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Costa Rica vice president champions LGBT, human rights

Ana Helena Chacón spoke at same-sex marriage conference

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Costa Rican Vice President Ana Helena Chacón speaks at the Civil Marriage Equality Congress in San José, Costa Rica, on Nov. 10, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — Costa Rican Vice President Ana Helena Chacón on Nov. 10 said the birth of her youngest daughter with Down’s syndrome prompted her to champion human rights.

“I began a fight against discrimination against people with disabilities, especially for people with intellectual disabilities,” she told the Washington Blade after she spoke at the Civil Marriage Equality Congress in the Costa Rican capital of San José. “I then began fighting for other human rights that were being violated.”

“I was really looking for solutions for the construction of a more just society,” added Chacón.

Chacón was among those who spoke at the conference, which is the first of its kind in Latin America that focused exclusively on marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Herman Duarte of Fundación Igualitos, a Costa Rica-based group that advocates for marriage rights for same-sex couples, organized the conference alongside HduarteLex, his law firm that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation. Two Costa Rican advocacy groups — Acceder and Asociación Costarricense de Derecho International — co-hosted the gathering that took place at the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights in San José.

The conference officially ended two days before a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck off of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

“The breaking of paradigms and the possibility of analyzing and sharing best practices is always important,” Chacón told the Blade, referring to the conference.

Chacón: Government committed to fighting anti-LGBT discrimination

The Costa Rican constitution established two vice presidencies. Voters in 2014 elected Chacón and Vice President Helio Fallas along with President Luis Guillermo Solís.

Chacón was a member of the Costa Rican National Assembly from 2006-2014. She was the minister of public safety from 2002-2006.

Chacón told the Blade the Costa Rican Supreme Court in 2005 “was very clear . . . in saying that the recognition of economic and civil rights of people of the same sex were a matter of law.”

Costa Rica in 2013 extended inheritance and other economic rights to same-sex couples who have lived together for at least three years.

Assemblywoman Ligia Elena Fallas in 2015 introduced a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Chacón told the Blade that opposition among Costa Rican lawmakers remains strong.

“Our legislature is a very fragmented legislature in which many ideologies exist and in which conservatism is also present,” she said.

Chacón — along with Panamanian First Lady Lorena Castillo and Panamanian Vice President Isabel de Saint Malo — are among the handful of prominent political leaders in Central America who publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues.

Chacón told the Blade the separation of powers between the country’s executive and legislative branches limit what the current government can do to advance the issue.

The Costa Rican government in 2016 asked the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for an advisory opinion on whether it has an obligation to extend property rights to same-sex couples and change the gender marker on transgender people’s identity documents. Observers have noted this request may be a way to prompt a ruling in favor of marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

“We cannot do anything more than support the bill,” said Chacón. “However at this moment the final discussion has not taken place.”

Solís, who, along with Chacón, is a member of the center-left Citizens’ Action Party, publicly opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples. Chacón told the Blade the Costa Rican government nevertheless continues to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Solís has extended hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples and mandated government institutions adopt what Chacón described as “important changes with regards to the acceptance of the name that a person wants to use.” Chacón — who has marched in the annual San José Pride parade and spoke at a Madrid conference in June that corresponded with WorldPride — told the Blade the government has also ordered its institutions to fight discrimination against LGBT Costa Ricans who seek access to their services and ensure trans people can receive hormone therapy and psychiatric treatment in public clinics.

“We have done everything humanly possible to ensure that each of our institutions are institutions that are free of discrimination,” said Chacón.

Chacón told the Blade the government has not focused its efforts on the country’s churches, noting many of them continue to promote the idea that marriage is “only between a man and a woman.” She said they have instead focused on increased education around LGBT-specific issues.

“What we have tried to do is create more education,” said Chacón. “The approach that we are going to look at here is there is no danger . . . to the traditional family, but what we can do is to expand the idea that a great variety of families exist.”

Juan Enrique Pi, president of Fundación Iguales, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, left, poses with Costa Rican Vice President Ana Helena Chacón at the Civil Marriage Equality Congress in San José, Costa Rica, on Nov. 10, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Chacón acknowledged to the Blade that homophobic and transphobic attitudes among Costa Ricans remains a “big challenge.” She said the government has worked to change school curricula in order to combat them.

“There is a part that explains to children that they should put themselves in someone else’s shoes, put themselves in someone else’s skin,” Chacón told the Blade. “[It also says] we should not discriminate because there are people who end up falling in love with a person of the same sex.”

“We can really change these discriminatory and segregating opinions that people have that say couples should only be those who are heterosexual,” she added.

Elections ‘can be a setback’ for human rights

Chacón spoke with the Blade a year after President Trump’s election.

The U.S. is Costa Rica’s largest trading partner. The State Department estimates roughly 100,000 American citizens live in Costa Rica.

Chacón did not specifically comment on Trump’s election, telling the Blade that she “has an absolute respect for the sovereignty of all countries.” Chacón said elections in the U.S. and in other countries around the world can impact human rights.

“They can be a setback in the push for human rights, depending upon who is governing,” she said.

Chacón said many Costa Ricans travel to the U.S. to work or to study. She also reiterated the countries’ long-standing economic ties when the Blade asked her whether Costa Ricans are concerned about the Trump administration.

“It is always important to see what is happening in the U.S. and to also recognize that we have been trading partners for many years,” said Chacón.

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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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