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Catania, former mayor back opponent of lesbian candidate for Council

Dionne Reeder leads in fundraising for hotly contested at-large seat



Dionne Reeder, gay news, Washington Blade

Dionne Reeder is running for D.C. Council as an independent. (Photo via Reeder Campaign Twitter)

In a development that has surprised some political observers, gay former D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) and former D.C. mayor and longtime LGBT community ally Anthony Williams (D) have signed on as co-chairs for the campaign of recently declared at-large Council candidate S. Kathryn Allen.

Allen, who recently changed her party affiliation from Democrat to independent, is an attorney who served as the city’s insurance commissioner while Williams was mayor and currently owns two local insurance related businesses.

Catania and Williams’s decision to back her is being viewed by some as an effort to help her surpass lesbian businesswoman and at-large Council candidate Dionne Reeder as the front runner in the race against incumbent Council member Elissa Silverman and as the preferred candidate of the city’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Reeder, who also worked in the Williams administration as his mayoral coordinator for neighborhood services in Ward 8, is the current owner of Cheers at the Big Chair, one of the few full-service restaurants in the city’s Anacostia neighborhood. Reeder is also running as an independent.

Representatives of the business community have been open about their strong opposition to Silverman because of her role as a leading sponsor for controversial legislation approved by the Council requiring employers to provide private sector workers paid family leave financed by a newly created business tax.

Allen has joined Reeder in expressing opposition to the version of the family leave legislation backed by Silverman and passed by the Council. Mayor Muriel Bowser also opposed the legislation but decided not to veto it. Reeder has said the legislation should be revised so that small businesses are not hit with what they consider an unfair burden of paying for it through a special tax.

In addition to Reeder and Allen, three other independent candidates are running in the race for two at-large Council seats, one of which is held by Silverman and the other held by Democrat Anita Bonds. Bonds and Silverman have been strong supporters of LGBT rights.

Under the city’s election law, a Democrat is eligible for only one of the two at-large seats. With Democrats comprising the overwhelming majority of registered voters, Bonds is considered the strong favorite to win re-election to the so-called “Democratic” seat. That reality has created a hotly contested race among mostly independents for the second seat.

In a process that sometimes confuses voters, all of the candidates are lumped together on the same ballot in the Nov. 6 general election, and voters can vote for two candidates. The two receiving the highest vote counts are declared the winners.

And although a Democrat is only eligible for one of the two seats, a non-Democrat, including an independent, can theoretically win both seats if they receive more votes than the Democrat. However, that has never happened since the city’s home rule government took effect in 1974.

With that as a backdrop, Reeder’s supporters were hopeful that she would win more votes than Silverman through a coalition that included the business community, the LGBT community, and moderate to progressive voters across the city. Some LGBT activists consider Reeder a highly qualified and credible candidate who could once again bring an LGBT voice to the Council following Catania’s departure due to his unsuccessful run for mayor in 2014.

They and some political observers have pointed out that Silverman may be vulnerable this year because she is considered to be to the left of most of the Council’s progressive incumbents in a year in which every candidate challenging the incumbents from a further left-leaning position lost their races in the city’s June 19 Democratic primary.

Meanwhile, the campaign finance reports filed by the at-large candidates with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance on June 10, the most recent reports filed, show that Reeder is leading the field in money raised. Her June 10 report shows she has raised $84,399 compared to Silverman, whose report shows she raised $79,847 as of June 10.

The OCF did not have a report for Allen in its website records, possibly because she entered the race after the most recent filing deadline. But on her campaign website she announced that her campaign has raised $37,017 since she became an official candidate.

Among the remaining independent candidates, University of the District of Columbia professor Rustin Lewis raised $16,648; and American University Professor Omekongo Dibinga raised $4,094. The OCF had no records available on its website for independent candidate Traci Hughes, the former director of the D.C. Office of Open Government.

The filing deadline for running for a D.C. Council seat as an independent in the general election is Aug. 8, so more candidates could still enter the race for the non-Democratic at-large seat.

Silverman, a journalist and former analyst with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, takes strong exception to claims by critics that the family leave legislation is overly burdensome to small businesses. She has argued that in a city experiencing a severe affordable housing shortage and high cost of living, paid family leave for middle and low income workers is a necessity. Critics, including Reeder, however, point out that the legislation forces D.C. private sector employers to provide the paid family leave to employees who live in Virginia and Maryland as well as D.C. residents.

In a story about Allen’s candidacy in its Sunday edition the Washington Post reported that Silverman considers Allen to be a “tool” of the business community and that Catania and Williams were “out of step” with the needs of D.C. residents in their support for Allen.

Allen told the Washington Blade she disputes that assessment, saying her experience as a business regulator and business owner provides her with important experience for a balanced approach for the needs of city residents.

Asked where she stands on LGBT rights, Allen said, “I am absolutely 100 percent supportive of LGBTQ rights.”

The Blade also asked her what message she would have for LGBT voters who would have a choice between her and Reeder, a longtime advocate for LGBT rights who could become the Council’s only LGBT member.

“I would offer that in no way am I trying to say that I’m better, worse, or whatever,” Allen said. “But I do believe that David Catania, who I know was the first openly gay Council member – the fact that he chose to support me is not something he did lightly,” she told the Blade.

“And for that matter, former Mayor Tony Williams didn’t do that lightly,” she said. “They both strongly believe in what I can bring and believe in who I am as a person. They’ve both known me for close to 20 years.”

Catania couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Reeder told the Blade she doesn’t believe Catania and Williams’ support for Allen will impact her campaign in a negative way. But she said their decision to back another candidate with views similar to hers on some issues would be detrimental to the large number of people who believe someone new should replace Silverman on the Council.

She said the fact that she is leading in fundraising, especially among small donors, shows that her campaign has momentum and has broad grassroots support.

“So I’m still in this race and I see a really clear path to victory,” she said. “And despite the special interests and Mayor Williams and Mr. Catania taking the lead in backing another candidate, I am by no means intimidated nor do I feel discouraged,”  she said.

Although she didn’t say so directly she suggested that Allen’s candidacy could divide the opposition vote in a way that will help Silverman. She pointed to her more than 20 years of experience in a wide range of areas, including her stint as a legislative assistant to a member of Congress; a stint with the non-profit D.C. Community Prevention Partnership where she helped young people prepare for admission to college, and her work on a city program to curtail youth violence.

“I think it’s time for us to unite ourselves collectively behind a candidate not because that candidate has the special interests of the establishment behind them but who is committed to work for the betterment of the people of this city,” she said.

Earl Fowlkes, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBT political organization, said the club has yet to decide whether it will make an endorsement for the non-Democratic seat in the at-large Council race. He said the club would endorse Bonds at an upcoming meeting.

In addition to Bonds and the independent candidates running for the two at-large seats, Libertarian Party candidate Denise Hicks and Statehood Green Party candidate David Schwartzman will also be on the ballot for the at-large seats in the Nov. 6 general election.

Although no Republican candidate appeared on the city’s June 19 primary ballot for the at-large seats, one or more Republicans received 536 write-in votes, according to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. The board has yet to vet those who received those votes to determine if they wish to be placed on the ballot.

Another gay independent candidate, community activist and professional sign language translator Jamie Sycamore, is running for the Ward 1 Council seat held by incumbent Brianne Nadeau, who won the Democratic primary on June 19 by a lopsided margin. Her campaign finance report shows she has raised $243,935 compared to Sycamore, whose report says he has raised $3,612 as of June 10.

Among the Democratic candidates that lost to Nadeau was gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and law librarian Kent Boese.

Two other independent candidates running for the Ward 1 seat, Greg Boyd and Anthony Greene, had no finance reports posted on the OCF website.

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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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