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Carson confirmed to HUD with support from 6 Democrats

New housing secretary has no experience, history of anti-LGBT views

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Ben Carson, gay news, Washington Blade
Ben Carson, gay news, Washington Blade

The Senate confirmed Ben Carson as HUD secretary. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Despite a history of expressing anti-LGBT views, the U.S. Senate confirmed on Thursday former neurosurgeon Ben Carson as secretary of housing and urban development by an 58-41 vote with the support of six members of the Democratic caucus.

The six members of the Democratic caucus who joined with the Republicans to vote for Carson were Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.). All Republican senators who were present voted for Carson; Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) wasn’t present to vote.

Six Democrats joined Republicans to vote for Carson even though the new HUD secretary has no experience in managing housing or urban affairs and a long history of comments denigrating LGBT people. After his success as a neurosurgeon, those remarks animated his career as a conservative commentator and Republican presidential candidate.

Carson has called transgender people the “height of absurdity” and “a few people who perhaps are abnormal,” suggesting amid opposition to them using the restroom consistent with their gender identity they should have their own bathrooms specifically designated for them.

During his presidential campaign, Carson waxed nostalgic for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and expressed opposition to allowing transgender people in the armed forces. The candidate signed a pledge with the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage to, among other things, back a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage nationwide and “conduct a review of regulatory, administrative and executive actions taken by the current administration that have the effect of undermining marriage.”

In 2013, Carson landed in hot water when, as a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University, he compared LGBT advocates to pedophiles during an interview on Fox News. Outcry over the remarks led him to apologize “if anybody was offended” and to cancel plans to give the commencement address for the medical school.

During his confirmation hearing, Carson derided LGBT rights as “extra rights” under questioning from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) on LGBT issues.

“What I mentioned in the past is the fact no one gets extra rights,” Carson said. “Extra rights means you get to redefine everything for everybody else. That, to me, doesn’t seem to be very democratic.”

Carson as HUD secretary has the authority to roll back Obama-era regulations barring discrimination against LGBT people in government-sponsored housing and transgender people in homeless shelters, but that should remain in place if Carson keep to his words. In written testimony to the committee, Carson said he doesn’t believe protecting equal access to housing for LGBT people is “extra rights” or something that should be withdrawn.

In a statement, Warner cited Carson’s personal story of “rising from an impoverished background to become an accomplished surgeon” as a reason to confirm him to HUD.

“The Secretary of Housing & Urban Development plays an important role in addressing affordable housing, combatting homelessness and upholding civil rights and non-discrimination laws,” Warner said. “During our meeting in January, I questioned Dr. Carson’s commitment – based on previous public statements – to upholding those fundamental responsibilities. He assured me that he is a ‘huge fan’ of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and its subsequent amendments, which prohibit discrimination in housing, and will vigorously enforce laws proscribing redlining.”

Alluding to housing challenges facing West Virginia, Manchin said in a statement he voted to confirm Carson because of the importance of having a team in place running the government.

“I believe he understands that the housing and development needs facing West Virginia are different than those facing America’s urban communities and I look forward to working with him to improve the lives of West Virginians,” Manchin said.

Heitkamp said in a statement she voted to confirm Carson because in meetings with her he expressed a commitment to “recognize the full social and economic scope of impediments to safe, affordable housing.”

“I’m supporting Dr. Carson today because that approach is crucial to spurring housing opportunity for rural and low-income families on tribal lands and in rural communities alike – and I intend to hold him to his word,” Heitkamp said. “Any successful blueprint begins with a solid foundation, and I look forward to laying the trauma-informed groundwork with Dr. Carson so that our nation’s housing solutions are strong enough for communities that have withstood poverty, crime, abuse, and other adverse experiences and are built to last.”

Donnelly said in a statement he voted for Carson because the secretary made a commitment to East Chicago, which is experiencing a lead crisis.

“The families of East Chicago are counting on him and it is critically important we keep our focus on assisting these families,” Donnelly said. “I also have been encouraged by Dr. Carson’s understanding of issues important to Indiana, including housing assistance for homeless veterans, addressing housing blight, the nexus between housing and health outcomes, and the need for access to affordable housing.”

The Washington Blade has placed a call in with the offices of King and Tester seeking comment on their vote to confirm Carson.

In a committee vote to approve Carson, Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs, joined Republicans to support him unanimously, much to the ire of many progressives who objected to their support for a Trump nominee.

Of those Democrats on the committee, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) voted “no” during the floor vote to confirm him, although Heitkamp, Tester and Warner doubled-down to support him again.

The 62-37 cloture vote Wednesday to proceed with debate and confirmation of Carson in the Senate was about the same as the confirmation vote, except Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) Menendez and Brown were among those voting to move forward.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, criticized the Senate for confirming Carson despite his lack of experience in housing and anti-LGBT comments.

“The Senate has just voted to confirm a man who called over 1.4 million of his fellow Americans who are transgender ‘abnormal’ and referred to acknowledging their very existence as ‘silly,’ ‘beyond ridiculous,’ and ‘the height of absurdity,’” Keisling said. “Even setting aside Dr. Carson’s self-professed inexperience, these mean-spirited statements alone should have been disqualifying. The Senate will now own those comments.”

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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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State Department expresses concern over anti-LGBTQ bill in Uganda

Measure would further criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts

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A State Department spokesperson on Wednesday expressed concern over the passage of a bill in Uganda that would further criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts.

Ugandan lawmakers on Monday passed the Sexual Offenses Bill 2019, which contains a provision, known as Clause 11, that would explicitly ban “penetration of another person’s anus with that other person’s sexual organ or with any object” and “sexual acts between persons of the same gender.”

“We’re certainly concerned about the legislation in Uganda,” said State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter in response to the Washington Blade’s question about the bill during a briefing with reporters.

Consensual same-sex sexual acts are already criminalized in Uganda.

President Yoweri Museveni in 2014 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposed a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The law was known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because it previously contained a death penalty provision.

The U.S. cut aid to Uganda and imposed a travel ban against officials who carried out human rights abuses. Uganda’s Constitutional Court later struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality.

Sexual Minorities Uganda in a statement said the Sexual Offenses Bill 2019 criminalization provision “will enhance the already homophobic environment in Uganda and consequently lead the way for further violation of the rights of sexual and gender minorities, including violations such as ‘corrective rape’ and other acts of violence.” The Ugandan LGBTQ advocacy group has also called for Museveni to veto the measure over the clause.

“Sexual Minorities Uganda calls on the president of the Republic of Uganda to consider not assenting to the bill because of the problematic Clause 11 that now classifies sexual and gender minorities as sexual offenders,” said SMUG in its statement. “Rather, we call on the president to reminisce on the effects the now repealed Anti-Homosexuality Act had on the human rights discourse for sexual and gender minorities.”

OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern also condemned the bill.

“Same-sex relations are already criminalized in Uganda’s Penal Code,” said Stern in a press release. “The inclusion of same-sex relations in this bill paints LGBTQ people as sexual offenders, and can only serve one purpose — to fuel already rampant LGBTQ-phobia, discrimination and violence. It is deplorable. The colonial legacy of criminalizing same-sex relations must end.”

The Biden administration in February issued a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

“The United States certainly stands up and defends the human rights of our LGBTQI+ persons all around the world and we also stand firmly in opposing violence and discrimination against all LGBTQI persons and will also urge governments to criminalize their status or conduct,” said Porter during Wednesday’s briefing.

“We will continue to condemn any violence or discrimination of vulnerable populations including our LGBTQI+ people, whether they’re in Uganda or anywhere in the world,” added Porter.

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