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With Manchin a holdout on Equality Act, some look to unlikely Republican for help

Could Sen. Capito be the key to advancing long-stalled measure?



Joe Manchin, gay news, Washington Blade

With progress delayed in the U.S. Senate on the Equality Act, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) continues to be the Democratic holdout on the LGBTQ rights bill as he faces a deluge of calls in opposition to the measure — but supporters of the bill might have an ace up their sleeve if they succeed in winning support from an unlikely Republican to break the impasse on the bill.

Progressives continue to call for an end to the filibuster to advance a number of key items on the legislative agenda, including the George Floyd Act for police reform and the For the People’s Act to expand voting rights and change campaign finance laws, but even an elimination of the filibuster — an unlikely outcome in any event — wouldn’t be enough to pass the Equality Act in the Senate if Manchin is a holdout because his support is needed to reach a majority vote in the chamber.

A vote in favor of the Equality Act from Manchin, who continues to be the only Democrat not to co-sponsor the bill in the Senate, remains in question because of previous signals he’s given. In 2017, Manchin issued a statement on the Equality Act articulating concerns about schools having to implement non-discrimination principles for transgender students, stoking unfounded fears about transgender people accessing the bathroom. More recently, Manchin was the lone Democrat to vote in favor of a Title II amendment that would have defunded schools and universities if they allow biological boys to play in girls’ sports, which would essentially bar transgender kids from athletics.

“After speaking with local education officials in West Virginia, I am not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools,” Manchin said in 2017. “I will continue working with the sponsors of the bill to build broad bipartisan support and find a viable path forward for these critical protections so that I can vote in support of this bill.”

A Democratic insider familiar with talks on the Equality Act said Manchin has been the focus of constituent calls in opposition to the bill, which have claimed the Equality Act jeopardizes women’s rights by giving transgender women access to sex-segregated spaces. The call to Manchin’s office are part of a larger deluge of calls against the legislation to other lawmakers. This concentration of calls, the insider said, appears to be orchestrated by conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation. The Daily Beast reported earlier this month that Manchin told one co-sponsor of the Equality Act calls to his office opposed to the legislation compared to calls in support were “a thousand to one.”

Opponents of the Equality Act have good reason to focus on Manchin, who as a rare breed among Democrats has historically been unreliable on LGBTQ rights. Although Manchin voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2013, he skipped out during the vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010, although he later said that was a mistake, and has never voiced support for same-sex marriage even though years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality nationwide. Manchin’s office didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment for an update on his position on the Equality Act.

The Republican who might get Manchin out of his shell to support the Equality Act: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). As the junior senator from West Virginia, her support for the LGBTQ legislation would give tremendous leeway to Manchin, who could later justify his vote by saying it won bipartisan support from both senators representing his state. One Democratic insider said supporters of the Equality Act are looking to break the impasse by looking at relationships senators have in their home states, including Capito.

Why would Capito, who consistently obtained a zero score on the Human Rights Campaign’s congressional scorecard, be considered a possible supporter of the Equality Act? As in many cases with support for LGBTQ rights, the reason is familial: Her son in the West Virginia Legislature, Del. Moore Capito (R-Kanawha), is a Republican co-sponsor of legislation that would ban widely discredited conversion therapy in his state and is considered a soft supporter of a statewide LGBTQ non-discrimination bill.

Neither mother nor son, however, responded to the Blade’s request for comment for this article on whether the elder would support the Equality Act, or some form of the legislation, in the U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, major players involved in passing the Equality Act are keeping strategy close to the vest and silent on whether they think Capito is a winnable vote for the Equality Act. The Human Rights Campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment for this article or potential Capito support.

“Senator Merkley is committed to working on a bipartisan basis to find 60 votes to pass the Equality Act and replicate the 2013 success of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” a spokesperson for Merkley’s office told the Blade. “Those conversations are ongoing. He is gathering feedback and working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and with civil rights organizations to illuminate possibilities for bringing Senators together behind a vision of full equality for LGBTQ Americans.”

At the same time, Democratic leaders in the Senate have yet to clear procedural hurdles on the Equality Act, which has yet to see a vote in committee, let alone a scheduled date for a floor vote. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), however, publicly included a reference to the Equality Act among a list of bills passed by the House he wants to take up in the coming weeks in the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to comment on when a committee vote would take place.

A Senate Democratic source inside the in-person Democratic caucus meeting on Tuesday said Schumer included the Equality Act in his outline for the short-term and long-term goals for his Democratic agenda. Schumer identified as the next three major efforts to be an infrastructure deal, the For the People Act and confirmation of President Biden’s nominees, including his judicial picks, in the spring and summer but included the Equality Act among other key priorities, such as gun safety, immigration reform and criminal justice reform.

“Overall, Schumer expressed to his caucus the desire to try to work with Republicans to accomplish Senate Dems’ legislative goals,” the source said. “But Schumer also cautioned that Senate Democrats do not have the luxury of time and if Republicans are intransigent, then Senate Dems will need to discuss a path forward because failure is not an option.”

President Biden campaigned during the 2020 presidential election on signing the Equality Act within 100 days of his administration, but would need nothing short of a legislative miracle for the bill to get to his desk within that timeframe.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, nonetheless, said Tuesday under questioning from the Blade on the 83rd day of the administration Biden continues to stand by his pledge to meet the self-imposed 100-day deadline and “continues to work toward it,” shifting the blame for the delay to the Senate.

“And as you know, in order to sign legislation, it needs to come to his desk,” Psaki said. “And while he has certainly been a vocal advocate in his support for the Equality Act, and, obviously, as you know and noted, it passed the House, it needs to work its way through the Senate. It requires the Senate passing it in order for him to sign it.”

Asked what Biden is doing to get the Senate to pass the legislation, Psaki ticked off numerous public actions from the Biden administration in support of the Equality Act and hinted at discussions on the legislation with principals.

“Well, certainly, he’s put out a statement of administration policy,” Psaki said. “He has talked about his view that this is legislation that should pass. And he has a range of conversations about a range of topics, but also so does our legislative team who work to move forward his agenda every single day.”

One development that might shake things up with the Equality Act is the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which is expected before the end of the court’s term in June and would determine whether Catholic Social Services has a First Amendment right to deny child placement into homes of same-sex couples in foster care over religious objections. Whichever way the court comes down in the case, the ruling could let some of the tension out of the Equality Act in terms of stated concerns on religious liberty. If a vote were to happen in the Senate at the time of the ruling, that would mean legislative action in May or June.

Psaki, asked by the Blade whether the decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia would change the landscape for the Equality Act, said she didn’t immediately have any information on whether the upcoming decision would have any impact of efforts to pass the legislation.

“That’s an interesting question,” Psaki said. “I’d probably have to talk to our legislative team. We typically, as you know, don’t get ahead of Supreme Court rulings.  But I will talk to them and see if there’s anything we can convey directly to you.”

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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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