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D.C. man pleads guilty to sexual assault of 3 male victims

Many unanswered questions about 2016 incidents in Capitol Hill

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Bryan Webster, Juan Venegas, shooting deaths, gay news, Washington Blade

Minutes before his trial was scheduled to begin on July 25, a 35-year-old D.C. man announced through his attorneys that he was pleading guilty to charges that he sexually assaulted three men in their homes on Capitol Hill in three separate incidents in 2016.

According to a plea agreement filed by prosecutors with the United States Attorney’s Office in D.C. Superior Court, Bryan Webster, who is also known as Bryant Webster, pleaded guilty to two counts of First Degree Sexual Abuse While Armed and one count of Second Degree Sexual Abuse in connection with the three incidents.

In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dropped the remaining 28 counts of a 31 count indictment against Webster handed down by a Superior Court grand jury in August 2018. The original 31 counts included burglary and robbery charges alleging Webster stole property from the victims.

Also included were multiple gun charges related to his alleged use of a Ruger LC9 pistol to force two of the three victims to allow him to tie their arms and legs to enable him to carry out the sexual assaults.

The plea agreement, which Webster signed, calls for “an appropriate sentence” of between 32 and 39 years of incarceration, although it notes that the judge would have the final say on what the sentence should be.
Superior Court Judge Ronna Beck, who presided over the case, scheduled a sentencing hearing for Sept. 19.

Charging documents filed in court by the U.S. Attorney’s Office allege that Webster sexually assaulted the third victim while he was “passed out” on a sofa in his residence between Aug.13-15, 2016. The charging documents say Webster allegedly “took photos of Complainant 3’s genitalia, as well as, photos and a video of himself putting his mouth and hands on Complainant 3’s penis.”

The publicly filed charging documents don’t give a reason for why the victim was “passed out,” but one of the documents says the victim “did not and could not consent to this behavior.”

The documents state that D.C. police investigators discovered the photos and video of the alleged sexual assault of the third victim after they arrested Webster at the time he committed the second alleged sexual assault and confiscated his phone, where the photos and video were found.

The charging documents say police could find no evidence that Webster forced his way into the two homes where the alleged sexual assaults occurred and conclude that he entered the homes through an unlocked door.

The charging documents filed by prosecutors do not disclose the address of the residence where the first of the three incidents took place sometime between Aug. 13 and 15 – the one where the victim was passed out on a sofa.

However, documents filed in court by the defense say the alleged assault against the man who was passed out took place in the same residence as that of the third incident, which police and prosecutors say took place Oct. 1, 2016 in a house on the 1300 block of Independence Ave., S.E. The defense document says the first and third victims were roommates in that house.

The second incident, according to police and prosecutors, took place Aug. 28 in a Capitol Hill house on the 1200 block of Massachusetts Ave., S.E, which is located less than three blocks from the Independence Avenue residence. The house, which a Blade reporter visited on the outside, resembles a small apartment building.

The victim in the second incident, who is identified in court filings as A.P., reported that a man later identified as Webster appeared in the doorway to his bedroom about 6 a.m. on Aug. 28 and pointed a dark-colored handgun at him, according to a charging document filed by prosecutors. The document says the victim reported the intruder bound his hands and ankles with duct tape and “penetrated [his] anus with his penis against his will.”

It says the victim reported the intruder later identified as Webster “anally raped him for approximately 25-30 minutes,” put a T-shirt in the victim’s mouth and repeatedly told him, “Shut up if you want to live.”

The document filed by prosecutors says after the assault concluded Webster allegedly took the victim into the bathroom and put him in the shower while his ankles and wrists were still bound and a pillowcase was placed over his head. “The defendant bathed [the victim] completely, concentrating on his anus, and running the cloth up and down it to ensure that it was clean,” the charging document says.

It says the victim reported Webster then brought him back to the bedroom, placed him onto the bed face down with the pillowcase still over his head. The victim reported hearing Webster “rifling through his drawers” and apparently taking some of his belongings, the document says. It says Webster then allegedly told the victim he knows his name and knows where he works and ordered him not to report the incident to police and if he did “he would come back and do it again.”

Police and court charging documents state that the third incident on Oct. 1 at the house on the 1300 block of Independence Ave., S.E., took place about 12:30 a.m. The victim, identified as L.K., reported the suspect later identified as Webster similarly bound his arms and legs with duct tape after pointing a hand gun at him.

The victim told police he arrived home alone that night before his roommates came home. He said he unlocked the door to the house when he came home but didn’t remember if he relocked it. A short time later, while in his bedroom, he heard someone walking in the house and when he looked to see who it was Webster allegedly pulled out his gun and ordered him onto his bed.

Similar to the second incident, Webster ordered him to take off his clothes and bound his arms and legs before anally raping him, the charging documents say. But in this instance, the documents say, the victim was able to slip his hands free from the tape, grabbed the gun, which Webster had put down on the bed, and struggled to subdue his attacker.

During the struggle the victim reported hearing one of his roommates inside the house and yelled for help. Webster had apparently locked the bedroom door, but the roommate broke open the door and helped the victim subdue Webster as the victim called police from his cell phone.

After arriving and assessing the situation, D.C. police arrested Webster and arranged for him to be taken first to a hospital for treatment of injuries sustained during the struggle with the victim and the roommate, who also received injuries from the fight, the charging documents state.

Neither the police nor prosecutors’ charging documents or several court motions filed by defense attorneys David Benowitz and Shawn Sukumar explain why Webster allegedly targeted the two houses or how he allegedly managed to enter one of the two houses twice and the other once through unlocked doors.

Also unexplained is why Webster had a Virginia driver’s license but was identified by police as a resident of an apartment at 3711 Alabama Ave., S.E.

Prosecutors and the two defense attorneys declined to discuss the case with the Washington Blade at the courthouse after Webster pleaded guilty to the three-count plea agreement. However, Benowitz said he would discuss the case after the sentencing on Sept. 19.

One law enforcement source knowledgeable about the case, speaking on condition of not being identified, said the three victims reportedly identify as being heterosexual.

However, in a motion filed in court on May 31, defense attorneys Benowitz and Sukumar asked the judge to allow them to submit a defense theory “based on information and belief” that it was the victim identified as L.K. that committed the sexual assaults on Aug. 28 and the one believed to have taken place between Aug. 13 and Aug. 15. The court docket doesn’t show whether Judge Beck ruled on that motion before Webster agreed to plead guilty.

In a separate motion filed in court on May 31, Benowitz and Sukumar suggested but did not say so directly that they would present evidence in an “alibi defense” at trial that Webster was at two hotels, one in Arlington and the other in Alexandria, at the time of two of the three sexual assault incidents.

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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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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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