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Una tarde con Yariel

Ha permanecido bajo custodia de ICE por casi un año

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River Correctional Center en Ferriday, Luisiana, el 1 de febrero de 2020. (Foto de Michael K. Lavers por el Washington Blade)

Nota del editor: Una versión de esa nota de opinión en inglés salió en el sitio web del Blade el 4 de febrero.

FERRIDAY, Luisiana — Un guardia masculino al River Correctional Center, un centro de detención privado en el Condado Concordia en Luisiana, me llevó a la sala de visitantes un poco después de la 1 p.m. el sábado. Me senté en una mesa grande —como las que se pueden encontrar en una cafetería de la escuela— y miré a las murallas con mensajes de empoderamiento que habían sido pintados en la pared. Unos minutos después, miré hacía la puerta con una pequeña ventana y vi a Yariel, que vestía un traje verde de rayas. Otro guardia masculino abrió la puerta y Yariel entró la sala. Nos abrazamos fuertemente unos segundos después. Estaba casi sollozando, pero Yariel me aseguró que estaba bien. Después de un par de minutos, nos sentimos en la mesa —uno frente al otro— y empezó nuestra visita. Usé una de las servilletas que tomé de una gasolinera cercana para limpiar las lágrimas de mis ojos. Después de un par de minutos, puse sus manos en las mías y comenzó a llorar. Le di una de las servilletas de la gasolinera para limpiar sus ojos y traté de consolarlo.    

“Esta bien llorar”, lo aseguré.

No había visto a Yariel en persona desde el 27 de enero de 2019. Habíamos pasado el día reportando desde un albergue de migrantes dirigida por una lesbiana en Mexicali, una ciudad mexicana en la frontera con EEUU, y lo dejé al apartamento pequeño en Tijuana en que vivía con su padre. Estábamos casi mareados, en parte, porque habíamos cantado canciones de Lady Gaga como locos durante el viaje de dos horas entre Mexicali y Tijuana. Esos momentos despreocupados parecen de toda la vida.

Yariel el sábado me dio dos regalos: Una pulsera hecha de piezas de bolsas de basura negras y blancas y un zapatillo hecho de paquetes de Maruchan y envoltorios de crema de café que hará un buen ornamento navideño. Hablamos como amigos, como hermanos. Hablamos sobre Cuba y el juicio político del presidente Trump. Lo compré una botella de Sprite de una máquina expendedora en la sala. También compartimos una bolsa de Doritos. Una guardia femenina que habla español estaba en la sala con nosotros. Al principio estuve un poco incómodo de verla escribiendo en un cuaderno, pero después de unos minutos olvidé que estaba allí.

La pulsera que Yariel dio a Michael K. Lavers, el editor de los temas internacionales del Washington Blade, durante su visita al River Correctional Center en Ferriday, Luisiana, el 1 de febrero de 2020. (Foto de Michael K. Lavers por el Washington Blade)

A las 2:50 p.m., nos dijo en español que nuestra visita iba a terminar en 10 minutos. Yariel quería darme dos carpetas con sus escritos sobre su tiempo bajo custodia del Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE), pero la guardia lo dijo que no podría tomarlas conmigo. Yariel había colocado la pulsera alrededor de mi muñeca y un supervisor dijo a la guardia que podría llevar el ornamento conmigo. Los puse, junto con su foto del tamaño de un pasaporte, en mi mano. Nos pusimos de pie y nos abrazamos fuertemente. Lo dije que lo quiero y luego salimos por puertas diferentes. Salí por la puerta principal de la instalación menos de cinco minutos después y regresé a mi hotel en Kenner, un suburbio de Nueva Orleans, a las 6:45 p.m.     

Ha pasado casi un año desde que Yariel pidió asilo en EEUU y entró la custodia de ICE. Los lectores del Washington Blade saben que un juez el pasado septiembre concedió asilo a Yariel. También saben que su destino está en las manos de la Junta de Apelación de Inmigración en Virginia porque ICE apeló el fallo.

Hay cierta ironía en el hecho que Yariel comenzó escribir para el Blade en el otoño de 2018, en parte, porque necesitábamos un reportero en Tijuana que pudiera reportar sobre los migrantes LGBTQ que llegaban a la ciudad con las caravanas migratorias de Centroamérica. La cobertura del Blade de estos temas continua, con mi más reciente viaje a Honduras y El Salvador que terminó hace seis días antes de mi visita con Yariel. Esta cobertura sigue siendo tan importante como siempre con la política migratoria de línea dura de la administración Trump continúan poniendo en riesgo a los migrantes LGBTQ.   

También se convierte en algo profundamente personal.

Yariel entrevistá a una migrante mexicana durante una visita a un albergue de migrantes dirigida por una lesbiana en Mexicali, México, el 27 de enero de 2019. (Foto de Michael K. Lavers por el Washington Blade)

Mi esposo y yo el viernes, unas horas antes de volar a Luisiana, asistieron una ceremonia en Durham, Carolina del Norte, donde nuestro querido amigo Marcelo se convirtió en ciudadano estadounidense. Marcelo, un bailarín para el Carolina Ballet de origen paraguayo, trabajaba muy duro para llegar a ese momento y estamos muy orgullosos de él.

Una pancarta en una oficina local del Servicio de Ciudadanía e Inmigración de Estados Unidos (USCIS) en Durham, Carolina del Norte, el 31 de enero de 2020. Cincuenta y siete personas se convirtieron ciudadanos estadounidenses durante una ceremonia de naturalización que se realizó esa día. (Foto de Michael K. Lavers por el Washington Blade)

Uno de los momentos más memorables de la ceremonia fue el video en que Trump felicitó a Marcelo y los otras 56 personas que acababan de convertirse en ciudadanos estadounidenses. Ninguno de ellos aplaudió al final del video. Ellos, junto con el resto de nosotros, saben mierda cuando la escuchan, y todos respondimos en especie.

Estos ciudadanos estadounidenses, junto con Yariel, son exactamente el tipo de personas que harán una contribución positiva a este país y lo hará aún mejor. Merecen nuestro respeto y apoyo, no retorica barata basada en racismo, xenofobía y supremacía blanca para apaciguar una base política antes de una elección presidencial.

Una de las partes más desgarradoras de mi visita con Yariel fue cuando me dijo que más desea es su libertad que lo permitirá empezar una nueva vida en los EEUU sin miedo de persecución. La lucha para hacer realidad el sueño de Yariel sigue. Espero que mi próximo viaje a Luisiana sea recogerlo después de la Junta de Apelaciones de Inmigración confirme su decisión de asilo y ICE finalmente lo libere de su custodia.   

Siempre estaré a tu lado, Yariel.

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District of Columbia

Cherry Fund files lawsuit  against Republiq Hall

LGBTQ nonprofit says breach of contract led to $137,000 in lost revenue

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Cherry Fund claims Republiq Hall canceled a contract for one of its popular events. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Cherry Fund, the D.C.-based nonprofit organization that has raised money for HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ organizations for the past 27 years, filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court on May 31 charging Republiq Hall, a large entertainment venue in Northeast D.C, with abruptly and improperly cancelling Cherry Fund’s reservation to rent the hall for an April 6 event expected to draw 2,000 paid guests.

The event was to be one of several circuit dance parties that Cherry Fund produces as part of its annual Cherry weekend in April, which has raised several million dollars for LGBTQ related organizations since the Cherry weekend  events began in 1996.  

The lawsuit, which charges Republiq Hall with breach of contract, says the contract signed by the two parties in January called for Cherry Fund to pay Republiq Hall an initial deposit of $3,500 on Jan. 10, 2024, to be applied to a nonrefundable rental fee totaling $7,000 for the one-time use of the space on April 6.

Republiq Hall is located in a large former warehouse building at 2122 24th Place, N.E., near the intersection of Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue. 

According to the lawsuit, under the contract, Cherry Fund “was responsible for promoting the event, booking talent, and managing ticket sales,” with Cherry Fund to “retain all door fee revenues and a percentage of the net bar sales.”

The lawsuit states, “On February 28, after Plaintiff had already begun promoting the event and booking talent, the Defendant unilaterally and without just cause demanded an additional $9,000 from the Plaintiff. When the Plaintiff refused to pay the additional amount, the Defendant cancelled the reservation.”

 As a result of Republiq Hall’s action, the lawsuit states, Cherry Fund was “forced to book an alternative venue with significantly less capacity, resulting in substantial financial losses.” 

It says as a direct result of the alleged breach of contract, Cherry Fund “suffered financial damages in the amount of $130,000 in lost door fees and $7,000 in a lost percentage of the net bar sales that were estimated to be collected on the date of the event.”

A spokesperson for Republiq Hall did not respond to a phone message from the Washington Blade requesting a comment and a response to the lawsuit’s allegations.

Court records show that Superior Court Judge Juliet J. McKenna, who is presiding over the case, scheduled an initial hearing for the case on Sept. 6. McKenna issued an order providing guidance for how a civil litigation case should proceed that includes a requirement that Republiq Hall must file a response to the lawsuit within 21 days of being officially served a copy of the lawsuit complaint.

Sean Morris, the Cherry Fund president, issued a statement expressing disappointment over the developments leading to the lawsuit.

“Our organization, powered by volunteer efforts, relies on our annual event to fundraise for local non-profits,” he said. “This abrupt and unforeseen demand, and subsequent cancellation, has severely affected our ability to support vital community programs focused on HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ+ advocacy,” Morris says in his statement.

The lawsuit concludes by stating, “The Plaintiff, the Cherry Fund, respectfully requests the following relief: Direct compensatory damages for the lost benefits it was entitled to under the terms of the contract; Restitution for the benefits retained by the Defendant in unjust enrichment; Reasonable attorney fees and costs of this action; and Any other relief this court deems just and proper.”

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Maryland

Silver Spring Pride sign rebuilt in memory of beloved neighbor

GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $4,000

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Tony Brown's neighbors help repaint the Pride sign his late partner created in their Silver Spring, Md., neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Molly Chehak)

Residents of Silver Spring’s Rosemary Hills neighborhood have come together to rebuild a Pride sign. 

The sign was constructed in June 2020, and was meant to stay in place throughout Pride Month. Neighborhood residents, however, requested it stay up past its intended month-long display, and has remained in place for more than four years. 

The sign spelling LOVE is at the neighborhood’s entrance between Sundale and Richmond Streets. It was made from plywood and the O was painted in the colors of the Pride flag.

“We wanted to take it down, but we just felt it was not ours anymore and belonged to the neighborhood.” Tony Brown told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “It was a positive thing for the neighborhood and began to take on a life of its own.” 

Brown and his partner, Mike Heffner, designed the sign and said the Black Lives Matter movement inspired them to create it as a strong symbol of an accepting community.

The sign was vandalized numerous times last fall, resulting in neighborhood residents taking turns repairing it. Brown and his partner could not do the repairs themselves because Heffner was fighting Stage 4 lung cancer.

Heffner passed away on Oct. 6, 2023.

A GoFundMe page was set up to help raise funds for the replacement Pride sign, and it has raised more than $4,000. The replacement sign is more permanent and made of metal.

“I can’t speak for the neighborhood overall, but people who knew Mike I think are happy that we were able to honor his memory with this sign because this sign is so him,” Molly Chebak, a friend who lives next door to Brown, told the Blade. “He (Heffner) was an outgoing super social (person) who just made you feel good the way this sign does. It’s a perfect tribute to him.” 

Chebak and other neighbors created the GoFundMe account.

Heffner’s family and his neighbors are still working to rebuild the Pride sign. It has become a memorial to Heffner.

“We wanted to do one that was clearly a Pride reference,” said Brown, noting the L is a fully painted Pride flag that spirals across the entire letter. 

“For the O we wanted to do something reminiscent of times in the past, a throwback to the 60’s and 70’s so it’s a hippie montage of flowers and butterflies,” he said. 

Brown described the V as being colorful, nonbinary people hugging each other with the idea that love is more than what one may see. 

“During COVID, he had started painting rocks and putting kind and fun messages on them leaving them around places as sort of a pay it forward Karma and so the E is basically that stylized writing and to embrace a bunch of ways we embrace love,” he said. 

The final letter had the phrase “love is love” written repeatedly in various handwritings to pay homage to Heffner and what he did for his neighborhood during the pandemic.  Brown’s four daughters — one of whom is a professional artist — and their friends designed it.

The landscape around the sign has also been transformed with rocks that honors Heffner’s love for Rosemary Hills and his passion for rocks.

Chebak also said Heffner always wanted a bench, and neighbors are looking to install one soon next to the Pride sign.

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Africa

What’s next for LGBTQ rights in South Africa after the country’s elections?

African National Congress lost parliamentary majority on May 29

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Pretoria and Cape Town are the first cities in Africa to install Pride crosswalks. Activists are wondering what the outcome of South Africa's May 29 elections will mean for LGBTQ rights. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Walker/Pretoria Pride)

More than 50 independent candidates and political parties participated in South Africa’s national and provincial elections that took place on May 29. The Electoral Commission of South Africa declared the results on June 2.

No independent candidate or political party managed to secure the outright parliamentary majority of more than 50 percent of the votes, which prompts the creation of a coalition government. None of the 18 political parties that managed to win at least one seat in the National Assembly wholly represented the LGBTQ community.

Although South Africa is the only African country that constitutionally recognizes the rights of the LGBTQ community, some of the political parties that managed to secure seats in the National Assembly had signaled they would reserve these gains.

Former President Jacob Zuma, who leads the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, during a January debate said the thought of dating within the same gender was unpalatable and un-African. The MK is now the country’s third largest political party after it won 14.58 percent of the vote, making it a pivotal player in the formation of a coalition government.

Dawie Nel, the executive director of OUT LGBT Well-being, said undermining the constitution is “a dangerous, misguided, and populist strategy to avoid acknowledging the failures of governance and the lack of implementation of constitutional values that are meant to improve the lives of South Africans.”

“South Africa’s constitution is celebrated as one of the most significant achievements of our transition to democracy, ensuring that all citizens are treated with dignity and respect, and that their rights are protected in all aspects of life,” said Nell. 

There now seems to be an impasse on who becomes the government’s next leader because of some of the demands that political parties made before they entered into any negotiations.

Bruce Walker of Pretoria Pride said the best possible outcome for the preservation of LGBTQ rights in South Africa would be if the former governing political party, the African National Congress (ANC), which garnered the most support with 40.18 percent of the vote, partners with the Democratic Alliance (DA), which finished second with 21.81 percent of the votes, to form a coalition government.

“I think it will be a good outcome for the community if the DA has some power in a coalition government,” said Walker.

Rise Mzansi, which managed to secure 0.42 percent of the votes with two seats in the National Assembly, said it will continue protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community.

“Rise Mzansi reaffirms its commitment in protecting LGBTQ+ rights in South Africa, as outlined in Section 9 of our constitution,” said the party.

Zubenathi Daca, program coordinator for student employability and entrepreneurship development in Nelson Mandela University’s Department of Student Governance and Development said the fight for LGBTQ rights in South Africa will continue.

“The battle has not yet been won,” said Daca. “Queer people are still being killed and homophobic remarks are still being made towards us daily, and we need people who have found the confidence to voice out their dissatisfactions against how they are treated and also speak out for the voiceless.” 

“This society is ours just as it is everyone else’s,” added Daca. “We are in corporate spaces, leadership positions, and political spaces to show that we belong here, and that we are here to stay.” 

The constitution says National Assembly members should be sworn in within two weeks of the elections. They will then meet for the first time and elect a new speaker, deputy speaker and president.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo who will preside over the entire process, on Monday said the National Assembly will meet for the first time since the elections on Friday.

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