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Wins for trans candidates seen as nationwide clarion call

But experts have differing views on nature of the impact



From left, Virginia Delegate-elect Danica Roem (D-Prince William), Erie School Board Member-elect Tyler Titus, Minneapolis City Council Member-elect Andrea Jenkins and Palm Springs City Council Member-elect Lisa Middleton. (Roem and Jenkins photos courtesy of respective campaigns; Titus and Middleton photos courtesy Facebook)

The historic wins by transgender candidates on Tuesday are being widely interpreted to have nationwide implications, although LGBT political observers have different takes on what those conclusions are.

The most high-profile win Tuesday night was transgender journalist Danica Roem’s victory in Virginia over Del. Bob Marshall, who has a decades-long history of anti-LGBT views and this year introduced a bill that would have banned transgender people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity. She’ll be the first openly transgender person elected and seated to a state legislator in the history of the United States.

Other highlights include Andrea Jenkins, a poet and activist, and Phillipe Cunningham, a former special education teacher, winning seats on the Minneapolis City Council. Both are the first openly transgender people of color to win election in the United States and the first out transgender candidates elected to a city council in a major U.S. city.

Meanwhile, Tyler Titus won election to the Erie School Board in Pennsylvania, Lisa Middleton won election to the Palm Springs City Council and Stephe Koontz won a spot on the Doraville City Council in Georgia.

Logan Casey, who’s transgender and a research associate at the Harvard Opinion Research Program, said the wins are important on their own for transgender visibility.

“With so few transgender people in office, everyone is important,” Casey said. “And so, there’s one level on which these wins are really important just for trans people and the LGBTQ community generally, saying that we can win elections. We can be out, and be proud and be ourselves and be successful.”

But combined with other wins for diversity, such as the election of a Sikh mayor in New Jersey, Casey said the transgender victories demonstrate identity politics might not be a losing ticket as critics have claimed.

“We’ve heard a lot of conversation in the last year in particular about the idea that too much focus on identity politics loses elections for Democrats in general,” Casey said. “I think that this is a really strong signal that this is probably not the case. We’ve seen lots of different types of candidates — not just trans candidates, but other ones running all across the country — being successful yesterday and speaking openly about the various aspects of their identities, and winning their elections.”

But with many anti-trans lawmakers in state legislatures introducing legislation that inhibit transgender people’s access to the restroom, do the wins — particularly Roem’s over Marshall in Virginia — send a message those policies will lead to defeat at the ballot?

Sean Meloy, political director for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said he thinks the transgender wins should serve as a wake-up call to lawmakers planning anti-trans policies.

“People from the White House down to school boards have been pushing anti-trans legislation, and I think that they’re going to take a moment to pause and think that the author of anti-trans legislation was just beaten by a transgender woman, and I think that’s going to give them pause,” Meloy said.

Casey, however, cautioned a lot of things were in play in the election for the 13th district seat in Virginia and the result on election night might not be about bathroom bills.

“I am inclined to say Danica didn’t win because she was trans and Marshall had introduced these bathroom bills,” Casey said. “I think Danica won because she was able to connect with constituents on local issues like transportation and things that are really important to her district, and she had a really solid ground game and was successful in fundraising. She beat Marshall because she got back to the basics and was able to connect with her voters.”

Nonetheless, Casey said the defeat of Marshall at the hands of Roem may “give caution to lawmakers about how much of an issue to make about trans issues in particular during a campaign.”

“It may not change their voting behavior, or even what bills they introduce, because that’s a very different type of legislative behavior, but in terms of how they actually go about campaigning come next year, it might provide some caution to folks who are on the ticket,” Casey said.

The wins could be a precursor for transgender victories to come. Among the winners could be Dana Beyer, who’s running for the seat in the Maryland State Senate being vacated by Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery) in his bid to become governor.

Beyer, whose attempt to challenge Madaleno for the seat proved unsuccessful, said the lessons from the transgender wins are many, but include knowing to run during a Democratic wave year.

“We’ve created enough acceptance over the past 15 years in both America, in general, and within the Democratic party, in particular, that being trans (or any of the other smaller minorities, such as Sikh) is no longer a liability, but may actually be an asset,” Beyer said.

The Democratic wins in Virginia and New Jersey were widely viewed as a stinging rebuke to President Trump and LGBT rights supporters are hopeful the trans victories carry the same message to the White House over his anti-LGBT actions.

Among the Trump administration’s policies that have undermined transgender rights are seeking to bar transgender people from the armed forces, undoing Obama-era guidance ensuring transgender kids have access to school restrooms consistent with their gender identity and dropping support for the idea Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination against transgender people.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund, said in a statement the transgender victories are symbolically important in the Trump era.

“For too long, transgender people were not involved in policy decisions, including making laws that impact us,” Keisling said. “These victories demonstrate not only the strength of democracy, but the value placed on strong candidates who stand with the people on issues of local, state and national importance. With transgender people targeted by the current Administration, it is critical that our community be represented in elected office, to ensure the progress we’ve made advancing equality is not rolled back.”

But observers aren’t holding their breath in anticipation of a change from Trump.

When asked if the transgender victories would be a signal to Trump over his anti-trans policies, Casey responded succinctly, “No.”

“I don’t think that he responds really to any individual piece of information like this, or even larger patterns,” Casey said. “I think he speaks very freely about his opinions and doesn’t seem to be much persuaded by information like this, so I think it’s less the case that Donald Trump will be persuaded or moved in his behavior as a result of these elections.”

Meloy also expressed doubt the victories would mark any change with Trump in how he treats transgender people.

“Honestly, I hope it does,” Meloy said. “I think the results from around the country last night also send a message, but this message is distinctly important for our community that while he masquerades as an ally, his policy and practice clearly shows that he is anything but, and we’re going to take the fight to people who are actively working against us.”

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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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