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Maryland House votes to repeal sodomy law

State courts processed 300 ‘violations’ in 2019: report

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Luke Clippinger, gay news, Washington Blade
Luke Clippinger, sodomy law, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, Baltimore, gay news, Washington Blade
Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) is the only one of the six gay or lesbian state lawmakers who signed on as a sponsor of the sodomy repeal bill. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a little-noticed development, the Maryland House of Delegates voted 133 to 5 on Feb. 20 to repeal the state’s sodomy law, which criminalizes same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

The vote took place 17 years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared such laws unconstitutional.

The Maryland Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee held a hearing on the bill the same day the House of Delegates approved it, but the chair of the committee, Sen. William Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery County), has not said whether he supports or opposes the bill.

Sandy Papp, a spokesperson for the committee, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday that the sodomy repeal bill is one of many bills scheduled for discussion and a possible vote at a committee “voting session” scheduled for Friday, Feb. 28.

A Senate committee vote of approval is needed before the bill can be sent to the full Senate for a final vote on whether the sodomy law should be repealed.

The law, known as the Sodomy and Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practices Act, calls for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison for anyone convicted of sodomy, which is defined as anal sex and other sexual practices, including oral sex or sex with an animal.

As of 2019, Maryland was one of 16 states that had yet to repeal statutes criminalizing sodomy, including consensual same-sex sexual relations. The sodomy laws in some of those states also criminalize oral and anal sex committed by heterosexual couples.

According to the Baltimore Sun, a report accompanying the sodomy repeal bill as introduced in the House of Delegates and Senate states that more than 300 violations of the Maryland sodomy law were filed in state courts in fiscal year 2019. The Sun says the report shows that 15 people were sentenced in 2019 under the sodomy law, but it doesn’t give specific information about what the sentences were and in what part of the state they occurred. The Blade couldn’t immediately obtain a copy of the report.

The report, as noted by the Baltimore Sun, appears to contradict assertions by state officials in the past that the Maryland sodomy law was not being enforced except in a few rare instances since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its 2003 Lawrence vs. Texas decision. The decision declared state sodomy laws unconstitutional in cases involving noncommercial sex between consenting adults in a private setting.

Some states that had not repealed their sodomy law following the Lawrence decision, including Louisiana, used the laws to prosecute people charged with prostitution related offenses. In the case of Louisiana, LGBT activists said prosecutors used the sodomy law in addition to the state’s law banning prostitution against male and transgender sex workers because the sodomy law had a more severe penalty than the prostitution statute.

Prosecutors have argued that the Lawrence Supreme Court ruling doesn’t apply to cases involving prostitution, public sex, or nonconsensual sex.

Virginia repealed its sodomy law in 2014, with gay State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D- Alexandria) playing a lead role in pushing for the repeal.

A list of the sponsors of the Maryland sodomy repeal bill in the House of Delegates and Senate, which is posted on the legislature’s website, shows that Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) is the only one of the six gay or lesbian state lawmakers who signed on as a sponsor of the bill.

The gay and lesbian members of the legislature, called the General Assembly, who did not become a sponsor of the bill, include Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) and Delegates Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County), Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery County), and Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery County).

The recorded roll call vote on the bill in the House of Delegates shows that each of the five gay or lesbian delegates voted for the repeal bill’s approval on Feb. 20.

Attorneys familiar with the Maryland sodomy law have said that similar to Virginia, the Maryland law is linked to the enforcement and prosecution of the offenses of sexual assault and rape. They have pointed out that some of the state’s existing sexual assault statutes did not provide for the prosecution of same-sex sexual assault cases because the sodomy laws had always been used for such prosecutions.

Similar to the Virginia sodomy repeal legislation, the Maryland repeal bill revises the state’s sexual assault laws to ensure that all sexual assault related offenses, including male-on-male rape cases, could be prosecuted while consensual sodomy between consenting adults is decriminalized.

In written testimony in support of the bill to repeal the Maryland sodomy law before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, the ACLU of Maryland noted that Maryland was among the states that had yet to repeal its sodomy law following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring such laws unconstitutional.

“While they may seem like antiquated laws that technically still exist but are not actually enforced, these laws have been frequently used to discriminate against the LGBTQ community,” the ACLU’s testimony says.

“As long as Maryland’s law is on the books, it will continue to endanger LGBTQ people, and leave them vulnerable to employment discrimination, unfair attacks in child custody cases, and being labeled as criminal,” the ACLU states in its testimony. “States across the country have been repealing their sodomy laws since 1961. It is time for Maryland to join them, and live up to our state nickname, ‘The Free State,’” the ACLU testimony says.

Free State Justice, the Maryland statewide LGBT rights organization, has stated on its website that it also strongly supports the bill to repeal the Maryland sodomy law. The group’s executive director, Mark Procopio, couldn’t immediately be reached to find out if it is taking steps to lobby State Sen. William Smith to release the bill from his committee to allow a final vote on the bill in the Maryland Senate.

Montgomery County transgender rights advocate Dana Beyer told the Blade Smith is “absolutely not transphobic or homophobic.” She said she is surprised that Smith hasn’t moved to arrange for his committee to immediately approve the sodomy repeal bill and send it to the full Senate for final approval.

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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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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

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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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