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Capitol Hill panel criticizes Trump travel, refugee ban

Kurdish human rights activist unable to attend HRC summit



Ayaz Shalal, gay news, Washington Blade
Ayaz Shalal, on right, a human rights activist from Kurdistan who advocates for LGBT and women’s rights, last visited the U.S. in August 2016. He says he is unable to attend a Human Rights Campaign summit in D.C. in April because of President Trump’s travel ban. (Photo courtesy of Ayaz Shalal)

A human rights activist from Kurdistan on Wednesday once again criticized President Trump’s immigration executive orders.

Ayaz Shalal, who is the deputy director of programs for the Rasan Organization, was among the panelists who spoke at an event the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.)’s office co-hosted at the Rayburn House Office Building.

Shalal said he has visited the U.S. seven times. He told the audience via Skype from the city of Sulaymaniyah in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq that he will not be able to attend HRC’s Global Innovative Advocacy Summit in April in D.C. because Trump has banned citizens of Iraq and six other predominantly Muslim countries — Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya — from entering the U.S. for 90 days.

“This has made me very, very sad,” said Shalal.

The executive order that Trump signed on Jan. 27 not only imposed the travel ban, but suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and indefinitely bans Syrian refugees from entering the country. The executive order also reduces the number of refugees who will be allowed to resettle in the U.S. during fiscal year 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000.

A three-judge panel on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month upheld a federal judge’s ruling that blocked the travel ban. The Trump administration in the coming days is expected to issue a revised executive order.

Jennifer Quigley of Human Rights First noted during the panel that Human Rights Campaign Global Director Ty Cobb moderated that Trump’s executive order prioritizes resettlement of refugees who have fled a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on their religion.

Homosexuality remains punishable by death in Iran and Sudan and in portions of Somalia. The so-called Islamic State has publicly executed dozens of men who were accused of committing sodomy in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

The executive order also requires countries to provide information about their citizens who want to resettle in the U.S. Quigley said this requirement could put LGBT refugees in danger.

“Can you imagine asking (Sudanese President Omar) al-Bashir or (Syrian President Bashar) for information on LGBT refugees and then the U.S. would make a determination as to whether to allow them to enter based on information from the people who are trying to kill them,” said Quigley.

Gay Iranian refugees unable to resettle in U.S.

Trump on Jan. 25 signed another executive order that spurs construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Immigrant rights advocates and their supporters have dismissed the White House claims that it will stop the flow of drugs and Central American migrants into the country.

Freddy Funez, an activist in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, told the Blade earlier this month that people in the violence-plagued city “don’t understand” why Trump wants to build the wall. Funez said the majority of LGBT Hondurans who have migrated to the U.S. have found “dignified work.”

“They are feeling productive in the United States,” he said.

The travel ban and the suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program has already impacted LGBT refugees who are hoping to resettle in the U.S.

Pedram, a gay refugee from Iran who currently lives in the Turkish city of Yalova, told the Blade late last month he expected to travel to the U.S. in the spring. Pedram said the International Catholic Migration Commission, an organization with which the U.N. Refugee Agency works, cancelled his final interview that had been scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

“After Trump issued his order, they called me and said the appointment was cancelled,” Pedram told the Blade last week during a Skype interview.

Arsham Parsi, founder of the Toronto-based Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, which helps Iranians who have fled their homeland because of anti-LGBT persecution seek asylum in Canada and the U.S., said during Wednesday’s panel that some of the refugees with whom his organization works in Turkey have considered taking their own lives since Trump suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and imposed the travel ban. Parsi, a gay man from the Iranian city of Shiraz who received refugee status from UNHCR in 2006, also noted the executive order will have an adverse economic impact on those who had hoped to resettle in the U.S.

“Suddenly the president of where you were hoping to go and call your second home and your safe home says you are not welcome here,” said Parsi. “It’s 120 extra lunches. It’s 120 extra dinners. It’s 120 days of extra rent, medications for someone who doesn’t have any money.”

Mona Siam is a lesbian refugee advocate who fled Jordan because of persecution based on her sexual orientation.

Both she and Quigley noted refugees who resettle in the U.S. undergo a screening process that can take more than two years to complete. Siam said LGBT refugees who live in refugee camps are also targeted from “people from your society who probably persecuted you.”

“The United States sets a very good example to the world,” she said, speaking about the travel ban and the suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. “So when the U.S., which is the only superpower, like this sets that example it’s giving other countries that can actually host these refugees . . . on the same bar.”

“Nobody chooses to be a refugee,” added Siam.

Martina, a native of Pakistan who asked the Blade not to publish her real name, agreed.

A Pakistani court granted Martina permission to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. She nevertheless fled the country because of persecution she said she experienced because of her gender identity.

“Nobody leaves their home country without any reason,” said Martina.

Martina also pointed out that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was born in what is now the Czech Republic, was a refugee when she and her family resettled in the U.S. in 1948.

“Refugees are making the U.S. a better place,” said Martina.

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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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