There’s not the one that goes away.”

Power said she plans to spend the remainder of her ambassadorship “engaging with the new team to ensure this new DNA” remains in place and Ban’s legacy in support of LGBT and intersex rights “becomes a virtuous propellant.”

She also told the Blade the next step in advancing these issues at the U.N. is to have a “clean embrace” of them at the U.N. General Assembly. Power said countries in Europe, Latin America and in the Pacific could make this goal possible in the coming years.

“We are chipping away,” she said.

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D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011

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shooting, DC Eagle, assault, hate crime, anti-gay attack, police discrimination, sex police, Sisson, gay news, Washington Blade

A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.

According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.

Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.

“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”

The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”

Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.

Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.

In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.

“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.

Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.

The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.

In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”

At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.

The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.

In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.

The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.

It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.

Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.

The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.

The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.

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Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination

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Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

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IDAHOBiT events to promote intersectionality, resilience, allyship

HRC president to participate in virtual panel in Canada

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(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)

 

Intersectionality, resilience and allyship are among the themes that this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia events will highlight.

Dignity Network Canada and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention on May 17 will hold a virtual panel that will feature Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Executive Director Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Kaleidoscope Trust Executive Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, COC Nederland Executive Director Marie Ricardo and Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. The British High Commission and the Dutch Embassy in Canada have co-sponsored the event.

“We hope that this will be a really interesting and important conversation on intersectionality and transnational solidarity — and what it means for these leaders and their organizations during these times,” reads a description of the event.

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group on May 17 will host a virtual IDAHOBiT event that will focus on ways to develop an “inclusive and diverse post-pandemic world.” The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American and Asian Development Banks host a similar IDAHOBiT commemoration.

“In order to heal from the economic, social, and public health dire impact the pandemic has had and still has, every plan of recovery must take into account a human-rights based, intersectional and gender responsive approach that addresses the specific needs of LGBTI persons in order not to leave them further behind,” reads a description of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group event.

Several Russian LGBTQ rights groups on May 17 will hold a “Vaccine for Acceptance” event that seeks to bolster allyship in the country.

Retired South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron on May 16 will moderate a virtual panel that will focus on religion and anti-LGBTQ violence.

Workplace Pride and the Dutch Embassy in Budapest on May 17 will host a symposium on LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces in Hungary. M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, on the same day will participate in a webinar the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is hosting with Oogachaga, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Haver Srbija, a Serbian NGO, on May 15-16 will hold Falafel, a film festival that seeks to build “bridges and promotes Israeli, Jewish and LGBTQI culture and communities” and highlight “various social issues in the context of the fight against prejudice, discrimination, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and encourages the audience to develop critical thinking on the issue of these topics.” Proud Lebanon is slated to hold a series of six webinars between May 17-22 that will focus on feminism, LGBTQ rights and other topics.

The National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba will hold a series of virtual forums and other events through the month to commemorate IDAHOBiT.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, whose father is former Cuban President Raúl Castro, during a May 4 press conference in Havana said the IDAHOBiT events are part of the process of amending the country’s family code to make it more equitable for LGBTQ Cubans. Mariela Castro said a bill to amend it will be introduced in the Cuban Parliament in July.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference, according to Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s events will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups around the world.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries. Violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains rampant in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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