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LGBTQ groups lower D.C. budget request

Advocates mum on status of $10.6 million revised ask



divorce, Phil Mendelson, gay news, Washington Blade
D.C. Budget, divorce, Phil Mendelson, gay news, Washington Blade
A coalition of groups in the city has asked D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson to approve $10.6 million for LGBTQ-related new programs. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A coalition of 10 local LGBTQ or LGBTQ supportive organizations that called on Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council in January to approve $22.6 million in the city’s fiscal year 2021 budget for LGBTQ related programs has lowered its request to $10.6 million.

In a June 4 joint letter to D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), the groups said that due to the city’s severe budget shortfall brought about by the coronavirus outbreak, the groups had pared down their original request by just under $12 million to ask for $10.6 million.

“In January, our Coalition advised the Mayor on important investments for the LGBTQ+ community in the FY 2021 Budget,” the groups stated in the joint letter. “Due to COVID-19, the Mayor had to make sacrifices and tough decisions and none of us envy the position she was placed in,” the letter says.

“However, members of the LGBTQ + community have continuously had to make sacrifices and tough decisions their entire lives,” the letter continues. “And, to continue to put their needs on the chopping block will only further put their lives and those of friends, family, and others at risk.”

The letter lists five specific requests for funding in the original budget proposal that the groups say they have dropped in their revised proposal. Among them was a request for $3.5 million for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to establish a competitive grants program aimed at local LGBTQ organizations that provide social services for LGBTQ people.

Also removed from the revised request were calls for $700,000 from the D.C. Office of Aging and Community Living for a city community dining and cultural competence program for LGBTQ seniors and a $300,000 request of reserved funds for the Capital Trans Pride celebration.

Attached to the coalition’s letter to Mendelson was a 14-page outline of 11 specific funding requests for LGBTQ related programs in the revised proposal whose funds would come from at least seven D.C. government agencies totaling $10.6 million.

“We have been in constant contact with members and staff regarding these requests,” said coalition spokesperson Japer Bowles in a June 8 email to the Washington Blade. He was referring to the coalition’s interaction with staff and members of the D.C. Council to push for the funding requests.

“We look forward to getting these critical programs funded,” Bowles said.

But Bowles and other members of the coalition had not responded to a request by the Blade earlier this week for an update on whether members or the chairpersons of at least six D.C. Council committees that oversee the budgets of the agencies from which the LGBTQ coalition is seeking the funds are likely to approve the funding requests.

All Council committees were expected to vote on the budgets of the city agencies they oversee by the end of this week. The Council’s Committee of the Whole, which consists of all Council members, and the full 13-member Council were expected to vote on their final approval of the city budget by the end of July.

The organizations making up the LGBTQ coalition include the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission’s Rainbow Caucus, Casa Ruby, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, SMYAL, Whitman-Walker Health, Capital Pride Alliance, The DC Center for the LGBT Community, HIPS, Wanda Alston Foundation, and Rainbow Families.

Among the new proposals in the coalition’s 11 specific budget requests is a $345,000 funding allocation from the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development for an “LGBTQ+ Intergenerational Synergy Home Sharing Pilot Program.” The program calls for 12 young LGBTQ adults ages 18 to 24 to be housed within the homes of 12 older LGBTQ adults ages 60 and older who live alone and have spare living space.

“Through the Pilot Program, a participating older adult homeowner will hire a participating young adult to perform basic housekeeping tasks several hours a week in exchange for occupancy within the older adults’ home,” the program’s proposal states. “The Pilot Program is designed with special consideration towards low-to-moderate-income LGBTQ+ older adults and at-risk LGBTQ+ young adults, with particular focus on those who identify as transgender persons of color, and aims to alleviate a number of key disadvantages experienced by these individuals…”

David Meadows, a spokesperson for D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), who chairs the Council’s Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization, said Bonds strongly supports the proposed pilot program but was uncertain whether there would be sufficient funds available to cover it in the mayor’s budget proposal submitted to the Council earlier this year.

Among the other LGBTQ budget related requests by the coalition include these proposals:

• $630,000 added to the budget of the D.C. Office of Human Rights for six additional full-time employees to enhance OHR’s efforts to address anti-LGBTQ hate crimes.

• A waiver of $400,000 in fees the city has charged the Capital Pride Alliance each year in recent years for street closings and other city services to enable the Capital Pride Parade, Festival and other Pride related events totake place in public spaces.

• A $700,000 allocation for the D.C. Department of Health and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) for the implementation of the LGBTQ+ Health Data Collection Amendment Act of 2018 that the city has not yet implemented.

• $20,000 for “rent abatement” for the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, which rents space in the city’s Reeves Municipal Building at 2000 14th Street, N.W.

• $480,125 in additional funds for the D.C. Department of Human Services to fund “Programming to Support Transgender, Nonbinary, and Gender-Nonconforming Youth Who are Homeless or at risk of Homelessness.”

• $480,000 to fund 20 city housing vouchers for low-income LGBTQ+ seniors struggling to avoid homelessness.

• A $350,000 increase in the Department of Employment Services budget to establish a “Trans tech social Hub” to help people who identify as transgender and queer to “combat employment discrimination and train for legal employment.”

• $5 million for a city procurement contract for a Transgender Employment, 24-Hour Wrap Around Services and Technical Trade Skills Academy to be operated by Casa Ruby. The program’s objective is to provide members of the transgender and LGBTQ community easier access to employment and “better lives.”

• $2.25 million annually for a total of $6.75 million for a three-year contract funded by the D.C. Department of Health for the sex worker advocacy and social services group HIPS to expand HIPS’ harm reduction and health services network program, which provides services for “homeless transgender and queer populations” in the city.

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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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