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Supreme Court vacates $135K fine against Ore. couple who refused to serve gays

Aaron and Melissa Klein wouldn’t make wedding cake for same-sex couple in 2013



The Supreme Court has vacated a $135,000 against Oregon bakers who refused to serve a same-sex couple. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated on Monday a $135,000 fine against an Oregon-based family business that refused based on religious and free speech objections to make a wedding cake in 2013 for a same-sex couple.

In an order list on Monday, the Supreme Court indicated it had issued summary disposition in response to the petition for certiorari filed by Aaron and Melissa Kline, vacating the decision against the couple and remanding it back to the Oregon Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court’s action falls short of recognizing the First Amendment right sought by the couple to refuse service to same-sex couples.

The Oregon Court of Appeals is instructed to reconsider the case in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. The ruling found the Colorado Civil Rights Commission held anti-religious bias when concluding Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop violated Colorado civil rights law. Based on those narrow facts of the case, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the decision against Phillips.

The Klein petition was filed by the Texas-based law firm First Liberty in October and been pending before the Supreme Court for eight months.

Kelly Shackelford, CEO of chief counsel of First Liberty, said in a statement the U.S. Supreme Court’s action “is a victory for Aaron and Melissa Klein and for religious liberty for all Americans.”

“The Constitution protects speech, popular or not, from condemnation by the government,” Shackelford said. “The message from the court is clear, government hostility toward religious Americans will not be tolerated.”

In 2013, Rachel Bowman-Cryer, who was in same-sex relationship with Laurel Bowman-Cryer, came with her mother to Sweetcakes and, after an initial tasting, requested a wedding cake for a commitment ceremony. (Oregon hadn’t yet legalized same-sex marriage.) Aaron Klein, who there to conduct the tasting, refused them the service on the basis that baking a wedding cake would be inconsistent with his religious beliefs. In subsequent exchange with Rachel’s mother, Aaron Klein quoted Leviticus from the Bible and said homosexual relationships were an “abomination.”

According to Lambda Legal, Aaron and Melissa Klein knew the Bowman-Cryers were a same-sex couple before the 2013 tasting based on an experience two years before that time when they bought a cake for the wedding of Rachel’s mother. Melissa Klein had invited the couple for a tasting anyway before eventually refusing them service.

The Bowman-Cryers filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries asserting Sweetcakes had violated Oregon’s human rights law, which bars anti-gay discrimination in public accommodations, and fined the couple $135,000. The administrative court cited Aaron Klein disparaging the couple’s relationship as an “abomination” and posting on Facebook page the couple complaint, which listed their address and phone number, in reaching the decision for the $135,000 fine.

The administrative court also issued a cease and desist order, which Aaron and Melissa Klein interpreted as a gag order preventing them from talking about their beliefs.

Melissa Klein and her spouse Aaron asserted the penalty put their company Sweetcakes out of business. (However, according to the Washington Times, the couple raised $352,500 through crowd-sourcing as a result of donations from religious sympathizers.)

The Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the decision from the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries. Last year, the Oregon Supreme Court declined to review the petition, which prompted First Liberty to file the petition for certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sharon McGowan, chief strategy officer and legal director for Lambda Legal, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to outright dismiss the petition is “obviously frustrating” and justices could have made things easier with simply a detail of certiorari.

“Rachel and Laurel, the couple who is at the center of this case, has been in the middle of all of this so many years that it would have been wonderful from our perspective for this chapter to finally come to an end and for the Oregon decision vindicating their right to be free from discrimination [to stand] to allow them to bring closure to the case,” McGowan said.

McGowan said it was important not to lose focus on the couple who were denied service at Sweetcakes when they entered the business expecting the same kind of treatment as any other couple seeking a wedding cake.

“At the end of the day, it’s just important to remember that it’s about a couple who experienced…not only dignitary harm, but the larger stigma of walking into a business that is supposedly open to all and being told that we don’t serve your kind,” McGowan said. “There’s nothing wrong with applying non-discrimination laws to ensure that businesses are open to all. The Supreme Court seems to making something much harder than it needs to be, when, in fact, it really seems to be a very straightforward application of well-settled legal principles.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s action in the Klein case is similar to what the Supreme Court did with a petition filed by a Washington State florist, Barronelle Stutzman, who similarly sought a First Amendment right to refuse to supply floral arrangements to a same-sex wedding. After the U.S. Supreme Court remanded her petition and vacated the state ruling against Stutzman, the Washington State Supreme Court earlier this month came to the same conclusion she violated Washington State’s LGBT non-discrimination law by refusing to serve floral arrangements in 2013 for a same-sex couple’s wedding.

However, that is no assurance the Oregon Court of Appeals will reaffirm its decision against Aaron and Melissa Kline under the new guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court. Based on Aaron Klein’s reference to the Bible in calling homosexual relations on abomination, the record shows religiosity played a clar role in the incident between the business owners and the same-sex couple.

Moreover, the $135,000 penalty levied against Aaron and Melissa Klein surprised some legal observers, who speculated the fine might be lowered upon re-evaluation of the case.

McGowan, however, was confident Oregon would reaffirm its decision and said she’s “not aware” of anything in the case that would stop the state from reaching the same conclusion it reached before.

“I think that their analysis below was extremely thorough, and, I think, in many ways should have been put to rest any of the concerns that the court found in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case,” McGowan said.

“To the extent that they want to ask them to go back just show their work and make absolutely sure that there’s nothing to be concerned about,” McGowan added, “I have no doubt that they will do it, but I don’t think that there’s any reason for us to be concerned that the Oregon Court of Appeals, which is where this was remanded back, will have any reason to revisit its underlying conclusion in that case.”

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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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