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D.C. fares well in HQ2 pursuit

Amazon may be considering LGBT laws as criteria for new headquarters



Jeff Bezos, gay news, Washington Blade, HQ2

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is looking for a second headquarters and three area jurisdictions are finalists.

LGBT rights advocates in the three D.C.-area jurisdictions named by Amazon last week as being among 20 finalist cities or regions in contention for the corporate giant’s second headquarters have been touting their jurisdictions’ strong record in support of LGBT rights.

Amazon announced on Jan. 18 that D.C., Northern Virginia, and Montgomery County, Md., were among 20 finalist jurisdictions that made the cut from 238 cities and regions in North America that submitted bids to become the high tech company’s second world headquarters referred to as HQ2.

Amazon’s record as a strong supporter of nondiscrimination protections for its LGBT employees and its overall support for LGBT equality has prompted the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, to assign the company a perfect 100 percent rating for its annual Corporate Equality Index.

This has prompted speculation that Amazon would likely consider a state, city, or region’s laws and policies on LGBT issues as a factor in choosing the location of the new multi-billion dollar headquarters, which is expected to bring with it 50,000 high-paying jobs.

Among the 20 cities Amazon named in its list of finalists for the new headquarters, 11 have received a 100 percent rating in HRC’s 2017 Municipal Equality Index that assesses LGBT related laws and practices. The 11 include Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Boston; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Denver; Los Angeles; New York City; Philadelphia; and Pittsburgh.

HRC considers D.C. as a state rather than a city and includes it in its separate State Equality Index, which does not provide a numerical rating. HRC’s 2017 State Equality Index report places D.C. and 13 states in the highest of four categories that assess LGBT rights policies and laws for the 50 states. The category is called “Working Toward Innovative Equality.”

Based on HRC’s criteria for assessing the LGBT-related records for both states and cities, D.C. would have received a 100 percent rating in HRC’s Municipal Equality Index if it were classified as a city.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser frequently cites the city’s extensive and wide-ranging LGBT supportive laws and policy directives in her public appearances at LGBT events.

HRC doesn’t issue ratings or assessments for regions such as Northern Virginia. However, its Municipal Equality Index for 2017 assigns a rating score of 96 to Arlington County and a score of 86 to the City of Alexandria, which are among the largest jurisdictions that comprise Northern Virginia.

The HRC Municipal Equality Index doesn’t issue a rating score for Montgomery County, Md. But it has assigned a 2017 rating score for two of its largest cites – 100 percent for the city of Rockville and 59 percent for the city of Gaithersburg.

In its state Equality Index assessments, HRC places Maryland in the second highest category called “Solidifying Equality.” It says a state in this category has nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people and is “high-performing” on LGBT issues but does not rise to the “cutting-edge” level of LGBT accomplishments of D.C. and the 13 states in the top category, including California and New York.

The HRC 2017 State Equality Index places Virginia in the lowest of the four categories called “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality.” According to HRC, the 27 states in this category “have many laws that undermine LGBTQ equality.” HRC says an “overwhelming majority” of states in this category, including Virginia, do not have anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity protections and few have hate crimes laws.

Despite Virginia’s less than supportive record on a state level, LGBT rights advocates in Northern Virginia point out that as a region, Northern Virginia’s elected officials and its policies and local laws are highly supportive on LGBT rights.

Jean Kelleher, director of the Alexandria Office on Human Rights, told the Washington Blade that Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax counties have added sexual orientation protections to their human rights ordinances. She said the three jurisdictions have embraced the U.S. Equality Employment Opportunity Commission’s interpretation of the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act to include protection against discrimination based on gender identity as well as sexual orientation as a form of gender discrimination.

Kelleher said invoking the EEOC’s interpretation and official legal opinion enables Northern Virginia jurisdictions to protect LGBT people from discrimination despite a longstanding state law that created what’s known as the Dillon Rule. Among other things, the Dillon Rule prohibits local jurisdictions in the state such as counties and cities from enacting or enforcing laws, including civil rights laws, whose provisions go beyond the scope of a state law.

“The Dillon Rule has constrained us in the past but we are continuously moving forward,” Kelleher said.

Nick Benton, the gay editor and publisher of the Falls Church, Va., News Press, which covers state and local current events in Virginia, said he has a strong message for Amazon should it decide to consider the LGBT rights record of a jurisdiction competing for its second corporate headquarters:

“Right now there is no place more LGBT friendly than Northern Virginia, even if the archaic state laws in Virginia limit what kinds of format protections local jurisdictions here can enforce,” Benton said.

He noted that although the Dillon Rule officially prevents local jurisdictions from passing or enforcing LGBT rights laws, nearly all of the Northern Virginia jurisdictions have adopted resolutions “unanimously expressing full support for diversity in employment, housing” and other categories.

Benton and other LGBT advocates in Northern Virginia also note that there are currently three openly gay members and one “out and proud” transgender member of the Virginia General Assembly from Northern Virginia.

Dana Beyer, a longtime civic activist, transgender rights organizer, and current candidate for the Maryland State Senate, has put in a plug for Montgomery County’s quest for the Amazon headquarters.

“It would be very satisfying to know that Amazon was seriously considering a locality’s LGBTQ rights record in its decision to situate its second headquarters,” Beyer said. “If so, my home county, Montgomery County, Md., would be ideal,” she continued.

“Beginning with sexual orientation protections first introduced and defended in 1986, and then followed by similar gender identity protections added and defended in 2007, my county has been a civil rights leader in the state and country,” she told the Blade. “Amazon’s employees would derive great benefit and satisfaction from the affirming culture being created here.”

Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, said that based on a wide range of factors, including its strong record on LGBT rights, “D.C. is by far the best location for Amazon’s second corporate headquarters.”

Alexander-Reid notes that D.C. in 2009 became one of the first jurisdictions in the country to legally recognize same-sex marriage – “three years before Maryland and five years before Virginia.” She said that under Mayor Bowser’s leadership, D.C. has “intentionally created a safe space” for LGBTQ residents.

“By providing public accommodation laws that protect against discrimination, gender neutral markers on identification and drivers’ licenses, the ability to legally change names on birth certificates and drivers licenses to correspond with gender identity, the District is leading the country in affirming transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning/queer residents,” she said.

Following is a list of the 20 cities and regions selected by Amazon as finalists in its process of selecting a home for its second world corporate headquarters. Also shown are the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index rating for cities and some counties and the HRC State Equality Index category based on the states’ records on LGBT rights. The Blade has designated the state categories as “Excellent,” “Good,” “Fair,” and “Poor” based on HRC’s criteria.

Atlanta—100% city rating; poor state rating for Georgia

Austin, Tex.—100% city rating; poor state rating for Texas

Boston—100% city rating; excellent state rating for Massachusetts

Chicago—100% city rating; excellent state rating for Illinois

Columbus, Ohio—100% city rating; poor state rating for Ohio

Dallas—100% city rating; poor state rating for Texas

Denver—100% city rating; excellent state rating for Colorado

Indianapolis—88% city rating; fair state rating for Indiana

Los Angeles—100% city rating; excellent state rating for California

Miami—59% city rating; poor state rating for Florida

Montgomery County, Md.—No county rating issued by HRC; good state rating for Maryland

Nashville, Tenn.—60% city rating; poor state rating for Tennessee

Newark, N.J.—67% city rating; good state rating for New Jersey

New York City—100% city rating; excellent state rating for New York

Northern Virginia—No regional rating issued by HRC; poor state rating for Virginia

Philadelphia—100% city rating; poor state rating for Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh—100% city rating; poor state rating for Pennsylvania

Raleigh, N.C.—60% city rating; poor state rating for North Carolina

Toronto, Ontario—No city or provincial rating issued by HRC

Washington, D.C.—No city rating issued by HRC; excellent state rating for District of Columbia

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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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