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Advocacy groups demand ICE release LGBTQ detainees from La. detention center

Letter cites coronavirus concerns, rampant mistreatment



Immigrant advocacy groups on Thursday demanded the release of LGBTQ people who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a privately-run detention center in Louisiana.

Immigration Equality, Trans [email protected] Coalition, Santa Fe Dreamers Project, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Gender Justice LA, VisibiliT, Al Otro Lado and the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee sent a letter to Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and other officials on behalf of LGBTQ people and people with HIV who are detained at the Winn Correctional Center.

LaSalle Corrections operates the facility that is roughly 100 miles southeast of Shreveport, La., in the state’s Winn Parish.

The letter notes detainees have said Winn Correctional Center staff have not taken the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus inside the facility.

“Our LGBTQI/HIV+ clients at Winn are reporting troubling conditions specific to the COVID-19 pandemic,” reads the letter. “They include lack of medical attention for a detainee who had a days long fever, a sympton (sic) of COVID-19, crowded conditions, and a lack of sanitation supplies for detainees and staff alike.”

The letter notes one detainee has said staff as of March 20 “had not addressed COVID-19 concerns with immigrant detainees, including failing to instruct detainees on handwashing and social distancing.” The letter also indicates hand sanitizer is “not available” and ICE last week transferred up to 35 detainees to the facility.

“Some dormitories have 50 people in the same room sharing one sink, one toilet and no meaningful access to medical attention or sanitation,” reads the letter.

The letter also documents “widespread abuse and mistreatment of LGBTQI/HIV+ individuals” at the facility.

A transgender woman told the groups that she and another trans detainee were “forced to share a shower and bathroom facilities with nearly 50 cisgender men.”

The letter refers to another detainee who said staff last Aug. 19 forced her to play soccer in the yard with a group of cisgender men. The detainee claims one of the male detainees attacked her and broke her leg, but an officer “refused to take a report.”

The letter refers to a trans woman who claims she has “been forcefully pushed in the middle of her back by guards at least three times, including when she was merely standing and reading her Bible.” It also notes staff “regularly threaten transgender women with solitary confinement for arbitrary reasons, such as interpreting for other detained individuals.”

A gay detainee who is cited in the letter claims a guard subjected him to homophobic harassment after he asked him a question in a dining hall. The letter, among other things, also notes an officer threatened a trans detainee “with physical harm, going as far as to say he would beat to death any detained individuals who made him angry.”

The letter notes one detainee with HIV said he has “experienced numerous interruptions to his antiretroviral regime” while at the facility. The detainee also claims he has blood in his urine and suffers from “kidney problems” because he does not receive his medications at the same time each day.

The letter also notes ICE officers who oversee the detainees’ asylum cases “routinely ignore parole requests submitted by the individuals or their legal counsel.”

“The above information reflects the egregious conditions at the Winn Correctional Center and reveals blatant homophobia, transphobia, and a disregard for basic human safety,” reads the letter. “The above-mentioned individuals have submitted regular complaints to DHS, all of which remain unaddressed. In essence, these LGBTQI/HIV+ asylum-seekers are indefinitely trapped in a detention center where they are at a heightened risk of medical negligence, sexual harassment and disproportionate systemic violence.”

An ICE spokesperson has not returned the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

Five LGBTQ detainees released from ICE custody in Ariz.

Immigration Equality earlier this week demanded ICE release detainees with HIV in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana is among the other groups that have also demanded ICE release detainees who are at heightened risk for the disease.

ICE on Monday released five LGBTQ asylum seekers from two Arizona detention centers. Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor from Cuba who received asylum in the U.S., was in ICE custody for a nearly a year until his release from River Correctional Center, a privately-run detention center in Ferriday, La., on March 4.

The Louisiana Department of Health says there are currently 2,746 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state. Statistics indicate 119 people have died from the disease in Louisiana.

There is one confirmed coronavirus case in Winn Parish.

“Social distancing at Winn is virtually impossible,” reads the letter. “Winn is primed to have COVID-19 spread through the detained population like wildfire. It will be devastating and deadly. This is especially true for the already vulnerable LGBTQI/HIV+ immigrant population. Medically vulnerable detainees, especially LGBTQI/HIV+ migrants and those who are otherwise immunocompromised, should be released immediately.”

ICE on its website notes two detainees in New Jersey have tested positive for coronavirus. There are also five confirmed coronavirus cases among ICE personnel who work at detention centers in Colorado, New Jersey and Texas.

ICE on its website also notes there are 19 confirmed coronavirus cases “among ICE employees not assigned to detention facilities.”

An ICE spokesperson with whom the Blade has previously spoken says the agency continues to take precautions to protect detainees and staff from coronavirus. These include the suspension of social visitation at all ICE detention centers and a requirement that lawyers, lawmakers and/or members of their staff wear disposable gloves, masks and eye protection when they enter these facilities.

ICE has also previously defended the treatment of LGBTQ detainees and those with HIV who are in its custody.

A 2015 memorandum then-ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Thomas Homan signed requires personnel to allow trans detainees to identify themselves based on their gender identity on data forms. The directive, among other things, also contains guidelines for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for trans detainees and requires detention facilities to provide them with access to hormone therapy and other trans-specific health care.

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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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