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Dems win in Georgia, oust Republican who introduced anti-trans bill

Ossoff, Warnock score in Senate races



Raphael Warnock was the first Black person elected U.S. senator in Georgia. (Photo public domain)

Democrats, seizing on momentum after President Trump’s shocking phone call urging Georgia state officials to “find” votes for him to reverse his election loss, scored a win Tuesday night in a run-off election in Georgia for two U.S. Senate seats, disrupting the narrative Democrats are unable to win in the Deep South.

Raphael Warnock defeated Sen. Kelly Loeffler, making him the person Black person elected as U.S. senator in Georgia. The Associated Press declared victory for Warnock at 2 a.m. after votes were tabulated throughout the evening. Jon Ossoff, who held a narrow lead over Sen. David Perdue as of Wednesday morning, was declared the winner at 4:16 pm.

Ossoff and Warnock will make history as Democrats in the Deep South and set up a 50-50 split in the U.S. Senate weeks after Biden became the first Democrat in a presidential election to win Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992.

Loeffler’s loss is a particular win for the LGBTQ community: The Republican senator had introduced the Protection of Women & Girls Sports Act, legislation that would bar transgender girls from participating in school sports under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Outgoing Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Warnock won 50.7 percent of the vote against Loeffler, who captured 49.3 percent. Meanwhile, Ossoff captured 50.3 percent of the vote in his race against Perdue, who claimed 49.7 percent. The run-off races were triggered after none of the candidates won a majority of the vote on Nov. 3 in the general election.

No data directly correlates Trump’s call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Sunday, which was criticized as an illegal attempt to overturn the 2020 election, with the loss of Republicans during the run-off election. 

In fact, the call arguably energized Republicans who turned out to vote in the run-off, 75 percent of whom said they believed Trump’s loss in the election was fraudulent, according to a poll from the Associated Press. Each of Trump’s claims over voter fraud have been rejected as false and baseless.

But as the votes were counted, analysts said turnout made the difference. Ossoff and Warnock did better than even Biden in predominantly Black areas of the state, such as Macon County, where voters came to the polls at nearly the same rates as they did on Nov. 3. Meanwhile, Republican turnout was depressed in comparison to the general election when Trump narrowly lost the state.

“It turns out when your coalition depends so much on one person (Donald Trump) driving turnout, there are some big downside risks when that person isn’t on the ballot,” wrote Dave Wasserman, editor of the Cook Political Report, on Twitter.

According to an internal memo with the Human Rights Campaign shared with the Washington Blade on Tuesday, voters in Georgia who prioritize LGBTQ rights, called “Equality Voters,” also turned out at higher rates compared to the general public in the state, at least in terms of early voting. A majority of “Equality Voters” voted, 52 percent, took part in early voting, compared to 40 percent of the general public.

Because Warnock and Ossoff won both elections, the Senate will be split 50-50. When Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is sworn in on Jan. 20, she would cast the deciding vote in Senate leadership, forcing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to hand over control to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Democrats, at that point, would have control of both chambers of Congress, if narrowly in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, and the White House, giving President-elect Joe Biden a real opportunity to enact his legislative agenda. 

Among the bills on Biden’s agenda is the Equality Act, which would expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Biden has said the bill would be his No. 1 legislative priority and he’d sign it into law within the first 100 days of his administration.

Currently, the legislative filibuster has remained in place, despite elimination by both Democratic and Republican leaders of the filibuster for judicial nominees. As a result, 60 votes are needed to move forward with debate on any particular bill in the event a single senator objects. Even with Democratic wins in Georgia, senators could invoke the filibuster to thwart Biden’s legislative agenda.

Democrats, including former President Obama, have proposed eliminating the filibuster, calling it a relic of structural racism that has been used to thwart civil rights legislation. It remains to be seen if Democrats will pull the trigger and put an end to the filibuster, which would require a majority vote in the Senate.

Talk has also emerged about not eliminating the filibuster, but changing the Byrd rule, which allows the Senate to vote on budget reconciliation matters with a simple majority. Under this proposal, the rule change would allow more policy related items to be eligible for the Byrd rule.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of the LGBTQ media watchdog GLAAD, commended the Democrats for their apparent shared win in a statement.

“It’s clear the voters of Georgia support a pro-equality agenda at the White House and in the U.S. Senate,” Ellis said. “We congratulate Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and we look forward to working with them and President-elect Biden to secure comprehensive protections for LGBTQ people that an overwhelming majority of Americans already support. We are counting on their commitment to support the Equality Act, protecting LGBTQ people in Georgia and across the country from discrimination.”

NOTE: This article has been updated to denote Jon Ossoff was declared the winner in the Georgia run-off.

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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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