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Activists in Commonwealth countries respond to India sodomy law ruling

Colonial-era statutes being challenged in Jamaica, Barbados



Singapore, gay news, Washington Blade

Singapore, gay news, Washington Blade

Singapore is among the Commonwealth countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. (Photo public domain)

Activists in Commonwealth nations with whom the Washington Blade spoke this week said it remains unclear whether last week’s landmark India Supreme Court ruling that struck down the country’s colonial-era sodomy law will bolster efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in their own countries.

Maurice Tomlinson is a senior policy analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network who is challenging Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law. He also represents three LGBTI Barbadians who are challenging a similar statute in their country.

Tomlinson told the Washington Blade that even though the India Supreme Court ruling is not binding in other Commonwealth countries, it “will still be very persuasive.” Tomlinson also noted the India Supreme Court ruling said the country’s colonial-era sodomy law, known as Section 377, “was exported across the Commonwealth as part of the British colonizing project.”

Jamaica and Barbados, along with Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, Swaziland, Mauritius, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Samoa, still have colonial-era sodomy laws that are similar to India’s Section 377.

A judge on Trinidad and Tobago’s High Court in April struck down the country’s colonial-era sodomy law. The chief justice of the Belize Supreme Court in 2016 ruled a statute that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country is unconstitutional.

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in Kenya is challenging the country’s sodomy law.

British Prime Minister Theresa May in April said she “deeply” regrets colonial-era sodomy laws the U.K. introduced in India, which is the world’s second most-populous country, and in other Commonwealth nations. British Ambassador to the U.S. Kim Darroch in June told the Blade during an interview before he hosted a Pride month reception at the British Embassy in D.C. that Commonwealth countries that have yet to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations should do so.

“We just urge all of our friends and partners in other countries around the world to move on as we have done to make their societies more open, more liberal, to embrace anti-discrimination in relation to the LGBT community as we have,” said Darroch. “It just makes your society a better place.”

Tomlinson agreed.

“Not only has Britain apologized for imposing and exporting this law, but the constitutional rights that are violated by this egregious statute are present in most Commonwealth countries,” he told the Blade.

A State Department spokesperson told the Blade the U.S. “welcomes the decision by India’s Supreme Court on Section 377.” The U.S. Embassy in India was illuminated in rainbow colors last week to celebrate the ruling.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N.’s LGBTI rights watchdog, praised the ruling. He also urged countries that have yet to repeal their sodomy laws to do so.

“It is my sincere hope that, today, all other countries that still criminalize homosexuality and other forms of sexual orientation and gender identity, will carefully examine this ruling and decide that the time has come to bring themselves to full compliance with this human rights imperative,” he said.

Singapore faces ‘no real surrounding pressure’ to repeal sodomy law

The Delhi High Court in 2009 struck down Section 377, but the India Supreme Court in 2013 overruled the ruling. Indian lawmakers in 2015 rejected a bill that would have repealed 377.

Jean Chong, co-founder of Savoni, an organization for queer women in Singapore, told the Blade on Tuesday during a Skype interview the India ruling has sparked “a great deal of excitement” among advocates in her country.

Chong pointed out Singapore’s penal code since 1997 has only criminalized consensual sexual relations between two people of the same-sex. Chong told the Blade the Singapore government will likely ignore calls from the U.K., the U.S. and the U.N. to repeal the country’s sodomy law, in part, because Malaysia and other neighboring countries, such as Brunei, have not done so.

Two women who were convicted of having sex in a car were publicly caned in a Sharia court in the Malaysian state of Terengganu on Sept. 3. Those who are convicted of homosexuality in Brunei face the death penalty under the country’s penal code.

Advocates also continue to express concern over the ongoing anti-LGBTI crackdown in Indonesia, which is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

“If we look at our region, there is no real surrounding pressure to do the same,” Chong told the Blade, referring to Singapore and calls to repeal the country’s sodomy law.

Botswana activist optimistic country will repeal sodomy law

Kat Kai Kol-Kes, a transgender rights advocate in Botswana who contributes to the Blade, on Monday said the India Supreme Court ruling “has been received with some jubilation” in her country.

“But I recognize that it seems distant to the greater LGBT+ population in Botswana,” she added.

Batswana LGBTI rights advocates in recent years have celebrated a number of legal victories.

The country’s highest court in 2016 ruled Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, an LGBTI advocacy group, should be allowed to register with the government of Botswana. Kol-Kes reported a court last November ruled in favor of a trans man who wanted to change the gender marker on his documents.

Botswana in 2016 deported Steven Anderson, an anti-LGBTI pastor from the U.S., after he told a radio station the government should kill gays and lesbians and described the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre as “disgusting homosexuals who the Bible says were worthy of death.”

Kol-Kes told the Blade that LGBTI Batswana “aren’t quite living in isolation from the rest of the Commonwealth LGBT+ populations.” She nevertheless added their reaction to the India Supreme Court has been tempered somewhat, in part, because the country is preparing for elections that will take place next year.

“We still have a ways to go, but I think we are well on our way to seeing Botswana achieve what India did in 2009 without the 2013 hiccup,” said Kol-Kes, referring to India. “I face the 2018 ruling with hope that history won’t repeat itself and that LGBT+ people of India can map their lives without looking over their shoulders in case they are used as political pawns.”

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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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