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Human Rights Campaign snubs Susan Collins, endorses Sara Gideon

Human Rights Campaign throws support to Sara Gideon



Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has lost an endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has failed to win the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign in her bid for re-election, even though the nation’s leading LGBTQ group three times before supported her campaigns to represent Maine in the U.S. Senate.

The Human Rights Campaign announced Wednesday it has spurned Collins in favor of Democratic challenger Sara Gideon in a slate of six new endorsements for candidates and incumbents — all Democrats — seeking election to the Senate.

Other endorsements were Theresa Greenfield in Iowa, M.J. Hegar in Texas, John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Sen. Ed Markey in Massachusetts and Jon Ossoff in Georgia.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, cited in a statement the importance of passing the Equality Act, comprehensive legislation to ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination that passed the House, but remains bottled up in the Senate under the leadership of Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“Despite support from 70 percent of the American public, Mitch McConnell has stood in the way of progress for LGBTQ people and refused to even allow a vote on the Equality Act,” David said. “Today’s endorsements mark the next step of HRC’s efforts to elect a pro-equality U.S. Senate and end McConnell’s tenure as majority leader.”

The Collins snub marks a tremendous turnaround for the Human Rights Campaign, which has endorsed her three times previously in 2014, 2008 and 2002.

Collins, who has a reputation as a moderate Republican, also built a record during her years in the Senate as a supporter of LGBTQ rights. Collins during the Bush administration bucked her party in opposition to amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, became the leading voice in the Republican Party for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, which she later called one of her proudest moments, and, more recently, became the only Republican co-sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate.

Despite that record, Collins is now facing tremendous opposition in her bid for re-election from progressive groups, who cited her refusal to convict President Trump on impeachment charges and being one the deciding votes to confirm U.S. Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh as a reason to unseat her.

Although abortion rights are the main issue with Kavanaugh, the justice also declined to join conservative justices John Roberts and Neil Gorsuch in the Supreme Court’s recent determination LGBTQ discrimination is covered under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As a Republican, Collins would also vote for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has obstructed Democratic bills and confirmed a record number of Trump-appointed judges, as opposed to Democratic leadership in the Senate.

David in a statement to the Washington Blade cited those factors in response to an inquiry about why Collins wasn’t able to win an endorsement for the fourth time from the Human Rights Campaign.

“We are fighting for our lives and the only way to advance LGBTQ equality through the United States Senate is to install a new pro-equality majority leader and replace Mitch McConnell,” David said. “Despite Susan Collins’ record of support on certain key LGBTQ issues, her support of Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump’s agenda, endorsement of Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court and failure to hold Donald Trump accountable, is simply untenable.”

Collins also has some less high-profile votes that have rankled LGBTQ groups, such as her vote to confirm to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Kyle Duncan, an attorney whose career highlights have included legal briefs opposing same-sex marriage and seeking to bar transgender student Gavin Grimm from the restroom consistent with his gender identity. (Duncan rebuffed a transgender inmate’s request to be referred to by her personal pronouns after confirmation.)

Kevin Kelley, a spokesperson for Collins’ re-election campaign, expressed indignation in an email to the Blade in response to a request for comment on the endorsement decision.

“As the HRC itself admits, this endorsement is based purely on partisan politics,” Kelley said. “The only thing that has changed since 2014 when HRC last endorsed Senator Collins is that she is now the lead Republican sponsor of the Equality Act, HRC’s top policy goal. This is not how you treat a friend and ally.”

The snub from the Human Rights Campaign is the latest abandonment from a social progressive group that once supported her. Others now refusing to endorse her are NARAL, Planned Parenthood and the League of Conservation Voters. Collins’ fellow senator from Maine, Angus King, endorsed Collins in 2014, but said in June he “would probably stay out of the election this year.”

Gideon, who’s currently Speaker of the House in Maine, said she’d draw on experience enacting LGBTQ non-discrimination legislation in her state to help usher the Equality Act into law.

“Every Mainer, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserves a seat at the table in discussions about our future and I’m honored to have the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign in this race,” Gideon said. “In the State House, we passed landmark legislation banning conversion therapy and strengthening the Maine Human Rights Act to protect LGBTQ Mainers from discrimination based on gender identity. I look forward to bringing the same dedication to full equality to Washington, and will always fight for the right of all Mainers to live without fear of discrimination.”

David in his explanation to the Blade on the endorsement decision commended Gideon for supporting for the Equality Act and capacity to look at LGBTQ rights through an intersectional view.

“Sara Gideon will support the Equality Act — which will provide comprehensive federal legal protections for LGBTQ people — and support pro-equality leadership in the Senate that will help us move our country forward so that we are all treated equally, so that we can work and live through an intersectional lens, and so that we can live up to the principles of our democracy,” David said.

The Human Rights Campaign declined to endorse Collins as the LGBTQ organization, which has billed itself as a group seeking to achieve its goals through bipartisan means, has faced some criticism for its past Republican endorsements.

Most recently, HRC in 2016 came under fire for endorsing former Sen. Mark Kirk, who had supported same-sex marriage and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, in the face of a challenge from now Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). HRC ended up withdrawing its endorsement from Kirk after he made racist comments in a debate with Duckworth.

But the Human Rights Campaign has a long history of endorsing Republicans to the dismay of Democratic activists, including support decades ago for former Sen. Al D’Amato in 1998 over Charles Schumer and support for former Sen. Gordon Smith in 2002 over Democratic challenger Bill Bradbury.

Charles Moran, managing director for Log Cabin Republicans, criticized the Human Rights Campaign for snubbing Collins, saying the LGBTQ group has revealed its true colors as a Democratic front-group.

“Susan Collins has consistently been and continues to be a steadfast advocate for the LGBTQ community,” Moran said. “HRC’s endorsement of her unknown challenger demonstrates its true allegiance is to the Democratic Party, not the benefit of the LGBTQ community.”

Despite the endorsement decision, the Human Rights Campaign continues to claim the mantle as a non-partisan organization. In this election cycle, the organization has endorsed Sara Davis, a Republican state representative in Texas, although that is the only Republican endorsement from the LGBT group this cycle.

Lucas Acosta, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, said President Trump is responsible for the dearth of Republican endorsements from the Human Rights Campaign in the 2020 election.

“HRC has already endorsed Rep. Sarah Davis for Texas state representative,” Acosta said. “We are proudly a non-partisan organization and always look forward to identifying and working to elect pro-equality candidates of every party. However, under President Trump, the number of pro-equality elected officials in the Republican party has dramatically decreased. Trump has created an environment where few Republican officials feel comfortable standing up for our community. Trump is to blame.”

In related news, the Human Rights Campaign delivers its endorsement of Markey in Massachusetts before the state’s primary in September, when he’ll face a challenge for the Democratic nomination from Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.). As chair of the Congressional Transgender Task Force, Kennedy has taken the lead on transgender issues, including hosting a roundtable on Capitol Hill with parents of transgender kids in coordination with the Human Rights Campaign.

Acosta said Markey’s previously established record on LGBTQ rights, including a vote in 1996 against the Defense of Marriage Act, is the reason for the Human Rights Campaign’s endorsement of the incumbent senator.

“Rep. Joe Kennedy is definitely a strong ally in Congress,” Acosta said. “But so too is Sen. Ed Markey. Sen. Markey has been an ally to our community for his entire career in public service, well before it was politically popular. While in Congress, Markey voted against DOMA and a constitutional ban on marriage equality. He has supported pro-equality legislation both in Congress and while serving in the Massachusetts State Legislature in the 1970’s. He has one of the strongest records of any member of Congress over the last three decades and we’re proud to endorse him and work on his behalf.”

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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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