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Gay Army chaplain struggles to save husband from deportation

ICE agents detain Honduran immigrant seeking marriage waiver



Tim Brown, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Army Capt. Tim Brown, on right, is fighting the deportation of his husband, Sergio Avila-Rodriguez. (Photo courtesy the couple)

U.S. Army Capt. Tim Brown, who was awarded two Bronze Star Medals for two tours of duty in Afghanistan, currently serves as an Army chaplain at the Fort Bragg Army base in North Carolina.

Brown, 46, says he and his husband, Honduran immigrant Sergio Avila-Rodriguez, 24, were hopeful last Thursday that a scheduled visit to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Charlotte, N.C., would bring his husband one step closer to obtaining a marriage waiver.

Avila-Rodriguez had applied for the waiver last year in an effort to obtain permanent U.S. residence and to end his status as an illegal immigrant since the time his uncle first escorted him across the U.S. border from Mexico into Texas in 2002 when he was eight years old.

But according to Brown, the couple’s hopes were shattered, at least temporarily, during their May 10 visit to the Charlotte CIS office when agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, took Avila-Rodriguez into custody.

While Brown was waiting in a nearby restaurant for what he thought would be a routine visit by his husband to assess the status of his marriage waiver application, the ICE agents told Avila-Rodriguez he was being taken to a detainment center in Georgia with plans in motion to deport him to Honduras, where he had not been since the age of 8.

Immigration officials released Avila-Rodriguez on Monday, May 14, pending a ruling on a motion his lawyer introduced on May 11 appealing a deportation order that the motion placed on hold but that could be reactivated if the motion is denied.

“I feel this was a setup,” Brown told the Washington Blade. “We went to the first marriage waiver interview a month ago,” said Brown, noting that he and an immigration attorney representing his husband went to the interview without Avila-Rodriguez at the advice of the attorney, Patrick Hatch.

Hatch told the Blade that as a precaution against potential efforts by ICE to detain immigrants in situations similar to the Avila-Rodriguez case, he routinely requests that his clients stay home while he goes to such meetings on behalf of his clients.

“So I and my husband’s attorney went in,” Brown said of the meeting last month. “And we were told they could not find Sergio’s file.”

Despite the missing file, the immigration officials agreed to make an exception and grant Avila-Rodriguez the marriage waiver, Brown said, adding, “They told us to come back again with Sergio” on May 10.

“The ICE agent told us then, ‘Do you think that I am going to detain and deport the spouse of a military officer?’” Brown said.

Attorney Hatch said based on the assurances by the immigration officials, including an ICE representative, he believed Avila-Rodriguez had cleared his main hurdle and the marriage waiver would be granted.

Brown said that when he and Avila-Rodriguez returned to the Charlotte immigration office on May 10 a guard at the entrance to the building told Brown he could not accompany Avila-Rodriguez to the meeting inside. Thinking this was a mere technicality for what would be a routine meeting to move forward with his husband’s marriage waiver application, Brown said he went to a nearby Starbucks to wait for Avila-Rodriguez to come out.

But he grew worried, he told the Blade, when he heard nothing from his husband for nearly four hours after the 9:30 a.m. meeting was scheduled to begin.

“Then I got a call from Sergio about 1:30,” said Brown. “He said they detained me and they are deporting me.”

Brown said he immediately called Hatch, who, along with other attorneys in his law firm, Hatch Rockers Immigration, tracked down the case and discovered the reason for ICE’s action. In a development that Avila-Rodriguez had long ago forgotten, Hatch learned from immigration officials that Avila-Rodriguez and his uncle were stopped at the U.S. border in 2002 and Avila-Rodriguez was ordered to return to a court in Harlingen, Texas, a short time later to deal with his illegal immigration status.

Hatch said he learned last week that Avila-Rodriguez’s uncle brought the then 8-year-old child to his parents’ home in North Carolina and never brought him back for the Texas court hearing. That prompted immigration officials in 2002 to issue a “removal order” against Avila-Rodriguez that remained in the U.S. immigration court system records for the next 16 years.

The immigration officials, including ICE agents, apparently could not find that record last month when Avila-Rodriguez was given tentative approval for his marriage waiver application. Hatch said that when they finally discovered it ICE revoked the approval of the marriage waiver.

Both Hatch and Brown said a further complicating factor was the fact that Avila-Rodriguez had been arrested in North Carolina on a misdemeanor drunk driving charge at the age of 21.

“We worked through every legal course of action to reconcile that,” said Brown, who noted that immigration officials had given preliminary approval for the marriage waiver last month despite the driving arrest.

Hatch, meanwhile, said he and his legal team worked on May 10 and 11 to file a motion to reopen the 2002 removal order case on grounds that Avila-Rodriguez was not properly notified of the hearing to which he failed to show up as an 8-year-old. According to Hatch, the filing of that motion placed an automatic stay on the deportation request initiated by ICE agents.

“He is still eligible for a marriage waiver and has a good chance for an approved waiver as the spouse of a U.S. military officer,” Hatch said.

Hatch said that Avila-Rodriguez’s status as an out gay man who’s in a same-sex marriage “should have no effect on the case.”

Pamela Wilson, a spokesperson for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ southern regional office, said the office is prohibited by law from commenting on pending cases.

Brown said he and Avila-Rodriguez first met about three years ago in Sanford, N.C., where the two lived. The couple married in January 2017 at a ceremony in Key West, Fla.

Brown has since come out publicly in the military and founded an LGBT advocacy organization called Get Out and Live, or GOaL, which he says advocates for LGBT equality and acceptance.

Hatch said Avila-Rodriguez is not eligible for the DACA program put in place under the Obama administration and which the Trump administration is attempting to rescind.

DACA allowed immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally as children to remain in the country and obtain a work permit for a two-year period that could be renewed. Although Trump issued a directive to end DACA, courts have placed a hold on discontinuing the program while efforts by supporters to block Trump from stopping the program are pending.

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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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