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D.C. activists reflect on Trans Day of Remembrance

New generation set to take helm of annual event next year

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TDOR, gay news, Washington Blade

About 200 people turned out for D.C.’s Trans Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The lives of transgender people lost to anti-trans violence over the past year in the U.S. and worldwide were honored on Nov. 20, at D.C.’s annual Transgender Day of Remembrance held at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington.

Close to 200 people turned out for the event, which included presentations mostly from D.C. area trans activists who reflected on how the loss to hate violence of their fellow transgender men and women and those who identify as gender nonconforming has motivated them to become committed advocates for trans rights and justice.

The event, known as TDOR, was founded by transgender activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith to memorialize the 1998 murder of Rita Hester, a trans woman of color who lived in a Boston suburb. What initially began as a web-based project by Smith has since grown into an international day of action held each year on Nov. 20 in more than 200 cities worldwide.

Rev. Elder Akousa McCray-Peters of D.C.’s Unity Fellowship Church performed the event’s ritual of recognizing the transgender people lost to violence through the Pouring of the Libations, which includes pouring of a liquid into a bowl while reciting a prayer.

“We pour today for our brothers and sisters of the nation’s capital,” she said. “We pour for your friends who lost their lives,” she said. “Each drop is for you today.”

Rev. Elder Akousa McCray-Peters of D.C.’s Unity Fellowship Church. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lamont Akins, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, read a statement from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser expressing support for the D.C. TDOR. He also read an official mayoral proclamation issued by Bowser declaring Nov. 20 as TDOR Day in the District of Columbia.

“We see you and we stand with you,” he quoted Bowser as saying.

D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) read a separate proclamation approved unanimously by the Council recognizing Transgender Day of Remembrance. Grosso told the gathering that the Council has also passed a separate resolution he introduced opposing the Trump administration’s efforts to overturn civil rights protections for transgender people that had been adopted during the Obama administration.

Longtime D.C. transgender activist Earline Budd, who has served as coordinator of the D.C. TDOR for nearly a decade, said she believes the event this year “went really, really well.”

Budd noted that the 2018 D.C. TDOR planning committee decided to focus mostly on transgender speakers rather than city elected officials and the police chief, who have spoken in past years. Budd said those officials were invited and were told they would be welcome to attend the event.

“I’m just so excited about how it went down and the fact that I was able to hand over the baton to my future generation,” Budd told the Washington Blade in an interview immediately after the event.

She was referring to remarks she made at the conclusion of the event in which she told the gathering she was mentoring a new set of organizers and leaders for the D.C. TDOR that would take the lead role next year while she remains involved to help guide them.

Budd also noted that while the event this year was aimed at drawing attention to the loss of lives of transgender people to violence, she had a glimmer of hope from the fact that there has not been a murder of a transgender person in D.C. since the July 4, 2016 shooting death of trans woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds.

D.C. police have arrested four male suspects for Dodds’ killing. All four are being held without bond pending trials. Trials for two of them are scheduled to begin in January.

Eleven other trans women have been murdered in D.C. since the year 2000. Police have made arrests in six of those cases, including the Dodds case.

Among those who spoke at the D.C. TDOR on Nov. 20 was Jazmin Sutherlin, a transgender woman who serves as an official with Heart to Hand, a Prince George’s County based health services organization that assists people with HIV/AIDS. Some might have called Sutherlin’s impassioned 32-minute speech the equivalent of a State of the Union Address for the transgender community.

Noting that the trauma of dealing with the murders of trans people each year has been intensified by the anti-trans policies of the Trump administration, Sutherlin called on the trans community to unite, remain strong, and resist the temptation to withdraw out of fear.

“This is not the time to give up,” she said. “This is the time to push yourself up like never before because it’s your opportunity to open doors for yourself and others,” she said. “It’s your time to use what you know as a trans person to change the world,” she continued.

“We’re not supposed to be hidden. We’re supposed to live our lives out loud…We are here to teach the world about diversity,” Sutherlin told the gathering. “We’re here to tell people it’s OK to be who you are and it’s OK to experience yourself and to share yourself.”

Also speaking was Allyn Cropper, a transgender man who told of his experiences as an out trans person in the U.S. military. He did not disclose which branch of the military he’s in but said he has sought to educate his fellow service members on what being trans is all about.

“I did meet some people who were out to get me, but for every one person like that I met three more people that inspired me to carry on with who I was,” he said. “And they wanted to learn. They wanted to know what it means to be trans and what was trans,” he told the gathering.

“So while I’m in the military I make it my duty not only to serve honorably but to be a great example of what trans people look like in the military and also to make sure I take time out to talk to and educate people to let them know we’re not scary, we’re not monsters,” he said. “We’re not this picture that we’re made out to be. We’re people just like anybody else.”

Both Cropper and Sutherlin drew a prolonged, standing ovation from the audience.

Other transgender community members who spoke at the gathering included veteran trans activist Dee Curry; D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance President Bobbi Strang, who served on the D.C. TDOR planning committee; Alexis Blackman and Minister Omar Clarke of the Metropolitan Community Church; trans activists Gibby Thomas of Damien Ministry; Kiesha Allure, an official with the LGBT community services center Casa Ruby; and trans activist Elle Michelle.

Beverlyn Mack, the mother of murdered D.C. trans woman Na Na Boo Mack, also spoke at the event, thanking trans activists and members of the LGBT community for supporting her during what she said was a trying time when she lost her daughter.

Among those attending the event were eight officers of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s Special Liaison Branch, including members of the branch’s LGBT Liaison Unit. Among them was Lt. Jessica Hawkins, a trans woman who is the former supervisor of the LGBT Liaison Unit.

Budd said she invited the unit members to attend with the full approval of the TDOR planning committee.

Trans activist Lourdes Hunter, who was scheduled to speak at the D.C. TDOR, posted a message on Facebook saying she decided not to attend after learning that D.C. police officers would be in attendance.

“I don’t do trans events with police and guns,” she wrote in her posting.

Trans community advocate Ashley Love, who staged a one-person protest at last year’s D.C. TDOR by shouting that D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham, who attended the event, should leave the event, called this year’s D.C. TDOR an improvement for trans people.

“With so many Black and Latina women of trans experience killed in 2018 by male violence and transmisogyny, it was healing to have this year’s vigil offer a safer space to mourn than years past,” she said in a statement.

But Love created a stir among organizers of the D.C. TDOR by saying in her statement and in a Facebook posting that the D.C. police officers attending the Nov. 20 TDOR were “swat geared cops” and members of the department’s SWAT team that frightened trans attendees.

A police spokesperson told the Washington Blade the officers attending the TDOR were wearing regular police uniforms that had been changed recently in style but that the uniforms “absolutely were not” SWAT uniforms or SWAT gear, which police use when they expect to confront a potential violent situation.

“Those are the new uniforms that were issued recently, which was widely publicized in multiple media outlets,” said Strang of the TDOR planning committee. “The allegation that this was tactical or SWAT gear is a specious accusation,” she told the Blade. “Apart from Ashley and the unnamed activist, I know of no other complaints.”

Strang was referring to one other trans activist who spoke on condition of not being identified and who expressed the belief that the officers attending the D.C. TDOR were wearing SWAT gear.

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards

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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

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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

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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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