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Gillibrand, Mattis clash in committee over transgender military service

Defense secretary defends recommendations against transgender service



Defense Secretary James Mattis clashed with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) over transgender military service. (Mattis photo public domain; Gillibrand photo by personaldemocracy via Flickr)

In the wake of all four military service chiefs reporting no problems with unit cohesion with transgender people in the U.S. military, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) clashed with Defense Secretary James Mattis on his report against their service — which formed the basis of President Trump’s transgender military ban.

The exchange took place Thursday in hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee over the budget request proposed by the Defense Department for fiscal year 2019.

“I’m very concerned about this report because it says that there is quote, ‘scientific uncertainty surrounding the efficacy of transition-related treatments for gender dysphoria,’ yet the American Medical, Psychological and Psychiatric Associations have all said the report misrepresents what is the scientific consensus when it comes to gender dysphoria and transition,” Gillibrand said.

Initiating the exchange, Gillibrand told Mattis she was surprised the report that formed his recommendations to Trump — which purportedly was based on the conclusions of a panel of experts — claimed to have taken into account the military’s experience of allowing transgender people to serve. That was a policy change enacted in the Obama administration and has been in effect for nearly two years.

That’s why, Gillibrand said, she asked each of the service chiefs during congressional testimony whether transgender service has resulted in unit cohesion problems since that time. As the Blade previously reported, all four — Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller and Air Force Chief of Staff Adm. David Goldfein — told her they heard of no problems.

Gillibrand held up a paper copy of a new report from the San Francisco-based Palm Center and said she she’d give the document to Mattis “so you can read in full.”

The report, made public Thursday, found out of 949 service members with gender dysphoria since the policy was changed in the Obama years until mid-2017, 40 percent were deployed in military operations overseas and only one had an issue during that deployment.

“It appears that this report your department has issued is not based on the department’s data or science, but rather quote, ‘potential risks,’ that the authors cannot back up,” Gillibrand said.

But Gillibrand went a step further, comparing the Mattis report to the same assertions offered in decades past to exclude others from the armed forces.

“This seems to me to be the same uninformed and unfounded concerns that to the opposition of repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ integrating women into the military, integrating African-Americans into the military — and I think you need to do a lot more work on this topic to inform yourself,” Gillibrand said.

The defense secretary, however, seemed prepared to respond to Gillibrand, telling her, “I regret the way your characterize it.”

Recalling his testimony during his confirmation hearing in which he said he wouldn’t seek to ban LGBT service members, Mattis said, “I would remind you that when I came into this job, I said I don’t come in with a preordained agenda to change something.”

“I believe that service in the military is a touchstone for patriotic Americans,” Mattis added. “The military protects all Americans’ freedom and liberty to live as they choose — and we’re proud of that.”

Mattis said 71 percent of 18- to 24-year-old men and women in the United States do not qualify to enlist as a private in the U.S. Army for medical, legal, behavioral or intellectual reasons.

Upon coming into the position of defense secretary last year, Mattis said he heard claims Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s research leading to transgender military service was more limited than what the service chiefs wanted.

“They were asking me questions because we were coming to the induction of transgender,” Mattis said. “They wanted to know how we’re going to deal with certain issue about basic training about deployability. I said, ‘Didn’t you get all this when the policy came out?’ The Carter policy we call it. They said, ‘No.” And I said, ‘Did you have input?’ They said, no, they did not.”

Prior to his recommendation, Mattis said he convened a panel of experts was comprised of combat veterans, the vice chiefs of the services and the under secretaries. Mattis said the panel consulted transgender troops, the commanders of transgender troops as well as civilian and military medical experts who have provided transition-related care.

When Mattis said he’d like his 44-page recommendation entered for the record, Gillibrand interrupted and said she’d wants a list of all experts she consulted. Mattis said he’d see what he could do, but noted the issue is under litigation.

On Gillibrand’s questions to service chiefs on whether transgender service would cause any problems with unit cohesion, Mattis those reports wouldn’t come up to the level of the service chiefs and it’s “impossible” for them to have that information.

“The reason is, under the Carter policy, the reporting is opaque,” Mattis said. “We cannot report that a problem emanated from a transgender. We cannot under the Carter policy do that. So the question you’ve asked the service chiefs and the chairman are ones that right now the Carter policy prohibited that very information from coming up because it’s private information.”

On medical issues related to transgender service, Mattis made a point of drawing a connection between transgender status to anxiety and depression.

“If gender dysphoria has anxiety or it has some kind of depression, we don’t allow anyone in with that,” Mattis said. “I would have to make a special category that said you can have these disqualifying factors only if you’re transgender and then we can bring you in. I think you can understand why we have chosen not to do that.”

Gillibrand clashed with Mattis after she asked questions of Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford similar to those she each of the military service chiefs on whether transgender military service.

Asked by Gillibrand if having transgender people in the military caused any problems with unit cohesion or morale, Dunford denied that was the case, but added a caveat.

“I wouldn’t typically hear of individual cases of cohesion or discipline issues, and maybe just a comment on transgender,” Dunford said. “For me, the issue with transgender has never been about cohesion or discipline anyway. It was just about any individual regardless of circumstances being able to meet the physical and medical qualifications of being worldwide deployable, so if an individual is serving without accommodation, then I don’t I’d expect to see discipline or cohesion issues in that unit.”

Asked whether he thinks the rollout of Mattis recommendations against transgender service treats those troops with dignity and respect, Dunford insisted transgender people currently in the U.S. armed forces will undergo no change.

“One thing we’ve tried to clarify for men and women who are currently serving is that — and I can’t talk about any changes in the policy — but one thing that didn’t change was the status of the men and women that are currently serving,” Dunford said.

But Gillibrand wasn’t satisfied with that response and replied, “That’s not what the impression the report leaves.” Asked whether he had met with transgender troops since the report and if they had anxiety, Dunford said he hadn’t since that time.

“I recommend that you do so, so you are more informed,” Gillibrand responded.

The exchange took place on the same day a total of six former U.S. surgeons general issued a joint statement asserting they were “troubled” by the Mattis report because they find no medical issues with transgender service.

“In fact, there is a global medical consensus that such care is reliable, safe, and effective,” the statement says. “An expectation of certainty is an unrealistic and counterproductive standard of evidence for health policy — whether civilian or military — because even the most well-established medical treatments could not satisfy that standard. Indeed, setting certainty as a standard suggests an inability to refute the research.”

The former surgeons general who signed the statement are Joycelyn Elders, David Satcher, Richard Carmona, Regina Benjamin, Vivek Murthy and Kenneth Moritsugu.

Also on Tuesday, Gillibrand led a bipartisan group of 49 U.S. senators in a letter to Mattis expressing opposition to the Trump administration’s ban on transgender military service and Mattis’ report. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined Democrats in signing the letter.

“The recommendations and report break faith with the men and women serving in our military by establishing a new ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ for transgender service members, permitting them to serve only if they are willing to forego any chance of living as their true selves,” the senators write. 

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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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