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Lupe Valdez’s campaign for the ‘everyday Texan’ could make LGBT history

Democratic victor in May 22 run-off will take on anti-LGBT Gov. Abbott

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Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez is running to become governor of Texas. (Photo courtesy Valdez campaign)

You can count many ways in which former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez’s election as the next governor of Texas would be a milestone victory.

She could become the first openly gay person elected governor in the United States. She could be the second Latina governor. Her victory as a Democrat would unseat an anti-LGBT incumbent and represent a change for the Republican stronghold state.

But in an exclusive interview Monday with the Washington Blade, Valdez wasn’t focused on those milestones and said the focus of her bid for the Democratic nomination to unseat Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was on the “everyday Texan.”

“The everyday Texan is finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, to get ahead and stay ahead, and our current governor has more interest in his special issue than the everyday Texan,” Valdez said. “I’m committed to making the everyday Texan and, of course, the other folks, the LGBT, the minority actually have a say in the everyday Texas.”

Despite that focus, Valdez, who served four terms as Dallas County sheriff from 2005 to 2017 until she resigned to kick off her campaign, acknowledged being the first openly gay person elected governor in the United States would be significant.

“It would definitely say that Texas is what we actually believe it is — an inclusive state that welcomes all the people,” Valdez said. “And so therefore, I think my election would actually come out and stand strong in saying that this is not the old Texas, this is not the Texas of the past. This is a new Texas that is welcoming and will accept everybody.”

Valdez has competition for the distinction of being the first openly gay person elected governor. Other gay candidates seeking to become governor are Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) in Colorado and state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) in Maryland. Bisexual Gov. Kate Brown is seeking re-election in Oregon and bisexual actress Cynthia Nixon is challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York. In Vermont, transgender businessperson Christine Hallquist is running for governor.

A win for Valdez would be a win for the LGBT community not just because she could be the first openly gay person elected governor, but also because she’d be taking out one of the most anti-LGBT governors in the country.

Among other things, Abbott has signed an anti-LGBT “religious freedom” adoption bill into law, urged the Texas Supreme Court to undermine the 2015 ruling for marriage equality nationwide, and called a special session of the state legislature for the sole purpose of passing anti-transgender bathroom legislation, which lawmakers ultimately rejected.

Valdez said Abbott’s tenure has “been harmful to everything, not just the LGBT,” including Texans as a whole and other minorities, such as Muslims and immigrants.

“I don’t believe that’s the Texas brand, and I want to show him,” Valdez said. “Discrimination is not acceptable in any shape, so we need to continue to fight against the bathroom bill. I’m trying to find a decent way to say this madness that is ‘show me your papers’ bills and discrimination bills. They’re unpopular with the majority of Texas. Yes, there’s a small percentage that is in favor, but the majority of Texas is not, so we need to start governing for the majority of Texas.”

If elected governor, Valdez said she’d take Texas in the opposite direction and seek to pass pro-LGBT bills, including legislation enacting a statewide prohibition on anti-LGBT discrimination.

“I’m going to fight for everybody, including the LGBTQ community,” Valdez said. “We have to have a comprehensive non-discrimination protections bill. We have to have a hate crimes protections bill, and we have to find some way of having health care that is culturally competent. Say that in a mouthful, but it’s true that we need to be sensitive to the HIV folks and transgender folks.”

With studies showing 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, Valdez also said making changes to assist the LGBT homeless population is an important task.

“You have the homeless youth that are kicked out, and there’s still old Texas attitudes, and they’re kicked out of the homes because they’re LGBTQ,” Valdez said. “In a homeless situation, the parents have to sign for the child to be able to go into a shelter. If he’s LGBTQ, the parent doesn’t even want to talk to them. How are they going to sign for it? We have to make arrangements for that.”

The potential of Valdez to become the first openly gay governor and unseat an anti-LGBT incumbent won her the endorsement of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which declared its support for Valdez in March. The Human Rights Campaign hasn’t yet made an endorsement in the race.

Annise Parker, who’s CEO of the Victory Fund and won historic elections herself to become an openly gay mayor of Houston, said having a lesbian Latina defeat an anti-LGBT governor would “have enormous consequences for Texas and the entire country.”

“With a primary win this month, Lupe will set up a general election battle that puts positive solutions against the divisive politics Gov. Abbott thrives on – and in a deep red state with a legislature hostile to LGBTQ equality,” Parker said. “Electing a Democratic governor in Texas will be tough, but a victory would be transformational. With Lupe in the governor’s mansion, we know hateful legislation is dead on arrival, and legislators will be forced to focus on policies to improve people’s lives, not make them more difficult.”

Lupe Valdez as Dallas County sheriff. (Photo courtesy Valdez campaign)

But Valdez has to overcome an additional step before she wins the Democratic nomination to take on Abbott. Although Valdez won a plurality of the vote in the March 6 Democratic primary, the race now proceeds to a run-off with businessperson Andrew White, who was the runner-up. The run-off is set for May 22.

White has his own faction of support, including an endorsement from the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, but Valdez said her experience makes her the clear choice to become the Democratic nominee.

“I’m going to laugh here,” Valdez said. “I’m an Army veteran, I was a federal agent for over 20 years, I was the sheriff of Dallas County for the last 13 years. By the way, Dallas County is the ninth largest county in the United States, the sheriff’s department is the seventh largest department in the United States. I oversaw over 2,500 employees and I had a budget of over $160 million. The experience is what already talks.”

Valdez faces an uphill challenge in her bid to unseat Abbott in a traditionally Republican state. A Quinnipiac poll in April found she trails him by nine points, with Abbott leading 49-40 percent. Meanwhile, White has a similar standing and trails the incumbent by seven points, with Abbott leading 48-41 percent.

But Valdez said that poll is a good sign because Democrats in Texas in recent years have never had anything close to those numbers.

“Excuse me? Ten points is the closest we’ve been in over 10 years,” Valdez said. “The prior people that have run against have not gotten that close, and we haven’t even started running against him. We’re not even calling him out or going to him on anything. We’re just fighting right now in the Democratic primary. If we’re within 10 points, that’s the best any candidate has done in quite a while, and we haven’t even started with him.”

Valdez also said she isn’t afraid of a challenge, citing her beginnings in San Antonio as one of eight children of parents who were migrant farm workers.

“My favorite phrase on that, people keep saying, ‘This is an uphill challenge,'” Valdez said. “Excuse me? What kind of other challenges do we have? As an LGBTQ Latina from very humble beginnings, I don’t know if you know my story…I grew up in the poorest zip code and the highest crime in San Antonio. What other challenge have I had except uphill? That’s all we know is an uphill battle. So, I’m getting pretty good at these.”

With President Trump having occupied the White House for more than a year, Valdez also reflected on his presidency. In the aftermath of a transgender military ban, revocation of bathroom protections for transgender students and “religious freedom” executive actions, Valdez said Trump betrayed his campaign promise to be a friend to LGBT people.

“He started out his campaign saying that he was going to have LGBTQ rights, and he started out with that, but then he turned around and pulled some of the stuff he’s been pulling,” Valdez said. “All that says is — how do you politely say two-faced? I don’t know how you can politely say he said something for the campaign just to get people on your side, and then you turn around and do something else.”

Asked whether she’d seek to shield the Texas National Guard from the transgender military ban, Valdez said she’d “fight to stop some of his actions,” recalling her own experience being a lesbian in the military under an anti-gay ban at the time of the Vietnam War.

“Back then, there was no protection,” Valdez said. “I know what it feels like to be left out there with no protection. I know what it feels like to not have people support you. So, of course, I’m going to fight to put these protections [in]. The transgender people are of value to the National Guard, to the military, they’re of value. They wouldn’t have been accepted in the first place if they weren’t of value.”

Pressed on how she’d fight the transgender military ban, Valdez talked about statewide LGBT non-discrimination protections and the recent fight against the bathroom bill.

“We’re going to go back to the same thing, the comprehensive non-discrimination protections, the hate crimes protections and there is already a strong push in Texas for transgender protections,” Valdez said. “The bathroom bill was totally against transgender, and there were so many middle-class families who came up and fought and said, ‘Look at my child. My child is transgender and they’re causing no harm to your school.’ So there’s already a strong fight in Texas and we will build on that so we can pass laws to stop the discrimination against the transgender.”

Lupe Valdez in the Army National Guard. (Photo courtesy Valdez campaign)

On whether sexual orientation has emerged as an issue in her campaign, Valdez said it hasn’t come up and that marks a significant change from when she first ran for sheriff in 2004.

“I’m going to tell you a little story and that sometimes causes me pain. When I ran for sheriff 13 years ago, I went to the Latino Police Officers’ Association. I went to their leadership, and I said, ‘I would appreciate your endorsement,'” Valdez said. “One member literally said to me, ‘We are not going to endorse an f-ing lesbian. You will embarrass us and you will cause us nothing but embarrassment to our association.’ I mean, I can literally remember walking out of there with literally my heart in my feet because it was so painful.”

But Valdez said her victory as sheriff in the 2004 election proved that anti-gay member’s predictions were incorrect and “a majority of Dallas did not feel that way.”

“I was an out lesbian when I won,” Valdez said. “So, the majority of Dallas did not feel that. Are there people that still feel that way? Yes. But I don’t believe that is the majority of Texas. I do believe there are some loud, very loud voices against it. But I do believe they’re in the minority. As you become less positive, less powerful, you yell harder. And these people are yelling very hard because they’re not going to be the majority.”

Although Valdez said she hasn’t yet encountered opposition based on her sexual orientation in her gubernatorial campaign, she expects that to change when she secures the Democratic nomination and challenges Abbott head on.

“Remember we’re in the Democratic primary,” Valdez said. “I don’t think those will come until we get in the general. Most of the Democrats in Texas are pretty progressive and the state party has taken a stand for non-discrimination protections against LGBTQ…So, I don’t think I’ll run into those issues in the primary. Where those issues will come up, I’m sure, is in the general.”

Valdez’s race isn’t the only statewide contest in Texas attracting national attention. Another high-profile race is Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D) bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R), who’s up for re-election this year and has a strong anti-LGBT record that includes introducing a constitutional amendment that would have blocked the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling for same-sex marriage.

A recent Quinnipiac poll put O’Rourke within striking distance of Cruz in November. Although the poll found 47 percent of Texas residents support Cruz, 44 percent back O’Rourke.

Valdez was initially reluctant to comment on the U.S. Senate race, saying she’s focused on her own, but conceded having both herself and O’Rourke on the Democratic ticket in November would have significant potential advantages.

“Of course, I want him to win,” Valdez said. “Of course, I would work with him and together both our campaigns would bring in some strong votes. He’s weak on the Hispanic vote. I’m very strong on the Hispanic vote, so a combination of both of us would more than likely bring out more voters.”

With Valdez and O’Rourke mounting strong challenges in Texas, the state could soon shift from being a “red” state to “purple” state, and a “blue” if demographics keep shifting to more a diverse population.

But Valdez said the change for a difference in election outcomes is already present because “Texas is not a red state, it’s a non-voting state” and her effort is focused on getting to the polls voters who haven’t cast ballots before.

“We’re going to go the grassroots and pull out these folks that have not been voting,” Valdez said. “And the fact is that happened with Hillary, all these people just assumed that Hillary was going to win, so we’re not going to go vote. I think Trump has been the best thing that happened to the Democrats because they’re all excited and they don’t want to see this happen again, so you have more people coming out to vote.”

Valdez said the victories of Democrats in recent special elections throughout the country and the strong Democratic turnout in the March 6 primary in Texas demonstrates Democrats are ready to head to the polls to make change.

“Something is happening, something is awakening our voters,” Valdez said. “I don’t know if it’s new voters, or the old voters just deciding maybe they better get out and vote, but we’re going to push for both of those, we’re going to push for new voters and we’re going to push for the voters that haven’t voted before. If you don’t vote, this is what we get. You need to vote to change it. You want stuff like Trump to continue, stay home, but none of us want that, so we’re going to push and get our message out and get folks to get out and vote.”

Lupe Valdez as Dallas County sheriff. (Photo courtesy Valdez campaign)

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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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