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EXCLUSIVE: Nicaragua activists attend Victory Institute workshop

Anti-government protests have left hundreds dead

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Five activists from Nicaragua attended a Victory Institute-sponsored workshop in Honduras that took place from Sept. 28-29. (Photo public domain)

SANTA LUCÍA, Honduras — Five activists from Nicaragua who are participating in protests against their country’s government attended a regional LGBTI workshop that took place in Honduras over the weekend.

The activists — who are from the Nicaraguan capital of Managua and the city of Chinandega — are among the 28 people who attended the Victory Institute-sponsored workshop that took place outside the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa from Sept. 28-29.

SOMOS CDC, Asociación Lambda and Caribe Afirmativo — three LGBTI advocacy groups that are based in Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia respectively — also organized the workshop.

The workshop, which is one of three that are scheduled to take place in Central America over the coming months, took place less than six months after protests against the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, broke out over proposed cuts to social security benefits and the government’s response to a fire at the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve on the country’s Caribbean coast.

Reports indicate more than 500 people have been killed since the protests began on April 18. The activists asked the Washington Blade not to identify them by name or to publish their pictures because of concerns over their safety.

One activist, a gay man from Chinandega, noted the National LGBTIQ Roundtable of Nicaragua was among the first organizations that urged the government to stop using violence against the protesters. The activist pointed out the National LGBTIQ Roundtable of Nicaragua on June 15 issued another communiqué that called upon the government to participate in a dialogue with protest leaders the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Roman Catholic bishops had brokered.

The group also demanded “the end to repression at all levels and across Nicaragua” and the release of “all people who have been illegally imprisoned.”

“The National LGBTIQ Roundtable of Nicaragua strongly repudiates all of the violent actions the Ortega Murillo regime has carried out against the Nicaraguan people,” reads the communiqué.

Activist: LGBTI Nicaraguans have been killed

William Ramírez Cerda, a gay rights activist, was among the more than 200 people who were trapped inside a church on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in Managua in July when pro-government forces surrounded it. Ramírez told the Blade during an interview after the 15-hour siege that a student who was shot in the head outside the church died.

The gay activist from Chinandega told the Blade that LGBTI people have been killed in his city during the anti-government protests. An activist from Managua who describes herself as a “lesbian woman” and “feminist organizer” said there are currently 11 LGBTI political prisoners in Nicaragua.

The activists also said the government has launched a “disinformation campaign” on social media to target LGBTI activists and others who are taking part in the protests.

A screenshot the gay activist from Chinandega sent to the Blade contains a picture of a “wanted terrorist” who is described as a “promoter of hate and violence through his social media networks.” Another screenshot of a Facebook page that was taken on Aug. 29 contains pictures of activists who are described as “right-wing terrorist murders.”

“The disinformation campaign is directly targeting LGBT activists who have played a visible role in the struggle,” said the gay activist from Chinandega.

Other activists with whom the Blade spoke said they have been threatened by government sympathizers.

A gay activist from Managua said he brought medicine and other supplies to students who had occupied two universities. He also told the Blade he saw members of Nicaragua’s National Police kill protesters.

The activist said government sympathizers in his neighborhood “threaten me a lot.”

“Sometimes I have to go to the other side of Managua in order to visit my relatives,” he told the Blade.

A transgender activist from Managua told the Blade she tries to keep a low profile because many of her neighbors support the government. The activist said a trans colleague was forced to cut her hair while she was in custody.

“We have begun to be more careful when we make any comments on Facebook, any publication,” she told the Blade. “My family’s security is always more important than my own.”

A female activist from Chinandega was studying at a Managua university when the protests began. She said the unrest prompted her to resign from her job and return to Chinandega.

“It has affected me directly,” said the activist.

The gay activist from Chinandega told the Blade the National Police has stopped him three times. He said he is now living with his sister “because of what the police have done.”

“I am not living in my house,” he told the Blade.

Three Nicaragua officials under U.S. sanctions

Ortega — who led the Sandinista movement that toppled then-dictator Anastasio Somoza’s government in 1979 — has been Nicaragua’s president since 2007. There were no visible anti-government protests in Managua when the Blade reported from the city at the end of the February, even though opposition leaders have said Nicaragua has become more authoritarian under Ortega and Murillo’s rule.

A billboard in Managua, Nicaragua, on Feb. 27, 2018, promotes Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo. Anti-government protests in the Central American country have left hundreds of people dead. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The U.S. in July sanctioned National Police Commissioner Francisco Javier Díaz Madriz and two other high-ranking government officials under the 2016 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act that freezes the assets of foreign citizens who commit human rights abuses and bans them from entering the U.S. The activists with whom the Blade spoke said they support increased sanctions against the Ortega Murillo government as opposed to possible military intervention from the U.S. and/or other countries to oust it from power.

“What we don’t agree with from my point of view is a military intervention,” said the gay activist from Chinandega.

The activist who left Managua and returned to Chinandega after the protests began echoed her colleagues who said Ortega and Murillo need to resign. The activist also said the government’s supporters who have positions within Nicaraguan institutions must also step down.

“There is impunity,” the activist told the Blade.

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Trans woman sues D.C. Jail for placing her in men’s unit

Lawsuit charges city with exposing inmates to ‘risk of sexual violence’

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Sunday Hinton (Photo courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C.)

The American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. and the D.C. Public Defender Service filed a class action lawsuit on May 11 on behalf of a transgender woman being held in the D.C. Jail on grounds that the city violated its own Human Rights Act and the woman’s constitutional rights by placing her in the men’s housing facility at the jail.

The lawsuit charges that D.C. Department of Corrections officials violated local and federal law by placing D.C. resident Sunday Hinton in the men’s unit at the D.C. Jail against her wishes without following a longstanding DOC policy of bringing the decision of where she should be placed before the DOC’s Transgender Housing Committee.

The committee, which includes members of the public, including transgender members, makes recommendations on whether a transgender inmate should be placed in either the men’s or the women’s housing unit based on their gender identity along with other considerations, including whether a trans inmate’s safety could be at risk. Under the policy, DOC officials must give strong consideration to the recommendations of the committee.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says the committee has not met or acted on any trans-related jail housing matter since January 2020.

It says Hinton was taken to the D.C. Jail on April 26 after a judge ordered her held following an arrest for an alleged unarmed burglary in which she attempted to take $20.

It notes that the Department of Corrections has a “default” policy of placing transgender inmates in either the male or female housing unit at the D.C. Jail and other city detention holding facilities based on the inmate’s “anatomy.” If a female transgender inmate is anatomically male, the inmate – barring other mitigating circumstances – is placed in the male housing facility under the default policy. Similarly, a male transgender inmate who is anatomically female is placed by default in the women’s housing unit under the DOC policy.

“DOC’s policy of focusing on anatomy rather than gender identity is both discriminatory and dangerous,” the ACLU says in a statement released on the day it filed the lawsuit on Hinton’s behalf. “It forces trans individuals, particularly trans women, to choose between a heightened risk of sexual violence and a near-certain mental health crisis,” ACLU attorney Megan Yan said in the statement.

Yan was referring to yet another DOC policy that sometimes gives a transgender inmate placed in a housing unit contrary to their gender identity the option of being placed in “protective custody,” which the lawsuit calls another name for solitary confinement. The ACLU and the Public Defender Service have said solitary confinement in prisons is known to result in serious psychological harm to inmates placed in such confinement.

“Because DOC’s unconstitutional policy exposes every transgender individual in its custody to discrimination, degradation, and risk of sexual violence, Ms. Hinton seeks, on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals, a court order that strikes down DOC’s unlawful focus on anatomy as the touchstone for its housing decisions regarding transgender individuals,” the lawsuit states.

It further calls on the DOC to use “gender identity, not anatomy, as the default basis for housing assignments” for transgender inmates and to provide all trans individuals a prompt hearing by the DOC Transgender Housing Committee.

It calls for the DOC to be required to implement the recommendations of the Housing Committee “so that each person is housed as safely as possible and without discrimination.”

In addition to the lawsuit, Hinton’s attorneys filed an application for a temporary restraining order to immediately require the DOC to transfer Hinton to the D.C. Jail’s women’s housing facility. The attorneys also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the DOC from using a transgender person’s anatomy as the default or sole criteria in making housing assignments at the jail.

In response to a request from the Washington Blade, DOC spokesperson Dr. Keena Blackmon sent the Blade a DOC statement responding to the lawsuit.

“The Department of Corrections is dedicated to the safety and security of all residents in its care and custody,” the statement says. “DOC is committed to following its policies and procedures relating to housing transgender residents,” it says. “Ms. Hinton recently arrived in DOC custody and, per the agency’s COVID-19 protocols, was placed into single-occupancy quarantine for 14 days.”

The statement adds, “Once that quarantine ends, Ms. Hinton will go before the Transgender Housing Committee to determine her housing based on safety needs, housing availability, and gender identity. D.C. DOC is sensitive to Ms. Hinton’s concerns and will continue to ensure that its residents’ needs are met.”

DOC spokesperson Blackmon didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up question from the Blade asking why the Transgender Housing Committee has not met for over a year, which the ACLU has said resulted in all transgender female inmates being placed in the male housing facility.

Blackmon also couldn’t immediately be reached for a second follow-up question asking for DOC’s response to the lawsuit’s claim that DOC officials told Hinton’s lawyers that she was being placed in the men’s housing facility because she was anatomically male.

The lawsuit says the DOC default policy of placing Hinton in the jail’s male housing unit violates the D.C. Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on gender identity. The act has been interpreted to mean private businesses or the city government cannot prevent a transgender person from using facilities such as bathrooms or locker rooms that are in accordance with their gender identity.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Hinton has been arrested a total of 24 times in D.C. between 2006 and 2018. All except three of those arrests are listed as misdemeanor offenses, with just three listed as alleged felony offenses. One of the arrests is listed as a traffic offense.
In nearly all of the prior arrests, the court records identify Hinton by her birth first name, with her last name of Hinton used in all of the arrest records.
The burglary offense for which Hinton was charged on April 26 of this year and for which she is currently being held the D.C. Jail would  normally not result in a defendant being held in jail while awaiting trial. The fact that Hinton is being held rather than released pending trial suggests her prior arrest record may have prompted a judge to order her incarceration.
ACLU attorney Yan, who is among the attorneys representing Hinton in the lawsuit, said Hinton’s prior arrest record should not be a factor in the lawsuit.
“We don’t think any of the underlying things are relevant to her claim in this lawsuit, which is based on her identity and the fact that her constitutional and statutory rights to be free from discrimination are being violated,” Yan said. “At the end of the day, Sunday is a transgender woman and she’s a woman and she deserves to be held according to her gender identity as she desires.”
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Gay Iranian man murdered in so-called honor killing

State Department describes Ali Fazeli Monfared’s death as ‘appalling’

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Ali Fazeli Monfared (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Reports indicate an Iranian man’s relatives killed him after they discovered he was gay.

The Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network wrote on its website that Ali Fazeli Monfared, 20, was kidnapped in Ahvaz, a city in Iran’s Khuzestan’s province on May 4.

The advocacy group said Monfared, who was known as Alireza, was beheaded. His body was reportedly found on May 5, the day after he was kidnapped.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had exempted Monfared from military service because he is gay, even though consensual same-sex sexual acts remain punishable by death in the country. An activist who has known Monfared since late 2019 told the Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network his half-brother discovered he was gay when he opened an envelope from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that contained his military exemption card.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist, reported Monfared at the time of his murder was planning to flee Iran and live with his boyfriend, who previously sought refuge in Turkey. Alinejad said Monfared’s half-brother and cousins killed him “as part of an honor killing.”

The Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network says authorities have arrested Monfared’s half-brother and cousins and charged them with first-degree murder. A State Department spokesperson on Tuesday in a statement to the Washington Blade described the Fazeli Monfared’s murder as “appalling.”

“The United States firmly opposes abuses against LGBTQI+ persons. The struggle to end violence, discrimination, criminalization and stigma against LGBTQI+ persons is a global challenge, and one that remains central to our commitment to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all individuals,” said the spokesperson.

“Iran must do more to ensure the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons are protected,” added the spokesperson. “We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Monfared’s loved ones.”

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D.C. mayor to lift all restrictions on bars, nightclubs on June 11

‘We will definitely be celebrating Pride’ next month

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Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that she will fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a news conference on Monday that a continuing trend of significantly lower numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in the city has enabled her to fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21.

The mayor said bars and nightclubs will be allowed to increase indoor capacity from the current 25 percent to 50 percent on May 21, with all capacity restrictions for bars and nightclubs to be removed on June 11.

The mayor’s announcement came after representatives of the city’s nightlife businesses, including the city’s gay bars and restaurants, expressed concern that D.C. had yet to lift its capacity restrictions beyond 25 percent while surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia had already lifted most restrictions.

“On May 21, restrictions on public and commercial activity, including capacity limits, types of activities, and time restrictions, will be lifted,” the mayor’s directive says.

It says restrictions for bars and nightclubs would continue at a 50 percent capacity from May 21 through June 11. The directive says restrictions for large sports and entertainment venues would also continue from May 21 to June 11, which includes a requirement such events apply for a waiver of the restrictions on a case-by-case basis.

“On June 11, capacity limits and restrictions will be lifted on those venues that cannot fully reopen on May 21,” the directive says.

In response to a question at the news conference, Bowser said the June 11 date would essentially end all restrictions on nightclubs and bars, including the current requirement that they close at midnight rather than the pre-epidemic closing times of 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.

In a development that could have a major impact on plans for D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride events, the mayor’s revised health directive announced on Monday includes the lifting of all capacity restrictions on large outdoor and indoor sports and entertainment events beginning on June 11.

That change would remove restrictions that have, up until now, prevented D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance from holding its annual Pride Parade and Festival in June during Pride Month.

Capital Pride Executive Director Ryan Bos told the Washington Blade shortly after the mayor’s announcement that Capital Pride is assessing its options for expanding its current plans for in-person events in June.

“We will definitely be celebrating Pride in June,” Bos said. “We just received this information as well. So, we will be getting further information,” he said. “We have not been informed that they will be issuing any permits yet, so at this time we are moving forward with our original plans for doing things.”

Bos was referring to a city requirement for obtaining permits for street closings and use of other public spaces for events such as a parade or street festival. He said existing plans, among other things, call for an informal parade of cars and other vehicles on June 12 that will drive throughout the city to view homes and businesses that will be decorated with Pride displays such as signs, photos, and other symbols of Pride.

Those familiar with the city’s past Pride events don’t think there will be enough time for Capital Pride to organize the traditional large parade and street festival in time for June. But Capital Pride officials have talked about holding a possible parade and festival in October, and the lifting of the capacity restrictions announced by Bowser on Monday would likely make that possible.

In addition to lifting all capacity restrictions on May 21 for restaurants, the mayor’s May 21 timeframe for lifting restrictions includes these additional venues and events:

  • Weddings and special events
  • Business meetings and seated conventions
  • Places of worship
  • Non-essential retail
  • Personal services
  • Private at-home gatherings
  • Libraries, museums, galleries
  • Recreation Centers
  • Gyms and fitness centers
  • Pools
  • Office space
  • Schools
  • Childcare

“We’re very pleased that over the last several days, we have seen our case spread, our community spread numbers, venture out of the red into the yellow and fast approaching the green,” Bowser said in referring to a health department chart that shows the changes in coronavirus cases in the city.

“You might remember that our daily case rate peaked in January at 45.9. And today you can see it’s down to 6.6,” she said at her news conference on Monday.

“Throughout this process I have said how proud I am of D.C. residents and businesses who have responded, who have followed health guidance and have worked together to help protect our community throughout the pandemic. And we see it in these numbers today,” she said.

“Containing the virus will continue to require all of us to be focused on maintaining a robust health system,” the mayor said, adding that while over 200,000 D.C. residents have been fully vaccinated since December 2020, “many more thousands” still need to be vaccinated. “Vaccines are free and available on demand at walk-up sites across the District,” she said.

The mayor also noted that the city will continue to require residents and visitors to use a mask in accordance with existing and updated guidance set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mark Lee, coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, an association that represents restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues, said the mayor’s directive on May 10 leaves some details to be addressed but will open the way to bring nightlife businesses back to life.

“What we do know is that on Friday, May 21, businesses begin returning to normal operations and, three weeks later, on June 11, all restrictions for all businesses in the District will end,” Lee said. “It’s a day we’ve long awaited and one that will save much of our community enterprise from financial ruin.”

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