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Transgender woman of African descent makes history in Brazil

Érica Malunguinho elected to São Paulo Congress last fall



Érica Malunguinho, gay news, Washington Blade
São Paulo Congresswoman Érica Malunguinho is a transgender Brazilian woman of African descent who was elected last fall. (Photo courtesy of Comunicação Alesp)

SÃO PAULO — São Paulo Congresswoman Érica Malunguinho made history last fall when she became the first transgender woman elected to a state congress in Brazil. The groundbreaking politician who is also of African descent sat down with the Washington Blade on April 26 to talk about politics, representation and the challenges she faces.

Washington Blade: When we talk about visibility, what does it represent to you being the first transgender woman elected in Brazil?

Érica Malunguinho: Being elected as a transgender woman is first a denouncement because it is inexplicable that I am the first transgender elected (to a state congress) if we think that the transgender population has existed since the beginning of time. It is absurd that we have only reached this position in 2019. That says a lot about how the political field is delayed in the presence of the most diverse agents in society. And if we think that half the Brazilian population is black and has such a tiny representation in the political field, I would say being elected is a double denouncement. The state of inequality in our country is proportional to that representation because we have people making decisions about the ones who need the most without any identification or concern for black people, transgender, LGBT people, women and other minority groups. And it is within those groups that transformation and disruption of inequalities will occur because it is those minorities that suffer the biggest violence and life precariousness in our society.

Blade: What are your most important goals in this first term as a congresswoman?

Malunguinho: I have so many goals, and we have so many challenges. The first one is to build a political narrative completely aligned and substantiated with race and gender issues, and it all begins with making people understand that most inequalities affect those people. We can’t focus on a public security policy, for example, that doesn’t effectively prevent violence against those groups that are historically and institutionally more vulnerable. The black population is the most murdered and also women, both cisgender and transgender, are the most violated in all kinds of ways. Those people denounce a state that has failed them and they are not a part of the system of normativity. It is a goal to build public policies that break those cycles of structural violence.

Blade: This week you proposed the expansion of the “TransCitizenship” project from the city of São Paulo to the entire state. Why was this one of the first proposals on which you focused?

Malunguinho: This project is important to disrupt a cycle of institutional marginalization of the transgender community. If we think about vulnerabilities that need to be corrected, the transgender community is the most vulnerable among minority groups for a number of reasons. Brazil is the country that kills the most transgender people in the world. And one of the reasons for it is that transgender people are usually abandoned by their families, by their schools and by a job market that leaves them out. So 90 percent of the transgender population is living in the streets and working as sex workers. It is a vicious cycle that the “TransCitizenship” project tries to break by offering a formal education, vocational training and mediating the relationship between transgender employees and public and private companies the project urges to absorb that transgender workforce.

Blade: The Supreme Court has finally scheduled a ruling about the criminalization of homophobia on May 23. What is your expectation about that decision?

Malunguinho: I am anti-punishment. I don’t agree with a society that has to constantly organize itself through penalty sanctions. But I understand that at this moment in time this is one of the few mechanisms we can use to regulate and determine some civilizational pacts. We have legislation in this moment in history to safeguard these necessary punishments. My expectation is that the criminalization of homophobic acts and violence will be approved, but that alone is not enough. It needs to come attached to other educational actions that can change the culture within our society and the comprehension of what LGBT-phobia is and means. It needs to be discussed in the schools, it needs to be discussed inside companies.

Blade: Supreme Court Justice Carmen Lucia in March also blocked a 2017 decision that allowed psychologists to perform conversion therapy on the LGBT community. Do you consider it another victory?

Malunguinho: It is sad that we have to spend energy on this. It is absurd in an age with so much knowledge we still have to discuss the dismissal of a proposal like that. We should be fighting for rights and time and time again we are obligated to give steps back in order to stop proposals like that to protect our right to live.

Blade: And this proposal was created against the opinion of the Counsels of Psychology Professionals in our country …

Malunguinho: Every proposal created in these spheres to diminish people’s humanities come from a dark place of individuality based only on opinion and misinformation. It is mediocre.

Blade: In parallel with the Supreme Court voting on the criminalization of homophobia, evangelicals in Congress are preparing an amendment that seeks to criminalize homophobia, but would also allow churches to talk about it in a “critical tone” under the guise of religious freedom.

Malunguinho: Our constitution says that we live in a secular state. There’s not a singular reason for religious groups to organize themselves within our policies and advocate against or for any religious group. Those groups shouldn’t have the right to talk about LGBT issues and lives in a critical tone that comes based on their religion and a complete lack of love. What is this critical tone of them? I can have a critical tone about the LGBT community, but not in a sense of robbing its individual freedoms. Again, it comes from a lack of information and from the noncompliance of civilizational pacts. There is no sense in their trying to go above our constitution. You don’t have to be afraid of using a critical tone if you are not using it to discriminate and incite hate.

São Paulo Congresswoman Érica Malunguinho speaks at the 2018 International LGBTQ Leader Conference in D.C. on Dec. 7, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Blade: In more than one occasion you talk about a “constant negotiation of belonging”. What does that mean?

Malunguinho: There is a central point that structures our society and conducts it and determines what is normative. White, heterosexual, cisgender men are a part of that center. Everyone who is outside of that norm are in a constant negotiation of a sense of belonging. Obviously, that happens differently for the people outside the center. If you are a white cisgender woman you have to negotiate being a woman within the patriarchy; if you are a black man or woman your negotiation is different and so on and so on until you get to a black transgender woman. That is what that constant negotiation of belonging means. We live in a society organized by that center and it conducts itself to the exclusion of the “other”. People outside that organizational norm need to constantly negotiate their lives, their right to work, their beauty, their love. Our existence is not given naturally just by the fact that you are breathing. I am the first transgender woman elected. I negotiate my belonging constantly by being that.

Blade: What is your evaluation of these first few months of President Jair Bolsonaro?

Malunguinho: I feel a profound shame and indignation. I have a true difficulty in believing that we have to hear a nation’s chief with that kind of reasoning and tract. I won’t even talk about him in a political or institutional sphere because he has no proposals for Brazil. This absence of political proposals for the country is completely linked to a lack of insight and intellectual knowledge that leads to his constant exclusion practices. He is nothing but an empty and perverse being.

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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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