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In historic first, Buttigieg confirmed as Cabinet-level appointee

Biden nominee promised infrastructure, racial equity key to plan



Buttigieg, gay news, Washington Blade
Pete Buttigieg was confirmed with bipartisan support as transportation secretary. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Pete Buttigieg was approved by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday as transportation secretary with bipartisan support, marking the first time an openly gay person has been confirmed to a Cabinet-level position and a long overdue achievement for the LGBTQ community.

The vote to confirm Buttigieg, the former South Bend mayor who was nominated by President Biden after making history in the 2020 Democratic primary as an openly gay candidate, was 86-13.

The Democratic caucus was united in support for Buttigieg. Among the Republicans joining them were Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), John Kennedy (R-La.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

The 13 Republicans voting “no” were Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Roger Marshall (R-Kansas), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.). Many of them are likely 2024 Republican presidential contenders.

With that vote, Buttigieg and his spouse, Chasten Buttigieg, will leave their lives in the Midwest to become Washington insiders in a script that could be a play on American filmography — “Mr. Buttigieg Goes to Washington.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor prior to the confirmation vote Buttigieg is an “outstanding nominee” who has “demonstrated an impressive familiarity with our nation’s entire transportation challenges,” including the proposed gateway tunnel from New Jersey to New York City.

“I know that Mr. Buttigieg is committed to working with members from both sides to improve rail and transit, highways and more in rural communities, urban centers and everywhere in between,” Schumer said. “I’m excited to call him ‘Secretary Pete’ by the end of the day.”

The bipartisan vote reflects the confirmation hearing for Buttigieg, when he enjoyed a relatively breezy reception by lawmakers from both parties on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation (with the exception of hostile questions from Cruz).

Buttigieg, during his testimony before the committee, said renewing America’s infrastructure would be key to his approach as transportation secretary. Buttigieg also said any renewal of the transportation system would be sensitive to racial equity, which is consistent with President Biden’s campaign pledge to tackle systemic racism.

Annise Parker, CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement Buttigieg “shattered a centuries-old political barrier” by winning Senate confirmation to a Cabinet-level role as an openly gay person with bipartisan support.

“While his confirmation is historic, Pete is focused on the difficult task ahead,” Parker said. “America is in desperate need of a revitalized transportation effort and his two terms as mayor provide the experience and perspective needed to propose bold solutions. America is fortunate to have Pete as their secretary of transportation.”

Buttigieg won the historic designation amid a dispute over whether or not he should be considered the first openly gay person to serve in a Cabinet role. During the Trump administration, Richard Grenell served as acting director of national intelligence, a Cabinet-level role. Grenell, however, never sought or won Senate confirmation for the position, although he was confirmed for his concurrent position as U.S. ambassador to Germany.

James Hormel, who became the first openly gay ambassador in U.S. history in 1999 after former President Clinton designated him in a recess appointment as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, said Buttigieg can rightfully claim the title of first openly gay Cabinet official because of the “acting” nature of Grenell’s role, although the Trump White House had insisted the distinction belongs to Grenell.

Undisputedly, however, Buttigieg is the first openly gay person to win Senate confirmation specifically for a Cabinet-level position.

To be sure, other openly gay people have won Senate confirmation, just not for Cabinet-level roles. The first was Roberta Achtenberg, who was confirmed in 1993 as assistant secretary for the Department of Housing & Urban Development.

The long list includes presidential appointees, ambassadors and judicial nominations, many of them for senior positions just shy of Cabinet-level roles. Among them is Fred Hochberg, who served during the Obama years as head of the Export-Import Bank; Eric Fanning, confirmed as Army secretary after a long battle in the Senate in 2016; and Patrick Bumatay, appointed by former President Trump to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and now the highest-ranking out federal judge.

In many ways, Buttigieg’s confirmation as first openly gay person to a Cabinet-level position is a long overdue vote buttoning up the progress and historic confirmations the LGBTQ community has achieved in recent years.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) was among the senators who took to the Senate floor in support of Buttigieg and gave a shout-out to Chasten Buttigieg.

“As a Midwesterner, and as a husband to a Michigander who was born and raised in Traverse City, Secretary-designate Buttigieg fully recognizes the need to protect the Great Lakes,” Peters said. “I agree with Mayor Pete’s belief that he says, ‘Good transportation policy can play no less a role than making possible the American Dream.'”

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) also praised Buttigieg on the Senate floor and said she “enthusiastically” supports Buttigieg because he’s up to facing the nation’s transportation challenges.

“I look forward to the type of focus that he can give to the Department of Transportation,” Cantwell added. “This area of our government, right now, needs to address the COVID crisis, it needs to help us plan for a better transportation system of the future and it needs to understand that this transportation infrastructure and investment in these changes in these sectors of cars and planes and passenger systems are all changing industries, and so our competitiveness will be at stake as well.”

Another Biden nominee, Rachel Levine, may soon achieve another first for the LGBTQ community upon confirmation as assistant secretary of health and become the first openly transgender person to win Senate confirmation.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, congratulated Buttigieg for his “historic confirmation” in a statement.

“This confirmation breaks through a barrier that has existed for too long; where LGBTQ identity served as an impediment to nomination or confirmation at the highest level of government,” David said. “Let this important moment for our movement serve as a reminder to every LGBTQ young person: you too can serve your country in any capacity you earn the qualifications to hold.”

David also credited President Biden for achieving the historic first for the LGBTQ community, saying Buttigieg’s confirmation follows through on a commitment to diversity.

“President Biden promised to deliver an administration representative of the diversity of this nation, and this confirmation is a significant achievement toward that goal,” David said.

Ruben Gonzales, executive director of LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement Buttigieg’s confirmation is a “testament” to both Biden’s commitment to inclusivity and the American people’s “willingness to judge a leader by their qualifications, not their sexual orientation.”

“Each new political barrier broken inspires more LGBTQ people to consider careers in public service, a virtuous cycle we will accelerate until equitable representation is achieved,” Gonzales added.

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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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