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Kennedy laments anti-trans violence on Transgender Day of Remembrance

331 transgender people reportedly killed in 2019 worldwide



Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) said he sees a connection between Trump’s policies and anti-trans violence on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The anti-trans policies of the Trump administration were a key focus Wednesday at a Capitol Hill news conference hosted by Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.), who deplored anti-trans violence in recognition of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Kennedy, chair of the congressional Transgender Task Force, said at the beginning of news conference 30 transgender people were killed in the United States in 2019 and 331 internationally, citing a newly recently report from Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide. 

“We must be explicit about who we recognize, and who we mourn,” Kennedy said.

On the same day as the news conference, Kennedy introduced in the U.S. House a resolution recognizing the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Kennedy identified a general system failing transgender people as among the things to mourn on this occasion, but also pointed to the anti-trans policies of the Trump administration.

“We mourn an administration that has made a disgusting habit to demean and devalue trans Americans from the classroom to the boardroom, from the battlefield to the hospital to those who chose violence motivated by hatred, bigotry and ignorance,” Kennedy said.

Among other things, the Trump administration has banned transgender people from enlisting into the armed forces and gutted regulations prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in health care and homeless shelters.

House Democratic Vice-Chair Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) took the Trump administration to task in particular for the proposed rule change within the Department of Housing & Urban Development rolling back protections for transgender people at homeless shelters.

“A significant number of transgender individuals experience homelessness and are sexually assaulted during their stay at a shelter,” Clark said. “Rather than put in place additional protections, the Trump administration has dismantled the Equal Access Rule, which is meant to ensure transgender individuals have a safe place to seek refuge.”

Asked by the Blade whether Trump himself is responsible for anti-trans violence, Kennedy affirmed a connection between his policies and violent acts.

“I think it’s impossible to divorce the lack of protections coming out from the highest office in our land with the elevated rates of violence, and to not draw that connection,” Kennedy said.

Also speaking at the news conference was Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who spoke in solidarity with transgender people.

“The levels of violence at this point that are directed agents the transgender community throughout our nation is unconscionable, is un-American, is unacceptable,” Jeffries said.

In attendance at the news conference was Toni-Michelle Williams, the new executive director of the Solutions NOT Punishment Collaborative, which seeks to improve the lives of black Americans.

Pointing out much of anti-trans violence is committed by black hands against black people, Williams asked Jeffries what he’d tell his black son. The New York lawmaker called it “an important question.”

Jeffries said he has two sons who are both teenagers, grew up in tolerant communities and have family members belonging to different religion, races, sexual orientation and genders.

“I think we can all do a better job within the African-American community and beyond to understand the value and the humanity, the soulfulness of every single human being regardless of not just race and gender obviously, or religion, or regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Jeffries added.

A guest at the news conference was Angelic Ross, a transgender woman and actor who’s appeared on “Pose” and “American Horror Story.”

“I may be a face, I may have some privilege, but not everyone in our community has access to the same opportunities and privileges, and it needs to be always at the first and foremost of our minds when we talk homeless, health care, we’re talking about employment,” Ross said.

As the U.S. Supreme Court considers lawsuit seeking clarification on whether LGBT people have protection under federal civil rights law, Ross pointed out the Trump administration has argued transgender people should be excluded from them.

Ross, however, interjected amid the questioning to say Trump shouldn’t the sole focus in terms challenges facing transgender people.

“To the question about is Trump responsible for a lot of the anti-trans and homophobic rhetoric? No,” Ross said. “Is he helping to bring of it the surface? Yes.”

Ross said too much focus on Trump would make into a “scapegoat” when there are other issues at play.

“There’s a lot of well-meaning people who have supported Trump along the way, whether they know it or not, in policy…and through action, so I think the time for people look at Trump’s administration as a reflection,” Ross said. “This is not about Trump. This is about us as Americans. Who are you in the time of the Trump administration and what will you allow, and what will stand up for?”

In 2009, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which make hate crimes against LGBTQ against federal law.

Asked by the Blade whether the law and enforcement of it is adequate, Kennedy expressed an openness to change and brought up legislation he introduced in the U.S. House prohibiting the use of anti-LGBT panic as a defense in federal courts.

In more than 40 states, Kennedy said, and in the federal government, using the gay or trans panic is still an accepted plea when charged in the courts with committing an act of anti-LGBT violence.

“So because of who you are, if I happen to attack you, if somebody happens to commit a violent act, it justifies that violence, which is literally the definition of a hate crime, so there’s far more that our country can do,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy held the news conference as he’s challenging Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in a Democratic for his seat representing Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate. The primary date is Sept. 15, 2020.

Asked by the Blade whether Markey is doing enough on the issue, Markey declined to criticize the senator and instead issued a general call to action.

“I think Sen. Markey has been a strong champion on this issue,” Kennedy said. “I think he’s a got a record of support of here, and I think many of us do. The fact is that we have to be able to do more, have to be doing more.”

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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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