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Top Navy, Marine officials say no unit problems with trans military service

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Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson says there’s no unit problems with trans military service. (Photos public domain)

The top uniform officials in the Navy and Marine Corps denied on Thursday the presence of transgender service members has resulted in any problems for unit cohesion despite fears cited by the Trump administration in the implementation of its anti-trans military ban.

But Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said commanders of military units had expressed concerns about medical needs for transgender troops and the length of time these Marines would be non-deployable as they underwent gender transition.

Neller and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson made the remarks during a hearing on Navy posture before the Senate Armed Services Committee under questioning from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has introduced legislation against Trump’s transgender military ban.

Transgender people were first allowed to serve openly in the military in 2016 under the Obama administration before President Trump sought to ban it after taking office. As a result of lawsuits filed against Trump when he said on Twitter he’d ban transgender people from the military “in any capacity,” federal courts have enjoined the Trump administration from enforcing the ban as litigation moves forward.

Asked by Gillibrand for any reports of unit disruptions as a result of transgender military service, Richardson was first to deny any problems, insisting the Navy treats “every one of those Navy sailors regardless with dignity and respect that is warranted by wearing the uniform of the United States Navy.”

“By virtue of that approach, I’m not aware of any issues,” Richardson added.

When Gillibrand turned to Neller, the Marine Corps commandant said the service has 27 Marines who are openly transgender and “one sailor serving,” adding he’s “not aware of any issues in those areas.”

But Neller continued, “The only issues I’ve heard of is, in some cases, because of the medical requirements of some of these individuals that there is a burden on the commands to handle all their medical stuff, but discipline, cohesion of the force, no.”

When Gillibrand asked Neller to elaborate on these medical concerns, the Marine Corps commandant said commanders had differing takes on the issue.

“Some of them are in a different place than others,” Neller said. “And so, there is, part of this is an education, and part of it is there are some medical things that have to be involved as they go through the process of transitioning and real-life experience and whatever their level of dysphoria is. So, for commanders, some of them have said, ‘No. It’s not a problem at all.’ Others have said there is a lot of time where this individual may or may not be available.”

Still, Neller said for Marine who’ve come out as transgender, “we have to honor the fact that they came out and they trusted us to say that, and that we need to make sure that we help them get through that process.”

Under further questioning Gillibrand, Neller acknowledged he met with four transgender service members: A naval officer, an Army staff sergeant, a Marine officer and a Navy corpsman. When the senator pressed Neller on what he learned from them, the Marine Corps commandant acknowledge their commitment to service.

“I learned about their desire to serve, I leaned about their recognition of their identification opposite their birth sex,” Neller said. “We had a very candid, frank conversation, and I respect, as the [chief of naval operations] said, I respect their desire to serve, and all of them, to the best of my knowledge were ready and prepared to deploy.”

Neller made a conclusion hinting he thinks the Marine Corps would ultimately accept transgender service: “As long as they can meet the standard of what their particular occupation was, I think we’ll move forward.”

The assessment from Richardson and Neller that transgender service has resulted in no problems with unit cohesion is consistent with remarks last week from Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who said he’s heard “precisely zero reports” of issues in the Army.

Like Milley’s comments, the remarks from Richardson and Seller contradict a recommendation from Defense Secretary James Mattis against transgender military service, which Trump used to form the basis of his military ban. Mattis’ recommendation cites potential problems with unit cohesion as well as medical and psychological issues as the reasons to ban transgender military service.

Gillibrand also asked Richardson what actions he’s taken to ensure stability in the wake of the Trump’s proposal to ban transgender troops. The chief of naval operations responded, “Ma’am, I will tell you, it’s steady as she goes.”

“We’re taking lessons from when we integrated women into the submarine force, and one of the pillars of that was to make sure that there were really no differences highlighted in our approach to training those sailors,” Richardson added. “That program has gone very well. And so, maintaining that level playing field of a standards-based approach seems to be the key to success, and that’s the approach we’re taking.”

Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partners Association, said in a statement the testimony from the Navy and Marine Corps demonstrates Trump’s ban is baseless.

“All the evidence continues to show there is absolutely no justification for the Trump-Pence transgender military ban outside of blatant, discriminatory bias,” Broadway-Mack said. “We are proud to be plaintiffs in a case challenging this unfounded and unconstitutional ban in court. Donald Trump and Mike Pence must end their unconscionable assault on transgender service members and their families. They must start honoring and supporting all who serve.”

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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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