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Trump immigration policy prompts migrants to seek refuge in Mexico

Gay Honduran asylum seeker has ‘freedom’ in Mexico City

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Casa de Refugiados is a Mexico City-based organization that works with migrants from Central America, Haiti and other countries who are seeking refuge in Mexico. It holds workshops and other events at its community center in a Mexico City park. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MEXICO CITY — A 22-year-old gay man from Honduras’ Lempira Department was with a female friend in a park in San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city, one night in late February when a group of gang members forced them into a car.

The man, who the Washington Blade is not identifying by name or publishing his picture in order to protect his identity and the safety of his family in Honduras, said the gang members took them to a secluded location. He told the Blade they repeatedly raped his friend before killing her in front of him.

“I didn’t want to run away from her,” said the man on July 17 during an interview in a Mexico City park. “They killed her and they beat me.”

The man fled San Pedro Sula five days after the attack.

“I left because of discrimination,” said the man, who is now seeking asylum in Mexico. “I was discriminated against a lot.”

Honduras ‘was hell’

The man with whom the Blade spoke is among an increasingly number of LGBTI migrants who are seeking asylum in Mexico based on persecution they suffered in their home countries because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Anti-LGBTI violence is rampant in Honduras, which has one of the world’s highest per capita murder rates. Statistics indicate San Pedro Sula remains one of the most violent cities in the world that is not located in a war zone.

Activists in San Pedro Sula and other cities in Central America with whom the Blade has spoken in recent years have said violence and a lack of economic opportunities are the primary reasons that prompt LGBTI people to flee. Hiram Villarreal of Casa de Refugiados, a Mexico City-based group that provides assistance to migrants, regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, echoed them when he spoke with the Blade on July 17.

A newsstand in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on July 10, 2018, sells a Honduran newspaper with a front page devoted to a shootout between police officers and gang members in a San Pedro Sula suburb that left a police officer and two suspected gang members dead. The newspaper also notes the 2018 World Cup semi-final game between France and Belgium (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The man from Honduras with whom the Blade spoke receives support from Casa de Refugiados. He spoke with the Blade after attending a meeting at Casa de Refugiados’ community center in Mexico City.

He said his father beat him and kicked him out of his home “for being gay.” The man then sought refuge in San Pedro Sula where he worked as a merchant.

“It was hell for me,” he told the Blade, noting gangs extorted money from him. “I was a merchant. I liked to sell things. They took everything from me. I wasn’t able to sell anything.”

He entered Mexico near the city of Tapachula in Chiapas state after he took a bus from San Pedro Sula to Guatemala and crossing the Suchiate River. It took him nearly a month to reach Mexico City.

Villarreal said many LGBTI migrants, like the man from Honduras, enter Mexico by crossing the Suchiate River from Guatemala. He told the Blade they often stay in Tapachula or in Tenosique, a town in Tabasco state that is roughly 90 minutes from the Mexico-Guatemala border.

Casa de Refugiados has offices in Tapachula and Tenosique and works with the U.N. Refugee Agency. Villarreal said Tapachula and Tenosique are “not safe for the LGBTI community, above all for transgender women.”

Tapachula has the highest rate of reported hate crimes of any city in Mexico. Villarreal told the Blade that transgender women are also vulnerable to human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the city.

“There are many sex work networks, many sexual exploitation networks and obviously a person’s life is at risk if they refuse to go along with them,” said Villarreal. “It is an issue of survival more than an issue of whether you are a resident or not a resident.”

Villarreal also said an increasingly number of Venezuelans are now coming to Mexico to escape their homeland’s deepening economic crisis.

“People don’t migrate for one reason,” he told the Blade. “It is a mix of many (reasons.)”

‘The only thing that I can do is be patient’

A person who is seeking asylum in Mexico must formally request it within 30 days of their arrival in the country. The Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid (COMAR) will then interview the asylum seeker to determine whether their claims of persecution in their countries of origin are founded.

Mexican law says COMAR has 45 days to determine whether an asylum seeker has a valid claim. A person who is granted asylum in Mexico is able to receive documents that allow them to work legally, access the country’s public health care system and receive social security benefits.

An asylum seeker who speaks Spanish can request Mexican citizenship after three years. Non-Spanish speakers can seek citizenship after five years.

“It is a long process,” said the man from Honduras. “The only thing that I can do is be patient.”

Mexico City a ‘sanctuary city’ for immigrants

Casa de Refugiados is among the many groups that provides assistance to LGBTI migrants and others who are escaping persecution in their home countries.

Mexico City is a “sanctuary city” for migrants and also one of the most LGBTI-friendly cities in Latin America.

The Mexico City Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination (COPRED) works to provide assistance to migrants and fines those who discriminate against them. COPRED President Jacqueline L’Hoist Tapia told the Blade on July 16 during an interview at her office that Mexico City’s status as a “sanctuary city” and it’s pro-LGBTI policies allow LGBTI migrants and asylum seekers to feel welcome.

She said a trans migrant has worked at COPRED’s offices for six months. L’Hoist also said COPRED has also begun to work with the Inter-American Development Bank on a project that seeks to find ways to provide additional support to LGBTI migrants.

“I love it,” the man from Honduras told the Blade when he talked about Mexico City.

The offices of Mexico City’s Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination (COPRED) on July 16, 2018. LGBTI migrants are among the groups on whose behalf COPRED advocates. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity remains commonplace in many parts of Mexico. The man from Honduras nevertheless said he has “more freedom” in Mexico City than in his homeland.

“I can be who I am and nobody is going to abuse me,” he said.

‘Trump has created a policy of being unwelcome’ in US

He spoke with the Blade against the backdrop of outrage over President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that includes the continued separation of migrant children from their parents. Outgoing Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is among those who have repeatedly criticized the White House’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

A flyer on a wall in Mexicali, Mexico, on July 21, 2018, reads, “Death to Trump!” The city is directly across the Mexico-U.S. border from Calexico, Calif., in California’s Imperial Valley. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

L’Hoist described Trump’s policy as “inhuman.”

“American residents and citizens know much more about migrants and they know that they are not delinquents, that they are neither rapists nor drug traffickers,” she said, referring to Trump’s previous comments against Mexicans. “They are men and women who are looking for an opportunity in a country that has historically been known around the world as a country of opportunities and of immigrants and one that was built by immigration.”

Villarreal agreed, citing the Trump administration’s efforts to ban citizens from five predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.

He said one of the impacts of the White House’s immigration policy is that migrants have decided to remain in Mexico as opposed to try to enter the U.S. Activists in the city of Tijuana on the Mexico-U.S. border with whom the Blade spoke on July 20 echoed this account.

“Trump has created a policy of being unwelcome,” said Villarreal. “It motivates people to stay and not go north.”

The wall that marks the Mexico-U.S. border from the beach in Tijuana, Mexico, on July 20, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The man from Honduras with whom the Blade spoke does not have any relatives who live in the U.S. He nevertheless criticized Trump’s policies.

“It is very difficult with children who remain separated from their parents,” he said. “I feel very bad. It is very cruel.”

“We are all human beings and each of us did not leave our countries for one reason or another; because of poverty, because of gangs, because of all of it,” added the man.

The man said he plans to stay in Mexico City where he would like to finish high school.

“I don’t have it (my diploma) because I was afraid because of discrimination in schools on the part of teachers and my classmates,” he said. “I was unable to finish my secondary education.”

Mexico City, gay news, Washington Blade

Mexico City (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Política migratoria de Trump provoca migrantes LGBTI de buscar refugio en México

CIUDAD DE MEXICO — Un hombre de 22 años del departamento de Lempira de Honduras estaba con una amiga en un parque en San Pedro Sula, la segunda ciudad más grande del país, una noche en el fin de febrero cuando un grupo de pandilleros los forzaron a entrar en un carro.

El hombre, que el Washington Blade no identifica por nombre o publica su foto para proteger su identidad y mantener la seguridad de su familia en Honduras, dijo los pandilleros los tomaron a un lugar aislada. El dijo al Blade que violaron repetidamente a su amiga antes de matarla enfrente de el.

“No me quiso correr de ella,” dijo el hombre el 17 de julio durante una entrevista en un parque en la Ciudad de México. “La mataron y a mi me golpearon.”

Se huyó de San Pedro Sula cinco días después del ataque.

“Salí de (San Pedro Sula) por discriminación,” dijo el hombre, que ahora está buscando asilo en México. “Me discriminaba mucho.”

El hombre con que habló el Blade es entre un creciente número de migrantes LGBTI que están buscando asilo en México por la persecución que sufrían en sus países natales por razones de su orientación sexual y/o identidad de género.

Violencia contra la comunidad LGBTI es común en Honduras, uno de los países más violentos del mundo. Estadísticas indican que San Pedro Sula sigue ser una de las ciudades más violentas del mundo que está fuera de una zona de guerra.

Activistas en San Pedro Sula y otras ciudades en Centroamérica con que el Blade ha hablado durante los años recientes han dicho que la violencia y una falta de oportunidades económicas son las razones principales que provocan a las personas LGBTI de huirse. Hiram Villarreal de Casa de Refugiados, un grupo en la Ciudad de México que proporciona asistencia a los migrantes, independientemente de su orientación sexual y/o identidad de género, estaba de acuerdo con ellos cuando habló con el Blade el 17 de julio.

El hombre hondureño que habló al Blade recibe apoyo de Casa de Refugiados. Habló con el Blade después de asistir una reunión a un centro comunitario de Casa de Refugiados en Ciudad de México.

Dijo que su padre lo golpeaban y lo sacó de su casa “por ser gay.” El hombre pues buscaba refugio en San Pedro Sula donde trabajaba como comerciante.

“Fue un infierno para mi,” dijo al Blade, notando que las pandillas le extorsionaron a el. “Yo era comerciante. Me gustaba vender. Me robaron todo. No podía vender nada.”

El entró México cerca de la ciudad de Tapachula en Chiapas después de tomar un autobús desde San Pedro Sula a Guatemala y cruzar el Río Suchiate. Se pasó casi un mes para llegar a Ciudad de México.

Villarreal dijo que muchos migrantes LGBTI, como el hombre hondureño, entran México por cruzar el Río Suchiate desde Guatemala. El dijo al Blade que frecuentemente se alojan en Tapachula o en Tenosique, una municipalidad en Tabasco que está casi 90 minutos de la frontera entre México y Guatemala.

Casa de Refugiados tiene oficinas en Tapachula y Tenosique y trabaja con la Agencia de la ONU para los Refugiados. Villarreal dijo que Tapachula y Tenosique no son seguros “para la comunidad LGBTI, sobre todo mujeres trans.”

Tapachula tiene la incidencia de crímenes de odio más alta de cualquier ciudad en México. Villarreal dijo al Blade que las mujeres trans también son vulnerables a la trata de personas y la explotación sexual en la ciudad.

“Hay muchas redes de trabajo sexual, muchas redes de explotación sexual y obviamente si una persona se niega colaborar su vida está en peligro,” dijo Villarreal. “Más que un tema de si es un residente o no es residente es un tema de sobrevivencia.”

Villarreal también dijo que un creciente número de venezolanos ahora están viniendo a México para escapar la profundización de la crisis económica en su patria.

“La gente no migra por una razón,” dijo al Blade. “Es una mezcla de muchas.”

Una persona que está buscando asilo en México debe solicitarlo formalmente dentro de los 30 días de su llegada en el país. La Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados (COMAR) se entrevistará a ellos para determinar si sus reclamos de persecución en sus países de origen son válidos.

COMAR bajo la ley mexicana tiene 45 días para determinar si un solicitante de asilo tiene un reclamo válido. Una persona si se le ortega asilo en México puede recibir documentos que les permiten a trabajar legalmente, acceder al sistema de salud pública del país y recibir beneficios de seguridad social.

Un solicitante de asilo que habla español puede solicitar ciudadanía mexicana después de tres años. Solicitantes de asilo no hispanohablantes pueden solicitar ciudadanía después

“Es un proceso largo,” dijo el hombre hondureño. “Solo hay que tener paciencia.”

Casa de Refugiados está entre la gran cantidad de grupos que proporciona asistencia a los migrantes LGBTI y otros que están escapando de la persecución en sus países natales.

Ciudad de México es una “ciudad santuaria” para migrantes y también es una de las ciudades más LGBTI-friendly en América Latina.

El Consejo para Prevenir y Eliminar la Discriminación de la Ciudad de México (COPRED) trabaja para proporcionar asistencia a migrantes y multa a ellos que discriminan contra ellos. Jacqueline L’Hoist Tapia, presidenta de COPRED, dijo al Blade el 16 de julio durante una entrevista en su oficina que el estatus de Ciudad de México como una “ciudad santuaria” y sus políticas pro-LGBTI permite a los migrantes LGBTI y solicitantes de asilo de sentirse bienvenidos.

Ella dijo que un migrante trans ha trabajado a la sede de COPRED por seis meses. L’Hoist también dijo que COPRED ha empezado de trabajar con el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo en un proyecto que busca proporcionar apoyo adicional a los migrantes LGBTI.

“Me encanta,” el hombre hondureño dijo al Blade cuando habló sobre Ciudad de México.

La discriminación y la violencia basada en la orientación sexual y/o la identidad de género sigue ser común en muchas partes de México. El hombre hondureño aunque dijo que tiene “más libertad” en Ciudad de México que en su patria.

“I can be who I am and nobody is going to abuse me,” he said.

“Puedo ser lo que sea yo y nada me abusa,” dijo.

Habló con el Blade contra el contexto de la indignación sobre la política migratoria de “tolerancia cero” del presidente Trump que incluye la continua separación de niños migrantes de sus padres. El saliente presidente mexicano Enrique Peña Nieto está entre ellos que han criticado en repetidas ocasiones el plan de la Casa Blanca de construir un muro en la frontera de los EEUU y México.

L’Hoist describió la política de Trump como “inhumana.”

“Los habitantes y los ciudadanos norteamericanos conocen mucho mejor a las personas migrantes y ellos saben que no son delincuentes, ni violadores, ni son narcotraficantes,” ella dijo, refiriéndose a los previos dichos de Trump en contra de los mexicanos. “Son hombres y mujeres que buscan una oportunidad en un país que es históricamente se ha dado a conocer en el mundo por ser un país de oportunidades y de inmigrantes y construido por la inmigración.”

Villarreal estaba de acuerdo, citando a los esfuerzos de la administración de Trump de prohibir a los ciudadanos de cinco países predominantemente musulmanes de entrar los EEUU.

El dijo que uno de los impactos de la política migratoria de la Casa Blanca es que los migrantes han decidido de quedarse en México, en lugar de tratar de entrar los EEUU. Activistas en la ciudad de Tijuana en la frontera de los EEUU y México que hablaron al Blade el 20 de julio estaban de acuerdo.

“Trump ha criado una política de no ser bienvenidos,” dijo Villarreal. “Motiva a la gente de quedarse y no irse.”

La cerca fronteriza en la frontera de México y los EEUU en Mexicali, Mexico, el 21 de julio de 2018. (Foto de Washington Blade de Michael K. Lavers)

El hombre hondureño que habló al Blade no tiene familia que vive en los EEUU. Aunque criticó las políticas de Trump.

“Está muy difícil con los niños dejar como separarlos de los padres,” dijo. “Me siento muy feo. Está muy cruel.”

“Todos somos seres humanos y cada quien no estuvimos por el país por alguna razón: Por pobreza, por maras, por todo esto,” añadió el hombre.

El hombre dijo que planea quedarse en Ciudad de México donde quisiera terminar sus estudios secundarios.

“No la tuve por miedo . . . de la discriminación en escuelas por parte de maestros y mis compañeros,” dijo. “No pude terminar mi secundaria.”

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Equality Act, contorted as a danger by anti-LGBTQ forces, is all but dead

No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise

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Despite having President Biden in the White House and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, efforts to update federal civil rights laws to strengthen the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people by passing the Equality Act are all but dead as opponents of the measure have contorted it beyond recognition.

Political willpower is lacking to find a compromise that would be acceptable to enough Republican senators to end a filibuster on the bill — a tall order in any event — nor is there the willpower to force a vote on the Equality Act as opponents stoke fears about transgender kids in sports and not even unanimity in the Democratic caucus in favor of the bill is present, stakeholders who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity said.

In fact, there are no imminent plans to hold a vote on the legislation even though Pride month is days away, which would be an opportune time for Congress to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBTQ community by holding a vote on the legislation.

If the Equality Act were to come up for a Senate vote in the next month, it would not have the support to pass. Continued assurances that bipartisan talks are continuing on the legislation have yielded no evidence of additional support, let alone the 10 Republicans needed to end a filibuster.

“I haven’t really heard an update either way, which is usually not good,” one Democratic insider said. “My understanding is that our side was entrenched in a no-compromise mindset and with [Sen. Joe] Manchin saying he didn’t like the bill, it doomed it this Congress. And the bullying of hundreds of trans athletes derailed our message and our arguments of why it was broadly needed.”

The only thing keeping the final nail from being hammered into the Equality Act’s coffin is the unwillingness of its supporters to admit defeat. Other stakeholders who spoke to the Blade continued to assert bipartisan talks are ongoing, strongly pushing back on any conclusion the legislation is dead.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Equality Act is “alive and well,” citing widespread public support he said includes “the majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents and a growing number of communities across the country engaging and mobilizing every day in support of the legislation.”

“They understand the urgent need to pass this bill and stand up for LGBTQ people across our country,” David added. “As we engage with elected officials, we have confidence that Congress will listen to the voices of their constituents and continue fighting for the Equality Act through the lengthy legislative process.  We will also continue our unprecedented campaign to grow the already-high public support for a popular bill that will save lives and make our country fairer and more equal for all. We will not stop until the Equality Act is passed.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate, also signaled through a spokesperson work continues on the legislation, refusing to give up on expectations the legislation would soon become law.

“Sen. Merkley and his staff are in active discussions with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to get this done,” McLennan said. “We definitely see it as a key priority that we expect to become law.”

A spokesperson Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had promised to force a vote on the Equality Act in the Senate on the day the U.S. House approved it earlier this year, pointed to a March 25 “Dear Colleague” letter in which he identified the Equality Act as one of several bills he’d bring up for a vote.

Despite any assurances, the hold up on the bill is apparent. Although the U.S. House approved the legislation earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t even reported out the bill yet to the floor in the aftermath of the first-ever Senate hearing on the bill in March. A Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic aide, however, disputed that inaction as evidence the Equality Act is dead in its tracks: “Bipartisan efforts on a path forward are ongoing.”

Democrats are quick to blame Republicans for inaction on the Equality Act, but with Manchin withholding his support for the legislation they can’t even count on the entirety of their caucus to vote “yes” if it came to the floor. Progressives continue to advocate an end to the filibuster to advance legislation Biden has promised as part of his agenda, but even if they were to overcome headwinds and dismantle the institution needing 60 votes to advance legislation, the Equality Act would likely not have majority support to win approval in the Senate with a 50-50 party split.

The office of Manchin, who has previously said he couldn’t support the Equality Act over concerns about public schools having to implement the transgender protections applying to sports and bathrooms, hasn’t responded to multiple requests this year from the Blade on the legislation and didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article.

Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who declined to co-sponsor the Equality Act this year after having signed onto the legislation in the previous Congress, insisted through a spokesperson talks are still happening across the aisle despite the appearances the legislation is dead.

“There continues to be bipartisan support for passing a law that protects the civil rights of Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Annie Clark, a Collins spokesperson. “The Equality Act was a starting point for negotiations, and in its current form, it cannot pass. That’s why there are ongoing discussions among senators and stakeholders about a path forward.”

Let’s face it: Anti-LGBTQ forces have railroaded the debate by making the Equality Act about an end to women’s sports by allowing transgender athletes and danger to women in sex-segregated places like bathrooms and prisons. That doesn’t even get into resolving the issue on drawing the line between civil rights for LGBTQ people and religious freedom, which continues to be litigated in the courts as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected any day now to issue a ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia to determine if foster care agencies can reject same-sex couples over religious objections.

For transgender Americans, who continue to report discrimination and violence at high rates, the absence of the Equality Act may be most keenly felt.

Mara Keisling, outgoing executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, disputed any notion the Equality Act is dead and insisted the legislation is “very much alive.”

“We remain optimistic despite misinformation from the opposition,” Keisling said. “NCTE and our movement partners are still working fruitfully on the Equality Act with senators. In fact, we are gaining momentum with all the field organizing we’re doing, like phone banking constituents to call their senators. Legislating takes time. Nothing ever gets through Congress quickly. We expect to see a vote during this Congress, and we are hopeful we can win.”

But one Democratic source said calls to members of Congress against the Equality Act, apparently coordinated by groups like the Heritage Foundation, have has outnumbered calls in favor of it by a substantial margin, with a particular emphasis on Manchin.

No stories are present in the media about same-sex couples being kicked out of a restaurant for holding hands or transgender people for using the restroom consistent with their gender identity, which would be perfectly legal in 25 states thanks to the patchwork of civil rights laws throughout the United States and inadequate protections under federal law.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the American Unity Fund, which has bolstered the Republican-led Fairness for All Act as an alternative to the Equality Act, said he continues to believe the votes are present for a compromise form of the bill.

“I know for a fact there is a supermajority level of support in the Senate for a version of the Equality Act that is fully protective of both LGBTQ civil rights and religious freedom,” Deaton said. “There is interest on both sides of the aisle in getting something done this Congress.”

Deaton, however, didn’t respond to a follow-up inquiry on what evidence exists of agreeing on this compromise.

Biden has already missed the goal he campaigned on in the 2020 election to sign the Equality Act into law within his first 100 days in office. Although Biden renewed his call to pass the legislation in his speech to Congress last month, as things stand now that appears to be a goal he won’t realize for the remainder of this Congress.

Nor has the Biden administration made the Equality Act an issue for top officials within the administration as it pushes for an infrastructure package as a top priority. One Democratic insider said Louisa Terrell, legislative affairs director for the White House, delegated work on the Equality Act to a deputy as opposed to handling it herself.

To be sure, Biden has demonstrated support for the LGBTQ community through executive action at an unprecedented rate, signing an executive order on day one ordering federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County to the fullest extent possible and dismantling former President Trump’s transgender military ban. Biden also made historic LGBTQ appointments with the confirmation of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health.

A White House spokesperson insisted Biden’s team across the board remains committed to the Equality Act, pointing to his remarks to Congress.

“President Biden has urged Congress to get the Equality Act to his desk so he can sign it into law and provide long overdue civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans, and he remains committed to seeing this legislation passed as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said. “The White House and its entire legislative team remains in ongoing and close coordination with organizations, leaders, members of Congress, including the Equality Caucus, and staff to ensure we are working across the aisle to push the Equality Act forward.”

But at least in the near-term, that progress will fall short of fulfilling the promise of updating federal civil rights law with the Equality Act, which will mean LGBTQ people won’t be able to rely on those protections when faced with discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

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D.C. bill to ban LGBTQ panic defense delayed by Capitol security

Delivery of bill to Congress was held up due to protocols related to Jan. 6 riots

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New fencing around the Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented some D.C. bills from being delivered to the Hill for a required congressional review. (Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A bill approved unanimously last December by the D.C. Council to ban the so-called LGBTQ panic defense has been delayed from taking effect as a city law because the fence installed around the U.S. Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented the law from being delivered to Congress.

According to Eric Salmi, communications director for D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who guided the bill through the Council’s legislative process, all bills approved by the Council and signed by the D.C. mayor must be hand-delivered to Congress for a required congressional review.

“What happened was when the Capitol fence went up after the January insurrection, it created an issue where we physically could not deliver laws to Congress per the congressional review period,” Salmi told the Washington Blade.

Among the bills that could not immediately be delivered to Congress was the Bella Evangelista and Tony Hunter Panic Defense Prohibition and Hate Crimes Response Amendment Act of 2020, which was approved by the Council on a second and final vote on Dec. 15.

Between the time the bill was signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser and published in the D.C. Register under procedural requirements for all bills, it was not ready to be transmitted to Congress until Feb. 16, the Council’s legislative record for the bill shows.

Salmi said the impasse in delivering the bill to Congress due to the security fence prevented the bill from reaching Congress on that date and prevented the mandatory 60-day congressional review period for this bill from beginning at that time. He noted that most bills require a 30 legislative day review by Congress.

But the Evangelista-Hunter bill, named after a transgender woman and a gay man who died in violent attacks by perpetrators who attempted to use the trans and gay panic defense, includes a law enforcement related provision that under the city’s Home Rule Charter passed by Congress in the early 1970s requires a 60-day congressional review.

“There is a chance it goes into effect any day now, just given the timeline is close to being up,” Salmi said on Tuesday. “I don’t know the exact date it was delivered, but I do know the countdown is on,” said Salmi, who added, “I would expect any day now it should go into effect and there’s nothing stopping it other than an insurrection in January.”

If the delivery to Congress had not been delayed, the D.C. Council’s legislative office estimated the congressional review would have been completed by May 12.

A congressional source who spoke on condition of being identified only as a senior Democratic aide, said the holdup of D.C. bills because of the Capitol fence has been corrected.

“The House found an immediate workaround, when this issue first arose after the Jan. 6 insurrection,” the aide said.

“This is yet another reason why D.C. Council bills should not be subject to a congressional review period and why we need to grant D.C. statehood,” the aide said.

The aide added that while no disapproval resolution had been introduced in Congress to overturn the D.C. Evangelista-Hunter bill, House Democrats would have defeated such a resolution.

“House Democrats support D.C. home rule, statehood, and LGBTQ rights,” said the aide.

LGBTQ rights advocates have argued that a ban on using a gay or transgender panic defense in criminal trials is needed to prevent defense attorneys from inappropriately asking juries to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is to blame for a defendant’s criminal act, including murder.

Some attorneys have argued that their clients “panicked” after discovering the person against whom they committed a violent crime was gay or transgender, prompting them to act in a way they believed to be a form of self-defense.

In addition to its provision banning the LGBTQ panic defense, the Evangelista-Hunter bill includes a separate provision that strengthens the city’s existing hate crimes law by clarifying that hatred need not be the sole motivating factor for an underlying crime such as assault, murder, or threats to be prosecuted as a hate crime.

LGBTQ supportive prosecutors have said the clarification was needed because it is often difficult to prove to a jury that hatred is the only motive behind a violent crime. The prosecutors noted that juries have found defendants not guilty of committing a hate crime on grounds that they believed other motives were involved in a particular crime after defense lawyers argued that the law required “hate” to be the only motive in order to find someone guilty of a hate crime.

Salmi noted that while the hate crime clarification and panic defense prohibition provisions of the Evangelista-Hunter bill will become law as soon as the congressional review is completed, yet another provision in the bill will not become law after the congressional review because there are insufficient funds in the D.C. budget to cover the costs of implementing the provision.

The provision gives the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Office of the D.C. Attorney General authority to investigate hate related discrimination at places of public accommodation. Salmi said the provision expands protections against discrimination to include web-based retailers or online delivery services that are not physically located in D.C.

“That is subject to appropriations,” Salmi said. “And until it is funded in the upcoming budget it cannot be legally enforced.”

He said that at Council member Allen’s request, the Council added language to the bill that ensures that all other provisions of the legislation that do not require additional funding – including the ban on use of the LGBTQ panic defense and the provision clarifying that hatred doesn’t have to be the sole motive for a hate crime – will take effect as soon as the congressional approval process is completed.

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D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011

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shooting, DC Eagle, assault, hate crime, anti-gay attack, police discrimination, sex police, Sisson, gay news, Washington Blade

A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.

According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.

Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.

“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”

The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”

Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.

Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.

In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.

“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.

Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.

The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.

In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”

At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.

The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.

In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.

The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.

It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.

Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.

The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.

The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.

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