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Power couple working to elect Biden

Meet Claire Lucas and Judy Dlugacz, Democratic activists extraordinaire



Claire Lucas and Judy Dlugacz — seen here playing ping pong with their children Angie and Juan — say they are working to elect Biden to ‘move forward the fight to provide affordable healthcare for all and economic and judicial equality.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As Democrats staged their virtual convention this week, two prominentparty activists and fundraisers continued to work behind the scenes to elect Joe Biden president.

Claire Lucas and Judy Dlugacz are a power couple widely known thanks to their work for human rights and equality. Each is a success independently, and together they have accomplished much to advance civil rights, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. Now their focus is on limiting Donald Trump to a single term as president.

Lucas has dedicated her career to fighting for equality at home and abroad. She was the recipient of one of the U.S. government’s highest honors, the “Distinguished Honor Award,” for her pioneering work on global LGBTQ equality when working at USAID. She is an international development expert, coalition builder, entrepreneur and philanthropist with more than 20 years of experience in both the private sector and government.

“It is now more important than ever that we all come together and work hard to further the values and ideals that so many in this country cherish,” Lucas said.

Dlugacz is a lifelong advocate, activist, and entrepreneur who has built a career on the simple but powerful ideal of doing good in the world. For more than 40 years, she has used her business acumen and passion for LGBTQ equality and acceptance to build two successful companies and contribute to landmark achievements nationally and internationally in the area of LGBTQ rights.

“My goal in life may not be easy to achieve, making things better for all, but it is what has motivated all my work for more than 40 years,” Dlugacz told the Blade.

These two women were born and grew up on opposite coasts. Lucas was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Southern California. Dlugacz was born in New York and grew up on Long Island. They were both successful when they met in 2008 on an Olivia cruise, fell in love, and have now been together for nearly 12 years.

Lucas is a force in the Democratic Party and is using her contacts and abilities to help elect Biden president.

“It is critically important that the Biden/Harris ticket win so that we can continue to improve on the progress we made before Trump was elected and began taking us backwards,” Lucas said.

She has spent years as a leader in the Democratic National Committee and working for other Democratic presidential candidates. Lucas was extensively involved in the Hillary for America campaign, serving on its National Advisory Council, among other roles. She also assisted Sen. John Kerry in his bid to become president and served as his National Finance Co-Chair in 2004 and was an elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

Gay Democratic activist Earl Fowlkes, past president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and former chair of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus, has worked with Lucas for years.

“There are few people like Claire Lucas who can be counted on for anything you ask of them,” he said. “She has made a huge difference in the Democratic Party with her work to ensure women and the LGBTQ+ community have their voices heard.”

Lucas is currently chair of the LGBTQ Council at the Democratic National Committee; DNC Deputy National Finance Chair; and a member of the Joe Biden for President Finance Committee. Along with good friend Bruce Cohen (the Academy Award-winning producer), in just the last several months she has hosted and executive produced three large, star-studded fundraisers for Biden, raising millions of dollars for the campaign.

There is more to Lucas besides supporting Democrats around the country. She also runs her own consulting firm, where she works creating inclusive and profitable communities. She is a recognized international expert having designed and implemented U.S. government and multilateral policy and programs at both the macro and micro levels.

Her last government position was as senior adviser for Public-Private Partnerships at the U.S. Agency for International Development. She left in 2016 to volunteer full-time for the Hillary Clinton for President campaign. At USAID, she led efforts to expand the creation and implementation of strategic public‐private partnerships and facilitated the agency’s collaboration with the private sector to achieve its development and U.S. foreign policy objectives. Prior to joining USAID, Lucas held several leadership positions at the World Bank responsible for managing teams and processes that resulted in the creation of numerous, multimillion-dollar, multiple stakeholder international development projects. Prior to that she worked for a number of organizations, including the Pan American Health Organization, the Harvard Institute for International Development as well as several consulting firms. Lucas earned her bachelor’s degree from Pomona College; her master’s from Harvard University; and her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.

Dlugacz is the founder and president of Olivia Travel, the premier travel company for queer women. Named a “Best Company to Work For” by the San Francisco Business Times, the pioneering company specializes in experiences, opportunities, and inclusion and provides a safe space for queer women to be themselves, out and proud as they travel the world. To date, Olivia has taken more than 300,000 women on more than 350 cruise, resort, riverboat, and adventure vacations, providing them with unique experiences and featuring dynamic entertainers, speakers and custom programming.

“Olivia has attracted a multitude of celebrities and influencers over the years, including Maya Angelou, Melissa Etheridge, Billie Jean King, Patti LaBelle, Gloria Steinem, Bonnie Raitt, and Lily Tomlin,” Dlugacz said.

Before Olivia Travel, Dlugacz co-founded Olivia Records, a groundbreaking label. They specialized in women artists, and its success grew out of her vision for a more diverse and inclusive music scene, which at the time of its founding in 1973 was dominated by men. During her tenure leading the label, Dlugacz produced 40 albums and sold more than a million records. She oversaw the production of hundreds of concerts and events across the United States and around the world. She was the executive producer of the first HBO comedy special featuring a lesbian performer, Suzanne Westenhoefer, and was nominated for a Chloe Award. She also worked with the Nepal Youth Foundation, where she raised more than $300,000 to help young women escape indentured servitude.

Together, Lucas and Dlugacz founded the LGBT Haiti Relief Fund of the Red Cross in 2010. They have given back to the community in many ways, not the least of which is as political activists. While Dlugacz is focusing on Olivia these days because of the pandemic, together they continue to be a major force in Democratic Party politics. They served on the LGBT Leadership Council for President Barack Obama’s historic 2012 campaign for reelection, hosting six lesbian roundtable discussions with Michelle Obama. Lucas and Dlugacz were the top LGBTQ and top overall women fundraisers for Hillary Clinton in 2016, raising more than $4 million.

“Judy and I did all we could for Hillary because we believed in her passionately,” Lucas said.

Their philanthropy extends to some of the most impactful organizations making progressive change, including the Human Rights Campaign, the Victory Fund and Victory Institute, Lambda Legal, the National Organization for Women, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Lucas is also chair of the Victory Institute.

If all this isn’t enough, in 2018 they decided to start a family. Through the organization KidSave, of which they are now supporters, they adopted two children from Colombia, Angie and Juan. In addition, Dlugacz has a daughter and a grandchild from a previous relationship.

“We are determined to do all we can to see Joe Biden elected president this year,” Lucas said. “His election will move forward the fight to provide affordable healthcare for all and economic and judicial equality. In turn that will lead to our country moving toward what we are all fighting for, ‘a more perfect union’.”

Judy Dlugacz and Claire Lucas adopted two children from Colombia. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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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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