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Civil partnerships bill sparks debate in Thailand

Some activists prefer changing Civil Code to allow marriage



Some activists prefer changing Civil Code to allow marriage
A bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into legally recognized civil partnerships in Thailand has sparked debate among the country’s LGBTI activists. (Photo public domain)

Thailand could become the first country in Asia to endorse same-sex marriage after a bill that would allow same-sex unions was approved.

The country’s Cabinet approved the civil partnership bill on Dec. 25, which has sparked debate among members of the LGBTI community. The move is seen as a milestone in efforts to improve legal rights for the estimated 6 million LGBTI people — an estimated 8 percent of the country’s total population — who live in Thailand.

Officials with the prime minister’s office told the Bangkok Post newspaper that a Thai citizen who is at least 20-years-old would be able to register their civil partnership with their same-sex partner, share assets and estates and adopt children under the bill. The officials say the differences are with eligibility for state welfare programs and income tax deductions.

While many in the country have applauded the move as the first step toward full marriage equality, some activists doubt the new bill will achieve this goal in the future. They prefer the amendment of existing civil codes to include same-sex marriages.

Pongthorn Chanlearn, a Thai activist who is the director of the M-Plus Foundation, a local LGBTI advocacy group, says the country’s LGBTI community is still debating the pros and cons of the civil partnership bill.

“Thai LGBTs are divided into two camps with regards to enacting the civil partnership bill,” Chanlearn told the Washington Blade. “On one side, same-sex couples will get the official recognition and support from the government if they can register their union, but it would go only as far as 80 percent of what the heterosexual couples have upon their marriage. The proposed bill will not satisfy the needs of people 100 percent but this is just the start.”

“On the other hand, those who don’t agree with the bill think marriage equality should be achieved under the current civil union laws, which guaranteed the equal rights for everyone, regardless of the gender and sexual orientation,” added Chanlearn. “Creating a separate marriage law for LGBT populations would classify them as second class citizens. Besides, there is no guarantee for this bill to move up to the full marriage equality in the future. Some believe if we have the bill, it would make the future amendment of existing civil partnership bill difficult.”

Chanlearn, who is an advisor to the drafting committee of the civil partnership bill, says he also supports the movement to amend existing laws to include the provision for marriage rights for LGBTI citizens. Chanlearn added he want to see compromise between two groups. 

Thailand’s existing marriage laws reflect a traditional interpretation of gender and family arrangements that specifically refer to men and women only.

Despite its reputation as a paradise for gay tourists, Thailand does not have any written laws or regulations in support of the LGBTI community.

“Legal and policy reform is seen as difficult both because lawmakers tend to be conservative and, because the constitution and country’s laws are seen as sacred,” says the U.N. Development Program in its 2014 Being LGBT in Asia report.

Is Thai government using bill to deflect human rights criticism?

The bill is currently before the National Legislative Assembly, which has a backlog of 50 bills. Lawmakers will stop working a week before the country’s general election, which is scheduled to take place on Feb. 24. The bill will take effect 120 days after its passage.

Vitaya Saeng-Aroon, an LGBTI activist and director of Bangkok Rainbow Organization, says the Thai government has chosen to take the step-by-step approach because legislators behind the bill are not sure about granting full marriage rights to same-sex couples for now.

“The choice they made is not perfect, but they do believe that the bill, once effective, will become a useful tool to bring full marriage,” Saeng-Aroon told the Blade. “Oppositions may occur. No one can tell when full marriage will be realized because it depends on the social context. It will also depends on the new government to come after the general election, expected to be held in February.”

Thailand’s military has ruled the country since a May 2014 coup ousted the civilian government. The  military government since then has been under pressure from international human rights advocates over the curtailment of civil and political liberties, imprisonment of dissidents and impunity for torture and other abuses in the name of peace and order.

The civil partnership bill was first drafted in February 2013, but debate was sidelined after the coup and a subsequent government reshuffle.

Some critics point out the military government hopes to push the same-sex partnership bill in order to improve its human rights record. Saeng-Aroon agrees the Thai government may have motivations to use the LGBTI rights issue to its advantage.

“The military government wants this bill as part of self-promotion in addition to their commitment with international agencies about human rights,” said Saeng-Aroon. “The bill is used as the government’s claim that they are progressing to the commitment.”

Thailand has a reputation for its relaxed attitudes toward LGBTI people, even though its society is largely conservative Buddhist. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1956, and authorities actively promote the country as an LGBTI-friendly tourist destination.

According to the UNDP, a survey of social attitudes toward sexual orientation and gender identity found two-thirds of respondents had no objection to same-sex unions. Chanlearn says 80 percent of respondents who took part recent online survey on the civil partnerships bill that Thai LGBTI activists conducted said they support the bill.

Taiwan voters rejected marriage equality in 2018 referendum

Across Asia, conservative values and deep-rooted biases have crippled progress on gay rights. Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei ban sexual relationships between men, and Indonesia has seen an increase in raids targeting LGBTI people.

Vietnam allows same-sex weddings, but these unions are not legally recognized or protected.

Taiwan’s Constitutional Court in May 2018 declared same-sex couples had the right to legally marry. The island’s residents in a referendum last November overwhelmingly rejected efforts to add same-sex marriage to the Civil Code, despite its reputation as a haven for LGBTI activism in Asia.

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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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