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Cicilline: No policies ‘in place’ for detained LGBT immigrant children

Gay R.I. congressman traveled to South Texas on Sunday



U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) on June 17, 2018, speaks with reporters outside the McAllen Border Patrol Processing Center in McAllen, Texas. He said there are no specific policies “in place” to help LGBT immigrant children who have been separated from their parents. (Photo courtesy of Richard Luchette/U.S. Rep. David Cicilline)

Editor’s note: President Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order that stops the separation of immigrant children from their parents. The White House has yet to say how it will reunite them.

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) on Tuesday said there is no policy in place that specifically addresses the needs of LGBT immigrant children the Trump administration has separated from their parents.

Cicilline told the Washington Blade he asked Southwest Key Programs CEO Juan Sánchez if such a policy exists when he visited Casa Padre, a facility in Brownsville, Texas, in which nearly 1,500 boys are currently living.

Southwest Key, which is based in Austin, Texas, operates the facility that was once a Walmart supercenter. Cicilline told the Blade that Sánchez “indicated there were no policies in place that address the needs of LGBT youth.”

“That’s all he said,” said Cicilline. “They did say they attempt to address issues raised by the kids.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement oversees Casa Padre and other detention facilities in which immigrant children who have been separated from their parents are being held. The agency did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment about whether it has LGBT-specific policies in place.

An Immigration Equality spokesperson on Tuesday said their organization is “not aware of any policies” that specifically address “how to treat or help LGBTQ youth or minors living with HIV.”

‘What is underway is a barbaric system’

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security indicate 2,342 immigrant children since early May have been separated from their parents under the White House’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. The Associated Press on Tuesday reported the Trump administration has opened at least three “tender age” shelters in South Texas to house babies and young immigrant children who have been separated from their parents.

Cicilline on Sunday traveled to South Texas with U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Filemon Vela (D-Texas), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Vicente González (D-Texas) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). The lawmakers visited the McAllen Border Patrol Processing Center, the McAllen Border Patrol Station, the Hidalgo Port of Entry and the Port Isabel Detention Center.

Cicilline told the Blade he and his fellow lawmakers met with 10 women who were being held at the Port Isabel Detention Center, which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operates. Cicilline said a woman said her son was taken from her when she asked for asylum at a U.S. port of entry.

Cicilline on Twitter said he saw dozens of “kids by themselves in cages” inside the McAllen Border Patrol Processing Center.

“What is underway is a barbaric system of literally ripping children from their mothers’ arms,” Cicilline told the Blade.

Trump faces worldwide criticism over immigration policy

The Trump administration’s policy has sparked condemnation in the U.S. and around the world.

Attorneys general from D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, California, New Mexico, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington in a letter they sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen on Tuesday urges the Justice Department to “immediately cease these draconian practices.” U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have sent a similar letter to Sessions and Nielsen.

Cicilline is among the co-sponsors of the Keep Families Together Act, which would ban the Department of Homeland Security from separating migrant children from their parents, “except in extraordinary circumstances.” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is being challenged by U.S. Rep. Beto Rourke (D-Texas), has introduced a bill that seeks to “limit the separation of families seeking asylum in the United States and expedite the asylum process for individuals arriving in the United States with children.”

Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday said they would pull their respective states’ National Guard troops from the border.

Trump has continued to defend the policy in spite of these condemnations.

The Associated Press on Wednesday reported Nielsen — who left a Mexican restaurant in downtown D.C. the day before after members of Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America heckled her — is drafting an order that would end the policy. It was not immediately clear at deadline whether Trump will support it, but the Associated Press reported he said at the White House that he would sign something “in a little while.”

Cicilline bristled at the notion that Trump is using immigrant children as a bargaining chip to convince Democrats to support his immigration agenda.

“The idea that you would enact a policy to rip children from their mothers’ arms is disgusting,” Cicilline told the Blade.

Activists condemn Trump policy

LGBTI activists are among those who have also criticized Trump over this policy.

“As a nation of immigrants, the United States has stood as a beacon of hope for people around the world fleeing persecution, violence and oppression,” Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy told the Blade on Wednesday in a statement.

“The Trump-Pence administration’s attacks on immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees is an affront to our values,” he added. “Like the vast majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle, we are appalled by this administration’s policy of ripping away children from their parents at the border.”

Equality California National Policy Director Valerie Ploumpis on Tuesday said these families “have already faced such suffering, poverty, discrimination and hardship that they left everything behind for the hope of a brighter future.”

“Too many members of our LGBTQ community know that pain,” she added. “That the Trump-Pence administration would further traumatize children by ripping them from their families — perhaps never to be reunited — truly shocks the conscience.”

OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern agreed.

“There is no justification for systematically taking children away from their families,” Stern told the Blade. “There is also no justification for systematically denying migrants entry to the U.S. who in many cases are fleeing violence, persecution and even economic devastation.”

Trans Honduran woman dies in ICE custody

Violence associated with gangs and drug trafficking have prompted LGBT and intersex people from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to flee their respective countries. A lack of access to education, employment and health care have made transgender migrants in particular susceptible to discrimination, violence and exploitation.

Roxana Hernández, a trans woman from Honduras with HIV, was one of 25 trans women who were part of a 300-person caravan that traveled to the U.S. border earlier this year.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection took Hernández into custody on May 9 when she asked for asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego. An ICE press release said Hernández entered its custody on May 13 and was being housed in a unit at Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M., for trans detainees.

The press release notes Hernández was admitted to the hospital with “symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and complications associated with HIV” on May 17. Hernández died from cardiac arrest on May 25.

“She is the transsexual girl who died in the hands of the U.S. government,” said Erick Martínez, an LGBTI rights advocate in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.

Andrea, left, a transgender woman who lives in San Luis Talpa, El Salvador, eats lunch at a restaurant in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador on Sept. 23, 2017. She asked the Washington Blade not to use her real name and disclose her identity because of anti-trans violence in her hometown. Rampant violence has prompted many LGBT people in El Salvador and neighboring countries to flee. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

LGBTI rights advocates in El Salvador with whom the Blade spoke this week also reiterated their criticism of Trump’s immigration policy, which includes his continued support for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It’s sad,” said Bessy Rios, executive director of Asociación de Familiares y Amigos de Población LGBTI de la Mano Contigo. “Our people from the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — are being mistreated, discriminated against, forced to migrate and they are forced to return when they arrive to the border.”

William Hernández, director of Asociación Entre Amigos de El Salvador, agreed.

“The segregation that is occurring with the people who arrive — and above all with children — is a serious violation,” he told the Blade.

Ernesto Valle in San Salvador, El Salvador, contributed to this article.

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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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